Feb 22, 2013 1:17 PM EST
Josh Smith would have fixed many of the Brooklyn Nets' problems. An athletic 6’9, 225 forward with a 7’0 wingspan, his ability to pass, protect the rim and defend multiple positions would have been the perfect complement upfront to Brook Lopez. He’d allow Brooklyn to take their model to its logical conclusion and throw outlandish sums of money at every position on the floor. However, due to the new CBA, they couldn’t just wait to pounce on the Hawks in a sign-and-trade this summer. They actually had to offer some assets at the deadline, but all they had were Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and a late first-round pick.
The returns on the new CBA are still coming in, but it looks like it’s having its intended effect. It’s going to be a lot harder for teams to buy their way out of problems going forward. Instead, there will be more of a premium on long-term planning, particularly scouting and developing young players, than ever before. The NBA is going to look more like the MLB, where it takes several years to turn a franchise around. If an MLB team ignores its farm system or where they are on the win curve, it will catch up to them. The Nets could become a test case of what happens when you try to shortcut the rebuilding process in this era of the NBA.
After bottoming out in 2009-10, Brooklyn had the beginning of an interesting roster with Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors. Not only did Lopez and Favors have complementary games, but their development process would give the Nets lottery picks in 2011, 2012 and maybe even 2013. It would have been a slow process, but if the Nets had made the right selections, they would have been one of the NBA’s elite teams by 2014. But, rather than build through the draft, new owner Mikhail Prokhorov was determined to make a splash as he opened the franchise’s new Brooklyn arena, so his management team began auctioning off assets for veterans.
The Nets became the rare under .500 team to be a buyer at the trade deadline when they acquired Deron Williams in 2011. They paid a steep price for the stunning move: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, as well as their 2011 lottery pick that became Enes Kanter. Their 2012 lottery pick, which became Damian Lillard, brought them Gerald Wallace. Last summer, they used the rest of their assets -- their expiring contracts and a 2013 first round pick from the Rockets -- to pick up Joe Johnson. It’s no wonder the Josh Smith talks went nowhere; the Hawks had already rummaged through the Nets' cupboards.
Two years after the process started, Brooklyn GM Billy King thought he had built a team that could match-up with Miami. In reality, any team with a Brook Lopez / Kris Humphries frontcourt wasn’t defending anyone, much less LeBron James. Even worse, King was paying $60 million to just four guys, two of them on the wrong side of 30. He had repeatedly violated the two cardinal rules of NBA trades: never deal old for young or big for small. He compounded the problem by ignoring the back end of his roster, letting Avery Johnson stuff it with aging veterans rather than grooming young players.
As a team above “the apron” of the luxury tax, the Nets are going to be severely restricted in how they improve their roster going forward. They’ll need to be run more like a college basketball program, with one eye on the future at all times. Mike Krzyzewski is a master at it: he staggers his Duke rosters so they’re never too imbalanced with seniors or freshmen. In contrast, Brooklyn has played Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans over MarShon Brooks for parts of the season. That was almost certainly due to their head coach, but head coaches who can’t or won’t develop young players are a luxury teams will no longer be able to afford.
Brooks may not have the best shot selection or defensive awareness, but he’s a talented and athletic 6’5 200 shooting guard with a 7’1 wingspan. More importantly, at the age of 24, he’s one of their only players with upside potential. And because they weren’t committed to improving him, he wasn’t a very attractive piece at the deadline. It’s hard for another team to sell their fans on a guy getting 11 minutes a night. If veteran leadership is really such a valuable asset, maybe Brooklyn could have shopped Stackhouse and Bogans? Surely other teams would jump to have guys with so many years of NBA experience under their belts.
If they’re going to improve, the Nets need to get the most out of Tyshawn Taylor, whomever they select with their first-round pick in 2013 and the last few spots on their roster. They need Taylor, a second-round pick out of Kansas, to develop into an NBA combo guard and they need to find an athletic 3/4 combo forward to fill out their frontcourt in the draft. To improve their bench, they will have to find more diamonds in the rough like Andray Blatche, a reclamation project that the rest of the NBA had given up on. King will have to find some of the good players in the NBADL and Europe, because he’s going to have a hard time acquiring quality NBA veterans with his team so far above the luxury tax.
