Another season, another disappointing end for Kemba Walker.
Eight years in the NBA and Walker has managed just two postseason appearances. The blame, however, should not fall on his shoulders; Walker has played like a star since he joined the NBA ranks, especially in recent seasons. It should, instead, fall on the Charlotte Hornets, who have time and time again failed to put a contending roster around their star.
Now, with the Hornets once again on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and Walker staring down free agency, the point guard may take it upon himself to find a team that can put a contending roster around him.
There are a number of teams that would love to add an All-Star like Walker. Whether they be an already contending squad or one on the rise, there is just something to Walker’s game that has made him stand out — a swagger and presence that not everyone has. But, as of now, what teams would be his best fit? Let’s take a look across the league to answer that question.
The Phoenix Suns are in a very interesting situation.
With Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton in the fold, the Suns have a future star-duo in the making. Combined with the host of talented role players on the roster, it seems that Pheonix, after such a long rebuild, is just a piece or two away from Western Conference relevancy.
And, they are guaranteed a top three pick come June, with a 14% chance to land the first overall selection.
The Suns could very easily use their pick — or a later one — on a point guard; Ja Morant, Coby White and a number of other talented point guards will make their way to the stage come June. But Walker would prove to be the most immediate — and potentially best — upgrade at a position that they have struggled to fill since the departures of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Plus, should the Suns luck out and land Zion Williamson, they would have a formidable foursome with which to attack their Western Conference opponents.
It may bring an end to the days of scoring 50 points or more for Devin Booker, but having Walker, a dominant point guard, to orchestrate the offense and draw attention away would not only elevate his play, but the play of Ayton and the rest of the roster as well. His veteran presence in the locker room would certainly be a welcome addition as well.
The Chicago Bulls have a point guard problem.
They have a number of talented players on the roster. Lauri Markkanen is a budding star as a sophomore, while Zach LaVine is proving to be worthy of the $80 million contract he received last offseason. Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. impressed in his inaugural season,
while Otto Porter Jr. seemed rejuvenated after he was traded by the Washington Wizards.
But, at point guard, there is only uncertainty.
Kris Dunn has served as the starter since he came over from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dunn has impressed at times but Chicago seems reluctant to commit to the former Providence Friar. Granted, Dunn’s short time with the team has been up and down, his play fluctuating on almost a nightly basis. He has at times flashed the talent that made him a top pick back in 2017, but Dunn has thus far been unable to bring that sort of energy consistently. And, going into the last year of his contract, the Bulls need to decide if he is their future or if they need to find a replacement.
Should they decide the latter, Walker would seem to be the best option available. A backcourt of Walker and LaVine would be deadly from range, while his presence would provide some room to move for Markkanen and Carter down low.
In a relatively weak Eastern Conference, a Bulls squad centered around those four would almost certainly find themselves in the postseason running, more so than the Hornets have this season anyway. In fact, it may even be the most talented squad Walker has been a part of in his NBA career.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are not a good basketball team. That, however, could change drastically this summer.
With the Porzingis trade, and a number of subsequent moves, the Knicks have found themselves with two max-contract cap slots this summer, with a number of different stars set to be on the free agent market. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Walker headline a stacked free agency class, one that could change the NBA landscape.
Of course, the Knicks will have a go at Kevin Durant — the best player on the market — and they have long been linked to Irving as the Boston Celtics have seemingly found themselves rife with dysfunction. But, should Durant go elsewhere, Irving recommit to Boston or the Knicks miss out on any number of their other targets, Walker would be a VERY nice consolation prize — it almost seems demeaning to refer to him as such.
The Knicks don’t exactly have a need at point guard, but Walker would certainly be an upgrade on New York’s current group of lead guards. Smith is still young, but hasn’t quite enough to ensure long-term confidence. Meanwhile, sophomore Frank Ntilikina already seems to be fading as the potential point guard of the future.
This would seem to be a beneficial fit both parties. It would not only give the Knicks one star player, but Walker could provide an incentive to lure another star to New York, such as Durant. And, with a 14% chance to earn the top pick, the Knicks could either take a future star to pair with him or cash in and trade the pick for another, already established star.
Walker, meanwhile, would finally get the recognition he deserves. The sheer amount of coverage in New York would propel him from vastly underrated to a highly regarded household name overnight.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers need help. And they need it now.
