Few people really stop to think about the emotions surrounding a trade.
Take the Dallas Mavericks, who, in Detroit this past Thursday, came to the realization that a blockbuster, franchise-changing deal had happened.
Dallas was sending Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews and a pair of future first-round picks to the New York Knicks in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke.
The news dropped mere hours after a team breakfast, a meal that all three former Mavs were a part of, and admittedly shocked a number of guys, including Harrison Barnes.
“When we found out, we didn’t really have a whole lot of time to process it,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “We were on the bus to the game, essentially. It was a blur in a sense because you’re getting ready for Detroit, but three of your starters aren’t gonna be there and guys are coming in.
“It was a lot of things going on there. I mean, it’s tough. Those are guys who you’ve been in the trenches with.”
Barnes had nothing but good things to say about everybody involved.
Jordan is a good friend of his and somebody he’d already been close with before he came to Dallas. Matthews is a man that Barnes has grown fond of in their three years together as teammates. The 26-year-old referred to both as “valuable vets” and “positive energy guys.”
Then, there’s Smith, a highly regarded prospect with loads of potential that the Mavs drafted two years ago, who is now heading to the Big Apple.
“Dennis, this was his only introduction to NBA basketball, you know, that we had with him as vets,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “So hopefully we taught him some good things, hopefully he learned from us a little bit. Just seeing his growth over the last year has been great. It’s tough to see those guys leave, but that’s part of the business.”
Dallas is not going to look in the rearview mirror, though. The organization didn’t go after Porzingis—an All-Star forward with the nickname “Unicorn”—for nothing. They foresee a superstar duo between their sensational rookie Luka Doncic and the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man.
Porzingis reportedly isn’t likely to step foot on an NBA floor this year as he recovers from a torn ACL injury he sustained a year ago in Milwaukee, however Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle seems to have an optimistic outlook on the situation.
“He’s got more rehab to go,” Carlisle said at Saturday morning’s shootaround in Cleveland. “The most important thing is his health and getting back to being 100 percent and actually, better than 100 percent. Guys nowadays come off ACLs and actually do better.”
While Barnes is excited to see Porzingis return to form and bolster the Dallas offense, he’s even more enthusiastic for established talents like Hardaway, Lee and Burke to join the squad.
“Three of the four can make an immediate impact right now,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “They’re gonna come in, they’re gonna help us win games.”
“It’s a huge trade,” Carlisle said. “It’s involving a lot of guys. And the excitement is understandable, but it’s not all gonna happen overnight.”
Barnes’ words don’t quite echo his coach’s sentiments and would rather things get done sooner than later.
“I mean, the biggest thing for us moving forward would be just chemistry,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Getting everyone used to the system as quickly as possible and trying to win games. We really don’t have a whole lot of time to jell and take our time. The season’s winding down here, so this is gonna have to be quick.
“Every game in the West is huge, and having help coming in is great, but it’s just a matter of…we don’t have that window that other teams have. Most times, it’s a one-for-one player. This was three-for-three, when KP gets healthy, four. So we’re gonna have to adjust quick, but I’m confident we can do that.”
At 23-28, they’re five-and-a-half games back of the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth seed in the West, so the timing of this move probably couldn’t have been better.
When J.J. Barea suffered a torn Achilles in mid-January, the Mavs lost four straight and were 0-4 without him in games previously. Sure, Jalen Brunson has a higher basketball IQ than most rookies and Devin Harris has plenty of experience to contribute, but there’s no doubt the Mavs could use extra help in the backcourt.
They’re going to get that in the form of the trio of guards they acquired.
“Can’t ever have too many playmakers,” Carlisle said. “It’s like the Indians want good left-handed pitchers, the Rangers and all these other teams. The Cowboys want a slew of really good cornerbacks. Playmakers, they’re like gold in today’s game.”
“I think what JJ brings – there’s an element off the court that is just kinda hard to replace,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “He’s a funny guy, great personality, great just for team morale. But in terms of playmaking, I mean, yeah all those guys, they can make plays. They can score. They can put the ball on the floor. So having a lot of those on the team is big.”
Since that losing streak, Dallas picked it up and has won three out of five. They’re figuring things out at the right time, and the effort has shown over the last week-and-a-half. Most importantly, Barnes has noticed his team mature over the court of the season as a whole.
“We started off really struggling and then kinda got a little rhythm there and it was kinda back and forth But the biggest thing was that resilience that we developed,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Just kinda staying with our process, sticking in games.
“Whether it was a slow start, whether it was turnovers, foul trouble, whatever – we kinda have gotten a way to just say, ‘Okay, let’s breathe. Let’s keep our poise. Let’s get through.’”
Of course, it always helps when you have a 19-year-old prodigy on the squad. Doncic has turned heads every which way. From his stepback threes to his precision passing and all-around game, his future is as bright as the sun.
And what better way to complement your talent level than with a dynamite personality?
“He’s a funny guy,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “He definitely always has a smile on his face, whether it’s in practice, games, on the bus, on the plane. Whatever it may be, always cracking jokes. I think that’s the one thing that’s been pretty consistent with him is that he has a lot of fun and he’s a funny guy.”
That’s one deadly combination. Doncic will showcase his smile and talent on Team World at the Rising Stars game to kick off NBA All-Star weekend. Dirk Nowitzki will be the honorary coach of that team that night, and afterward, he’ll take part in the All-Star Game itself thanks to a special roster spot reserved by Commissioner Silver.
Barnes won’t be in Charlotte in person, but he’ll be keeping a close eye on both.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, I’m hoping Dirk gets MVP at the All-Star Game. We’ll see what happens there. Him and Luka, it’ll be good for them to go out there, have some fun, represent the Mavericks and have a good time.”
Carlisle couldn’t be more excited for Dirk, either.
“Oh it’s great,” Carlisle said. “Him and Wade? It’s wonderful. The commissioner made a great call on that one. Should be some very special moments. I’m happy for the league and the game that this kinda thing is able to happen. It’s pretty cool.”
The road trip is over and four of their next six games are in Dallas in a crucial stretch before the break.
That’s coming up in a couple of weeks. For now, the Mavs have work to do. It’s all business ahead.
NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders
Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.
The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.
“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”
It’s notable that the Lakers are currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?
Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.
It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.
In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.
The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2
They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5
Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.
MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7
We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.
MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3
The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.
MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?
Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.
With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.
If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.
Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.
NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?
As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.
Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.
For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?
The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.
Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.
What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.
Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.
While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.
Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.
One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.
As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.
The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.
Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”
Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.
As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.
Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.
Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.
But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.
How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports
The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.
Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.
Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.
And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.
The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.
Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.
The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.