Don’t Blame Jimmy Butler
As we enter the 14th day of “Jimmy Butler Watch” in Minnesota, there are a few things worth pointing out about the situation and its ultimate resolution.
The timing of all of this is certainly the biggest issue for the Wolves and their fans. As Wolves forward Taj Gibson phrased it, it was absolutely a “gut punch” to a franchise that expected another training camp together to possibly mend some of the rough edges that surfaced during the season last year.
The problem is, the Wolves didn’t understand how insulted Butler was, so the franchise didn’t go out of its way to re-work Butler’s contract or address how disinterested Butler was in trying to make the Andrew Wiggins-Karl-Anthony Towns pairing work.
This brings us to second week of the drama of the Wolves trying to trade a multi-time All-Star just as training camps open.
Here are some thoughts worth considering:
Wolves Can’t Force A Trade
As much as the Wolves and their fans would like closure on the Butler situation, the Wolves can’t force another team to up their offer. Equally, the Wolves gave up a ton of value to obtain Butler on draft day in June 2017 and getting pennies on the dollar in return doesn’t seem to be overly attractive at this point.
It’s also important to note that NBA teams spend months assembling the rosters they bring into training camp. There is always a desire to see if what you have works as expected before blowing things up. The Wolves know that they can take what’s on the table now at almost any point in the season. The question is: Will someone get desperate and up the ante on a deal?
The Wolves have been super aggressive with the teams inquiring about Butler, either putting insane names on the table or countering offers with insane counter proposals. This has been the Wolves track record for a while, so no one really connected to the situation seems overly surprised, mainly because there is a sense in NBA circles that the Wolves have to salvage the Butler situation or the whole process in Minnesota will come apart (worse than it seems to be now).
The Wolves don’t have a ton of leverage in the situation other than to say no for a while longer. There is a reality that at some point (soon) they will have to pull the trigger even if the deal isn’t what they would hope – but at the same time, the reason a deal hasn’t been done yet is simply because the Wolves can’t force a team to deal them what they want in return.
What’s A Rental Worth?
The other part of the Butler situation is the prevailing notion that not only will Butler expect a huge new contract next July, but there’s also a big chance he could walk away as an unrestricted free agent, which is risky in a deal that could involve rookie-scale players and draft picks.
There is, however, no shortage of NBA teams willing to trade their own potentially-expiring contracts to the Wolves. What’s holding up a deal is the idea of an All-Star for an All-Star, and, worse yet, an All-Star under team control for a couple of years.
There is value in the rental situation, especially for a team that’s middling like the Miami HEAT, or a team that feels it is one player away from the NBA Finals like Milwaukee and Houston.
There is always doubt about the long-term odds of a rental situation, but as Paul George proved with the Thunder, sometimes a rental could be a long-term recruiting pitch, which can break a team’s way if the team is wildly successful.
Getting Under The Tax Matters
There is another factor in a Butler deal that is framing how aggressive some teams will go, and that’s the looming Repeater Luxury Tax some teams are facing.
The beauty of trading for Butler is that his Bird Rights go with him, so the acquiring team won’t need cap room to re-sign him, even to a monster new deal.
The flip side is that teams that have big contracts on the books now could see not only Luxury Tax penalty, but also the really punitive Repeater Tax penalty that comes with overspending in consecutive years.
Rockets ownership has already talked about their concerns over the limitations Repeater Tax has on team building. The Thunder also made several deals this past summer to reduce their tax burden.
Teams like Miami and Milwaukee are extremely mindful of their tax situations and how a bad deal could hamper their team development going forward.
So while it’s easy to say a team should take Butler and whatever other cap luggage the Wolves want to pack into a trade, there are harsh realities that teams have to weigh in when it comes to what they will take back in a Butler deal. Equally, with both Wiggins and Towns now locked into huge new deals, the Wolves have to keep their eye on the tax line too – especially with some of the secondary deals they have done to build the current team.
Jimmy Didn’t Pick Minnesota
As much as people love the narrative of former Chicago Bulls players running back to Wolves president and head coach Tom Thibodeau, the truth is Butler didn’t pick the Timberwolves. The Wolves chose him.
