Typically, analysts and fans don’t begin speculating on the future of an NBA Finals participant until after the series is completed. However, by the midpoint of the 2014 NBA Finals, it was becoming clear the Miami HEAT were no match for the deeper, more complete San Antonio Spurs.
And, perhaps coincidentally, last Wednesday evening, in between Games 3 and 4 of the Finals, an ESPN report surfaced that generated plenty of buzz. The published report indicated that HEAT officials and the team’s “leading players” had already begun exploring ways to lure New York Knicks franchise forward Carmelo Anthony to Miami.
Supposedly a reshuffling in South Beach would begin with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each opting out of their contracts this summer in order to potentially take significant pay cuts and re-sign on new deals that would then allow the franchise to go after Anthony with a enticing offer in hopes of formulating a “Fantastic Four.”
First, we must acknowledge that this scenario seems highly unlikely, primarily because it would require four NBA superstars to all willingly accept far less than market value. Yes, these four men have made a great deal of money in their careers, both on and off the court; however, star players leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table in understandably uncommon.
For example, consider Wade’s situation. He is coming off arguably the worst season of his career. He averaged fewer than 21 points per contest for the first time since his rookie season back in 2003-04. He also had to sit out 28 games during the regular season to rest his surgically repaired knees. He struggled in the postseason as well, as he clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent over the final few games of the Finals. He was inefficient and ineffective on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Wade is a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot three-pointers and has lost much of the athleticism he has relied upon throughout his Hall-of-Fame career.
Wade is owed approximately $41.5 million over the next two seasons. It’s hard to imagine he would opt out this summer, relinquishing that lucrative contract and guaranteed money.
Furthermore, Anthony celebrated his 30th birthday last month, and he is well aware that this will be the final “max-money” contract he’ll be able to secure in his career. If he were to re-sign with New York, he could earn up to $129.1 million over five years with the Knicks. If he signed a max-contract with another team (either Houston or Chicago, for instance) Anthony would be looking at a deal approaching $96 million over four years. Under the “Fantastic Four” scenario, Carmelo would likely have to settle for something in the neighborhood of $60 million (or about $70 million less than a max offer from New York).
And that’s just the financial sacrifice he’d have to make. Would Anthony, a guy who’s been an Alpha Male his entire basketball life, also be willing to play second fiddle in the shadow behind LeBron James, the best player on the planet and arguably the most popular athlete in the world?
Clearly, the odds are stacked against this potential grand plan actually becoming a reality.
However, it must also be acknowledged that in order for the HEAT to reclaim their standing as true championship favorites next season and beyond, Miami does need to make changes. The HEAT weren’t just beaten by the Spurs in the Finals, they were dismantled. Their flaws were exposed for the world to see. More importantly, LeBron was made keenly aware that this roster can not be kept intact. The status quo won’t get it done. And because LeBron can opt-out of his current contract this month, he holds a hammer over the franchise. How will James choose to wield this power? We do know that he, Wade and Bosh are all good friends. How will the bond they have built factor into their individual and communal decisions?
The question remains: Are LeBron and company willing to make substantial monetary sacrifices in order to re-build a better roster? (It should be noted that the Big Three would likely only consider such a scenario if they had a commitment from team owner Micky Arison, the HEAT’s owner, that he would now be willing to pay the luxury tax. This became a major issue in Miami last season.)
One possible resolution might be compromising and meeting in the middle. With Wade, maybe HEAT President Pat Riley could offer an agreement that that Miami would be willing to re-sign him for something in the neighborhood of four years, $42 million if he agreed to opt out of his current deal. Miami would reap short-term benefits because his 2014-15 salary would be cut in half. As for Wade, his annual salary will obviously be reduced, but he’d still get the $40+ million he is guaranteed under the terms of his current contract. Would that be a reasonable conciliation by both parties?
For arguments sake, let’s say James, Wade and Bosh did end up conferring and deciding they are willing to all opt-out and re-sign at a discount. Even if we get to that point, the question then becomes: Would signing Anthony actually be the best allocation of the salary cap savings James and Co. created?
The answer, surprisingly, may be “no.”