For some reason, the Lakers felt it was alright to waste year one of Laketown LeBron James, who is now 34 years old. While they impressed in the early going, Los Angeles nosedived after an injury to James and never recovered. Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson pushed for Anthony Davis at the February Trade Deadline, but were rebuffed. In fact, the publicity of those Lakers-Davis rumors may have pushed them further in the hole, a distraction to the players mentioned in those trade discussions.
James has, and will continue to extend his prime for as long as he can. However, he won’t be the player he is now forever and the Lakers need to capitalize on the transcendent talent that he currently is. So, while they can’t turn back the clock and fix the mess that has been this season, they can learn from it.
Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma both stepped up this season, but neither player, nor whatever other players the Lakers take into the offseason, will be enough to contend for a title, regardless of whether or not the Golden State Warriors retain Durant’s services. They, at the very least, need a star to pair with James, and they will almost certainly be in touch with anyone and everyone that fits the description.
Like New York, should the Lakers fail to land their top targets, Walker could prove a great plan B. Lonzo Ball has proven to be an impressive defender at the NBA level, but between the offensive woes and continued injury concerns, he may be, at best, a question mark moving forward.
Were the team to bring Walker in, they would almost certainly find themselves back in contention next season.
The Dallas Mavericks, like the Suns, are almost a piece away.
The wunderkind Luka Doncic took the NBA by storm this season and, with Kristaps Porzingis waiting in the wings, the Mavericks are a certainly a franchise on the rise.
Now, all they need arguably is a point guard.
Doncic can handle the ball, but Rick Carlisle and Co. have more often deployed him at the two-guard spot. Sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. was sent to New York as part of the Porzingis trade, so the Mavericks have an opening. Jalen Brunson, the second-round rookie out of Villanova, has performed admirably in his short run as a starter, but he is better served filling a bench role on a contending team.
With Walker in the fold, the Mavericks would find themselves with a deadly All-Star level trifecta. They may not be the best team in the NBA, but they will certainly have their way with teams frequently and could compete for a title.
Walker has long maintained his desire to remain with the Hornets for his entire career. Still, that won’t stop a bevy of potential suitors checking in with him this offseason. And, if Walker ever wants a chance to compete for a title, he may have to rethink his future plans in Charlotte.
NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 2/27/20
Just like in a game, it’s who finishes the season atop watch lists that matters most, not who starts. The new Sixth Man front-runner has risen to that status by being a key part of finishing games for the surprise team of the year.
There comes a point in the season when a reasonable watch list needs to whittle down from its typical five or six names to three. With less than 30 percent of the NBA season remaining, this is that time.
With all due respect to Detroit Pistons’ guard Derrick Rose, his team’s current seven-game losing streak ruins any chances of him earning hardware this year. Rose’s averages of 18 points and 5.7 assists per game are laudatory, but the reality is that he remains an inefficient scorer in the modern NBA. Shooting 29.9 percent from beyond the arc actually underscores a rate lower than his already-worrisome career mark of 30.4 percent.
Rose has started 12 of his last 13 games, but if he either comes off the bench in just one more game or misses one more game, he will guarantee he qualifies for Sixth Man of the Year honors. He just hasn’t kept up with the more competitive contributions set by the following award stalwarts.
Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers
This is only the second time this season that this space has slotted Williams lower than No. 2 in the watch. Some of that traces to the reputation of the three-time Sixth Man winner, Some of it is an acknowledgment of the Clippers’ success — currently just one game out of second in the Western Conference — and some of it is the simple fact that Williams is still a reliable player in his 14th season.
In the 30 games in which he has broken 20 points this season, part of averaging 19.1 points per game, Los Angeles has gone 19-11. Compared to its 20-8 record otherwise, that may seem like a disappointing correlation, but when realizing he was usually pouring in points without either Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, the still-consistent winning rate makes more sense.
Without Leonard, but with George, and Williams scoring 20 or more, the Clippers have gone 4-3. Without George, but with Leonard, and Williams scoring 20 or more, the Clippers have gone 8-5. (Los Angeles has also gone 0-2 when Williams scored 20 or more with both star wings sidelined.)