In what has been well-publicized, Butler really believed he was staying in Chicago and in-line for a Supermax deal from the Bulls. They opted to trade Butler, and the rest is history.
Butler wasn’t unhappy with the reunion with Thibodeau, but he wasn’t thrilled to have left some $40-$50 million behind in Chicago. It’s why the Wolves inability to re-work his contract this summer ultimately poisoned the relationship.
Butler isn’t without blame in all of this. He was temperamental all of last season. His expectations that the Wolves would or could dump off enough cap money to rework his deal was far-fetched to begin with, especially given how little open cap space there was this summer. But none of that changes that Butler didn’t pick the Wolves.
It is easy to get caught up in the process teams go through to obtain players and believe there should be loyalty to a situation, whether that players teams draft, sign, re-sign and/or even trade for.
The truth of it is the NBA is a business, and every time the romance of the teams comes into play, there is a brutal example of how cold the business really is.
Ask Blake Griffin -the LA Clippers told him he’d be, “a Clipper for life,” and he was traded less than six months later.
It is easy to be mad at NBA players who ask out of unfavorable or undesirable situations, but the truth of the matter is NBA careers are short. Expecting players to remain in situations they don’t want is unrealistic, especially when teams will ultimately cave and concede to a trade in the spirit of the bigger team dynamic.
While it’s likely the Butler situation will come to a close sooner rather than later, at this point there doesn’t seem to be a front-runner for Butler.
Although, that could change fairly quickly.
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Underdog Teams With a Shot at the Second Round
Underdogs rarely pull-off upsets in the NBA Playoffs. Yet four underdogs stole a game on their respective opponent’s home floor. Which, if any, can succeed in advancing beyond the first round?
The first round of the NBA Playoffs provides infrequent upsets – especially since 2003 when the first round was extended to a best-of-seven series (from a best-of-five).
Per the usual, this year has its share of favorites in the driver’s seat. For example, it’s a fair assumption that the Celtics, Rockets, Trailblazers and Bucks will advance after winning their first two home games.
All of the aforementioned teams were the higher seed in their respective series and – with the exception of the Trail Blazers vs. Thunder – none were seriously expected to end in upset. And while being down 2-0 isn’t a kiss of death, it is difficult winning four out of five with two of the remaining games on an opponent’s floor; in the 282 seven-game playoff series throughout NBA history, only 20 teams have come back to win from a 2-0 hole, which examines all rounds of the playoffs.
So then let’s focus instead on the underdogs of the 2019 NBA Playoffs who stole a game on their opponent’s floor: the Magic, Clippers, Spurs and Nets, all of whom are tied in their respective series at a game a piece.
For context, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook via an article written by Kaelen Jones for Sports Illustrated, the Warriors were -50,000 against the Clippers entering the series; the Raptors were -1,400 against the Magic; the 76ers were -800 against the Nets and the Nuggets were -200 against the Spurs.
Put plainly, Vegas had no faith in the Clippers and Magic advancing. It felt strongly about the 76ers’ chances to advance past the Nets. And it was marginally confident that the Nuggets would eliminate the Spurs.
And while none of the aforementioned odds conclusively indicate that a team will advance, it speaks to the outlook of experts as of the start of the playoffs.
But experts can be wrong. And while we know all four series should still not be viewed evenly, stealing one of the first two games is the first step to upsetting a favorite. So which of the four underdogs who stole one of the first two playoff games are most likely to advance (if any)?
From an analytics standpoint, the Spurs have played their first-round opponent the best of the four teams we’re examining. In the aggregate, the Spurs are -4 against their first-round opponent through two games, whereas the Nets and Clippers are both -13 and the Magic are -26.
After splitting the first two games, the Spurs are given a 36.6% chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs by Basketball-Reference.com, which is not the best odds of the four teams. The best odds go the Nets, who are given a 39.1% chance of success. Next up is the Clippers, who are receive a 23.1% chance of advancing. And finally, the Magic have only a 21.1% chance of advancing. Those odds are determined by 1,000 simulations of the remainder of the playoffs after two games.