One of the primary reasons for Miami’s considerable success this past season, a season in which they finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Finals for the fourth consecutive season, was their offensive explosiveness. The HEAT finished the 2013-14 regular season with the second-best offensive efficiency rating in the NBA, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions. In the postseason, that number increased to 110.5 points/100 possessions. Getting quality shots and putting the ball in the bucket was not an issue. Getting stops on the other end of the floor certainly was.
The HEAT ranked 11th overall in defensive efficiency during the 2013-14 regular season. This marked the first time in the ‘Big Three Era’ that Miami finished the season outside the top-10 in that category. Things only got worse once the postseason began. Miami allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions during the 2014 playoffs (or slightly more than L.A. Clippers). In Miami’s championship seasons of 2012-13 and 2013-14, they allowed 98.5 and 99.8 points/100 possessions during each respective postseason.
Circling back to Anthony, his strength is obviously his scoring ability. In fact, he is widely considered the second best all-round scorer in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant. Last season, Anthony became just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 27 points a night while shooting above 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw stripe. The other three members of that incredibly exclusive club are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Durant.
However, the knock on Anthony has always been his suspect defense. He has long been criticized for focusing too intently on his offense and being far too passive on the defensive end.
Part of Miami’s inability to defend at a championship level this past season was due to their lack of an interior presence. Chris “Birdman” Andersen was useful when healthy, but he was dinged up by the end of the year. Former starter Joel Anthony had become a non-factor and was traded (along with a future first-round pick) simply to save money. The Greg Oden experiment failed, as Oden rarely left the pine in the postseason (he was inactive in Game 5 of the NBA Finals). Miami had no true center to patrol the paint. Consequently, Miami finished the season ranked dead last in terms of total rebounds. Ironically, it was Riley who famously once declared: “No rebounds, no rings.”
Another problem that plagued Miami was their lack of depth. It was an issue all season long, and came back to bite them hard in the Finals. The well-rested and balanced Spurs ran circles around Miami. The Spurs’ reserves, which led all teams in the regular season with over 45 points per game, outscored the HEAT’s second unit by nearly 15 points per game. In terms of ‘plus-minus,’ San Antonio’s bench players were an incredible +91 while Miami’s were an awful -81.
No player was more negatively affected by Miami’s insufficient depth than LeBron. The reigning league MVP and Finals MVP was forced to carry far too much of the load during the regular season. Ideally, Erik Spoelstra would have been able to manage and limit LeBron’s minutes during the season just as Gregg Popovich did with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. However, it was simply not an option. LeBron played a total of 3,665 minutes this past season. In contrast, Duncan, who led the Spurs in minutes, played 755 fewer total minutes (2,910).
As noted above, Wade missed 28 games during the regular season, and still wasn’t able to finish the postseason with a flourish. In addition, the HEAT didn’t have any realistic options off the bench to provide LeBron with much-needed rest throughout the dog days of January, February and March. (This was partially the result of Mike Miller being amnestied prior to the start of the season in an effort by the owner to avoid the luxury tax.) All the HEAT had to offer free agents last summer were contracts at the veteran’s minimum. Thus, Riley was forced to roll the dice on guys like Oden and Michael Beasley. Too many worn out vets and not enough effective role players capable of providing solid minutes was a recipe for disaster.
Without a well-balanced roster, Miami was forced to rely too heavily on the Big Three, which was more akin to a ‘Big 1.5’ in the Finals. Lacking the youthful, energetic legs required to provide a spark, the HEAT had finally run out of gas. San Antonio simply sprinted by them and reached to the finish line first, while an exhausted Miami squad was left gasping for air.
LeBron dragged his team as far and fast as he could, but it was clearly not enough.
The moral of the story is that Miami obviously has flaws they need to address. But is another offensive-minded, ball-dominant forward exactly what the doctor ordered? If the ‘Big Three’ morphs into the ‘Fantastic Four,’ Miami’s strengths will be strengthened, but their biggest needs (defense, depth, athleticism, and youth) won’t be significantly improved.
With James, Wade, Bosh and Anthony on the same squad, Riley will once again be forced to flesh out the roster with players making the minimum. Can they find a reliable point guard willing to play for less than $2 million per season? Is there a strong, solid starting center willing to settle for the vet’s minimum?
The team that obliterated the HEAT this month wasn’t overly reliant on one player. Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford and Coach Pop constructed a balanced roster, with role players that were content to serve as complimentary pieces to the team’s stars.
