Re-Inventing the Nets
The Brooklyn Nets followed through yesterday on what seemed an inevitability. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired and long-time general manager Billy King was re-assigned within the organization.
Hollins’ fit in Brooklyn was suspect at best and despite having one more year remaining on his deal, he was let go. Hollins will be replaced by assistant coach Tony Brown, who will serve as interim head coach.
The decision to fire Hollins at this point in a lost season seems somewhat odd, but the team was not responding to Hollins and was going nowhere quickly. The belief around the team is that a change in voice and coaching style might help the team compete a little more and ultimately create room for some of the younger players the Nets took a flyer on in free agency to get more playing time.
As for King, his “reassignment” removes him as the GM, but it’s being reported that King will help ownership find his replacement, which seems odd as well. As things stand, Nets assistant GM Frank Zanin is running the day to day operations, as he has for most of the season, and is the face person on the Nets’ initial trade talks. Zanin will report to Nets president Brett Yorkman and Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov, according to sources close to the situation.
The timing of both decisions really came out of nowhere, with most of the Nets staff learning of the decision either through media reports or text messages from outside the team. While it was always assumed that a change was likely this offseason, making such a sweeping change now seemed oddly timed given that there was nothing left to play for. The Nets are unlikely to make the postseason, the team is not well positioned for a franchise-changing trade and they have traded away their first-round pick to Boston.
The implied motivator behind the move, according to owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s released statement, was the Nets wanted to begin a full and complete search for new leadership as quickly as possible.
There have been some names linked to the Nets already, with Kentucky’s John Calipari being the biggest name. Calipari and Yorkmark have a long history together and it’s believed that Yorkmark has been pushing for Calipari to re-join the team and skipper it to respectability.
Calipari has done the dance with a few NBA teams over the last couple of years, briefly entertaining the L.A. Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and, most recently, the Sacramento Kings. According to sources who are familiar with the talks, Calipari deliberately stayed at arm’s length with the NBA teams that reached out to him, but it was clear that the ideal scenario would include Calipari having complete franchise control and a salary that put him at the top of the NBA salary chain with a package worth more than $100 million.
It’s believed to even get Calipari to consider an NBA job, he’ll want a 10-year agreement that could eclipse the $120 million mark.
There have also been reports that Brooklyn could pursue current CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin to lead the team going forward. Since acquiring the team, it has long been believed that Prokorov has wanted Vatutin involved with the Nets, as the two have a long history together dating back to when Prokorov was the primary benefactor for CSKA and was funding their Euroleague runs.
An interesting side note to Vatutin is that storied international coach Ettore Messina, currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, coached CSKA and has long been considered one of the top head coaching candidates in NBA circles, especially with the success that Cavaliers coach David Blatt is having in Cleveland.
League sources were skeptical that Vatutin would take on the day to day GM duties, but that naming him President of Basketball and having him hire a proven NBA staff under him seemed more likely, if it happened at all.
A third name that has surfaced recently is former Golden State Warriors executive and NBA player Chris Mullin, who is currently coaching St. John’s in the NCAA. League sources say that Mullin is interested in a return to the NBA and would listen to opportunities, but that it would take a great situation for him to leave St. John’s.
The Nets job could be an interesting situation: they have $45.37 million in salary cap commitments next season, giving them what could be $44 million in cap space this summer. They do have some interesting trade chips before the trade deadline including forward Thaddeus Young and the ending contract of former All-Star Joe Johnson.
With the Nets clearly looking to re-invent themselves, things could get interesting in the next six months, even if it’s unclear who is calling the shots today.
Now Taking Calls
Despite most teams in the NBA sitting out the unofficial start of trade season in December, there is a growing sense that more than a few franchises are ready to entertain deals and that some teams have shifted from taking calls to making them.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak admitted recently that he has been reaching out to teams and exploring what’s possible with his roster. Kupchak hinted that there was a lot of interest in the younger guys on his roster, including players the Lakers are planning to build around. The Lakers have a handful of veteran players that are not part of the future and the Lakers seem to be exploring what some of them would return.
League sources have been pretty adamant that forward Brandon Bass is obtainable as is veteran center Roy Hibbert, although it’s believed Roy is not overly attractive given his $15million salary and the fact he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July.
The Phoenix Suns are also fairly active in the trade market with Suns GM Ryan McDonough telling The Burns and Gambo radio show in Phoenix that his club was ready to make some changes.
The most likely player to be moved is obviously forward Markieff Morris; however, league sources that have considered a Morris trade label his combination of poor performance, off-court issues and length of contract as a deal that’s hard to rationalize if it sends out any real value.
The Suns have long-term commitments to Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler and Morris. All four are under contract at least through the 2018-19 season.
The Suns do have several attractive rookie scale contracts including guard Archie Goodwin, center Alex Len and forward T.J. Warren who could all be included in a deal to make something less attractive more palatable.
The NBA trade deadline is February 18, so there is still a lot of time for things to shake themselves loose, but it seems we now have a few motivated sellers and that’s generally the precursor to deals actually getting done.
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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal
Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.
Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.
So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.
You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.
With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.
He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.
But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.
Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.
These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.
Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.
The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.
Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.
The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.
NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls
Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.
The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.
LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.
“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”
The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.
So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.
In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.
At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.
LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.
“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”
LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.
“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”
In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.
Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.
Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.
NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team
Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.
When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)