Without Williams reliably playing 55 of 58 dates, through Thursday, then Los Angeles would assuredly be further back in the conference, perhaps skirmishing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks to avoid falling to the seventh seed. The difference between reality and that hypothetical is a mere three games, so it isn’t hard to envision Williams’ buckets being the difference in that many games. Considering he scored 32 points during crucial wins against the New York Knicks and New Orleans Pelicans over a two-week January span without Leonard in the former and George in the latter, Williams is just as good as ever.
Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers
Of course, Williams has not been alone supporting the Clippers’ bench, just as he has not been alone atop this watch all season. Harrell has been the frontrunner the entire season — taking over from Williams in the preseason — but that is shifting. Harrell is still averaging 18.6 points and 7 rebounds per game, both career highs, but he has cracked 20 in just three of his last 13 games, putting up just 16.1 points in that span.
Harrell has not stopped scoring efficiently, shooting 61.1 percent across those 13 games, but he is taking a full two field-goal attempts fewer per game. Just like Williams, Harrell steadied Los Angeles through the season, but his role has been diminished as the season reaches its stretch run.
If that continues, Harrell’s hopes of winning the Sixth Man of the Year will diminish as well.
Dennis Schröder — Oklahoma City Thunder
In a similar stretch, Schröder has taken on an increased role. Across the last 15 games, the Thunder point guard is averaging 21.4 points, raising his season mark to 19.1 points per game. It is no coincidence that Oklahoma City has gone 12-3 during this run, charging into the fifth-seed out West with reason to dream about home-court advantage in the first round.
Never known as an efficient scorer in his five seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, Schröder is shooting career highs of 47.3 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from deep. They better be efficient, considering the German has taken the second-most shots on the Thunder. The team leader in field-goal attempts is not Chris Paul or Danilo Gallinari, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (871 to Schröder’s 854). Schröder’s eFG percentage of 53.9 outpaces Gilgeous-Alexander’s respectable 50.5 percent, but both trail Paul (55) and Gallinari (55.1) among Oklahoma City players attempting more than eight field goals per game.
Schröder may have started only one game this year, but he is closing most games alongside those other three and center Steven Adams. That lineup has a net rating of plus-31.5 on 350 possessions, as absurd as that sounds. It is that kind of advantage that has turned the Thunder into the surprise of the season and should result in Schröder finishing the year with some hardware.
Still, there’s plenty of time for this annual race to the finish line to shift once more.
NBA Daily: Glenn Robinson III Navigating Change Of Direction With 76ers
Spencer Davies sits down with Philadelphia 76ers forward Glenn Robinson III to discuss his initial thoughts on being traded midseason, his career-best production with the Golden State Warriors and his desire to earn a new contract in the summer of 2020.
Glenn Robinson III always knew he could be an everyday starter in the NBA.
As a second-round pick in 2014, it took time. The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Robinson, but held onto him for just 25 games. He had a quick pit stop with the Philadelphia 76ers before spending the next three emotionally taxing and injury-riddled seasons with the Indiana Pacers. He ventured north to the Detroit Pistons the year afterward and, though he found himself in the first five for 18 games, never quite found his niche.
That was until a deal with the Golden State Warriors came along.
For the first time in his career, Robinson found a perfect fit. Starting and averaging a career-high 31.6 minutes per game, the former Michigan standout was producing at a rate on both ends that he had always strived for: 12.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and a steal per game. He was converting three-pointers at a 40 percent rate and boasted a 57.4 true shooting percentage, all personal bests since entering the league.
Despite Golden State’s losing record, Robinson was comfortable. He was making a nightly impact and proving his individual worth going into a 2020 free-agent class perceived as sparse. However, as we all know, the league can change one’s plans at the drop of a hat.
Before the NBA Trade Deadline in early February, the Warriors dealt Robinson and Alec Burks to the Sixers in order to accelerate their own young players’ development. On the other side, Philadelphia desperately needed some new life to bolster its depth and add some more talent.
While Robinson has gone through his fair share of ups and downs, he has never been traded midseason to another team, which has admittedly affected his psyche — and as a surefire knockdown perimeter shooter, he hasn’t hit a three-ball in nine attempts.
The first thing that comes to mind is the impact it has on those closest to him.
“You’ve got family. You’ve got to try to get out of a lease, move your stuff, all of that. I think that people don’t realize how much it is,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “You’re expected to be at the next place in like the next day or two after the trade, so I think it’s just a lot going on. And then, you’ve got to go out on a court and focus and play like nothing happened.