Is there a lesson to be learned here?
What if James, Wade and Bosh remained committed to taking less and carving out extra cap space, but instead of bringing in Anthony, they decided to spread that wealth around a bit?
For instance, what if Miami targeted a combination of unrestricted free agent point guard Kyle Lowry and center Marcin Gortat?
Lowry is a versatile and gifted point guard, who is coming off the best season of his career. He played terrifically during the regular season and even better in the playoffs. Lowry would actually be the best point guard that James has ever played with in his 11-year NBA career.
Gortat would be the rebounding and rim-protecting big man Miami coveted all season long. He’s averaged 15 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per-36 minutes over the last three seasons.
A starting five of Lowry, Wade, James, Bosh and Gortat would be far less dependent upon LeBron at both ends of the floor.
Still, both Lowry and Gortat would likely have to accept less than market value (depending on how little James, Wade and Bosh re-signed for), but it is an option certainly worth exploring, no?
Furthermore, that’s obviously not the only combination Miami could consider.
What about free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas and big man Pau Gasol?
What about making a run at restricted free agent (and LeBron’s good friend) Eric Bledsoe?
Other, more affordable centers and guards on the market this summer include Spencer Hawes, Avery Bradley, Shaun Livingston, Josh McRoberts, Rodney Stuckey, Andray Blatche, Channing Frye, Greivis Vazquez, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich, Darren Collison, Kris Humphries, Patty Mills and Chris Kaman.
There are plenty of permutations possible, a multitude of way to slice up $16+ million.
Obviously, no combination of these names would make the splash or generate the same buzz as Anthony, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a better overall fit for the HEAT.
NBA Daily: Beilein Ball Resonating With Confident Cavaliers
Why are the Cleveland Cavaliers off to a better start than many had anticipated? Spencer Davies takes an in-depth look at a few of the reasons.
After rolling the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden to the tune of a 108-87 final score, it wasn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers who received praise.
Instead, local and national pundits destroyed the defeated franchise that got blown out on its home floor by a “hapless” rebuilding team. Of course, when you play in such a sizable market, haven’t had real success in nearly a decade and put forth an unacceptable effort for your fans, that should be expected.
But maybe, just maybe, the Cavaliers shouldn’t be considered as “directionless” as some may have thought before the season started. Maybe, just maybe, this is a team that has heard the noise and wants to stick it to those who have laughed. And maybe, just maybe, other teams shouldn’t take them so lightly because of that.
At the 10-game mark of the current campaign, Cleveland has a 4-6 record. With a pair of victories at home and on the road, the efforts have stayed consistent and the resilience has remained — regardless of where the games have been played. There’s been a game-to-game progression, with head coach John Beilein taking out small victories from each one.
For an organization reinventing itself with a new coaching staff, this kind of competitive start is welcomed. The question to ask is whether or not it is sustainable to continue at this pace, which if accomplished would result somewhere around a 30-win year.
That is looking ahead, though. Staying in the now, the Cavaliers are oozing with confidence and having fun — and there are many reasons why.
Raise your hand if you thought Tristan Thompson would Cleveland’s top two-way player before the season started. Bueller?
In all honesty, it wouldn’t have been an implausible prediction; few expected *this* kind of production, however. Beilein is running his offense through Thompson and Kevin Love, his veteran big men, and they’ve bought in. They are at the peak of the team list in passes made and top three in assists.
While Thompson and Love dominate the two-man game on their own, it’s the impact they make on the others that stands out. Of the nine teammates they’ve shared the court with, eight of them have a plus-8.7 net rating or higher, per NBA.com. Jordan Clarkson is the only player with a negative net — and even if that’s the case, his true shooting percentage is a blazing 72.1 percent playing with them.
Each member of the Cavaliers’ championship frontcourt duo brings something different.
Love is more of your stretch-four type that spreads the floor and positions himself on the block. He’s been a little off from distance and turning the ball over more than usual, but his 51.7 percent conversion rate in post-up situations is good for the best in the NBA (min. 40 possessions). Defensively, he’s been outstanding guarding the roll man in pick-and-roll situations. That whole gobbling-up-defensive-rebounds thing is important, too.
