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Tobias Harris, Pistons Seem Like Great Fit

Tobias Harris’ marriage to the Pistons is off to a great start, with Harris posting career-highs and Detroit winning.

Alex Kennedy

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Whenever an NBA player is traded midseason, there is typically a difficult adjustment period. Some players get acclimated quicker than others, but there’s no question that it’s a hectic time for the individual. The player must uproot their life in an instant and then figure how to succeed in a different city and system with new teammates and coaches. It’s often a culture shock – on and off the court.

And Tobias Harris’ adjustment from the Orlando Magic to the Detroit Pistons is arguably even tougher than most. That’s because Detroit acquired the 23-year-old forward with the hope that he would be a big-time contributor and one of the Pistons’ leading offensive weapons going forward.

Upon joining the team, Harris became their highest-paid player (earning $16 million this season), raising the pressure even more. Not to mention, he’s learning from Stan Van Gundy, who is the Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations. Van Gundy is a bona fide basketball genius, but he is known as a perfectionist who can be hard on his players. If the two can stay on the same page and work well together, Van Gundy should get the most out of Harris and be excellent for his development. But make no mistake, there will likely be a lot of screaming along the way.

TB1Now, as the Pistons make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference, Harris is a key piece for his new franchise. He joins a young core that also includes Andre Drummond, 22, Reggie Jackson, 25, Stanley Johnson, 19, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 23, among others. This group has a ton of potential and, if all goes as planned, they should be a threat in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

However, Van Gundy isn’t the type of coach to sit on his hands and wait for results. He’s determined to end the Pistons’ six-year playoff drought this season.

Detroit is currently 34-33, putting them in ninth place in the increasingly competitive East. In the past, being a .500 squad is typically all it took to be a playoff team in the East, but not this year. Right now, the Pistons have the same record as the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, but Detroit doesn’t hold the tiebreaker. Fortunately for the Pistons, the Bulls have been struggling as of late – dealing with injuries to key players and dropping 11 of their last 17 games. The Pistons are on the verge of entering the playoff picture in the conference and a trip to the postseason is a realistic goal at this point.

Interestingly, Detroit is the only East team in the race for eighth that has a positive average point differential (+0.5). The top seven teams in the conference have a positive differential, which makes sense, but the Pistons are the only other squad in the positive. Each of the other teams fighting for one of the final seeds in the East have a negative average point differential: the Bulls (-1.3), Washington Wizards (-1.6), Orlando Magic (-2.0), Milwaukee Bucks (-3.7). In fact, Detroit’s average point differential is greater than four teams currently holding onto a playoff spot in either conference – beating out the Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies (-1.4), Houston Rockets (-.5) and Dallas Mavericks (-.3).

The addition of Harris has certainly helped the Pistons as they battle for a playoff berth. Detroit has won seven of its 11 games since acquiring Harris, and that includes impressive victories over talented teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks among others.

Since joining the Pistons, Harris’ numbers have improved drastically. He’s currently averaging 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. His field goal percentage (50.3 percent) and three-point percentage (39.1 percent) are both career-highs. The advanced stats are impressive too. Thus far in Detroit, he’s posting career-highs in offensive rating (118 points scored per 100 possessions), defensive rating (106 points allowed per 100 possessions), player efficiency rating (18), box plus/minus (1.6), true shooting percentage (.600) and assist percentage (12.1).

Those stats are up from his Orlando numbers. In Harris’ 49 games prior to the trade to Detroit, Harris’ scoring average (13.7 points) with the Magic was his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in the NBA. It was a disappointing regression for Harris, who was expected to elevate his game with the Magic after inking a four-year deal worth $64 million this past offseason.

Detroit actually showed interest in Harris over the summer when he was a restricted free agent, but they didn’t extend an offer sheet since it was no secret that Orlando wasn’t going to let him walk away and lose a key asset without receiving some form of compensation.

But what makes the acquisition of Harris even sweeter for Detroit is that they didn’t have to part with much to add him. The Pistons only shipped out veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings in the deal. The move was widely regarded as a steal for the Pistons since they didn’t have to give up a draft pick in the transaction. (By comparison, the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers had to part with first-round selections to add Markieff Morris and Jeff Green, respectively).

Harris was one of the most talented players to change teams prior to the deadline last month, so it was a bit surprising to see him dealt for so little. Jennings’ deal is expiring after this season, making him an unrestricted free agent. As for Ilyasova, only $400,000 of his $8.4 million salary for next year is guaranteed so he can be waived to create cap space, flipped in another trade, or kept by Orlando since he does provide some much-needed shooting to spread the floor. Still, Harris was a young starter who just signed a long-term deal, yet he was moved for veterans who aren’t even starting for the Magic.

League sources told Basketball Insiders that Orlando had some other intriguing offers on the table for Harris, but general manager Rob Hennigan ultimately opted for the Pistons’ package since Jennings and Ilyasova are veterans who can score the ball and – most importantly – had each spent several years playing under Magic head coach Scott Skiles on the Milwaukee Bucks. The belief was that they could hit the ground running, create some momentum for Orlando and help the team climb in the standings. Orlando, like Detroit, entered this season with playoff aspirations; however, they are currently 29-37 (which is 11th in the East and four-and-a-half games outside of the conference’s final playoff spot).

While Harris has only appeared in 13 games for Detroit (with 11 starts), he has drawn rave reviews from Coach Van Gundy.

“He’s a really smart guy. He’s got a great temperament,” Van Gundy told Pistons.com. “He’s a good team guy. I don’t know what the players would say [but] to me, it feels like he’s been with us all year. You’re not feeling like you’ve got a new guy that’s acclimating. You feel like he’s been here all year, even in terms of the way he relates to his teammates. It’s actually been a pretty seamless transition. He’s unselfish. He’s been efficient. He hasn’t needed an inordinate amount of shots to get his stuff done. He moves the ball pretty well. It’s actually been pretty easy.”

Harris’ new teammates seem to love playing with him as well and believe he’s exactly what the team needed.

“He looks great,” Drummond told reporters when asked about Harris. “He’s doing all of the things that we need him to do. When he first came here, I told him, ‘Don’t hesitate. We’re not here to play slow. We want you to run and we want you to try to score the ball when you touch it. If you don’t have anything, free somebody else.’ He came in and he looks great.”

“I’m still trying to figure out Tobias’ game, but I know he’s a great addition to our team, that’s for sure,” Stanley Johnson told Pistons.com. “What I have figured out this far is he puts the ball in the basket and he’s an invaluable leader to our team. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a great person to hang around, another weapon on our team that we can use in various ways. Especially on the defensive end, we can switch a lot of things.”

The team is hoping that Harris’ versatility and scoring ability can help them improve their offensive efficiency (102.6 points per 100 possessions) and pace (97.6), both of which rank 19th in the NBA.

Harris takes pride in his efficiency, so he could help Detroit in that category. As previously mentioned, his PER of 18 with Detroit thus far is the highest of his career. The forward has been a relatively efficient player throughout his career, especially when put in a proper system that utilizes his strengths and offers structure (which didn’t always happen in Orlando, particularly under former head coach Jacque Vaughn).

“I like to be an efficient player and take efficient shots – shots I know I can make and high percentage shots,” Harris said. “[I] just feed off the other guys. I think that’s one of my best aspects of the game is feeding off everybody else.”

This is Harris’ second time being dealt in a move just prior to the trade deadline. The Bucks shipped Harris (along with Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih) to the Magic in February of 2013 in exchange for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon.

Harris was just 20 years old and a season and a half into his NBA career. It was his introduction to the business side of the NBA, but the move actually ended up being the best thing to happen to Harris’ career. He went from warming the bench in Milwaukee (averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 in 11.6 minutes) to being a focal point in Orlando (averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks in 36.1 minutes that same season). The change of scenery turned Harris into an attractive asset and allowed him to get last summer’s big pay day. He’s hoping this most recent trade works out just as well.

“I’m just looking forward to continue to grow with everybody out here, continue to build chemistry and just continue to do all I can for our team to win,” Harris told reporters. “I’m feeling more comfortable. [I’m] just trying to continue to get a rhythm, continue to learn from the other guys, continue to find my spots out there in the offense and just continue to execute my role out there.

“For me, my whole thing is go out there and play as hard as you can and [you get] rewarded from that. That’s the mindset that I’ve always played with since I got in the NBA and that’s just how I look at the game. I don’t worry about anything else [and] just go out there, play as hard as I can and have fun.”

Harris’ first impression of the Pistons organization has been very positive. Not only does he have a lot of respect for Van Gundy, he’s excited about the group of up-and-coming players that has been assembled.

“Obviously we have a lot of young, athletic players, a lot of length out there,” Harris told reporters. “It helps having Andre in the paint also. He helps clean up a lot of stuff off of the glass. Coach puts us in good positions defensively to make plays and to help each other out. A big thing that we’re trying to do is shrink the court and make it hard for teams to attack the middle.

“I just think as a team we’re playing team basketball and we’re all looking for each other. We’re really playing unselfishly and that’s the name of the game.”

The sample size is small and this is certainly still the honeymoon period for Harris and the Pistons, but the trade sure looks like a great one for both parties thus far. If Van Gundy can continue to develop Harris’ overall game and help him reach his full potential, the Pistons may have added another cornerstone to their already impressive, promising nucleus. It seems like a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off in a big way for Detroit.

And it’s safe to say that Harris is thrilled with his current situation.

“I love our team,” Harris told Pistons.com. “I love our core that we have here and I love everything about the city and the organization. So I’m happy and I’m excited.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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