Next Steps 2017 – Raptors

Masai Ujiri threw the team he built under the bus, declaring that they need a “culture change.” Hrmm… Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Let Kyle Lowry leave. I know! This is big! But the Raptors have already enjoyed peak Lowry. He is 31 years old, and “listed” at 6’0″. The Raps need cap room and 3-point shooters. Time to move on.
  2. Dump Jonas Valanciunas. It will probably cost a 1st round pick. Do it. You need the salary space.
  3. Ask Serge Ibaka if he is willing to play full-time at center. If so, pay what it takes to retain him. He shoots 3s and blocks shots.
  4. P.J. Tucker is a quality bench player. Try to retain him.
  5. More 3-and-D wings please. The Raptors need to scare people from the 3-point line. Let DeRozan penetrate and create chaos, and give him shooters as an outlet valve.

Here’s what I’m saying: Lowry and Valanciunas are the past. Raps need to move into the future, or consign themselves to second round exits.

The Boogie Trade

A couple of things Bill Simmons said in his podcast today moved me to reply:

The Jimmy Butler Conspiracy Theory

Is Butler more available than the press has reported? And are the top traders hoarding assets to make their best offer? And that’s why the Kings got so little for Boogie?

This is fun theory. We’ll find out how true it is in a few days…

Pelicans put the Kings on the clock?

Simmons, as usual, preached patience. Why, he asked, take the Pels offer now? Surely, it will still be there on Thursday? Meanwhile, maybe another team warms to the idea of having Boogie.

Simmons then answered his own question: The Pels put a deadline on their offer. Case closed.

Er… really? Again, this is a sweetheart deal for the Pels. They’d do this over and over if they could, right? I don’t doubt that they announced a deadline, I just can’t believe the Kings took it seriously.

But then, why trade now? Hmmm….

Give me a 1st-round pick, or give me death!

Simmons strongly implied that any trade that lacked a near-term 1st-round pick was not acceptable. He’s probably right. That seems to be right out the current league manual for rebuilds. And yet…

You’ve got to be self-aware. If you are the Lakers, with a rich history of drafting well, hoard picks. If you are the Kings… maybe not. Get proven assets with multiple years left under contract.

A few years ago, the Warriors were talking to the Wolves about Kevin Love. The Wolves rebuffed the Warriors offer of David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green (as yet unknown). Instead, they ended up with Andrew Wiggins, and parts of no impact. (Admittedly, this turned out great for both teams – the Wolves tanked into the bottom of the lottery and grabbed Karl Anthony Towns. The Warriors won a title with a steady Barnes and un-earthed Green.)

But… Think about how it might have been… Forget KAT. The Wolves needed lottery luck. If they missed, they might have Jalil Okafor. Meanwhile, Lee/Barnes/Green would have contributed immediately, making the Wolves a contender for the bottom of the playoffs. Instead, it’s 3 years later, and the Wolves still aren’t contending for anything.

I think the Wolves could have enjoyed 3 relevant years, retained the rights to Barnes and Green (and Lee, really, if they wanted him). And still be a player or two away from making the leap. Just like today.

You know who I admire? The Grizzlies. They know who they are. They aren’t playing by the league handbook, and they aren’t trying to be clever.

No better offers?

This may be true, coming down to the aforementioned draft picks. But I found Simmons analysis too hasty:

  • He discards WAS and POR because the Kings “would insist on” Beal and McCollum. Really? Would they?
  • He discounts MIN and BKN for reasons I forget, while failing to mention they already have centers.
  • He throws aside the whole playoff field without comment. Why? Daryl Morey is suddenly not taking calls? Popovich needs to win now or else?

A thoughtful consideration the field would be interesting.

The Laker Angle

As always, I have to wonder how my beloved Lakers missed a juicy trade.

Was the lack of a draft pick the deal breaker?

Did the Lakers make their best offer (Randle, Clarkson, Nance)?

Andrew Bogut is really good

Today, the US Olympic team played Australia. The Aussies pushed Team USA to the final minute. Largely because of Andrew Bogut.

Team USA shot a dismal 35% from inside the arc. Coincidence that Bogut was prowling the paint? I think not.