Thompson is the middle man who has his back to the basket, hands off and creates for others by using his body like a brick wall — in fact, he is averaging 5.6 screens and 12.3 points created off of those per game, both ranking in the league’s top five. For the majority of his career, he has been a cleanup man on the offensive side and a reliable presence as a defender. Maintaining that reputation, he’s taken his game to new heights thus far.
Over the last two summers, Thompson has put an emphasis on fine-tuning his handle. We’re seeing that work pay off in games. Whether it’s been in isolation situations or even running the break, he’s taken good care of the basketball and made things happen.
As a scorer, the touch on his jump hook is as impressive as anybody’s. And of course, we can’t gloss over the fact that he’s knocked down three triples and recorded the first multi-three game of his career in Philadelphia.
With these two playing at the level they have, the trade chatter will only get louder as the days pass. Why wouldn’t it? Thompson is in a contract year making strides we’ve never seen before, and Love is an All-Star big man who can provide size and spacing — a commodity that’s currently scarce in the market — to a team trying to add that missing piece. It’s completely feasible that Cleveland’s front office hears an offer it can’t refuse and goes that route, too.
Be that as it may, keeping them around might be the smartest play. Nobody likes to be in basketball purgatory, but what some seem to forget about a rebuild is there has to be a voice in the locker room that knows the ins and outs of the league. Going full speed ahead with guys who have little experience and nobody to lean on won’t help them learn. It’s counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish — giving valuable minutes to guys who haven’t had much time at this level and showing them hands-on what it takes to win.
The importance of that winning feeling for development cannot be understated. Thompson and Love have stepped up as those vocal leaders who have essentially played the player-coach role in all of this. Beilein knew he would have to count on that as even he makes his transition to the NBA, and they’ve delivered on that promise.
A postgame quote by rookie guard Kevin Porter Jr. after a win in Washington says it all.
“Without them, we wouldn’t win a single game,” Porter said. “They’re our head of the snake and they just keep us all level-headed… They just pave the way for all of us.”
Running With The Young Bull
Ask Collin Sexton how much a year of NBA experience can do for you. At this point last November, there were many — including teammates — piling onto the former Alabama guard for a plethora of reasons. He was taking ill-advised shots, driving into trees without finishing and getting minced by nearly everyone he was tasked with defending. There was pressure to be ready with a mixed roster of leftover glory and young guys on their second or third chances — and he wasn’t quite there.
Fast-forward to now, carrying over momentum from the second half of his rookie season, and Sexton’s play has indicated that a sophomore surge may be in store in lieu of the dreaded common slump. Combine the fact that his work ethic is second to none and Beilein’s staff has put him in a position to succeed, and that’s a recipe for success.
Let’s start with the defensive end, an area Sexton struggled mightily with during his first year. Beilein believes he’s grasping his assignments’ tendencies better, along with the opponents’ different styles of play. Having once gone below screens in pick-and-roll situations frequently before, the Cavaliers are having him rather fight through and go over them now, at times denying handoffs and causing disruption to the ball-handler.
Sexton put on muscle this summer to adhere to said strategy, and he’s gotten results from it. Using NBA.com’s matchup data, he has held his opponents he’s guarded for at least three minutes to 38.7 percent from the field. Among those assignments were All-Star guards Kemba Walker and Bradley Beal, who combined to shoot 2-for-9 from the field. In addition, Knicks rookie RJ Barrett turned it over three times and was held scoreless by the feisty 20-year-old.
Though he’s done well closing out on shooters, he still needs work defending handoffs. Still, the drive and determination of Sexton won’t allow him to back down from any challenge — and that’s the kind of attitude it takes to become a reliable defender in the NBA.
Switching gears to offense, Sexton hasn’t lost an ounce of aggressiveness, he’s just smarter about it. Slowly, but surely, he’s cutting down those overdrives where he puts himself in no man’s land, turns it over and gift wraps points going the other way, occurrences that Beilein refers to as 50/50 plays.
By letting the game come to him, Sexton is understanding the opportunities that are presented by moving without the ball and thriving off his dual-threat game. His 1.58 points per possession average on spot-ups is good for No. 1 in The Association (min. two possessions), so opponents are going to close out hard when he’s taking threes. Using his quickness, he’s a slight pump fake away from zooming into the paint and either finishing or finding a teammate.
