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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



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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Will The Pacers’ Change In Style Pay Off?

With deals and changes abound, the Indiana Pacers’ wild rebuild marks them as a franchise on the rise.

Ariel Pacheco



After coming off four consecutive first-round exits under head coach Nate McMillan, the Indiana Pacers decided it was time to make a change. Instead of dismantling or retooling a core that had been acquired mostly by opportunistic deals, general manager Kevin Pritchard went in a different direction and, early into the season, it seems like it has paid off. 

Under Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers have dramatically transformed their style of play. Many of the mid-range jumpers they took last season have turned into shots at the rim or three-pointers instead. There are a lot more dribble hand-offs, staggered screens and an overall sense of purpose in every action on offense. The offense has operated like a well-oiled machine, largely with Domantas Sabonis acting as the main engine. 

This has led to Sabonis’ play and potential being unlocked. Ultimately, Sabonis is well on his way to another All-Star appearance, averaging career highs in points (21.7 PPG), rebounds (12.8 RPG) and assists (5.8 APG). While his usage is similar to last season’s, the way he’s being utilized is very different. With McMillan, Sabonis was mostly used as a post-up big who also scored a lot as a roll-man. Bjorkgren is giving him those same touches but he has also a lot more free reign to operate and make decisions.

Sabonis is now attacking teams in semi-transition after defensive rebounds. Basically, all the offensive actions are run through him, which have accentuated his passing ability. His range has also improved, and he’s turned his 20-foot jumpers into three-point attempts. Moreover, it’s a huge part of the reason why the Pacers rank 11th in offensive rating (111.3). Sabonis is a walking mismatch who can play almost any role in an offense and Bjorkgren has let him roam free.

Better, Malcolm Brogdon is also playing at an All-Star level. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game, both career highs. Brogdon’s shooting 43.3 percent from three and is another player who’s benefitted from Bjorkgren’s offense. Brogdon’s ability to shoot threes while dribbling off screens and the ability to attack out of dribble hand-offs has allowed for the Pacers’ offense to be far less predictable than in the past. 

Myles Turner is probably in the lead for Defensive Player of the Year so far. He’s averaging an insane 4.2 blocks per game, practically shutting down the paint for opposing offenses. Turner has been relegated to a mostly spot-up role in the offense, but those mid-range jumpers from last season have become three-pointers to this point. While he has struggled to hit three’s so far, his shot quality is considerably better. However, his value comes on the defensive end, where he is anchoring the 9th best team in defensive rating at 107.8. Opponents are shooting just 54.4 percent in the restricted area when Turner is in. Although his recent hand fracture will surely complicate proceedings there and the Pacers will miss him sorely.

The Indiana bench has also provided some good minutes. Doug McDermott is effective not only with his jumper but with his underrated cutting ability. Justin Holiday has been solid and is shooting 43.1 percent from three. His brother, Aaron Holiday, has had his ups and downs but built himself into a solid rotation player. Naturally, TJ McConnell has been his usual pesky-self. 

There’s still plenty of room for upside as the Pacers have dealt with injuries to some key guys. TJ Warren, last season’s bubble breakout star, is out indefinitely after having foot surgery. Jeremy Lamb tore his ACL last season, is close to returning but hasn’t played a single minute this season. The Pacers’ newest addition, Caris LeVert, will be out indefinitely after a small mass was found on his kidney. All three are proven guys who can really help Indiana take the next step.

Sadly, it gets more difficult with Turner’s injury too.

Interestingly enough, many of the players have seemingly gone out of their way to not only express their appreciation for Bjorkgren’s coaching – while also knowing the difference compared to years past. Brogdon, Sabonis and McDermott have all seemingly made it clear that this style of play is preferable to last year under McMillan. 

“In seasons past, the offense didn’t call for me to do those certain things,” Turner said “But coach has a lot of confidence in me… I’ve just had the chance to show it this season.” 

Questions about the Turner-Sabonis pairing now seem to have gone away. It’s no secret that Turner oft mentioned in trade rumors the entire offseason in large part due to his perceived fit with Sabonis. Bjorkgren has found a way to maximize both player’s skillsets while also keeping them happy with their roles. Bigger, Pacers’ lineups with Sabonis and Turner have a 2.5 net rating. 

The improved play of the Indiana stars is something that can be attributed to Bjorkgren’s shift in their style of play. It’s what Pritchard was hoping for when he made the coaching change. The Pacers made a calculated gamble when they fired a proven coach with this roster in Nate McMillan and now the Pacers are 8-5 with room to grow. If Sabonis and Brogdon can continue this level of play as guys come back healthy, the Pacers will be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.

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Myles Turner Making A Difference With Defense

The Indiana Pacers have always been a good defensive team, but Myles Turner is on a mission this season to take them to an elite level. Chad Smith takes a closer look at the impact Turner has had as the anchor of Indiana’s defense.