But we all know that analytics and simulations aren’t 100% accurate – after all, the Warriors’ odds for success on Monday was as high as 99.9% when up 31 points against the Clippers. Players and teams get hot at unexpected times and coaching and strategy plays a bigger factor in the playoffs more than it does in the regular season.
So what else might affect the outcomes? Let’s examine three factors that could swing the results in favor of the underdogs.
Brooklyn Nets: Jared Dudley
His initial allure to the Nets was his veteran leadership. And that was valuable enough to justify his spot on the roster.
But his impact on Game 1 was profound. However, he was sorely missed in Game 2 as he was recovering from a tight right calf.
In Game 1, Dudley guarded Ben Simmons on 22 possessions, Joel Embiid on three possession, Boban Marjanovic on seven possessions and Mike Scott on 11, in which time they scored a combined two points (Simmons). Drilling down to the All-Stars (Simmons and Embiid), that’s two points on 25 possessions. Not bad for a veteran leader.
And after examining game film from the first game, his value is even more clear. His defensive instincts are incredibly sound. Dudley makes the right choices far more often than not, as evidenced by his discipline in transition when picking up Simmons. He regularly correctly sagged off of Simmons, resisted the urge to bite on fakes and forced Simmons to take less-than-ideal shots or pass the ball.
And Dudley is a willing passer and screener, too, rarely shooting the ball unless open. He provides the Nets with energy, focus and wisdom. If the Nets are to advance, they will need everything they can get from Dudley, who is listed as probable for Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn.
Orland Magic: Point guard play and three-point shooting
The Magic have a few kinks to iron out that could sway their fortunes.
The first of the two comes from D.J. Augustin. They’ll need Augustin to play like the capable floor general he proved he can be in Game 1 when he dropped 25 points and six assists on the Raptors and shot 80% from three-point range, including a game-winning shot with 3.5 seconds remaining.
On the contrary, when he plays like he did in Game 2 – 9 points, 0 assists and 0-1 from three-point range – the Magic will struggle.
Augustin has the ability to be his team’s best three-point shooter and most capable playmaker with the ball in his hands. He must summon his best play if they are to stand a chance against the Raptors.
But Augustin’s strong play and improved shooting won’t do it alone. The Magic must must shoot better as a team, notably on three-point field goals. In Game 1, the Magic seized that opportunity, shooting a scorching 48% from deep on 29 attempts – that adds up to 42 points on three-pointers. Compare that to Game 2, in which they shot only 26.5% from three-point territory, which resulted in only 27 points.
Hitting the three-ball has residual benefits that are arguably as important as the points. It opens up driving lanes and forces the defense to either close-out aggressively on shooters or deny them the basketball – either way, the result is a better-spaced floor. While it will be a dog fight for the Magic, they’ll have a shot if they can shoot the three at an above average clip and get elite level play from their point guard and floor general.
San Antonio: Home court advantage
San Antonio isn’t typically mentioned among the elite home crowds by the mainstream media. We hear about Denver and Golden State regularly, and rightfully so. Madison Square Garden gets props despite not playing host to a competitive team in some years. Philly has a reputation for being aggressive, too. But the Spurs home record hints that its home court should get more props than it does.
The Spurs were tied for the third-best home record during the regular season (32-9). Add in the fact that the Nuggets had a sub-.500 winning percentage on the road in 2018-19 and we have a recipe for an upset. Interestingly, the inverse is also true – the Spurs were a sub-par road team and the Nuggets a superb home team – so it’s far from guaranteed that the Spurs win the next two. But if they can, the Spurs will go back to Denver up 3-1 with three opportunities to close out the series.
The NBA Playoffs is less about early-round upsets than it is about seeing giants go head-to-head in the conference semifinals and beyond. The first round and its victors is mostly an afterthought. But maybe not this year. There is potential for more than one underdog to advance, which would shake-up the playoff landscape moving forward. The next step in that journey begins tonight, as the Nets, Spurs and Clippers all look to defend their respective home courts.
NBA Daily: Who Is Headed To The Lakers Next?