Remember those long twos last season? Those are essentially gone. Sexton is much more cognizant of his shot selection and, now that he’s positioned on the elbow, can operate more smoothly within a free-flowing system. It’s definitely worth mentioning his growth on fastbreaks, too, scenarios in which he used to often outrun himself and get into trouble. He’s still the same blur of speed — just more aware of his surroundings.
Sometimes, as the coach has said before, doing less is more.
Cleveland is finding out the type of guard he is — a point guard who scores or a scorer who can be a point guard. What we’re witnessing suggests the latter and, unlike what his critics say, that’s just fine. Beilein has been in Sexton’s ear about being an efficient player, so regardless of his assist count at face value — he’s created the fourth-most points on the team, by the way — the Young Bull has answered the bell.
A Wolf Comes In For Backup
Jordan Clarkson is one of the most dependable scorers in the NBA. Beilein was an instant fan of Clarkson from the onset of training camp. He’s a player who hunts and will be aggressive in everything he does on the floor, which is a “wolf mentality” according to the Cavaliers’ coach.
You wouldn’t think it by the reaction he gets on social media, which seems a little unfair when you dig deeper into what he brings to the table. Clarkson has been a streaky guy for the majority of his career, but the work he’s put in to get better and contribute in multiple facets should be commended.
Did you know Clarkson’s 51 potential assists are the second-most on the team behind Darius Garland? According to Cleaning The Glass, he has a 17.9 assist percentage.
How about his average of 0.396 points per touch leading Cleveland far-and-away, just like his 6.4 points per drive? Everyone needs that guy who can go out and get a bucket — and that’s exactly what Clarkson does.
Yes, he can be a bit overzealous at times and a gambler on the defensive end — and it can hurt — but that’s in the nature of a wolf. He’s made more good decisions than bad, rarely turns the ball over and paces a second unit that desperately needs a boost in the offense department.
With the bench, Matthew Dellavedova needs to be better. Larry Nance Jr. has improved as a shooter, yet needs to take the defensive challenge more consistently. Porter is figuring out his niche. All of this probably goes smoother if John Henson or Ante Zizic reenter the mix to stop everybody from playing up a position.
While Garland has shown flashes of brilliance, he is still finding his footing as Sexton had to last year, and Cedi Osman has to be more reliable on both ends.
There’s no question that there’s work to be done. Being in the close games that they’ve been in, executing in crucial situations has to be a focus.
But Cleveland is jelling as well as it ever has as one cohesive, structured group. The old sports cliche is you win as a team and lose as a team, but that saying couldn’t be truer in this case.
Touches are about equal all-around. The ball is moving. There hasn’t been a game yet where the outcome has been decided before the fourth quarter, a normal staple of rebuilding organizations that take bumps and bruises.
Are 10 games enough of a sample size to determine what’ll happen in the next 72? Probably not.
Is it fair to say it gives a glimpse of what the team’s identity could look like down the road? Most definitely.
Beilein Ball is only in its beginning stages.
Cleveland is eager to find out what the next step looks like.
NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Southwest Division
In continuing the disappointment series for Basketball Insiders, Jordan Hicks takes a look at the Southwest Division and their current woes.
The NBA season is still very much in its infancy and yet storylines have already begun to develop around the league. Certain teams, such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, are playing up to their pre-conceived expectations. Others, much like the Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans, appear as if they could be in for somewhat of a long season. Either way, there is still plenty of time for things to change — but will they?
Continuing our early-season disappointments series, it’s time to look at various aspects of the Southwest Division and highlight the ways the specific situation could turn around down the line. Whether it’s the Pelicans slow start or the Houston Rockets’ lack of defense, the Southwest has clearly left quite a bit to be desired. Let’s take a look at the previously mentioned, as well as a few other divisional setbacks and see what we can uncover.
Pelicans’ Slow Start
To what can we accurately attribute New Orlean’s horribly slow start? Considering the fact that many considered them a West playoff bubble team, it’s been disappointing beyond belief. It would be easy to point a finger at the absence of Zion Williamson. He was electric in the preseason and was a major reason the Pelicans were expected to compete. But laying all the blame there would be too easy.
The fact of the matter is that New Orleans has just been playing poor basketball. Their best player, Jrue Holiday, has been off to an alarmingly rough start. He’s shooting just 23.3 percent from three on over five attempts per night and his efficient field goal percentage is 40.5 percent. Those are both career lows by a country mile.