For the Nets, it all goes back to that fateful decision to acquire Williams in 2011. Right now, in 2013, would you rather have Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Lopez and no cap room or Favors, Kanter, Lillard, Lopez and room for a max player? Here’s the most ironic part of all: in the 2 years since they went into “win now” mode, they haven’t won a single playoff game. It’s one thing to dump all of your youth and go all-in for a title run; it’s another to go all-in for a team that may not get out of the first round. In the NBA’s new economic climate, unless you have LeBron on your roster, there are no shortcuts to success.
Jan 31, 2013 9:36 PM EST
The Memphis Grizzlies kicked off the NBA’s trading season with a bang this week. After making a relatively minor deal to supply the Cleveland Cavaliers with a bench, they finally pulled the trigger on moving Rudy Gay in a massive three-team trade on Wednesday. There were “basketball reasons” at play, but financial considerations also clearly played a huge role.
From the Dallas Mavericks to Oklahoma City Thunder and now Memphis, we’ve seen teams make personnel decisions with one eye firmly placed on the league’s stiff new luxury tax penalties. The penalties are an economic straightjacket that make very little sense for a sport with so much money pouring into it, but that’s the price we all have to pay to keep guys like Robert Sarver in business. As a result, as anyone who has played around with the NBA Trade Checker knows, it’s very hard to create win-win trades that also make sense financially.
In reality, any remaining trades are more like to resemble the Marreese Speights deal than the Gay one. But where’s the fun in that? Here’s four deals, with varying degrees of plausibility, that would actually affect the balance of power in the league.
Pau Gasol for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman, Dahntay Jones
A possible spark for two of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Mavericks have shown signs of life in recent weeks, but they’re going to need a lot more than that to dig themselves out of the holes they’re currently in. This could be a game-changer for both.
For the Lakers, it satisfies their two main priorities: adding speed and shooting around Dwight Howard while not taking on any more additional long-term salary. Marion is signed for only one more season, while Kaman and Jones are on expiring contracts. Marion is 34, but his game has aged well. He’s been the Mavericks best player this season and he’s the ideal small-ball 4 for Mike D’Antoni’s system. Marion and Jones would dramatically improve the Lakers team speed (kind of a sad when you can say that about two 10+ year NBA veterans in their 30’s), while Kaman could be useful in limited minutes as Howard’s backup.
For Dallas, it’s a belated acknowledgement of reality. Dwight Howard isn’t coming and Chris Paul isn’t either. You think “Cliff Paul”, State Farm spokesman, is happening in Dallas? You think Adidas wants Howard to leave the most high-profile franchise in the NBA? Gasol has had a tough season, but he’s still only 32, and he has the size and skill to age as well as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have, if he can play center. The Mavericks would need to add some speed around them in the offseason, but the Gasol/Dirk tandem is their best chance of throwing together one more elite team around Nowitzki before it’s too late.
Josh Smith for Meyers Leonard, JJ Hickson, Nolan Smith and a first-round pick
Everyone focuses on Josh Smith’s iffy shot-selection, but he can play some basketball too. He’s an Atlanta native who has spent the first nine years of his career playing for one of the most poorly run and nondescript franchises in the NBA. More than anything else, he needs a change of scenery.
Portland would be the ideal fit. It would force LaMarcus Aldridge to play at the 5, but with the NBA game becoming smaller and more perimeter-oriented, that’s a natural transition. Aldridge and Smith’s games mesh perfectly: Aldridge can stretch the floor and allow Smith to operate closer to the basket, while Smith’s passing ability would create easy shots for a big man who can finish from any part of the floor. A front-court with those two and Nic Batum is only the progression of Damian Lillard and a bench away from being an elite team.
For Atlanta, the same logic about a fresh start applies. Re-signing Smith locks them into the same team with the ceiling of a second-round exit they’ve been for almost half a decade. Leonard is still very raw, but he’s an athletic 20-year-old center whose holding his own as a rookie. A two-way center on a rookie contract is about the best deal you’re going to get for a disgruntled star. With Leonard, Al Horford and Jeff Teague to build around, the Hawks could focus on finding wing players in the draft and free agency.