With the recent departure of both Magic Johnson and Luke Walton, Jordan Hicks takes a look at where the Lakers stand and who they may end up hiring.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly how the Los Angeles Lakers organization is feeling at the moment. They’ve now missed the playoffs six seasons in a row, their sole star player – although playing really well – is aging and their young core of high-draft picks still hasn’t found any form of consistency – not to mention a fair share of injury problems.
Flashback to the summer of 2018 and things were going great. Magic Johnson – then president of the organization – had just inked the best player in the NBA to a four-year deal. What followed next was certainly interesting.
Instead of pairing LeBron James with a second superstar-caliber player, the Lakers decided to ink the likes of JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. A lineup of players so diverse and flashy that most couldn’t help but dub them the Meme Team. The nickname, although silly, was absolutely fitting.
By the end of the season, Rondo and McGee were the only players from that group who were making any sort of an impact. Stephenson found himself injured and Beasley found himself out of the NBA altogether.
To the surprise of no one, those players never really meshed well with the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyla Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. Their impact wasn’t much better when sharing the court with James.
By the end of it all, the Lakers found themselves 11 games out of the playoffs. LeBron missed 17 crucial games midseason. The Lakers could have very well gone 11-6 during that stretch, but blaming their omission from the playoffs on James’ slightly-more-than-minor injury just masks the real issues.
Yes, the members of the Meme Team were all on expiring deals, but to think the Lakers left all their problems behind is egregious.
Perhaps the worst thing that happened all season was the myriad of rumors during the trade deadline that involved their entire young core and Anthony Davis. Regardless of what you think, the fact of the matter is that the same agent that represents LeBron also represents Davis. The trade never went down, but there were many solidified rumors that the entire young core of the Lakers was offered for Davis.
This clearly had an impact on the roster, as the Lakers post-All-Star break looked like a completely different team. And LeBron returning to the roster didn’t really make a major impact at all.
The reason for all this build up is to really illustrate the issues both the new president of basketball operations, as well as the new head coach, will come into. Recently, Magic Johnson resigned from his position and a few days later Luke Walton was fired. Reports have also surfaced that current general manager Rob Pelinka is the man that now controls most, if not all, of what goes on within the organization.
On Tuesday morning, Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports reported that Los Angeles already has their replacement for team president. Other reports have suggested that Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue are their two preferred options at Head Coach.
With Lue, you basically have an idea of what you’re going to get. Lue and James found success in Cleveland, making the NBA Finals every year they were together, as well as winning one championship. Shortly after James’ departure, Lue was fired.
This isn’t to say Ty Lue is a bad coach. But what you get with Lue is a very LeBronp-focused team. Lue has no problem taking the backseat – in a sense of the word – to James. They seemed to work really well together, and the Lakers surely would be hoping to regenerate the same sort of success the duo found in Cleveland.
Monty Williams, on the other hand, brings with him a rich history in the league and much more experience than Lue. He has served as a head coach with the New Orleans Pelicans, president of the San Antonio Spurs, an assistant on the U.S. National Team and is currently the assistant to Brett Brown in Philadelphia.
It is hard to say who exactly the Lakers favor, but in the same report highlighted previously, Williams could be offered the head coaching job with the 76ers if they don’t make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. That scenario seems very realistic.
Hiring Lue may be the preferred choice of LeBron James. They have a history, LeBron is comfortable with his coaching style, and his LeBron’s career clock is certainly ticking away. He really doesn’t have a season to waste adapting to the coaching style of someone he isn’t familiar with.
Regardless of who the Lakers hire, even Greg Poppovich himself likely couldn’t take the current roster, as-is, to the NBA Finals. They will certainly need to acquire a second star in free agency or, at worst, a slew of high-level role players.
Whomever they decide to go with at head coach – or whoever chooses to accept the job offer – will have a lot on their plate.
But the one glaring positive in all of this? There isn’t – at least arguably – a franchise in the NBA with a deeper history of success than the Los Angeles Lakers. Regardless of the current state of the franchise, the position alone should be coveted by many potential coaching prospects and candidates around the league.