“I mean at the end of the day, we’re still human beings. And that’s what I tell people all the time. To try to get people on a flight the next day is crazy to me. But it is a business. It is what it is at the end of the day and we just try to make it work.”
Robinson is extremely candid about the situation he now finds himself in. Yes, the Sixers are going to be playoff-bound. Yes, the Warriors are going nowhere fast in a down season. That doesn’t change the fact that — along with Burks, his year-long teammate — Robinson is aiming for a healthy payday this summer.
Six games in with his new team, and his playing time cut in half, Robinson is once again fighting an uphill battle.
“Even when (Golden State) played Philly, I showed them what I could do,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “So to play those consistent minutes a night and perform well… that’s the most disappointing part about coming here is that — both of us (are) coming off career years where we’re looking at hopefully big numbers after the season. I know I’ve got a family to feed. So you think about all those things.
“All those things play a role, and then when you come here and your role’s not really explained or you don’t know what’s going on with the trade — it’s not like it was a trade where you come in and immediately have an impact. It’s a little different, so… this team is full of wings, full of guys who can play. So really, I don’t really understand it. But it’s a business, you’ve got to make it happen and go out and try to do your best every night.”
Robinson can’t afford to mail it in and he won’t. It’s helpful that he’s familiar with a number of coaches, including headman Brett Brown. He’s also grateful to have come over with a familiar face in Burks, who has experienced this more than a handful of times.
Let’s not overlook the positive impact he’s made on the Jekyll-and-Hyde Sixer offense. He’s doing everything in his power to get his feet wet and figure things out in his second stint there. The itch to crack further into Philadelphia’s rotation and earn increased minutes is never going to go away.
“As a competitor, as an NBA player — this is my sixth year — I think that’s always gonna be there to want more and more,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “So I’m definitely interested to see what happens down the stretch here.”
The Sixers might be forced to try something different. They’ve lost Ben Simmons for a significant period of time. Joel Embiid just suffered a shoulder injury following yet another loss on the road against the basement-dwelling Cleveland Cavaliers.
Winning five out of your last seven games is usually a good sign, but all of those victories came at home. The splits between those contests in Philadelphia and the ones away from there have been a season-long, head-scratching issue.
Still, Robinson is confident in the group of guys the Sixers have in the locker room to right the ship.
“A lot of talent. I think we can go as far as we stick together and want to go,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve just got a lot of great players and they know how to play the game. That’s the biggest thing, so as long as we can stick together, come together… it’s about defense for this group. We’ve got all the talent in the world to score. I think that we’ve got high chances.”
No matter how far Philadelphia goes — or how short it falls — Robinson is betting on himself. He took a veteran’s minimum deal with the Warriors last summer and, considering what he gave them, that was a ridiculous bargain for Golden State.
“That’s the good thing,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “You know, I think, hopefully, I did [enough to justify a payday in the summer]. I believe in my mind I did. For me and my career and just my confidence — to have that year with Golden State, I always knew that I could do that in the league, so, hopefully, that stands up no matter what happens the rest of the season or whatever happens here.”
Robinson’s player option for 2020 would be a bargain if he opted in and stayed with the Sixers — but that’s one big, unlikely if.
And rightfully so.
NBA Daily: The Evolution of Championship Teams
Win or lose, reaching the NBA Finals is a monumental achievement for any team. Getting to the top of the mountain is great, but staying there is the real challenge. Chad Smith looks into why the championship window has gotten even tighter for these organizations.
The 2019-20 season is rounding into form as the final two months of the regular season begin to pan out. While the natural reaction is to pay attention to the contending teams at the top of the standings, it is important to recognize the teams at the very bottom of each conference. Those teams are the Cleveland Cavaliers (16-41) in the East and the Golden State Warriors (12-46) in the West.
It is no secret what has been going on with the Warriors this year. Injuries have decimated this group, as all three of their superstars from their championship runs have gone down or went elsewhere. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both had devastating injuries in back-to-back games in the NBA Finals. Durant ultimately left the Bay Area and traveled east to Brooklyn.
The Splash Brothers remain, but Stephen Curry hasn’t played since October and the team has stated that Thompson will not play at all this season as he continues his rehab. Curry is aiming to return to the floor after this weekend, but there isn’t anything to play for this late into the season.