Kevin Garnett for Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw
Now, here’s where we get speculative. The Celtics are keeping up a brave face, but they were barely a playoff team with one of the NBA’s best PG’s playing 40 minutes a night. In all likelihood, Rondo won’t be at or near 100% for at least 12 months, which means two essentially rebuilding years for Boston. At that point, Paul Pierce will be 37 and Garnett will be 38. Dealing them now would accelerate the rebuilding process around Rondo and it could be sold as a way to give two Hall of Famers one more chance at a ring.
For the Celtics, Kawhi Leonard is the key piece in this trade. He’s an athletic 6’7, 225 small forward who can match up with multiple positions, rebound and stretch the floor. That’s exactly the type of player I want around Rondo: someone who can run the break and provide spacing in the half-court without compromising the team defensively. Splitter and Diaw are there as expiring contracts. They could help Boston’s depth upfront, but the Celtics would probably waive them to “give Jared Sullinger an opportunity” a.k.a. move up in the draft.
Giving up Leonard would be difficult for the Spurs, but their primary concern should be maximizing Tim Duncan’s final years. When he’s gone, a team built around Leonard and an aging Tony Parker isn’t going anywhere. Garnett would be the absolute perfect piece: he’s precisely the combination of interior defense and perimeter shooting they’ve been looking for since Robert Horry retired. How awesome would it be to watch the two greatest power forwards of all-time ride off into the sunset together?
Paul Pierce for Javale McGee, Wilson Chandler and Quincy Miller
Hold on. I can explain.
I’ll admit that Boston dealing one of the most storied players in franchise history for the right to pay JaVale McGee $30 million dollars looks off. However, while McGee is still racking up gifs on a nightly basis, he’s also starting to come into his own with Denver. The guy is a 25-year-old, 7’1 center with a 21.5 PER who can single-handedly change the complexion of a game defensively. What if his career trajectory follows Tyson Chandler’s? He’s all upside and Rondo could be the perfect PG to maximize his abilities.
Wilson Chandler and Leonard would form one of the most athletic forward duos in the NBA and they’d have the shooting ability to make it work offensively. Along with McGee, that’s a trio of frontcourt players who would look awfully good next to Rondo, whose spent his entire career shackled to veterans who want to play in the halfcourt, where his lack of a jumper is more of a problem than in transition. Quincy Miller, the Nuggets second round pick out of Baylor, is the wildcard. There’s a reason he was once the No. 2 player in the country. At 6’10, 220 with a 7’1 wingspan, he’s got a combination of skill, size and athleticism you can’t teach.
For Denver, the move would realign their rotation and give them a puncher’s chance in the West while also re-setting their cap situation going forward. Pierce is no longer the player he once was, but he would give the Nuggets their best shot-creator since Carmelo Anthony; on the other end of the floor, Iguodala could protect him by taking the more difficult assignment on the wings every night. Just as important, the option on Pierce’s contract next season would allow Denver to blow everything up if things didn’t go right and operate with a clean slate financially going forward.
Jan 21, 2013 3:16 PM EST
Before the season started, many questioned whether James Harden could thrive without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Three months later, he looks like a lock for the All-Star Game. After several years of wandering in the wake of Yao Ming’s retirement, the Houston Rockets have a new franchise player, a 23-year-old already in the discussion for best shooting guard in the NBA. The next step is building a team around him that maximizes his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses.
Harden has prototypical size (6’5, 220) and shooting ability (career 36 percent from beyond the arc) for a shooting guard, but what separates him from his peers is his uncommon feel for the game. Unlike most great players, Harden isn’t a plus athlete for his position, he just does an incredible job of maximizing his physical abilities. He’s a young player with the game of a 40-year-old man. If he can attack a defense in space, he will almost always make the right decision. LeBron James is the only non-traditional point guard in the NBA who averages more assists a game than Harden (5.3).
What Harden does have is exceptional length (6’11 wingspan) and timing. Very few guards can be efficient when they start playing amongst the trees in the lane. Harden’s ability to extend the ball in front of him and create contact with defenders allows him to draw fouls at an absurd rate. Dwight Howard is the only player in the NBA who averages more free-throw attempts a game than Harden at 9.8. And since he’s rarely jumping very high off the ground, Harden isn’t as likely to get injured as guys like Dwyane Wade.
