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.
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.
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NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors
If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.
For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.
Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.
A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.
In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.
The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.
At least, that was the case until Saturday night.
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With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.
Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.
Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.
It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.
This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.
With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.
At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.
Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.
In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.
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With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.
At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.
What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.
For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.
Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.
Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.
While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.
Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities play a direct role in causing the loss.
Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…
And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.
NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs
On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.
At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.
And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.
Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.
Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.
Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.
Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.
It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.
That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.
Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.
Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.
Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.
The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.
Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.
While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.
Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.
Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.
Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.
Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.