The NBA’s February 18 trade deadline passed and it seemed as though all deals had been reported. However, it’s not uncommon for trade negotiations to go down to the wire and for deals to be reported well past the 3 p.m. deadline.
Twenty-two minutes after this year’s deadline had passed, Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies finalized a trade before the buzzer. The Clippers agreed to send Lance Stephenson and a protected first-round pick to the Grizzlies in exchange for Jeff Green. The deal was met with mixed reactions; some people loved the deal for the Clippers, some people hated it.
While Green is certainly capable of making a significant impact on a game, he has been inconsistent throughout his career. He is a long, physically gifted forward who at times appears to be a viable starting small forward. However, when you pay close attention, you notice that he goes long periods without making much of an impact. He’ll often fade within the offense and can be lethargic and inattentive on defense. And for every nice performance where he puts up 15 or more points, he seems to follow it up with a single-digit outing.
Nevertheless, the Clippers have been searching for a viable starting small forward for years, cycling through players like Ryan Gomes, Caron Butler, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Chris Douglas-Roberts and, most recently, Lance Stephenson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce and Wesley Johnson.
Barnes provided the most consistent production over the last few seasons with passable three-point shooting, timely cuts to the basket and solid perimeter defense, but was traded during the offseason. Stephenson had opportunities to start at small forward this season, but Coach Doc Rivers has cycled through his options all season, and most recently opted for Mbah a Moute’s consistent defense over Stephenson’s versatile, yet inconsistent skillset.
Swapping Stephenson for Green made sense in theory. Stephenson is a career 30.5 percent three-point shooter, he improvises on offense too often and is undersized at the small forward position (though he did put together some nice performances in limited minutes for the Clippers this season). Green is a long forward who can play both the three and the four, which is important for the Clippers since Blake Griffin is still sidelined and it’s unclear how effective he will be when he returns. Also, the Clippers have one of the highest payrolls in the league and acquiring Green at the trade deadline ensured they would have his Bird Rights, which would give them the opportunity to lock him up in free agency this upcoming offseason despite having one of the highest payrolls in the NBA.
However, the addition of a protected future first-round pick seemed to be an overpay by Rivers, who has thrown around future draft picks somewhat recklessly in recent seasons to facilitate trades and even to simply dump salary. But the Clippers are built to compete for a championship now, the window for this roster is closing and they needed to do something to close the gap between themselves and teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
In eight games with the Clippers, Green has been inconsistent as a scorer and defender, to say the least. Here is Green’s scoring totals so far as a Clipper: 5, 18, 6, 22, 7, 0, 14, 0. He is averaging nine points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists, while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from distance.
Those numbers probably aren’t what Rivers and the Clippers were hoping for when they moved Stephenson and a first-rounder to Memphis. The inconsistent production is even more disconcerting when you consider that, in limited minutes, Stephenson was decently productive for the Clippers and is putting together some nice performances for the Grizzlies so far. Through nine games with the Grizzlies, Stephenson, in 23.4 minutes per game, is averaging 13 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range.
But let’s keep things in perspective. A trade has never been determined to be a success or bust after just eight games. Also, Green is being integrated into a new system (though he has played for Rivers in the past) and is being asked to play both forward positions in the absence of Griffin. Also, despite his inconsistency, Green is capable of producing well-rounded performances, unlike the Clippers’ other options at small forward. Mbah a Moute provides great defense, but is a complete liability on offense (despite continually finding new ways to get separation from opponents for easy shots at the basket). Pierce has been wildly inconsistent this season, shooting just 31.5 percent from three-point range, struggling defensively and is limited in the amount of minutes he can play each night. Johnson has had some nice moments for the Clippers and is a decent role player, but his inability to attack the rim when opponents close out on him at the three-point line has rendered him rather one-dimensional on offense.
For all of Green’s limitations, he is enough of a threat from three-point range that opponents will close out on him when he has an open shot. Unlike Johnson, Mbah a Moute and Pierce (at this point in his career), Green can actually take the ball off the dribble and attack the basket. He isn’t exactly LeBron James off the dribble, but he has a tight enough handle and enough athleticism to finish over and around opponents. We saw this in Green’s best performance so far as a Clipper, which came against the Sacramento Kings.
And if defenses leave him open, he can knock down the occasional three-pointer.
But with Green, the issue isn’t what he is capable of. The issue is that on any given night, we don’t know which version of Green will show up. Sometimes the forward capable of putting up 30 points and playing acceptable defense shows up. Other times, the forward that has little to any impact defensively and goes scoreless shows up. For the Clippers, this isn’t the end of the world since their starting lineup is generally a net positive even when they get essentially zero offensive production from the starting small forward. But the Clippers are going to have to go up against some very, very strong competition in the playoffs, and it’s hard to imagine them beating the Warriors or Spurs in a seven-game series without consistent production from their starting small forward, who will presumably be Green.
It’s too early to say that Green won’t be a difference maker in the postseason, or that this is a failed trade. But it seems that at this point, Green represents the Clippers’ best chance to get meaningful production from the small forward position. However, as we’ve seen through Green’s career and through the last eight games, it’s almost impossible to tell which version of Green will show up on any given night.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN