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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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.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN