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NBA Daily: The Kyrie Trade One Year Later

One year following its completion, the Kyrie Irving trade still has so many loose ends that it’s hard to figure out exactly who won.

Matt John

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Around this time a year ago, the Boston Celtics agreed to trade Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.

When this trade was announced, the first word that came to mind was rare.

First, it was rare to see such a significant move made that late in the off-season. August is usually the most boring month for the NBA because teams are usually set around that time and hence, no big-time moves are made. This trade made for quite the shuffle at the most unexpected time.

Second, it was rare to see a trade like this drag on as much as it did before completion. After the trade was initially reported, concern from Cleveland’s side over Thomas’ injured hip delayed the swap from being finalized for a week. Until Boston added a conditional second-rounder, there was legitimate concern that the deal was going to be nixed.

Third, and most importantly, it was rare to see two conference powers who had just faced off in the conference finals agree to exchange some of their best players when both were expected to be among the conference’s best for the upcoming season.

Since this trade became official, the public opinion has swayed back and forth on who won. Early on, Cleveland was believed to be the winner because of the haul they got for Kyrie. Taking two of Boston’s best players along with arguably its best asset for their disgruntled star impressed the masses since many believed Indiana and Chicago got a much weaker return for their disgruntled stars a few months earlier.

That all changed when Thomas and Crowder flopped badly in Cleveland, leading to them getting traded mid-season, along with the Nets pick not paying off as well as the Cavaliers had hoped. Kyrie, on the other hand, was doing Kyrie things in Boston. He razzled, he dazzled and proved he could be the leading man on a contender. That was until complications from his previous knee surgeries prematurely ended his season in March.

Strangely enough, when Cleveland and Boston faced off in the conference finals back in May, none of the players involved in the trade had any influence on the series.

Things have changed a lot since the season ended. Both Cleveland and Boston are now in very different situations. Boston is expected to be one of the league’s best teams behind a healthy Kyrie next season while Cleveland is expected to pick up the pieces following LeBron’s second departure.

So that leads to the oft-asked question as to who won this trade. Believe it or not, it’s actually more complicated than it may look, so it’s only fair to look at these teams’ current situations individually in the year since this deal was finalized.

Boston Celtics

On paper, this trade appears to be yet another in a long line of Danny Ainge fleece jobs. While Thomas and Crowder were shockingly awful fits in Cleveland, Kyrie put up his usual Kyrie-like statistics for Boston: 24.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.8 rebounds on a career-high 49 percent shooting from the field including 41 percent from distance are pretty much the numbers anyone would expect from Irving.

Sure his season ended much earlier than anyone in Boston would have wanted, but Kyrie performed admirably as the lead banana in Boston. He has both the talent and the experience to take Boston the distance. As exciting as it is to think of how far Irving can take the Celtics for the next decade, there are two lingering uncertainties that Boston will have to face in regards to Kyrie long-term.

A. His health: This season, Kyrie took time off to tend to a tension wire in his knee that was believed to keep him out for a few weeks. Tragedy struck a short while after when it was revealed he would go under a second procedure to remove the screws in his knee that he received after fracturing his kneecap in the 2015 NBA finals, ended his season. Boston management has assured that he should be ready to go and shouldn’t suffer any lingering effects. Still, Kyrie has shown himself to be injury-prone and even if the Celtics promise that his knee is fine, we don’t know how true that is until we see how he does this season.

B. His contract status: Kyrie seemed to be a happy man in Boston last season, but looks can be deceiving. If there’s some truth to these rumors that he wants to join forces with Jimmy Butler, then it won’t matter how happy he is in Boston. Kyrie smartly turned down the Celtics’ extension offer, given that he can make so much more next summer on the open market. The Celtics can offer him the most long-term security, which they might hesitate to do given his injury history.

What’s more telling is that the Clippers were in the same boat with Chris Paul in 2017, as were the Jazz with Gordon Hayward. It didn’t matter. The Celtics arguably offer a better winning situation than the former two did for their stars, but we’re in an age now where players are much more calculating about where they play than ever before. In the end, it may not matter what the Celtics can provide for Irving.

If Irving proves to be healthy and stays long-term, then the Celtics got what they wanted out of the Kyrie deal. That’s a big if, though.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Losing Kyrie is tough. Losing LeBron is tougher.

It’s true that the return that Cleveland got for Kyrie turned out to mostly be a bust, at least in regards to their veterans. Neither Thomas nor Crowder panned out, and George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson weren’t much better. Still, Koby Altman deserves props for acquiring players that helped them in LeBron’s last year while also preparing themselves for the possibility of the King leaving, which is now a reality. The Cavs made the most out of a hazy situation between Kyrie’s trade demands and LeBron’s inevitable exit.

Not all is lost in Cleveland either. They have positioned themselves well financially now that they’re out of salary cap hell. They may still have to overpay players for the next two years like Clarkson and Tristan Thompson, but Hill, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver are all on partially guaranteed deals after this season. Should they waive them, then a lot of cap room opens up.

The X Factor to their future is Collin Sexton, who was most definitely the end game in the Kyrie Irving deal as the eventual selection with their valuable Nets pick. Sexton will have huge shoes to fill now that he enters the Land, but the returns so far are promising. Sexton looked every bit like the player the Cavs saw him when they took him in the draft, and his skills showed both on the court. Sexton’s athleticism, speed, and court vision made him a fantastic one-man show, as he averaged 19.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 43 percent shooting from the field.

Remember that Summer League performances should always be taken with a grain of salt. There have been players who have looked phenomenal in the Summer League that never made much of themselves in the pros, just like there have been legendary NBA players who struggled in Summer League. Still, Sexton’s performance should inspire some hope, which is hard to come by when you lose an all-timer like LeBron.

What matters most here is that unlike the first time LeBron left, Cleveland at least has some direction. No one knows whether Sexton is ready to contribute now or if that will come later, but at the very least, the Cavs have some young talent to build on.

If Sexton pans out the way Cleveland hopes he does, then they got what they wanted out of the Kyrie deal. That is also a big if.

For now, the question of who won the Kyrie Irving trade shall remain rhetorical. There’s no guarantee that Kyrie will be a long-term fixture in Boston just as there’s no guarantee that Sexton will live up to expectations in Cleveland.

When everything is written in stone, this trade may be the most comparable to the Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers in 2008. Many believed the Lakers practically stole Pau away from Memphis when they acquired him for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, two first-round picks, and the rights to Marc Gasol. However, while Pau helped the Lakers win two championships, a few years down the line, Marc became the centerpiece of the most glorious era of Grizzlies’ basketball.

What originally appeared to be a total rip-off eventually became a pretty even deal. That could be what the Irving for Sexton deal turns out to be, but only time will tell.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA Daily: Tacko Fall Out To Prove He’s More Than Tall

Most of the attention centered around Tacko Fall stems from his height, but after an impressive combine outing, he’s out to prove that there’s so much more to him.

Matt John

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Tacko Fall was one of the many participants who attended the NBA Draft Combine this past week in Chicago.

By so doing, the combine retrieved all of his official measurements as a player such as his height, weight, and wingspan among others. After the combine was over, Fall had the following measurements.

Height (without shoes): 7’5 ¼’’
Height (with shoes): 7’7″
Weight: 289 pounds
Wingspan: 8’2 ¼’’
Standing Reach: 10’2 ½”
Vertical Leap: 26.5″

Those measurements set many records at the combine. So, in case you didn’t know it before, growing has never exactly been an issue for Tacko Fall. Even though the findings that measured how freakishly tall Fall is shocked the masses, none of them really fazed the man himself as long as that meant he wasn’t going to grow anymore.

“I kind of already knew so I wasn’t really surprised,” Fall said. “I don’t think I’m going to keep growing. I think it’s just going to stay there. Hopefully. We’ll see.”

Fall’s physical advantages made him look like a man among boys in his four years at the University of Central Florida. The Senegal native averaged 2.4 blocks and 7.7 rebounds – in only 23 minutes per game – and put up a scorching field goal percentage of 74 percent over the four-year span of his college career. Basically, Fall’s good stats mainly come from his unrivaled length.

During his time at the combine, Fall believes that sticking to his guns and not doing things out of his comfort zone made him look good to spectators.

“I think I’m doing pretty good,” Fall said. “I’m holding my own. I’m not going out there doing anything out of character. I’m staying true to myself. I’m playing hard. I’m talking. I’m running hard. I’m doing everything that I need to do.”

Despite his towering presence, Fall is not expected to be a high selection in this year’s NBA Draft, if he is selected at all. Not many mock drafts at the time being list his name among those who will be taken, and the ones that do have him among one the last selections in the draft.

Some of his primary critiques as a player include his low assist-to-turnover ratio and his faulty shooting mechanics. The biggest one of them all is his lack of mobility. Being as tall as he is would make it hard for anyone to move around well enough to compete with NBA offenses that rely more on quickness and spacing now than it did on mass.

The concerns surrounding Tacko’s mobility were made loud and clear to him. That’s why he believed he had something to prove to the skeptics at the combine.

“For people my size that’s the biggest thing that they’re looking for,” Fall said. “‘Can he move?’ ‘Can he keep up with the game?’ ‘Can he run the floor?’ ‘Can he step out and guard?’ I feel like I have the ability to do those things. So, coming in here and having the opportunity to play against great competition and showing my abilities have been a great blessing for me.”

Before the combine, Fall’s stock benefited from his final performance as a college basketball player. Tacko and the ninth-seeded Knights fought the first-seeded Blue Devils until the very end but ultimately lost 77-76. Fall had much to do with UCF’s near-upset over Duke, putting up 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes before fouling out.

That game did a lot for Tacko’s belief in himself as a player leading to the combine. Putting up that kind of stat line against one of the best college basketball programs with three top-10 prospects with so much on the line had to make him feel good about his chances. He said as much following his performance at the combine.

“That was definitely one of the best games in my college basketball career,” Fall said. “It helps build confidence. You go toe-to-toe with those people. You think, ‘Wow I can really do this.’ All you have to do is keep working and working and keep proving that you can step out there and compete every night.”

For some prospects, the NBA Combine is nothing more than just a formality. In fact, multiple prospects for this upcoming draft – including RJ Barrett, Rui Hachimura, and consensus No. 1 pick Zion Williamson – decided to skip out on it. For prospects who are on the bubble like Tacko, it’s a rare opportunity to show that there’s more to them than what they showed in college.

Fall recognized the importance of the occasion and voiced his appreciation for the chance he had to show everyone who attended what he can bring to a basketball court.

“It’s been a great experience,” Fall said. “I’m blessed to be here. I worked really hard. I thank God I’m in this position. I just got to take advantage of it.”

Tacko’s efforts impressed scouts and media members alike. There have been rumblings that his play at the combine has further increased his stock in the NBA Draft. Even with all the work he’s put in and the ambition he has to make it to the biggest stage, Fall is soaking it all in.

“I’m enjoying it because not a lot of people get the opportunity to come here,” Fall said. “I’ve worked really hard and God put me in this position. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

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NBA Daily: Bruno Fernando Is Ready To Take On The NBA

After his sophomore season at Maryland, Bruno Fernando is confident that he is ready to take on the NBA, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The 2019 NBA Draft Lottery kicked off the draft season in a shocking way as numerous teams jumped into the top four due to the new draft structure. After the Lottery, it’s a bit easier to predict the order in which Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett will be selected. Who gets drafted after that, and in what order, is still very much unclear. There are some consensus players in the upper half of the first round. After that, things get very interesting.

Expect the mock draft boards to be all over the place as we move closer to this year’s draft, especially after going through the Combine. Many once less-heralded players show up to the Combine with eye-opening physical measurements, impress in workouts and scrimmages and demonstrate a level of professional polish, among other things.

Last year, after his Freshman season as Maryland, center Bruno Fernando participated in the draft process. Fernando did not sign with an agent and ultimately returned to Maryland where he continued to raise his profile. This year, Fernando again participated in the Combine and spoke with Basketball Insiders.

“I think what’s different this time around is just how much easier it’s gotten. For me, how much more comfortable I am. How much easier it is. Obviously, you know what to expect,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “I think just really being here and being around the guys on the team has been a completely different experience than I had last year. This year I know a lot more of the guys. I’ve been working out with a lot of different guys. I think it’s just been a much, much better experience.”

Starting all but one game his sophomore year, Fernando averaged 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and two assists per game. These averages were a significant jump over his freshman year. Fernando uses an aggressive, mobile game at and around the basket to do his damage. After solidifying his game on the court, he felt comfortable enough signing with an agent and letting Maryland know he wouldn’t be returning for his junior year. Fernando is now confident about his positioning in the draft, which played a factor in his decision to not play in five-on-five scrimmages.

“Last year I was in a position where I didn’t really know where I stand as much. Last year I had to find out a lot of things coming into the combine,” Fernando said. “And this year I think I am in a position just by talking to my agent and my coaches where I feel like I’m in a position where I’m a lot comfortable compared to last year, in a much better place. Having that that feedback from teams really, my agent really felt like that was the best decision for me not to play five-on-five.”

Fernando’s offensive prowess and athletic upside have him looking like a solid first-round pick. According to the Basketball Insiders version 3.0 mock draft, Fernando is projected to go anywhere from 14th- 29th overall. Tommy Beer projects him to go 25th. Being drafted in the first-round, in general, portends a better career as teams find themselves with a greater financial stake in the player and accordingly will be pinning higher hopes for that prospect.

At 6-foot-10, Fernando projects as a low post threat with excellent handwork who can score with a variety of moves down low as well as a lob threat. Fernando also occasionally takes advantage of steal and breakaway opportunities to run the floor and score easy points with his ferocious dunking ability. He didn’t do much damage from distance, although his shooting stroke and mechanics make that part of his game a potential future weapon in his arsenal. Fernando addressed that very point.

“The part of my game that is unseen so far is my ability to space the floor. My ability to dribble the ball and put the ball on the floor, take guys off the dribble and my shooting ability,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “I really think my shooting ability is something that people don’t notice that I am able to shoot the ball. Just because of my situation in Maryland where I didn’t really take many shots. You know, I never really had to come outside and try to play outside. You know we had a lot of really good players on the perimeter. I think it’s really just a matter of me staying to true to myself, who I am and trying to win in the best way possible.”

Any team in need of a possible pick-and-roll threat who can score down low should keep an eye on Fernando. Whether a team believes that Fernando can also be successful as a stretch big is not as clear. Where Fernando ends up is still totally up in the air. Regardless, he’s grateful for the opportunity to be the first representative from his own home country of Angola to play in the NBA and made it clear that he has been hearing from other Angola natives.

“Sending a lot of love and positive energy, lot of words of encouragement for me and I think it is really special to get those text messages,” Fernando told Basketball Insiders. “Having people from home texting me every single day. Just knowing that a whole nation is behind me. I’m here fighting and sacrificing to make a dream come true, something that will not just benefit me but a whole nation.”

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NBA Daily: Who Is Cam Reddish?

An underwhelming season at Duke casts a shadow over Cam Reddish, who oozes talent and potential. Shane Rhodes looks to answer the question: Who is Cam Reddish?

Shane Rhodes

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“I’m Cam Reddish.”

Cam Reddish gave the tongue-in-cheek response Thursday at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine when asked “who he is” as a basketball player.
But who is Reddish?

A former high school phenom, five-star recruit and projected top pick, Reddish was expected to flourish at Duke University under the watch of Mike Krzyzewski. When R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson later followed him to Durham, North Carolina, the three were expected to take the NCAA by storm.

Things didn’t quite go as planned.

While he is still a projected lottery pick, the jury is out on just who Reddish is and how his game will translate to the NBA. A dominant force in high school, the reserved 19-year-old took a backseat to Barrett and Williamson as the three tried but failed to capture a National Championship in their lone season together at Duke.

