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NBA AM: When Legends Return Home

Dwyane Wade went back to Miami, but he wasn’t the first legend to return ‘home’ to his franchise.

Joel Brigham

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Just about every trade that ultimately occurred at this past Thursday’s deadline was fairly predictable. Nobody believed that Cleveland would revamp to the extent that they did, for example, but all the players they ultimately acquired were names that circulated the rumor mill in the days and weeks before the actual transaction.

The same was essentially true of the players Cleveland sent away, with one glaring exception. Nobody saw Dwyane Wade’s trade to Miami coming.

Not that a surprise trade is a bad thing. In a world where we get to know the draft picks NBA teams are making 30 seconds before Adam Silver actually announces them, it’s nice to experience the occasional pleasant surprise, particularly when that surprise sends a Hall of Fame player back to his original team so he can finish out his storied career with the organization that helped make him the legend he is today.

It made for some great journalism over the course of the past few days (Hashtag FlashBack), but it is, of course, not the first time this has ever happened. Superstar players returning to their original teams is nothing new. Here’s a look at some of the most notable examples in recent league history:

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

For all we know, these next few months could be our last opportunity to see LeBron James represent his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, but there’s no denying that his return to the team that drafted him has been among the most inspirational homecomings the NBA has ever seen. After winning two MVP trophies and leading the Cavs to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007, it was a legitimate stomach punch for James to head to South Beach and then win a couple of championships there. However, when given the opportunity to return to Cleveland in 2014, he made the most of it by leading the Cavaliers to a championship in 2016. Already in the conversation for the greatest player of all time, this narrative was too perfect not to play out in a way that solidified his legacy.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers

Things fell apart quickly and unexpectedly for Iverson in Philadelphia back in 2006. After winning an MVP award, breaking numerous franchise scoring records, and even leading the team on an NBA Finals appearance, the time had come for a trade, so Iverson was shipped to Denver to pair up with Carmelo Anthony. It wasn’t the resurgence he had hoped for, and after flaming out with the Nuggets after a few seasons, and then again with Detroit and Memphis in 2008-2009, Iverson looked all but cooked. However, in December of 2009 he made his return to Philadelphia to an outpouring of love from the Sixers crowd, scoring 11 points and dishing out six assists in his first game back. Those good vibrations only lasted a few months, though, as Iverson’s daughter was suffering from complications due to Kawasaki Disease and Iverson felt the need to step away from the team in late February of 2010. Still, he got to end his career much more positively than he would have by walking out on the Grizzlies, which is a better final chapter for his heroic NBA career.

Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns

In looking at what Phoenix got for Steve Nash in the 1998 trade that sent him to Dallas, it’s almost humorous how little they were able to return for the former 15th pick in the draft. The Suns did get a first-round pick that eventually turned into Shawn Marion, but the rest? Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and the draft rights to Pat Garrity hardly are a king’s ransom for a future two-time MVP. Nash saw huge success with the Mavs for six seasons, but he had his best years in his second stint with the Suns, winning those MVP trophies and making it to the Western Conference Finals a handful of times. Wells and Muursepp obviously were long gone by then.

Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks

Don’t feel too bad for Dallas, though, because a few years after losing Nash to his original team, the Mavericks were able to return future Hall of Fame point guard of their own in 2008. Kidd had been a Co-Rookie of the Year in Dallas nearly a decade-and-a-half prior, but his second stint with the team would result in his first and only championship run, which occurred in 2011 when the Mavs toppled LeBron James’ Miami HEAT in their first year together. Kidd had made the Finals a couple of times prior to that, but never had won. His return to Dallas corrected that.

Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves

It was hard for Kevin Garnett to leave the Timberwolves in 2007, and even harder for Minnesota owner Glen Taylor to let him go. The plan always had been for him to retire in the Twin Cities, but with the team tanking and Boston putting together a strong offer for the former MVP, the time finally had come to ship him to greener pastures. They don’t get much greener than Boston, and Garnett would win his first and only title with the Celtics the very next season. He never did win a second ring, though, eventually getting shipped along with Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a trade that still is having draft ramifications for Brooklyn, but when that stint was over, Garnett found himself traded back to Minnesota at the deadline in 2015. He mostly was ineffective as a player in his return, but the young Wolves on the team that year said his addition was like adding another coach to the practice floor. And, perhaps most importantly, he got to retire in Minnesota after all.

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

Obviously Pippen’s best years came as a member of the Chicago Bulls, most of which were alongside the great Michael Jordan, but when Mike retired, Pip looked for ways to branch out on his own, and he did that with limited success in stints with Houston and Portland. His final year before retiring, however, he was talked into returning to Chicago for one last season in the place where it all started, and the fans and other young players on the team were glad to have him there. It was odd seeing him alongside Jalen Rose, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler instead of Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc, but considering he remains a team ambassador to this day, that final year reintroduced him to a franchise from which he had been estranged for a few years. He’s living proof that time heals all.

Chris Mullin, Golden State Warriors

As a member of the 1992 Dream Team, Chris Mullin was one of the great forwards of his day, but as happens with many players, even the really good ones, he found himself traded to another team. In this case, that team was the Indiana Pacers, but with Jalen Rose breaking out Mullin didn’t get the minutes he was accustomed to getting. So, upon being waived by the Pacers following the team’s 2000 NBA Finals appearance, he took the opportunity to sign with the Golden State Warriors. The team had wild new cartoonish uniforms by then, so the aesthetic was radically different, but at least one of the best players in Golden State Warriors history got to retire with the team that helped make him a star.

There are, of course, many other players that have been given the opportunity to return to their original teams to varying degrees of success, but seeing superstars get the opportunity to come back makes for especially good entertainment. Hopefully Wade is given the opportunity to ride into the hot, hot Miami sunset with enough ability left to make an impact, but even if he was entirely broken and useless, HEAT fans would be happy to have him back all the same.

Patrick Ewing retired as a member of the Orlando Magic. Dominique Wilkins retired as a member of the Boston Celtics. Hakeem Olajuwon retired as a member of the Toronto Raptors. That’s not the way to end a Hall of Fame career. What Wade gets to experience now is much more fitting for a player with his impressive resume.

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Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton

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With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.

And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.

It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.

Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.

That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.

To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.

Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.

In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to openings2018@basketballinsiders.com

 

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NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward

Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.

Ben Nadeau

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Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.

Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”

Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.

In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.

“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”

And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.

But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.

During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.

Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.

“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”

Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.

On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.

“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”

The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.

Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.

“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”

Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.

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