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NBA AM: Kyrie, The Brooklyn Pick, And LeBron

Steve Kyler addresses why Kyrie Irving had to be traded and how it may impact LeBron’s future.

Steve Kyler

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Kyrie, The Brooklyn Pick and LeBron

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics consummated a rare August blockbuster trade that will land Kyrie Irving in Boston while shipping All-Star Isaiah Thomas, all-purpose swingman Jae Crowder and rookie Ante Zizic (the 23rd pick in the 2016 NBA draft) to Cleveland. While the players coming to Cleveland in the deal are interesting, the unprotected 2018 draft pick included in the deal (by way of the Brooklyn Nets) may be the gem of the deal, or it might not, depending on how Brooklyn fares this season.

While we’ve analyzed this deal on site already, there are a few additional things worth noting, so let’s dig in.

Kyrie Was Done With Cleveland

There was hope that maybe the Kyrie Irving situation would become salvageable and that after a couple of conversations, he’d climb back into the boat. However, over the last month, as news of his desire leaked, Kyrie stopped talking to the Cavs, according to sources close to the situation. In fact, there was very little communication from Kyrie’s side of things after he met with the team in early July and asked to be moved.

The Cavs tried finding deals out West, with sources saying they worked the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets pretty hard, but were unable to get the right combination of assets into a deal. There were some talks with the San Antonio Spurs and the LA Clippers too, but they also did not have the right mix of assets to get the Cavs moving. Once things out West dried up, the Cavs shifted focus to the Boston Celtics, who logged early Irving interest in July.

The deal with the Celtics came together fairly quickly, and while some may say the Celtics offered too much for Irving, the cap math required a deal of this size, especially if Thomas was going to be a part of it.

The Cavs reported pushed pretty hard for the inclusion of rookie Jason Tatum, but Boston was unwilling to include him, that’s where the draft pick came into play.

The Cavs would rather not have included Crowder, but again the cap math made him the only tradable option that fit the salary slot needed to complete the deal.

Celtics president Danny Ainge said his club had done tremendous homework on Irving and were comfortable that they knew what they were getting both in terms of the player, but also regarding his mindset as a teammate.

Sources close to the Irving side of things said he really struggled with the age difference between his teammates in Cleveland and never felt a real connection there. The same source said he seemed excited to be joining a team with so many guys closer to his age and being in a situation where he can have genuine team connections, especially with a group that would view him as a team leader, not the team’s little brother.

There have been reports that the Cavs motivations to pull the trigger were tied to the notion that Irving was not going to report to training camp, which made pulling the trigger on the trade an absolute must.

As the dust settles on this situation, the prevailing thought from many sides is that Irving was basically finished in Cleveland and that the relationship was beyond repair.

When you look at the return in the context of having to move a player, the Cavaliers did very well. Not only in getting quality players, but they also generated a $5.8 million Traded Player Exception and reduced their Luxury Tax bill by what seems to be $29.1 million.

Not a bad return on a poisoned situation.

The Brooklyn Pick Is a Mystery

The NBA Lottery system is a cruel bed fellow. Historically, the worst team doesn’t usually land the first overall pick. In many situations, unprotected picks that were traded to other teams turn up the most lottery gold. So, the fact that Cleveland was able to pry the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 pick out of Boston, unprotected, is an interesting part of the deal.

Let’s start with the projected 2018 NBA Draft class. The headliners seem to be Missouri freshman Michael Porter, Jr., a big do-everything small forward type, Duke freshman Marvin Bagley, who could be the most athletically skilled big man in recent years, Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton, Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

The problem with the projected 2018 draft crop is it’s not nearly as deep in talent as say this past draft, meaning if the Brooklyn pick drops out of the top five, the player coming to Cleveland may not be what you’d normally expect out of a high lottery pick.

For the Cavaliers, any lottery talent is good lottery talent, and landing the Brooklyn pick also gives them the option of trading their own 2018 pick. If the Cavs wanted to pack their own pick with a player to shed additional contract dollars or try and grab another talent, that is now possible, as is re-trading the Brooklyn pick. Draft pick trade rules only require the Cavs to have the ability to draft in 2018, not specifically requiring them to use their own pick.

Then there is the Brooklyn Nets. While many weren’t looking, the Nets have assembled a pretty respectable young squad, led by a promising young coach. It’s unlikely the Nets are making the playoffs, but when you survey the NBA, the Nets have a better chance at winning 30 games this season than the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls. The question becomes: Are the Nets better than the LA Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic or Philadelphia 76ers? The smart money says the Nets are closer to the second grouping than the first. The question for Cleveland is where do they ultimately land?

If the Nets can get out to a quick start, the value of that Brooklyn pick might drop a little. It still might be good for the Cavs, but maybe not the lottery gem last year’s Brooklyn pick was.

The Cavs do have the option of re-trading that pick, they can also add their own protections on it if they wanted to.

If history is any indicator, the ping-pong balls may favor the Cavaliers regardless of where the Nets finish. However, given how cruel the Basketball Gods tend to be, missing out on the good players with the Brooklyn pick, losing Kyrie Irving and possibly more would be a tragedy worthy of Aristotle, which makes this Brooklyn pick an interesting mystery.

LeBron’s Silence

Unfortunately, social media has made every action newsworthy. Equally, we’re now to the point where non-action is news, too. Cavs star LeBron has tweeted or “Gram’d” about many things this week, but he has not commented about the trade his team consummated or the players that will be joining him. Don’t get caught in this trap.

Sources close to the situation say that new Cavs GM Koby Altman spoke with LeBron on Tuesday and that he is excited to have closure on the situation with Irving. The same source said LeBron had hoped that the relationship could be repaired, but James understood the desire on Irving’s part to be his own guy.

What has not changed, and likely won’t, is LeBron’s stance on his future. While many around the periphery are saying the same thing—he is gone in July—the stance from James’ side is that he enjoys having options. One of the things LeBron has crafted for himself is the ability to make his own choices and steer his own career and not be beholden to anyone. The power and the freedom are liberating for him, and he’s not giving that up. That does not mean it’s 100 percent decided he’s out, but what does keep coming up is that LeBron is not wasting his remaining years. So, the onus is on Cleveland to not only get back to a fourth NBA Finals, but to be in a real position to win against the Golden State Warriors.

That is the deciding factor.

It’s easy to jump forward and say there is no chance that Cleveland beats the Warriors in a seven-game series and that we should pack LeBron’s bags, but the truth is the 82-game schedule can create a lot of unexpected things. No one saw the Boston Celtics taking the top spot in the East a season ago or the Rockets being as dominate in the West as they were. So, while it seems like a foregone conclusion—and it might play out that way—James’ decision on his future will come after it’s decided, even if the likely outcome is clear today.

Keep an eye out for the annual Basketball Insiders Season Previews. The first wave will drop on September 7, with new teams dropping every day. The Insiders previews are some of the most in-depth looks at each NBA team as you’ll find anywhere and they start in less than two weeks.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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Covington’s Contract Extension Adds Value On and Off the Court

Robert Covington cashed in for himself while also allowing the Sixers to potentially cash in this summer.

Dennis Chambers

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The Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their X-factor in town for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday night, hours before the Sixers were set to tip off against the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Covington and Philadelphia were finalizing a contract extension for four-years and $62 million.

But what the Sixers did to preserve their financial flexibility for the future, while still rewarding Covington, was potentially what makes this deal so valuable. In addition to his current $1.57 million salary this season, the Sixers will renegotiate an additional $15 million into Covington’s salary for this year.

As Wojnarowski reported, that chunk of change the Sixers coughed up this season allows them to still have $25 million in salary-cap space next summer. Along with paying a large portion of the deal upfront, the four-year extension Covington will wind up agreeing to pays him around $45 million over the duration, as reported by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner.

For Covington, coming from his undrafted status out of Tennessee State, to being sent down to the D-League after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, to a team-friendly Sam Hinkie special four-year contract with the Sixers back in 2014, now finally culminating in a big payday as one of the NBA’s premier 3-and-D players, is nothing short of an amazing story.

It’s duly noted what Covington brings to the table for the Sixers on the court. After leading the league in deflections last season, along with his ability to guard 1-4 spots on the court, Covington secured votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race. This season, without sacrificing any of his defense (registering the same 105 defensive rating as last season), Covington is experiencing a renaissance on the offensive end.

Along with averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Covington is shooting an absurd 49.5 percent from deep on 7.2 attempts per game. Believe it or not, he has made more threes than Stephen Curry and is shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc—Covington is 50-of-101 from three-point range, while Curry is 47-of-121.

It’s only the second week of November, but that is nonetheless impressive, and a testament to how on-fire Covington has been this season.

Playing along Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and another sharpshooter like J.J. Redick gets Covington open looks. He’s learned to maximize those opportunities.

Now, with his new extension, Covington is just as big of an impact off the court, as well.

By renegotiating his salary for this season, the Sixers are left with enough money to be serious players next summer when some marquee free agents will hit the open market. It was a stroke of genius for the front office, and also a rare occurrence, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out that a move similar to this has occurred just seven times since 1998.

As reported last season, the Sixers made a significant push to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline. Part of that package included Covington. Although they love Covington in Philadelphia, they believed giving him up for George would have been worth it. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the good news now is that the Sixers will have the cap space to pursue George should he opt for free agency this summer.

It’s been no secret that George would like to test the open waters and find the best fit for himself. Although George is playing alongside the most talented players he’s ever had by his side with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, he is just one of many impact free agents on the market.

Covington’s brilliant extension gives Philadelphia the option to meet with a player like George, and not only offer him the promise of playing with budding stars like Embiid and Simmons, but with quality starters like Covington. And if George isn’t amenable to the possibility, someone else might be.

On a personal level, Covington embodies “the process” in Philadelphia. From his humble beginnings to now being a multi-millionaire whose efforts are being handsomely rewarded, his story is a good one. 

Not only for him, but for the Sixers, too.

Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hold the keys to the Sixers’ championship hopes, but once again, Covington is proving to be the X-factor.

This time, he’s extending his intangibles off the court as well.

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