Chad Smith



This week has been a roller coaster ride for the Indiana Pacers, who are returning home after splitting a four-game West Coast trip. It was supposed to be five games but their matchup with the Phoenix Suns was postponed due to contract tracing within the Suns organization. On their day off between games, Indiana traded away All-Star guard Victor Oladipo as part of a four-team blockbuster that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

What they got in return seemed too good to be true, until it was. Acquiring a young and talented player like Caris LeVert, whom they originally drafted and subsequently traded to Brooklyn, took many people by surprise. With Oladipo not planning to return next season, it was a brilliant move by Indiana, especially when you consider LeVert’s upside and his team-friendly contract. On top of that, the Pacers also received a 2024 second-round pick (via Cleveland), a 2023 second-round pick (via Houston) and $2.6 million from the Nets.

Unfortunately, the Pacers’ medical staff discovered what the team described as “a small mass” on LeVert’s left kidney while undergoing a routine physical. The good news for LeVert is that this was found and he can begin whatever treatment is necessary for him to return to playing basketball at some point. For now, though, the Pacers will employ the “next man up” philosophy. The team has already lost TJ Warren indefinitely and have been without Jeremy Lamb all season. Now Myles Turner may soon join them on the sidelines.

Myles missed his first game of the season on Sunday due to an injury on his right hand. He met with team doctors on Monday and early reports are that he has a slight fracture in his right hand and will be re-evaluated in the coming days.

In that game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the absence of Turner was glaring. Even without Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams, the Clippers shot 55 percent from the floor and 49 percent from behind the arc. Nearly half of their 129 points came in the paint as they destroyed the Pacers by 33 points, in a game that wasn’t even that close. Indiana had just two blocks in the game and even those came in garbage time.

When Nate Bjorkgren was named the Pacers’ new head coach back in October, many around the league wondered what that meant for Turner. Would the experiment next to Domantas Sabonis come to an end? Were his days as a Pacer now numbered? A rumored sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics for Gordon Hayward never came to fruition, but that ended up working out well for both Myles and the Pacers organization.

When the Pacers selected Turner with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the opinions on him were split. While many saw the raw, unlocked potential that he possessed, others were skeptical of his lack of lateral movement and, of all things, the way that he ran up and down the court.

Draft evaluators were concerned that his awkward running style would lead to long-term effects on his knees. In a breakdown by Draft Express, they noted that “His awkward running style might not change anytime soon. He noticeably lumbers getting up and down the floor, and only made five field goals all season in transition situations.” That was in reference to his Freshman season at Texas, where Turner averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting 46 percent from the field.

Fast forward to 2021, where Turner is having arguably the best season of his career. While he is scoring at the same level, he has improved several other facets of his game. He is shooting the ball with more confidence, attacking the basket more off the dribble and even hitting the offensive glass. While his three-point shooting is down largely due to more attempts, his work in the paint has him shooting a career-high 63 percent from inside the arc.

Obviously, the blocks are what really pops out, as he leads the league at 4.2 per game. That is staggering when you consider the next best is Rudy Gobert at 2.7 per game, while Chris Boucher is the only other player averaging at least two per game. By comparison, when Turner led the league in blocks during the 2018-19 season his average was 2.7 per game. Entering Sunday’s slate of games, Turner was actually averaging more blocks per game than six teams.

Following a game earlier this season, Turner elaborated on his goals for the year: “It’s definitely been a goal for myself to start the season off strong on the defensive end. I’ve gotten the respect as a shot-blocker in this league. I know it’s something that I do. But I’m trying to take that to the next step.”

“I’ve already proven that you can lead the league in blocks and not make an All-Defensive team or not be Defensive Player of the Year. So it’s time to do more and assert myself more on that end.”

Turner has had four games this season with at least five blocks, including two games where he stuffed the opponent eight times. His defensive prowess is much more than just blocking shots though; he’s averaging a career-high 1.5 steals per game so far and has had seven games in which he recorded at least two steals.

Indiana’s offense will continue to run through Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, who are both playing at an All-Star level this season. But, as much attention as those two have gotten, it’s the defense that has really shaped this Pacers team.

The loss of assistant coach and defensive guru Dan Burke was a concern before the season began. The truth is the Pacers are much more aggressive on defense now, playing further up on the perimeter. This is the same scheme that Bjorkgren and Nick Nurse incorporated with the Toronto Raptors. Ibaka played that role last year and this season it’s been Boucher, who currently ranks third in the league in blocks behind Turner and Gobert.

With Sabonis often guarding the opponent’s biggest/strongest player, Turner is left to defend more on the perimeter. This is a real challenge given his disadvantage against smaller, quicker wing players. To his credit though, Turner has stayed in front of them. And that is what makes his shot-blocking even more impressive; every game and on multiple possessions, Turner is essentially guarding two players by himself for seconds at a time.

Since Turner’s rookie season, only three players have blocked more shots than he has. He ranks 15th in the league in deflections and is top-five in terms of defensive field goal percentage at the rim. Indiana’s defensive rating is a 107.7 when he is on the court and a 111.3 when he is on the bench. These are the signs of a truly elite defensive player.