Similar to the Warriors losing Durant, the Cavs were dealt a major blow when LeBron James left for the second time. His move to the Los Angeles Lakers was justified after he delivered on a championship for his home city. That trophy came with a cost though, as Cleveland has been in purgatory ever since his departure.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel is one thing, but the Cavs have truly hit rock bottom. It may have been doomed from the start, as they made a surprising move in hiring John Beilein. The 67-year old coach was given a five-year contract, though he had never coached a single game in the NBA. Naturally, the fit was less than ideal and after some serious bumps in the road, the two parted ways after just 54 games.
In the four years that LeBron spent during his second stint in Cleveland, they went to The Finals every single year. In their first season without him last year, they finished 19-63, which was the second-worst record in the league just ahead of the circus in New York.
The Warriors and Cavs met in the Finals in four consecutive years from 2015-18. The Warriors made a fifth consecutive trip last year, where they fell apart against the Toronto Raptors.
Toronto had been the punch line of playoff jokes for a number of years, and for good reason. They always came out of the gate stumbling, losing their first game of a series almost like clockwork. That ended last year when Masai Ujiri made the bold move to acquire Kawhi Leonard. They understood the risk of moving one of their most beloved and loyal players in DeMar DeRozan for what would ultimately be a one-year rental.
That one year is all the Raptors needed though, as they pushed all of their chips towards the middle of the table. These types of bold and risky moves are almost a necessity in today’s game, where you need top-tier talent more than ever. Player empowerment and the “business” of the league can coexist — in the right environment.
We saw a prime example of this even before the Golden State era. Pat Riley has always held this stance and proved it in Miami. After getting LeBron and Chris Bosh to team up with Dwyane Wade, the Miami HEAT were instantly labeled a super team. The players invoked their power, but they also understood the business side of things and made it work.
Riley has swung more deals since that dynasty ended, with Jimmy Butler as his primary focus for the immediate future. Their core looks promising, but Miami will not be patient and wait for everyone to develop. Even as one of the top teams in the East, they are not afraid of cashing in these resources in order to win now, because that is ultimately what this is all about. Winning. Not in a year or two, but now.
No one needs to tell Daryl Morey that, as he has drastically re-shaped his Rockets team seemingly every year. Forget about the future, he is dealing superstars left and right, making any move necessary to prepare his team to win this season.
That approach may be something that has held the Boston Celtics back in recent years. Danny Ainge has been hell-bent on trading away their future draft picks. While incredibly enticing at the time, those picks have now flattened as the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings have improved. The hesitation to deal those future picks for win-now players in their prime may come back to haunt him.
Boston still has an exceptional team loaded with talent, but it just feels as though they are missing something. Obviously, the move for Kyrie Irving didn’t pan out, nor did the acquisition of Al Horford, but their core five players are sensational, and Brad Stevens has shown that he is capable of leading a team to the top of the mountain.
Looking at the team with the best record in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be doing things right. They have arguably the best player in the game in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is likely to have back-to-back MVP seasons in Milwaukee. They are clearly not a large-market team, but they have been operating like one. They understand the importance of all of the factors surrounding this team.
The number one item at the top of the list is to make Giannis feel like it is a place where he can win. As he enters free agency, the last thing they want him to think is that the grass might be greener someplace else. Mike Budenholzer is considered one of the five best coaches in the league. He has figured out how to use the Greek Freak to his maximum value. Jon Horst and the front office have done a marvelous job of surrounding him with the tools he needs.
The willingness to move on from such a promising young talent like Malcolm Brogdon is evidence that they understand the value of winning right now. If they can use the draft pick they acquired to land another top-level player on this roster, it will pay off in a big way. If anything else, it will show Giannis that they are committed to making any moves necessary to keep him there.
The main storyline heading into this season was the depth and the balance of the league. There were not one or two teams that would reign supreme for the entire season. The Western Conference is absolutely loaded, and things are just as competitive with the top six teams in the Eastern Conference. The area of separation is very slim. The trade deadline has come and gone, but buyout candidates and deals in the summer will be critical to the success of teams this season and next.
The win-now mentality has trickled down from front offices to the players. They each now have the power to drastically alter the landscape of the league.
No one is a safe bet anymore, not even the San Antonio Spurs and their 22-year playoff streak.