Meet You In LA?
The folks over at ESPN have always been good at generating conversation. Some of the personalities that they have built popular television programs around are great at creating content. That’s not to say those on the journalism side are not great journalists, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see what the television side has become. It’s a self-feeding monster that, at times, is more concerned with sensationalism than it is accuracy.
Unfortunately, Stephen A. Smith, once a great writer and reporter, has fallen into this hype-over-substance model.
Smith laid an egg on a popular ESPN radio show in Los Angeles suggesting that not only would Thunder star Kevin Durant consider signing in L.A. with the Lakers, but that his current teammate Russell Westbrook would likely join him in 2017 as well.
“Keep in mind this,” Smith said on the “Mason and Ireland” show in LA. “One of the biggest reasons I’m told that Kevin Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list is because the Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know, but the Lakers have been led to believe that it is a very good chance that the following year Russell Westbrook is coming.”
Smith went on to say that the idea of Durant and Westbrook staying together was very real.
“This notion that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ain’t tight, that they don’t want to play together, that is a lie,” he said. “They love each other, and they love being on the same team. … And if it so happens to be in the L.A. market, all the better.”
I deliberately used the word egg in describing this interview because it has since hatched and become a thing. It’s a thing the folks on ESPN television can now talk about incessantly.
Let’s forget for a second that nothing in the statement is anything more than wishful thinking from the Lakers’ perspective.
“Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list…”
“The Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know…”
“If it so happens to be in the L.A. market, all the better.”
There is nothing contained in this commentary to suggest anything of substance from Durant’s side or even Westbrook’s side. This commentary is simply the dream scenario from the Lakers, framed solely through the prism of the Lakers.
A league source chuckled at the idea, saying if Durant and Westbrook wanted to remain together, they’d earn more staying right where they are.
The same source said that while Durant may explore his free agent options in 2016, there is a growing sense that Durant may be more open to signing a one-and-one deal, where he takes one fully guaranteed year and a player option year and remains in Oklahoma City for one more year. Such a deal ties his own free agency to Westbrook’s in 2017 when the salary cap goes up again.
Taking the one-and-one route ensures Durant sees all of the fruits of the pending salary cap jumps, while allowing him to finish what he started in Oklahoma City without being handcuffed to the franchise in the long-term, similar to what LeBron James has done in Cleveland.
With Durant having pocketed more than $200 million in upfront payments on his new Nike shoe deal and more than $100 million to come, Durant has the financial security to make his own choices independent of the financial impact.
Durant has been fairly open that he is not actively thinking about this summer and that he plans to be thorough in his thinking after the season is over.
While the L.A. Lakers would love to land Durant, the idea that some elaborate plan has been formulated by Durant and Westbrook is almost laughable.
However, that’s what ESPN has been great at doing. They take an idea, however far fetched, and breathe life into it so that all of us will talk about it.
Getting The Verbiage Right
With the 2016 NBA Trade deadline less than 16 days away, more and more conversations on the trade front are going to surface.
While the words used to describe one team’s interest in another team’s players often get interchanged, it’s important to point out that not everything is what it seems this close to the trade deadline.
Buyer and Sellers
At the end of the day, every trade is a transaction that involves someone getting something and someone giving up something, so both sides are really buyers, but the term “buyer” in the trade context is used for those teams looking to take on talent or more salary.
The term “seller” is for those teams that are looking to move a contract or several pieces. That’s not to say that a seller is just giving away what they have, but they are the team that’s a bit more motivated to make a deal and is likely talking with a handful of possible trade partners.
In the current market, the Phoenix Suns are sellers. They have a couple of guys they would be willing to move, the biggest being Markieff Morris.
The Boston Celtics are also sellers. They have a ton of duplication and are looking to upgrade if possible. They have a pocket full of draft picks and seem willing to package picks with players to get a serious talent in return.
The L.A. Lakers are sellers. They have a number of veterans that they would be willing to move in order to gain better fitting pieces for where they are in their rebuild.
The Orlando Magic are buyers. Their season has gotten away from them recently and they are open to taking on a couple of new faces, though not likely at the expense of their young core. However, the Magic seem far more open to change today than they did a month ago.
The Sacramento Kings are buyers. They too are open to making a splashy change; however, they are not going to trigger a deal just to make a move. They want to add another serious piece to the team, but the trade has to make sense.
While some teams want to make a deal, other teams are on the fence. Those teams are looking for ways to improve, but are not necessarily going to make a move. Those teams are shopping for opportunities and could sit out the market just as easily as they could make a deal in it.
The Atlanta Hawks are shoppers. They are open to ideas on a trade. They have several players who get mentioned in trade rumors, but they are not eager to make a deal and for the Hawks it is all about what they could get in return.
The Miami HEAT are shoppers. The HEAT are not being overly aggressive, but sources close to the process say they are sniffing around for a deal and if something interesting comes their way, they would explore it. Miami has a number of ending contracts and a couple of favorable bench options. The HEAT are not overly engaged at this point with anyone specific, so there is a sense Miami could end up doing nothing.
The New York Knicks have been shoppers all year, looking mainly for a point guard. With so little to really offer in the market place, the Knicks are hoping something falls their way, which may not happen given where the market stands today.
Specific Player Targeting
Most teams have a white board in their front office that shows the rosters of every team on magnetic strips. These boards are usually arranged by roster depth, some with salary valuation.
The name of the game in trade planning is understanding who can be had. That’s the routine leg work assistant general managers and player personnel staff do throughout the season. This involves having casual conversations with other teams’ executives about what they are looking for and who they are thinking about parting with.
The dangerous thing in trades is falling in love with a specific player. Unless it’s a top-level guy, most teams settle into positional needs. They’ll say, ‘We need a starting point guard,’ and begin looking at players that fit that need (and then internally narrow down their pool of potential targets based on salary, style of play, etc.). Calling a team about a specific player is going to raise the price and a lot of times having multiple names in the market helps keep the compensation somewhat reasonable.
Most trades start in the abstract and evolve into a specific offer over time. As the deadline gets closer, there is some poker to be played. However, most general managers understand the value of a good, balanced deal, where each side gets what they need.
Eventually every NBA team will do business together at some point, so trying to get one over on a team or trying to steal players away with shady offers usually kills relationships. This is the reason you generally see certain GMs deal with other certain GMs more frequently; there’s trust there – not to mention more conversations if the two individuals have a strong relationship.
It’s important to note that while specific players make their way to the rumor mill, teams usually avoid getting into specific names until there is a real deal to be made. Equally, a ‘no chance’ can turn into ‘let’s deal’ in a heartbeat this close to the deadline. It’s always about the offer. Very few players are completely untouchable.
Over the next three weeks, you can expect things to heat up a little on the trade front, especially with the entire NBA off during the All-Star break. That’s when teams really hunker down on the trade market.
The 2016 NBA trade deadline is February 18 at 3 p.m. EST.
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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.