Who Is In And Who Is Out?: The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline is in just 15 days and while the chatter about trades is going to come up several notches as teams kick the tires on what’s possible, there are a few teams that are posturing for a move and likely will make one, while there are few others that still remain on the fence about change.
There is one thing to keep in mind about this deadline, which unlike most has more draft day ties than usual. A large number of teams are looking at their tradable assets as not only bait to make moves now, but possibly the leverage they’ll need to move around on draft day in June.
Here are some of the teams posturing for a move and some of the teams still on the fence:
On The Move
Phoenix: The Suns made headlines with their play for Lakers forward Gasol, but like most trades that get to the press before the deadline this thing was really sort of dead before it started. The Suns are shopping the ending, insurance-paid contract of Emeka Okafor and one of their late first round draft picks. They are not looking for anything silly, but they do have eyes for an ending contract player that could add something to their playoff push. Gasol was a swing for the fences idea for the Suns hoping the Lakers would relent. Like all deals they are never completely dead until the clock strikes midnight, but the Suns have moved on to other ideas and have been aggressive in trying to find a taker for what amounts to an almost free ending contract. The challenge for the Suns is the kind of players teams would be willing to move for Okafor’s contract have years left on them and that does not seem to be what Phoenix is looking for today. Again, the asking price on a deal 15 days before the deadline can often be very different as the clock ticks away on the trade window. Look for Phoenix to trigger a deal. They have a very tradable asset and with a draft pick in the mix someone is going to bite, it just may not be as big of a name as Gasol.
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Philadelphia: Maybe Sixers General manager Sam Hinkie learned this while he was in Houston, but the Sixers have had a toe (or half a foot) in the trade waters all season long. The names are pretty clear – guard Evan Turner, forward Thaddeus Young and big man Spencer Hawes. The problem is much like Houston has done historically, the asking price for the 76ers’ pieces is really high. Unprotected draft picks and rookie scale players are hard to extract when the league knows you need to sell. The 76ers are one of the teams that is looking to trigger something around the deadline and they could move all three of the players they have been fielding offers on. Turner seems to be drawing considerable interest from the Charlotte Bobcats, and Young has been a target of the Rockets’ all year. As the clock becomes Philly’s enemy they may relent on their asking price so you can expect that they’re going to do something. They simply have too many reasons to make a deal, especially if they can swap out talent and contracts that are in tune with their long-term plan.
Charlotte: The Charlotte Bobcats are somewhat aggressive in kicking the tires. They like Philadelphia’s Evan Turner and they have been kicking around the Detroit Pistons on Greg Monroe. Charlotte is owed a couple of draft picks – one from the Portland Trail Blazers that they look poised to get this year and a Detroit Pistons’ pick that is top eight protected this year. Their own draft pick looks to be headed to Chicago if the ‘Cats make the playoffs and they are angling for a trade to do just that. The Bobcats are also shopping the ending contract of Ben Gordon and there has been talk that they would toss in Bismack Biyombo for the right kind of upgrade, although that might not be much of an inducement. The Bobcats also have the ending contract of Ramon Sessions, who has really struggled to shoot the ball this season. The ‘Cats are in the market. They do have trade chips they are willing to move. The Bobcats as a team are wanting to make a deal, the question is what will they get back for what they appear to be offering in trade?
Cleveland: The Cavaliers are open for business. The two names mentioned most around the league are second year guard Dion Waiters and veteran forward Alonzo Gee. Waiters and lead guard Kyrie Irving has not meshed well together and the Cavs seem to be accepting that moving Waiters has to happen. The Cavs could hold the line if the offers don’t improve and try to move Waiters around the draft or in free agency, but if they can make a move that returns a good asset they seem open to it. Gee has fallen out of the rotation since the arrival of Luol Deng and with his contract in essence being an ending deal as the final year is not guaranteed. He seems like he’ll be tossed in to clear out the log jam and to try and up the overall value of a deal to return a better veteran. There is of course is the annual Anderson Varejao watch. The Cavs have been reluctant to include him in trade talks, but sources around the situation say the massive dysfunction in Cleveland has them listening to a lot of things they normally wouldn’t. The Cavs look like they are sellers, the question is do they get a deal in at the deadline or does business get pushed off to the draft. Current management may not survive a non-playoff berth, so there is at least some perceived urgency to get something done in Cleveland.