Brandon Ingram has been playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 25.9 points on very efficient shooting, and yet he’s second-worst (to Holiday) in plus-minus at negative-7.3.
It’s hard to point out exactly what it is that is causing them to lose games, but they have the second-worst defensive rating in the league — and that’s as good a place to start as any. They no longer have Anthony Davis’ length under the rim and the only true defensive force they have in the paint, Derrick Favors, is barely cracking 15 minutes a night.
Williamson’s return from injury in a few weeks should improve their play on both ends of the floor — but head coach Alvin Gentry will need to fix this defense if they want to start seeing more wins.
James Harden + Russell Westbrook’s Efficiency Woes
The Rockets are sitting at 7-3, but they haven’t looked too impressive.
James Harden leads the league in scoring but is doing so by shooting a career-low percentage from three and his worst mark from the field since his rookie year. Russell Westbrook is shooting an abysmal 21.4 percent from three, a career-low, yet he’s shooting a career-high from the field as a whole, which is certainly strange.
The efficiency issues don’t solely stop at Harden and Westbrook. Eric Gordon is shooting 30.9 percent from the field, an entire 10 percent below any other season average he’s had.
Unfortunately, and expectedly, their issues don’t stop on the offensive end. Houston has given up 118.4 points per game to opponents, ahead of only four other teams in the league. The Rockets rank 20th in defensive rating as the fast-paced offense and overall age of the roster has certainly influenced that stagnation.
The one silver lining is that they still lead the NBA in scoring despite their efficiency issues. If their shooting averages start to increase — as you should expect them to — their offense could become a problem for the rest very quickly.
Kristaps Porzingis Struggling
Surprisingly, Kristaps Porzingis was actually pulled out of the Dallas Mavericks lineup during crunch-time against the Boston Celtics. He even lost to the New York Knicks in his first return to Madison Square Garden and looked bad doing so. Overall, his fit with Luka Doncic has been awkward at best.
And yet, the Mavericks are 6-4.
Porzingis started hot by scoring over 20 in each of his first three contests, but he’s put up just one such contest over their last seven games and has lacked plenty of physicality on the defensive end.
In that game against the Celtics, he mustered just 20 minutes, netting just four points on 1-for-11 from the field.
There have been 14 players to average at least three post-up possessions per game this season and Porzingis is dead-last in there at 0.55.
Let’s look at the bright side: He’s playing alongside arguably the best, young player in the league in Luka Doncic. Moreover, Porzingis is playing in his first season since tragically tearing a ligament in his knee just weeks before his first All-Star Game. It was expected that he’d struggle early. So the fact that he’s still averaging over 18 points per game isn’t exactly a negative.
If he can find his game — or, more importantly, a tad more competitiveness — the Mavericks could be a real threat to make the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Minutes Distribution
This one is pretty bizarre. For all the young talent on their roster, guess who is leading the team in minutes? Jae Crowder. Guess who is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game? Jae Crowder. Guess, then, which players are averaging well under 25 minutes per game? Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson.
Jaren Jackson Jr. barely cracks 26 minutes and Ja Morant creeps out over 27.
What is up with this? Obviously, the Grizzlies aren’t trying to make the playoffs this season, but wouldn’t it be in their best interest to play their young studs? Perhaps there is a deeper plan to all this, but if so, it clearly doesn’t make any sense.
There are still plenty of games to be had, so perhaps Memphis’ front office wants to save their key player’s legs for down the stretch. Still, there’s honestly no rhyme or reason for doing this when their team is so young and uninjured.
It really can’t be mentioned enough that these disappointments could all be completely dispelled, some within a few weeks. At only about 10-to-11 games into the campaign, the amount of reliable data out there isn’t necessarily accurate.
Will the Rockets start making their shots? Will Ja Morant get more minutes? Can Williamson change the narrative around the Pelicans? Only time will tell for these pertinent questions and many more. But if we’ve learned anything over the history of the league, it’s that puzzling stories and frustrations can change in an instant.
NBA Daily: The Rich Getting Richer In LA
How will Paul George’s return from off-season shoulder surgeries affect the current state of things in Clipper Land? Chad Smith examines.
Paul George spurned the Los Angeles Lakers, not once but twice. The Palmdale, California kid grew up as a fan of the other team in town, the Los Angeles Clippers. Tomorrow night, he will make his debut for the franchise as one of their best players.