NBA Daily: Garrett Temple Fitting In With Clippers
David Yapkowitz sits down with Los Angeles Clippers swingman Garrett Temple to discuss his niche with the team and the culture they’ve established under Doc Rivers.
It’s been a season of silencing the doubters for the Los Angeles Clippers. Back in October when the NBA season began, you’d be hard pressed to have found anyone that would’ve given them a chance at making the playoffs.
Flash forward to the present, and they not only have made the postseason, but they’re currently tied 1-1 in the first round with the defending champion Golden State Warriors – and with the next two games on their home-court.
Even as recently as the trade deadline, there were people and pundits who doubted them when they traded away Tobias Harris, who was having an All-Star caliber season. But the new guys who arrived in February have been a huge reason why the Clippers continued to win, especially Garrett Temple.
The nine-year veteran began this season in Memphis after having spent the last two years with the Sacramento Kings. When the Clippers dealt Avery Bradley at the deadline, Temple – along with JaMychal Green – was one of the two pieces the Grizzlies sent back.
Temple had been a bit of journeyman prior to his time with the Kings and the four years before with the Washington Wizards. From his rookie season in 2009-10 to 2012-13, he had stints with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets. When he first arrived in LA, he could tell right away the locker room dynamic.
“It’s great, we have a team where everybody knows their roles, everybody wants to win,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “Winning is most important here, there’s no egos. We have a team like this where guys are coming together to do whatever coach [Doc Rivers] says. When it’s all about winning, good things can happen.”
And good things did happen. Following the trade deadline, the Clippers went 17-7, including win streaks of five and six games, to finish the season. They were two wins short of winning 50 games.
Temple had a big hand in that, sort of taking over the role Bradley played as the defensive-minded guard, who can stretch the floor and knock down the three.
“Coming off the bench, I give them some defensive energy. I give energy on the offensive end too, in transition, pushing the ball, make my open shots when I’m open,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “When I get the chance, I make sure I push the pace. But just bringing that energy on the defensive side.”
Defense has been Temple’s strong suit since he’s been in the NBA. At 6-foot-6, he’s got the size to defend both guard positions as well as some small forwards. In this playoff series, he’s got the daunting task of being matched up against Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson.
But defense is something he prides himself on. He isn’t going to back down no matter who is standing across from him. Even as the oldest player in the Clippers locker room, he remains one of their best defenders.
“No question, I’ve prided myself on that since I got in the NBA. It’s part of the reason why I’ve been able to stay in the league,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of guys in this league come off the bench and try to score. I pride myself on being that guy on the bench unit that can defend any three positions on the court.”
Since coming over to the Clippers, Temple has been averaging 4.7 points in 19.7 minutes per game. Normally a reliable three-point threat, his shooting numbers have dipped a bit. He’s down to 29.6 percent from three.
None of the team played well enough to mention in Game 1. But in the Game 2 thrilling comeback, Temple gave solid contributions of seven points, knocking down both his free throws and knocking down one of his two attempts from three-point range.
“You don’t fix what’s not broken, you continue to do what you do, whatever’s your strength,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously there’s different transitions and different lingo, but at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I find myself getting comfortable with what our coaches like us to do on the defensive end and offensive end, and trying to fit in well.”
It remains to be seen what happens in this series against the Warriors, but one thing is for sure – the Clippers definitely have Golden State’s attention. To this group, though, the fact that they were able to pull off a historic comeback probably isn’t surprising to them. They’ve prided themselves all season on having this tough mentality.
Temple recognized it right away before the playoffs even began. When he was in Memphis, he experienced the ‘Grit and Grind’ culture of hard-nosed basketball that the team had embraced. He noticed a similar time vibe with the Clippers, a vibe he knew would make them scary come playoff time.
“Just the fact that everybody is hungry, everybody understands their role. There’s no question from anybody what they’re supposed to do when they get on the court. It’s tough when you have a team that just got together,” Temple told Basketball Insiders.
“I think the biggest thing is we know what everybody does. We have enough firepower offensively, we have enough defensive pieces, and we have a Hall-of-Fame coach. We have a good recipe to be somebody to be reckoned with.”