Maybe It Was Brooklyn?: While it is still very early in the season, there is something that sort of jumps out at you in the NBA standings. The Milwaukee Bucks are doing pretty well for themselves and the Brooklyn Nets are still under achievers.
Much was made about Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, especially as things came unglued at the end in Brooklyn. From listening to the Bucks players and staff and watching how things are imploding in Brooklyn, you have to wonder: Did Kidd bear the brunt of the problem unfairly?
Many versions of the Kidd story have been told, but the one that seems most likely is that Kidd, like most around the NBA, had heard that the Nets were thinking about firing him after a dreadful start last season. Can you really blame the guy for going into self-preservation mode when his front office allegedly turned on him?
In talking with several of the Bucks players last week, they all sort of had the same story. Kidd was challenging them in practice. He was forcing them into a defense-first mind set, and the guards were really embracing how much he was helping them prepare and execute. Kidd has a solid coaching staff and their young guys are really taking to his process.
There wasn’t a typical rolling of the eyes you get when you ask some guys about their coach. There wasn’t the typical well-rehearsed line guys manufacture to gloss over their coach. There was a genuine, lean-into-the-question answer.
One veteran Bucks player admitted that he was curious about Kidd as a coach and reached out to players on last year’s Nets team, and said he was told that Kidd started out rocky but got better as the season progressed. There was no animosity about him, which was reassuring to this particular player.
The Bucks may not stay in the .500 club, they have lost two straight, but the one thing that is clear is Kidd might be a better coach than he’s given credit for, and that a lot of the Brooklyn mess might not have been entirely his fault.
The Bucks are pretty happy with how the situation turned out; we’ll see if that changes as the season rolls on.
Get Them When You Can Get Them?: As The LA Lakers continue to struggle, a common question asked by Laker fans is, when will the team make a trade to right the ship?
Now for the non-Lakers fans, don’t snicker, this is a fan base that is used to being able to trade their way out of problems or gloss over mistakes with their checkbook and that might be how this season plays out too.
Before we get too far, keep in mind a lot of things have changed in the NBA since the lockout in 2011.
The Lakers as a franchise used to carry one of the largest payrolls in the NBA, which allowed them to trade into large unattractive contracts, as it does take contract money to trade for contract money.
The Lakers also don’t have very many attractive contracts to trade, at least not yet any way. Most of the deals the Lakers signed this summer do not become trade eligible until at least December 15.
Laker big man Jordan Hill is not trade eligible until January 15, and because of the structure of his contract has the ability to veto a trade. Hill is owed $9 million this year and has a team option worth $9 million for next season. If traded, he would have to agree to the deal.
Swingman Nick Young, who might be the most tradable player, cannot be traded until December 15, but also has three fully guaranteed years on his contract. Young is owed $4.99 million this year, $5.21 million next year and 5.443 million in 2016-2017. Young holds a player option worth $5.66 million for the 2017-18 season.
Laker forward Carlos Boozer cannot be traded at all, as he was an amnesty claim.
Rookie Julius Randle has a broken leg, which make his trade value extremely low.
Laker bright spot Ed Davis cannot be moved until December 15, but is making just $915,000 this season, which won’t return much even when he can be traded, unless he is paired with other contracts.
The Lakers have already traded their own draft pick to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash deal. The pick is top five protected, so there is a chance the Lakers can keep it, but as a trade tool that asset is off the table. They do possess the Houston Rockets’ first round pick, which is lottery protected for taking on the contract of guard Jeremy Lin. That pick is a tradable asset, but given how the Rockets are playing, it does not look like a very attractive draft pick, likely something in the mid-to-low twenties.
The Lakers do have the expiring contract of guard Nash, which is worth $9.7 million, along with Lin’s ending deal, which is worth $8.3 million against the cap.
Nash is not expected to play again, making him only valuable as a cap clearing tool, while Lin, who could contribute to a team, has an awkwardly structured contract. To land him in Houston back in 2012, the Rockets used a salary cap concept called a “poison pill”, where they back loaded the cash payment of Lin’s contract. The salary cap value of the deal was spread out evenly over the three-years of the deal, but the actual cash paid was $5 million in year one, $5.5 million in year two and roughly $15 million this season.
While Lin only counts as $8.3 million against the salary cap, the debt owed to him is much higher, making his contract unattractive in a trade. Most teams look for reverse scenarios where the cap value is higher than the actual cash owed.
Even at the trade deadline in February, Lin’s cash owed will be closer to $5 million, which is a ton for the final 30 percent of the season. Most teams, especially smaller market or cost conscious teams would steer clear of that kind of structure without receiving some kind of inducement, like a draft pick or young talent.
So is a trade the answer for the Lakers? It does not seem like they have much to offer. The days of teams valuing ending contracts has passed unless you are taking back an ugly contract and frankly the last think the Lakers need is another ugly contract.
While you never say never, the Lakers do have what amounts to $18 million in tradable salary between Nash and Lin. The odds that the Lakers are getting their coveted would-be free agent for just that bundle of assets are pretty slim. However, in the NBA you are always open for business and if you can get the player, you get the player.
Green Sets The Record Straight: After some reports surfaced suggesting that Boston forward Jeff Green might be easier to trade than Rajon Rondo, Green took issue with that concept saying that he hasn’t asked for a trade and wants to remain in Boston.
“I just want to clear the air about some B.S. rumor that came out,” Green said to Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com. “I don’t know if the person who made this article is in this here, but the rumor about me wanting to get traded is definitely false. I said that I was frustrated with losing, not frustrated with the team. So if the words didn’t come from my mouth, I’d appreciate if you do not write a dumb— article like that.”
Green has vented a few times about the losing that the Celtics are enduring, and some have translated that to mean he is seeking a trade, and while its remains very possible that Green is traded, for his part he is trying to make it clear that he’d like to stay.
“I want to stay here,” Green said. “I love this team. I love being here.
“If I didn’t [want to be here], I wouldn’t have signed [his most recent] contract to come back here. I’m happy where I’m at, happy with the coach, management, front office, everybody. I haven’t been happy like this in years. It’s a good place for me.
While Green went on the offensive to try and quell the notion of a trade, there is no doubting that Green, forward Brandon Bass and guard Rajon Rondo are viewed as players that are not part of the long-term plan in Boston and could be had at some point this season in trade if the price were right.
Green is currently the Celtics’ leading scorer at 18.4 points game despite shooting 43.3 percent from the field and just 27.3 percent from the three-point line.
The Celtics are currently 4-8 on the season and have lost seven of their last ten games.
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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”