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NBA AM: Trades May Come Down To The Wire

There may be a rush of deadline deals, but they may not take shape until the 11th hour… It is not always the coach’s fault.

Steve Kyler

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Down To The Wire

With the NBA trade deadline 11 days away, things on the trade front are picking up. However, for those holding their breath on a deal before the All-Star break, you may not get much satisfaction.

In talking with team sources, the amount and frequency of talks is picking up, but there is still a sense that getting something done before the February 18 3 p.m. EST deadline may come down to the final hours.

Most teams are holding out that an offer will get better or that something new may surface and no one wants to trigger a deal today only to find themselves sitting out a bigger or better transaction closer to the deadline.

As one executive said it best, “We don’t do things in the NBA until there is a deadline.”

Last year saw a flurry of deals in the final hour on what was looking to be a dull day on the trade front; however, when all was said and done, there were 11 transactions involving 38 players or player rights changing hands at the deadline.

In the days leading up to the deadline last year, there were just two transactions in February before the All-Star break.

While no one is expecting as chaotic a deadline this year as last year, history has shown that the bulk of deals do not get moving until a day or so before the deadline – with a mad rush to consummate deals at the 11th hour.

So while it’s likely that a number of deals get done, as there are a number of teams looking at what’s best called roster and cap management type deals, the odds that something breaks before All-Star seems at this point fairly slim.

At Some Point It’s Not the Coach

There is a saying in professional sports: “Coaches are hired to be fired.” Every coach that signs a contract understands that in the very best of situations he may see the final year of that deal, but in most cases he knows he has a greater than average chance of being fired before his deal expires. That’s life as a coach in sports.

To put that in context of the 30 NBA coaching jobs, just seven have been on the job longer than three seasons (including this one). San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich is the most tenured coach in the NBA having been hired in 1996. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle come in second and third, having been hired in 2008.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for coaching stability.

With the New York Knicks parting ways with Derek Fisher yesterday, he became the fifth coach fired this season and if the reports turn out to be true, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl could be the sixth.

The problem teams face in hiring and ultimately firing a coach is that there is no longer an accountability to the coach of a team. Outside a small handful of situations – San Antonio, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and Boston – most players know that the coach is not the end-all authority. Coaches themselves know they have to play politics to get results and the ones that are really good at the political parts seem to stick around a little longer than those that challenge their roster.

So what ends up happening is that really good basketball coaches get ousted, because they cannot enforce principals. If they try and it’s not immediately successful, players tune the coach out and things spiral out of control.

That’s not to say that every fired coach did a good job, because as we are seeing play out in Sacramento, the fit of coach to roster isn’t always a good one and that too dooms the coach. Few teams are willing to re-structure their roster around their coach, because it’s easier to fire a coach and hire a new one than find a 26.8-point, 11.1-rebound per game big man.

The problem with that mindset is that eventually the players sour on the organization because of the self-inflicted chaos.

In Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins has had five coaches in his six NBA seasons. If Karl is indeed fired during the All-Star break, Corliss Williamson – the expected interim – would be a sixth coach in six seasons. Considering the Kings likely hire the seventh coach during the offseason, it’s hard to imagine Cousins remaining loyal to the franchise if seven becomes eight before his contract is up.

Firing a coach is sometimes necessary. Things had run their course last year in Orlando with Jacque Vaughn. Things may have run their course with Randy Wittman in Washington.

However, if you look at the history of success in the NBA, the teams that build around their coaches usually have more success than those that don’t. The franchises that empower their coach usually have greater stability and longevity and when it comes to signing and retaining free agents those same stable franchises have done well.

Firing a coach is part of the business. Coaches and teams know that when they make the hire. However, it’s not always the coaches fault when things don’t go right. Sometimes the organization has to shoulder the blame.

In the case of the New York Knicks, they have no one to blame but themselves for Derek Fisher. He did not have the experience, the resume or the mentality to be successful in New York. The Kings have no one to blame but themselves on hiring Karl to skipper a roster he clearly was not going to reach.

In both cases, the coaches were set up to fail by the teams that hired them. Neither were put in situations where they could have been truly successful, but both will get labeled with blame because they couldn’t make the unworkable, work.

Coaches are hired to be fired, that’s the sad reality of the profession, but it’s not always the coaches’ fault when the relationship needs to come to an end. Sometimes, it’s more on the team and management than it is the coach.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.

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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.

James Blancarte

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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.

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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.

Joel Brigham

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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…)

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