Houston: The Houston Rockets haven’t stopped shopping for change. The problem is the chips they would move – Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – won’t return what Houston is looking for: better talent. There continues to be talk that a number of teams like the talent of Asik, but just can’t get their ownership on board with paying his massive balloon payment next season and give up a quality asset as part of the deal. It seems the combination of cost in salary and cost in talent is more than some teams will consider. When you start pulling teams off the board and the field gets smaller, it’s much harder to make a deal that improves the roster. One league source said the Rockets could move Asik tomorrow, but they wouldn’t get much for him. There has been some talk that Francisco Garcia and Donatas Motiejunas could be had at the deadline but combined those two players represent $2.687 million in outgoing salary, that’s hardly enough salary cash to pry lose an impact point guard or an impact power forward. The Rockets seem like they want to make a deal and historically they have been traders at the deadline, so we’ll see if the league’s stance on Asik or Lin changes as the clock ticks to the deadline.
»In Related: This week’s NBA power rankings
Milwaukee: The Bucks are definitely open for business. Almost anything outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo or John Henson is going to get consideration. The Bucks have been as active as almost anyone in gauging what’s out there. They haven’t really gotten to the offering point on anything, but it does seem like they are going to do something at the deadline. Point guard has been mentioned as a need the Bucks are trying to fill for the long-term and the Bucks could be one of the teams on the move for Dion Waiters; although there continues to be talk that the Milwaukee is steering clear of “bad attitude” players, which might red-flag Waiters. There has been talk all season that Houston has eyes for forward Ersan Ilyasova. His numbers on the season have been less than stellar and he is owed a ton of money. It’s unclear if the Bucks would take on one of Houston’s ugly “cash” contracts in order to get out from under Ilyasova but that’s the one to really watch. Milwaukee seems open for business, it remains to be seen how much of the current roster they’d sell.
Sacramento: The Kings continue to be active in trade talks. The two most mentioned names are guards Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. Combined they become an interesting salary cap value that could return a major salary player. The problem is there does not seem to be a whole lot of interest in either player. The Kings have been linked to Denver in an Andre Miller-Jimmer Fredette swap and that may still go down as Denver gets closer to the deadline. The Kings already triggered a major move to get forward Rudy Gay from Toronto and it seems that they are continuing to try and add meaningful players to the roster. The Kings have no shortage of interesting trade chips, the question is what can they truly get done at the deadline.
New Orleans: The Pelicans continue to get hammered with injuries and as much as the team tries to recover they just keep taking steps backwards. The Pelicans are what’s best described as value shoppers. They are open to trades involving core players like Eric Gordon or even Tyreke Evans – if they returned upgrades. That is a tough sell given what both players are making. The Pelicans look like they are going to trade guard Austin Rivers at the deadline, sources close to the situation believe there has been agreement in place all season to move him if playing time and opportunity did not become available. Rivers has seen his minutes increase over the last 14 games, which might be showcasing him for a deal. The Pelicans usually play trades close to the vest, but their posture is one of a team willing to listen to trades and the fact that they have so many duplicated pieces they might be a dark horse to make a splashy move.
On The Fence
Toronto: The Raptors have not stopped listening to offers. In fact, some say they are fielding more calls than normal for a team sitting in the third spot in the East. There continues to be a sense that Toronto would move guard Kyle Lowry, simply because of the risk of losing him to free agency in July. However, sources close to the Raptors say they are simply doing their due diligence and that moving anyone at this point would be all about getting swept away with an offer. The Raptors have all kind of attractive trade chips, but it does seem with the team pointed in the right direction that Toronto may sit out the deadline and let this roster play itself out. Unlike most playoff teams, Toronto is not out of the trade game, they just don’t seem like they are ready to commit to a trade just yet.
Detroit: If you can figure the Detroit Pistons out, bravo. If there is a team in the East that needs to make a roster-changing trade it’s Detroit, but more and more teams are saying Detroit is holding the line. The Pistons have several ending contracts that have value – most notably Rodney Stuckey. They have a pending restricted free agent in Greg Monroe that could return real value and the Pistons seem to be sitting this one out. Several teams have called only to find Detroit reluctant to engage. That could clearly change over the next 15 days, especially as the finality of the deadline approaches, but as much as the Pistons need to make a deal they seem the most unwilling to entertain one.
Dallas: The Mavericks are historically active at the deadline, however this year there’s just not a lot linked to Dallas. There is a clear need for some frontcourt help. They could also use another impact scorer from the bench, but even with needs and ending contracts that could be swapped to fill them, the Mavs don’t seem to be players. The Mavericks have a reputation for shaking every tree in the league so maybe that happens after the All-Star break, but Dallas does not seem as interested in change as they have been in years past.
Orlando: The Magic are like the pretty girl at the dance. Everyone is calling, but not much is happening. The Magic played the J.J. Redick situation almost exactly like this a year ago, rebuffing calls on their players that clearly do not fit in the long-term. The Magic could and likely will change course as the deadline and the offers get real, but don’t be surprised if Orlando sits out the trade deadline and makes their moves around the draft to jockey for better position or to swap veterans for better fitting rookie scale players. Magic guard Arron Afflalo is the top incoming request; however, it seems unless moving Afflalo yields another lottery pick or a means to thin out the roster, the Magic may pass. Admittedly that was Orlando’s move with Redick, and they ultimately made a trade so don’t count Orlando out. They are just squarely on the fence about making a trade.