And, with Turner as their defensive anchor, the Pacers have a scary three-headed monster that could ultimately be a nightmare for the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season.

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2021 NBA Draft Evaluation: What Are We Missing?

With limited in-person opportunities to NBA franchises, will the 2021 draft be the toughest to scout?

Jonathon Gryniewicz



There were loads of talks last offseason about how the 2020 NBA draft would be the hardest to scout in recent memory. The draft started in 1947 and – without knowing what it was like to try and scout a country full of potential players sans a large scouting department, over 100 games a week on national television, and even more via other streaming sites – it’s hard to believe that statement holds much water.

But it did have its challenges though. With the season ending as conference tournaments were getting underway, NBA teams lost out on several crucial scouting opportunities both in and out of season. Despite having college basketball back, the scouting landscape is still not the same. It has not been determined if NBA personnel will be allowed to attend the NCAA Tournament or what postseason events will look like.  In this piece, we go through some of the challenges organizations are facing while preparing for the 2021 NBA Draft.


The kickoff to scouting a new crop of freshman players actually happens before they ever step on campus. The Nike Hoop Summit and McDonald’s All-American game are the first two events in which NBA scouts can watch the next incoming freshman class in person. While they may have seen some of the players at Youth FIBA events, they can get early evaluations of players that will most likely make up a majority of the lottery in the next draft class.

Getting an early evaluation of these players allows you to track progress. They’ve all been dominant at the high school level playing against their peers. But watching them allows you to evaluate where they are at, and gives you a baseline for what they can bring to the table. When you see them several months later playing at the college level, you are able to have an idea of what skills translate, which do not, and how a player has improved both physically and with their skills since leaving high school.  Getting the early evaluation on a player allows you to track whether a player progresses in college or whether they are the same player they were in high school.

The games themselves are not unimportant, but they do not have as much of an impact as a lot of people think, at least for the American prospects. The practices are what the organizations are really interested in seeing. This gives scouts the opportunity to see how these young athletes compete, handle coaching from someone they are not used to coaching them and conduct themselves on the court when there are no TV cameras or spotlight.  The Nike Hoop Summit, which pits 12 American prospects against a team of 12 international prospects, has proven to be a launching pad for international players looking to get drafted. Dennis Schroder and Bismack Biyombo are two examples of international players who turned a good performance at the Hoop Summit into an early-round draft selection.

Not being able to watch these players in person before entering their freshman season has put organizations behind in terms of getting a full, proper evaluation of them. While players like Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State don’t need events like this to boost their stock, other stand-out freshmen could have elevated their early projection.


College basketball games have never been more accessible than they are now. Not only are there 100 games on TV every week, but for the games that are not, colleges upload them to Synergy Sports Tech, a film sharing website that every team uses and that NBA teams can access. Within one hour of the end of every game, teams will have the ability to download and watch full games.

The issue is not that teams cannot watch prospects, but seeing the game is only part of what scouts do when seeing players on college campuses.  Scouts often get to the games 2-3 hours ahead of time to watch warmups. They want to see how players approach the game.  Does he warm up hard?  What is his intensity like as the game approaches?  While you can get an idea for someone’s height, length, strength and wingspan over film it is much easier to get a gauge on it when seeing someone in person.  Warm-ups are also a chance to watch a player take over 100 jump shots and assess his form. During the game, they will pay attention to how he interacts on the court with his teammates, coaches and refs. When things go wrong during the game, they will want to see how he responds.

Practice is similar. Scouts want to see how early they get in the gym, do they stay after to get up shots and how do they respond during practice when the coach pushes them. While some states are allowing fans to attend games, scouts are not on the road like they normally would be at this time. Not only are most schools not allowing them to attend practices and games, but a lot of organizations are not sending their scouts out on the road for fear of them contracting COVID-19 and the quarantine restrictions they’d eventually face.


It is still too early to see what post season scouting events will look like.  Last season, the Portsmouth Invitational, NBA Combine and individual team workouts at NBA facilities were canceled –  and these events are important for multiple reasons. First, it gives teams the chance to watch athletes in a different setting outside of their schools. While the top prospects won’t play at the combine, many athletes will and there is always someone who plays well and elevates their stock. Seeing players outside of the constraints of their college system helps teams get a better picture of how they could translate to the NBA.

Another benefit of having these postseason events is getting proper medical information. During Portsmouth and the Combine, you’re able to get proper measurables on the players and at your team facility, your medical staff can evaluate the players more thoroughly for physical injuries and potential lingering problems.

There is still a lot of time to determine what the scouting landscape will look like before the 2021 NBA draft. Given how things are going though, and depending on how things go moving forward, this could very well be one of the harder drafts to scout due to the limited in-person opportunities available to NBA teams. Not only will there be a smaller sample size of the incoming freshman class, but a year-and-a-half of in-person scouting information on the players who returned to college will be missing too.

Again, while this won’t make a huge difference for the class’ biggest prospects, it will simply change proceedings in every other aspect – but the NBA always finds a way.

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