Meanwhile, Australia shot an astonishing 63% inside the arc, mostly facing this year’s 1st Team All Defense center – DeAndre Jordan.

Bogut not only closes the paint on defense, he opens lanes on offense!

Now Bogut’s refusal to play offense in the NBA frustrated the Warriors FO, and me. The Warriors needed an offensive upgrade at center, and they found one in Zaza.

But mark my words – the Warriors will miss Bogut. Defense will get much harder. Opposing centers will roam free, on both ends. Watching Bogut set picks on one end, and Jordan on the other, was like night and day. Bogut blots out the sun.

I’m betting that Bogut reports to the Mavs with a chip on his shoulder (for being discarded). He will start taking it to the hole again. And the Mavs will surprise everyone by grabbing the 4th seed in the West.

 

Debriefing the draft.

I did not expect to care about the draft last night. I was wrong. As usual, the Association never fails to entertain!

 

Teams I Care About

Warriors – Social Media instant analysis gave them an A+. Lacob’s FO has actually been good in the draft. I don’t actually know about any of the draftees. I never do. I only watch NBA games. But I’m optimistic about the Warriors.

Lakers – Picking Ingram was like hitting a 2-run homer: he was consensus pick, and fills a need at small forward. The other need for LAL is a center, and they took one in the 2nd round. Mitch K also has an excellent draft record, so I’m optimistic about this one as well.

Kings – WTH? They made two really nice trades, then picked a bunch of centers. Boogie tweeted “Lord give me strength.” If they secretly plan to trade Boogie next month, this might work out. If not… wow.

 

Other Teams

Celtics – LOL! Remember when Daryl Morey got stuck with a bag of picks a few years ago? No one would trade, so he had to pick ’em. Rockets didn’t get better. This time it was Ainge on the clock, but with an even bigger bag of picks. It became obvious Danny never intended to pick, because he grabbed random guys and Euro stashes. Meet the new Celtics – same as the old Celtics.

Suns – More centers? It’s like Rob Hennigan can only evaluate one position at a time. Two years ago, he cornered the market for point guards. Now he’s after centers. Oh kay…

Thunder/Magic – Fun trade! Instant pundits declared OKC the winner, but I’m not sure. Could be win-win. Could be Magic win. This one is good bar-talk fodder until the season starts.

 

On trades…

It sucks to be a GM these days. A vast army of internet pundits awaits your every move. You will be judged instantly. And it’s zero-sum: Someone will be declared the winner, someone the loser. There are no ties on the internet.  Pile up 24 months of internet losses, and you get fired.

The result, I fear, is that no one makes a deal unless they are convinced that they will “win” the trade. I’m sure the Magic thought, “We are getting Serge Ibaka, internet darling, for marginal guys. Win!”

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge is trying to make “fair” deals for his draft picks. But no one will bite on a “fair” deal. The only hope he had was to make over-the-top offers. But he didn’t. And had to pick.

 

Stay the course

I have a bone to pick with current NBA fandom. They think that only championships count. I disagree.

What is so bad about having a good team that makes the playoffs each year? Take the Mavs, for example. As long as they are pretty good, and have Dirk, they will have TV appeal. The counter example is the recent Lakers. Even with Kobe, I could barely stand to watch.

Kevin Arnovitz made the argument in a recent article:

Is there anything wrong with being very good for a very long time, even if it means only an outside shot for a title in any given season? That’s more or less how the Mavericks won the title in 2011 — a decade of very good basketball gave them enough chances to get lucky.

Or to put it another way, is there any hope a team like this can beat a team like that? Is it time to start over?

Privately, Grizzlies officials believe that the league’s obsession with contention “windows” and the title-or-tank mindset is off the mark.

With no Conley and no Gasol this spring, the Grizzlies will take a mulligan this spring, but the formula in Memphis will remain the same until further notice: 50 wins and a puncher’s chance.

A “punchers chance” is a great way to put it. If, as Doc Rivers suggests, the Warriors got lucky last year because their postseason opponents suffered a rash of injuries, couldn’t any team get lucky?

Look at what just happened in this year’s playoffs – The Warriors lost Steph Curry for 2 weeks, and the Clippers lost Blake Griffin and Chris Paul for the season. The Blazers could very well find themselves in the WCF!