To say the Clippers were the laughing stock of the league for most of their existence would be a massive understatement. The tables have turned, and now the five-time All-NBA forward is part of a team favored by many to win the NBA championship.
Paul has been limited to non-contact drills for the last couple of months, and he has had enough of it.
“I’m tired of rehabbing,” George told reporters after practice. “It sucks.”
Following offseason surgery on both of his shoulders, the star forward has been chomping at the bit to make his return. Fortunately for the Clippers and their fan base, they won’t have to wait long.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, George will make his season debut against the New Orleans Pelicans. With Kawhi Leonard’s load management and the recent injury to Landry Shamet, the addition of George couldn’t come at a better time for Los Angeles.
On top of that, the Clippers are finishing up a brutal seven-game stretch on the schedule. Those were games against Utah, San Antonio, Utah, Milwaukee, Portland and Toronto. They visit Houston tonight and travel to New Orleans for the second night of a back-to-back.
The Clippers currently rank 24th in three-point shooting, which is another area where Paul can dramatically help them improve. He has always been an underrated player in that department, but showed last season just how good of a spot-up shooter he can be. Even when he is not the one shooting the ball, there will be plenty of opportunities that open up for his teammates when he drives to the basket.
Paul has always been one of the premier defensive players in the league. His prowess on that end of the floor has put him in the conversation as one of the best two-way players in the game. Pairing the four-time All-Defensive player with Kawhi and Patrick Beverley is going to give opposing teams nightmares.
Working his way into 5-on-5 scrimmages, he would find himself playing against Kawhi’s team. Not only was he up for the challenge of guarding the two-time NBA Finals MVP, but he relished the opportunity.
Despite his eagerness to return to action, Paul is cognizant of the big picture. He has been through this before, at a much more frightening level. After fracturing his right leg in a Team USA scrimmage in 2014, Paul missed essentially the whole season in 2014-2015. He played the last eight games of the season with the Indiana Pacers, but it gave him great perspective. Paul stressed the importance of what pressure to put on himself, and what to avoid.
One thing Doc Rivers shouldn’t have to be concerned with is Paul adjusting his game. He has went from a young role player to an All-Star in Indiana. He averaged a career-high 28 points per game in Oklahoma City playing alongside a ball-dominant guard in Russell Westbrook. He has shared the spotlight before, and things will be no different playing with “fun guy” Kawhi.
The most mesmerizing part about the pairing of Kawhi and Paul is that they were nearly teammates in Indiana. The Pacers drafted the six-time All-Star 10th overall in 2010. A year later, they had the opportunity to select and keep Kawhi, but opted to trade him to San Antonio for local product George Hill. One major reason why Indiana made that move was that the franchise felt they were already solidified at the position with Paul.
The bond is already tight with George and his other Clippers teammates. This past Sunday, Fresno State retired Paul’s No. 24 jersey after he spent two seasons as a Bulldog. Several Clippers players showed up to surprise him, including team owner Steve Balmer. It was already a moving moment for Paul, but having his guys on hand to share the ceremony with him made it even more special.
The 29-year old forward averaged 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals last season in Oklahoma City, where he finished third in the MVP voting. With LA’s elite role players already established, George should be able to find his groove within the team before their game on Monday, where he will face his former Thunder teammates.
The big question will be how much will Kawhi and Paul play together? With the ability to always have one superstar on the floor at all times, Doc Rivers will have plenty of options. Should Kawhi continue to rest throughout the season, Paul should be able to handle the load as long as he is healthy. His seven games of scoring at least 40 points — including a 47-point triple-double against Portland last year — should be sufficient evidence of that.
Versatility is a strong suit for LA when it comes to rotations. The lineup to start the game could be drastically different from that which closes the game. When fully healthy, they can go big or small, shifting Paul between the shooting guard or power forward positions. With Shamet likely missing some time, Paul may spend a lot of time at the guard spot. That could arguably be the best five-man defensive lineup in the league with Beverley, George, Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Ivica Zubac.
With George returning to the floor, LA will now have both of its dynamic duos intact. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played incredibly well for the Lakers so far this season.
Should Kawhi and Paul fulfill expectations, the Battle of Los Angeles may, in fact, reward the winner with a trip to the Finals.