Washington: The Washington Wizards would like to make a trade. In fact sources close to the situation peg Washington as the top suitor for Detroit’s Greg Monroe. The problem is they can’t get any traction. The Wizards have trade chips. They have the ending contract of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat. Rookie Otto Porter has been mentioned more than once as has second year guard Brad Beal. Not necessarily because Washington wants to move them, but because they are trying to shake loose a real trade. They just are not getting there. As the deadline approaches they might find a dance partner, but the sense is that Washington is only going to do a deal that cements them in the playoffs as a contender and they are unwilling to shake up a team sitting in the fifth spot in the East just for change’s sake, a trade has to make them better today and going forward and it seems they are open to moving ending contracts and maybe a young player to lock themselves in.
LA Lakers: Ahh, The Lakers. Are we ready to stop jumping at every Pau Gasol rumor yet? The Lakers have arrived at the point we knew they’d get to. They have to trade Gasol for something; the problem is they simply want too much in return for a player making $19 million. If the Lakers would take back contract money they’d get a lot more value out of Gasol than the rumored deal for Emeka Okafor and a late first round pick they were offered by Phoenix. The fact that Gasol is going to miss even more time to nagging injuries only impacts the return the Lakers can extract for him. Internally the message has been pretty consistent – Gasol gets moved if it returns future value and no long term contract money. That deal is going to be really hard to pull off for the Lakers. Don’t rule the Lakers out of the trade market. The writing on the wall says they are going to do something with Gasol, the question becomes what do they ultimately settle for and when you settle in trades those usually happen at the last minute. That could always change, but with Gasol hobbled, the Lakers are holding firm on flexibly this summer and wanting solid draft picks in a deal, they may not find that in the next 15 days.
There will obviously be a lot of trade chatter as we march to the trade deadline, make sure you are checking The Latest NBA News section of the site, we’ll keep you posted on everything going on, especially around rumors and roster moves.
Keeping The Noise Out: Kansas big man Joel Embiid could be the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His draft stock has soared all season and with that has come an unbelievable amount of pressure for a decision on his future.
Embiid is still very new to basketball, the world of money and power brokers that surround it. Kansas head coach Bill Self has tried to shield his big man and has tried to keep him as insulated as possible. However, it’s become almost a daily question in Embiid’s life – will he be one-and-done and head to the NBA?
Embiid was asked again last night about his mindset on the NBA, and again he played the same cards he’s been playing regarding this topic.
“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” Embiid said to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “I’ll make a decision after the season, but I’m definitely considering coming back to school.”
»In Related: The latest full 2014 NBA Mock Draft
The prevailing thought from Embiid is that he’s not sure he’s ready for the NBA and the pressures of being a top overall pick candidate.
Embiid is from Cameroon and has been playing organized basketball for just three years. While he’s displayed a lot of athleticism and progress at Kansas, there is still a lot of learning that Embiid needs and it seems he understands that.
Given how brutal things have gone for Anthony Bennett, this year’s top overall pick, its not hard to understand why Embiid, who may be more of a project in his rookie year than most, might be fearful of the big stage of the NBA.
Embiid has said a few times that it will be hard for him to pass on the guaranteed money being a high level draft pick will mean for him and his family, but that staying in school of another year is very possible in his mind.
We have seen this before. Chicago’s Joakim Noah opted for another year at Florida and a chance at a second national championship despite rumors he could have gone number one overall in 2006. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart passed on a possible top three selection this past year in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The problem with buying into the “I’m going to stay” quotes that surface around all of the top college players is that for the most part they are designed to end the questions every day. Embiid can’t declare for the draft today even if he wanted to and he really is not supposed to have contact with NBA teams or agents that could really inform him of his options.
There is no doubting that Embiid is a little overwhelmed by how big his world has gotten in just a few months of stellar play. It’s easy to understand why he’d want to consider staying in a safe and secure environment like Kansas, especially for a kid that has craved coaching and hard work. When you factor in how new all of this is to him, the doubts about being ready should be natural responses.
The truth however is that going number overall is a rare. The financial windfall Embiid can provide to his family is going to be more than the contract money he earns from his future NBA teams; it’s going to be the endorsement possibility and additional money that comes from being the top pick.
Will the kid from Cameroon that wasn’t on the NBA radar as a top prospect four month ago really turn down what could be $30-$40 million in guaranteed money for another year at Kansas?
He might, but it’s extremely unlikely.
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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
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