And now we are hearing calls to “break up” the Clippers. There is some logic in making Griffin available. But on the other hand, what if the Clippers just stay the course? They are a very good team. Not Warriors/Spurs good. But very good. They have another 3 years of title contention left. Also, Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for that team. You think he wants to rebuild? And is that even possible with Doc on a long and pricey contract?

What the Spurs have shown, I think, is that continuity is good. There is an astonishingly small amount of practice time in the NBA. Having the same coaches teach the same system to the same guys over multiple years is a powerful advantage.

Obviously, the Warriors are on a whole new level of awesome these days. But before that, honestly, we just wanted the We Believe Warriors to stay together longer. We lionized the Run TMC Warriors, who never contended for championships. We fell in love with tenured players like Adonal Foyle and Monta Ellis. They weren’t great, actually, but they were ours. It was comforting to see them out there year after year.

Plus, re-builds are risky. You don’t really know how long it will take to return to form, let alone exceed.

Basketball has so much to offer fans. If you are only in it for championships, you are missing out.

RIP Pick and Roll

The Pick and Roll is a basketball staple. Like a ballet, it must be executed perfectly, with precision and grace. And when that happens, it is nearly un-stoppable.

Except… It died. Maybe last year. Maybe a couple of years earlier. For sure right now.

Nobody uses it anymore. And that has consequences for a certain type of player: the scoring power forward.

In Zach Lowe’s latest, he looks at the PnR combo of Lebron James and Kevin Love. Unstoppable? Nope. Teams just switch. It is actually one of the Cavs least effective plays.

Why? Let me count the ways:

2-Way Basketball

Jonathan Tjarks began writing about the importance of 2-way players early last season. His thesis is that basketball is a continuous motion game, with just five players per side. You cannot afford specialists. A team that fields the most 2-way players is going to win over the long haul.

In a remarkable coincidence, the Warriors went all-in on 2-way play last year. And won the Championship. Who got benched during that historic campaign? Elite PnR-man David Lee.

The NBA has a number of outstanding PnR power forwards, including Kevin Love. But they give up so much defensively that it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the floor.

3-pt Efficiency

PnR is designed to get very efficient 2-pt shots.  Like 55% conversion, for example. But modern 3-pt shooters stroke it at close to 40%, for an effective shooting percentage of 60%.

Modern D

PnR relies on isolation – it is a dance with 4 players. What if the other 3 defenders help? The latest defense rules allow teams to help, effectively using zone principles.

 

The future of 1-way power forwards looks a lot like the role David Lee is playing in Dallas now. (Also, Mo Speights in Oakland.) Come off the bench, defend against second-tier players, get buckets, sit back down. This is not max-contract level stuff. In fact, it is way down the salary tree.

(BTW – this is also the fate of mid-range shooters. Come in and gun while the 3-pt-shooting starters rest.)

The other option, honestly, is to just convert them to centers. At least half the teams in the league have a “defensive” center who is okay at defense, and awful at offense. They end up being big bodies who get in the way a bit,and absorb some physical punishment. Just as Dallas is now experimenting with Dirk at center, it makes sense for at least some teams to choose offense over defense.

 

 

Kevin Durant’s next move

I don’t really have any thoughts to add to the Kevin Durant speculation. As other, smarter people have noted:

  1. He will not waste these next 4 years developing a team. Sorry Lakers and Knicks.
  2. His best, most obvious option is to sign a Lebron-style deal: 2-years, with year 2 being a player option. He will be back on the market in a year, with a higher cap (and higher max salary). Plus, his BFFL Russ will be a free agent at the same time.

Here’s my add:

Durant, like LaMarcus Aldridge last summer, is seeking a total environment. He wants a harmonious locker room, quality coaching, a supportive FO. He is not fixated on market size or his brand. His brand does just fine in OKC. It will be fine elsewhere.

Which is why he unsubtly pal’d around with the Warriors, and said glowing things about the Celtics. Because if he does leave OKC, those are really the only sensible places. Every other franchise has one or more of the following:

  • locker room problems
  • suspect coaching
  • suspect FO
  • no clear path to a title

If he leaves this summer, he is giving up on Russ. Not sure I see that happening. And if he stays over for a year, I think that means he and Russ are plotting a package deal.