He is one of the rare players who can knock down three-pointers, draw free throws and distribute the ball at an elite level. Not only is that an unbelievably efficient combination of skills to have, stars with his skill-set make the game so much easier for their teammates. He creates shots for them with the ball in his hands and creates space for them just by spotting up off the ball. And by drawing fouls at the rim, he puts his team in the penalty earlier in the game and forces opposing team to go to their bench.
There isn’t a position in the NBA as thin as the SG; Harden’s success with Houston has moved him near the top of that very short list. Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Manu Ginobili are all in their 30’s while Brandon Roy’s comeback looks headed for a premature end. Eric Gordon is the only under-25 shooting guard in the NBA with Harden’s skill-set and he hasn’t been healthy in years. Even after a recent shooting slump that has coincided with a seven-game losing streak for Houston, Harden trails only Wade and Kobe in PER among two-guards. I’m going to give a shout-out to Ben McLemore of Kansas right here; he could be Harden’s greatest competition down the road.
However, as good as he is offensively, his lack of athleticism means he’ll never impact the game defensively as much as guys like Durant or Westbrook. On top of that, he has to spend most of his energy on the offensive end, where he’s responsible for an inordinate load of the Rockets offense. He’s their only player with a usage rating above 21. That’s where the rest of their roster becomes so important. Harden needs to be protected defensively, in much the same way Phoenix protected Steve Nash in the mid-2000’s. Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons are going to have a hard time guarding Westbrook and Durant in a seven-game series.
When Nash was winning MVP’s, his weakness on defense was never a big deal because he was protected by Shawn Marion and Raja Bell. Conversely, Nash made those guys better on offense by creating high-quality looks at the basket. You want players who complement your best player’s games, not replicate it. Harden, for example, was somewhat redundant in Oklahoma City, who are actually better offensively now that Durant has the ball in his hands more often.
The fit of Lin and Harden, playmaking guards who need the ball in their hands to be effective, has been problematic from the start. Defenses don’t need to respect Lin’s three-point shot (28 percent), which limits the space Harden has to work with in the half-court. The Rockets have made up for that by starting Patrick Patterson (36 percent) and Parsons (36 percent), but that creates a domino effect in terms of the number of athletes they have on the floor. Ideally, they would have an elite shooter at the point guard position, allowing them to start at least one defensive-minded forward without compromising their floor spacing.
Lin is a credible NBA point guard with the ball in his hands, but he isn’t the playmaker or finisher Harden is. That’s why many have suggested that he be moved to the bench, where he could serve as the primary ball-handler on their second unit. It’s no coincidence his best game of the season, a 38-point 7-assist effort against San Antonio in December, came when Harden was out and he could dominate the basketball. The Rockets should sell Lin on the idea of being a sixth man, especially now that they may have found the ideal fit next to Harden.
Patrick Beverley, a 24-year-old PG whom they signed out of Europe in late December, has had an impressive NBA debut. He’s always had the physical talent to be an NBA player; he just kind of slipped through the cracks as a second-round pick who declared out of school too early. A hyper-athletic 6’1, 185 guard with a 6’6 wingspan, Beverley has the tools to be an excellent defensive player. If he can knock down shots and not turn it over, he could end up becoming a combination of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. He’s only played in four games, but his lengthy experience in Europe suggests he’s capable of stepping into a role in an NBA rotation immediately.
Even if Beverley doesn’t work out, since Harden can essentially run the point himself, it won’t be hard to find an athletic guard who can shoot to put next to him. Just as important is upgrading at the forward position next to Parsons. Last year’s second-round pick from Florida is a very nice passer at shooter at 6’10, 215, but he’ll be more effective defending the weaker defensive player upfront in a seven-game series. Patterson and Marcus Morris, the two 6’8+ combo forwards they play at the 4, don’t have the physical tools to be an elite defensive player. The good news for Houston is that, much like with Beverley, their front office’s eye for talent may have already found them an answer.
Terrence Jones, their rookie power forward from Kentucky, has been overshadowed by the soap opera surrounding Royce White. Nevertheless, his skill-set fits better with what the Rockets need. At 6’9 250 with a 7’2 wingspan, he’s bigger than Patterson and Morris and far more athletic. As a sophomore at Kentucky, he averaged 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals a game while also displaying the ability to create his own shot out of the high post. He slipped in the draft because he was overshadowed by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but he was a key component of the Wildcats NCAA championship season. I think his best-case scenario is somewhere around Josh Smith.