When compared to the sky-high expectations that were set for him, Reddish underwhelmed mightily as a Blue Devil, and that played a major part in their failure. Relegated to the role of a spot-up shooter and the third option on offense, Reddish averaged an okay, not good 13.5 points on just 12 attempts across 36 games. He managed a meager 35.6% from the field (33.3% from three) and dished out just 1.9 assists per game. When he had the ball, he often deferred to Barrett and Williamson, too often for some.

The focal point of his high school team at Westtown School, Reddish was lauded for the ability that made him a top recruit. He oozed (and still oozes) athleticism – Reddish, who weighed in at 208 pounds, was measured as 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan at the Combine – and is as versatile as they come. At Westtown, Reddish ran the point, while he spent most of his time at the two-guard or in the front-court at Duke. He was an aggressive, efficient scorer that had no problem getting what he wanted on the floor with the ball in his hands.

But at Duke, that player that Reddish was, the aggressiveness and ease at which he operated, seemed to disappear for long stretches. Those struggles have cast a large shadow over someone that had the look of a future superstar, and Reddish’s draft stock has taken a hit as a result. While some still stand behind him and his talent, plenty of others have faded Reddish in favor of other prospects.

But, at the Combine, Reddish isn’t dwelling on what was or what could have been at Duke. He just trying to learn and get back to being that do-it-all force that he was.

“I’m just trying to learn about the NBA process,” Reddish said. “I’m just trying to get back to who I can be, who I am.”

But that begs the question: who, exactly, is Reddish, and what could he do at the NBA level?

“I feel like I can do everything,” Reddish said. “I was more of a shooter this year – I don’t want to classify myself as just a shooter. I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things.”

“Once I show that, I should definitely move up [draft boards].”

There were plenty of flashes of that player during his short stint at Duke. Reddish, at times, seemed to will the ball into the basket, while his shooting stroke appeared to be as good as advertised. He had a knack for performing in the clutch, with multiple shots to win or tie the game for Duke, or keep them in it down the stretch when the others started to fade. The wing managed double-digit points in 23 games, 15 of which he posted 15 or more points (with 20 or more points in eight of those). Reddish managed 18 multi-steal performances and recorded a block or more in 16 games as well.

Wrap all of that up with his plus-defensive ability, and Reddish could very well prove the type of player that could do a little bit of everything for an NBA squad. But he can bring more than that, not only on the court, but off the court as well.

While some may perceive his passiveness alongside Barrett and Williamson as a negative, a lack of “mamba-mentality” or killer instinct that many teams hope for in their top draft picks, Reddish could (and probably should) just as easily be applauded for his willingness to share the ball and step into an ancillary role on a team loaded with talent. As we saw this season with the Boston Celtics, who were projected by many to go challenge the Golden State Warriors for the Larry O’Brien trophy but flamed out against the Milwaukee Bucks after a season fraught with discontent, that can be hard to do on the biggest stage.

And, while he is the quiet type, Reddish made it a point to say that evaluators shouldn’t confuse that for laziness or lack of effort.

“I’m kind of reserved – my personality is kind of reserved – some people might take that as lazy or too laid back. But that’s not just who I am, I’m just a naturally reserved, calm guy.”

There were certainly issues, however.

Despite flashes, Reddish wasn’t the player he could be on anywhere near a consistent basis, even in a smaller role. His time at Duke revealed some major deficiencies in his game and presented some serious causes for concern; a penchant for bad shots, struggles close to the basket and the inability to maximize his athletic gifts. On more than one occasion, he looked to have turned the corner, only to drop another underwhelming performance soon after.

All of that doesn’t exactly bode well for Reddish’s transition to the NBA, regardless of the team that picks him on draft night.

But, the potential is there for him to be great. Now it’s on Reddish to capitalize on that potential.

Reddish could very well prove the most polarizing prospect in the 2019 Draft Class. His ability to maximize his natural talent and recapture the aggressiveness that pushed him to the top of his recruiting class could prove the difference between him becoming the next Jeff Green or the next Paul George

Or, should he really find himself at the next level, he could become the first Cam Reddish.

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