 

Hilarity in the NBA

This is the NBA silly season. Closing in on training camp, some GM’s try to pull a rabbit out of their hat. With predictable results.

Here’s what happened today:

1) The Lakers signed Meta World Peace. Kobe needed a seat buddy on the plane. No other reason makes sense.

2) The Cavs signed Austin Daye. Who is not now, nor will ever be, an NBA player.

3) The Warriors may sign Ben Gordon to a training camp make-good deal. Ben is such locker room poison that:

  • The Bulls let him leave without compensation.
  • Michael Jordon released him from the Hornets one day after he was eligible to re-sign with a playoff team.
  • Orlando signed him to a 2-year deal (team option). He put up good numbers in year one, but they still released him.
  • Despite being a career 40% 3-pt shooter, a make good deal is the best he can find.

 

Summer league quick takes

My quick take on Summer League:

  • Lakers – Larry Nance II is a bust. Sorry about that.
  • Lakers – Russell may grow up and be great. Not next year. Sorry about that.
  • Lakers – Randle has outstanding footwork. One of 5 guys in the league with post moves. But… he can’t jump. If he doesn’t figure out how to create space, he’ll be a star in China 3 years from now.
  • Wolves – Townes will eventually be everything we hoped. Not next year. Sorry about that.
  • Knicks – Porzingis will be the next Dirk. I said it! His feel for the offensive game is uncoachable. But… he is an old-school one-way player in a league that has (maybe?) left that behind. Will be fun to see him develop. Next year, analytics will show he gave up seven million points.

Everyone else… yawn. Summer league is awful basketball. And really, what do you learn? Marco Belinelli and Anthony Randolph looked like can’t miss prospects. Summer League is fool’s gold.

DeAndre Jordan, free agent

After at least 5 meals with Chandler Parsons, DeAndre Jordon committed to the Mavs early in the NBA free agency quiet period. Done deal.

Or not! Two days before the quiet period ended, and official contracts could be signed, DeAndre went dark, then signed back with the Clippers.

Well then…

There are many issues to unpack. Here we go…

  • There is no legal problem. NBA players cannot enter into binding verbal agreements during the quiet period, because that was waived in the CBA. Let’s move on from that.
  • Is there a moral problem? Hmmm… The quiet period is part of the CBA. Eyes wide open. There was always the potential for this outcome. It hasn’t happened before, really, because there hasn’t been FA who a) wanted to return; and b) an owner/FO ready to pursue it this far. There have been other cases of broken promises. But this one is unique.OTOH, I have some sympathy for DeAndre. He is only 26. He had conflicted feelings. He changed his mind. Within the negotiated period for changing your mind. Not evil.
  • There is, of course, an agent issue. A client was promised to a team, and not delivered. The agent, in this case, is super-agent David Falk, who has cultivated a BFFL relationship with Mark Cuban. Way, way under the radar, these men are conspiring to make things right. It just won’t wash out this year.
  • Meet the new boss. The Clippers owner and FO, as usual, engaged in a dick move. The other 29 teams saw that. There will be blowback. Again, way, way under the radar.
  • I am inclined to agree with Chandler Parsons: DeAndre was not, really, read to reach for the brass ring. He took the safer, less challenging path.
  • Let’s assume that Doc and his pals promised to start featuring DeAndre offensively. How long can that last? Look, Doc needs to win games. When it is winning time, he can throw the ball to DeAndre, or to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Who would you choose?
  • The Clippers are still embarrassingly shallow. If they failed to reach the WCF because of depth last year, how are they better next year? Answer: they’re not! The Spurs got better, the Thunder will be better, the Warriors are intact. What makes DeAndre think that the Clippers can get to the next level?
  • I cackled in glee when DeAndre abandoned the Clippers. Should I cackle harder now that he is back? Before, the Clippers knew they didn’t have enough. Now, they will talk themselves into thinking that maybe, just maybe, they do. Go Warriors!
  • The 8-day quiet period is endless. After the Clippers dick-move, expect every team in the league (and every free agent) to treat verbal agreements for the sham that they are.  There will be reform in the stupid NBA free-agency system.