In the long-term, the Rockets recent struggles may end up being for the best. Their current ceiling is a first-round exit; they can’t afford to ignore upside plays like integrating Jones and Beverley into the starting line-up. Daryl Morey is a big picture guy. Even if Jones doesn’t have the upside to allow them to compete with the Thunder and the Clippers down the road, he could help them get in on the seemingly inevitable Kevin Love sweepstakes two years from now. Harden may be the best SG in the NBA by that time, but as Wade and Kobe’s careers have shown, he’ll still need a lot of help to make the Rockets a legitimate championship contender.
Dec 14, 2012
The Heat began slowly in the fall of 2010 when their supporting cast was substandard. The Lakers now find themselves in a similar situation, compounded by injuries to several of their stars. Mitch Kupchak must upgrade the personnel for the Lakers to meet their lofty expectations.
Dec 11, 2012
It may seem like the Nets and Dodgers are operating irrationally, but you can’t evaluate their expenses without first considering their revenues. There’s a flood of money coming into professional sports; the other owners can only stem the tide for so long before soaring franchise values eventually wash them away.
Aug 22, 2012
This is the part of the offseason in which general managers fill out the very end of their roster. Would a name player at the very end of their career really make more sense than someone like Terrence Williams, DeAndre Liggins or Sundiata Gaines?
Aug 13, 2012
More impressive than even his stats was LeBron James command of the game. While his teammates restricted their game and played more as specialists, LeBron expanded his. Whatever Team USA needed -- scoring, playmaking, rebounding, perimeter or interior defense -- he provided.
Jul 25, 2012
It makes no sense for a team that has Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant to give a 34-year old Kobe Bryant the green light to shoot the ball at will. The same is true for an NBA team with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Steve Nash.
Jul 23, 2012
If you consider his pedigree, Josh Selby's co-MVP performance this summer could be a sign that a once highly-touted phenom is back on track. Selby has established himself as an NBA talent, and he has the chance to carve out a career as a dynamic combo guard off the bench.
Jul 15, 2012
Neither the Thunder or Grizzlies have had the flexibility to make any major moves this offseason, but both should be significantly improved by a talented young role player coming off a year-long injury.
Jul 12, 2012
Minnesota had multiple chances to assemble an “Oklahoma City North” team around Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, but now that Love is headed into his fifth NBA season, their window to get another Top-5 pick is closed.
Jul 05, 2012
If Miami and Oklahoma City are going to stage a rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals, they’re going to have to go through the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and Knicks to do it.
Jul 04, 2012
Deron Williams has been overlooked throughout his career, but winning a title without Dwight Howard appears impossible.
Jul 01, 2012
In a league getting smaller by the year, Detroit has the chance to buck convention by building an elite team around two Twin Towers in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Jun 27, 2012
Perry Jones, a soft-spoken and unselfish player, didn’t dominate that many collegiate games; therefore, the reasoning goes, he’s too “soft” to be an effective NBA contributor. As a result, a player with top of the lottery talent has slipped into the middle of the 1st round in many projected drafts.
Jun 22, 2012
The Heat were built on a practice court and not in a boardroom, and that is the real game-changer at the heart of this grand experiment. Wade, LeBron and Bosh weren't brought together by the vagaries of ping-pong balls, reverse-order drafts and lopsided trades. They took control of their own destiny, decided to play together and looked for a franchise who would hand them the keys.
Jun 20, 2012
Playing on a team designed to maximize his abilities, LeBron James made the right decision almost every single time down the floor in Game 4. It was a scary view of what the next decade of the NBA could look like: LeBron rolling through the high post as a freakish hybrid of Magic Johnson, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.
Jun 18, 2012
Miami almost always has at least two All-Star caliber players on the floor; the Thunder need to do the same. As this series goes forward, the best chance for Oklahoma City to win is for Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka to play 40+ minutes.
Jun 15, 2012
Erik Spoelstra made a critical adjustment between Games 1 and 2, moving Chris Bosh back into the starting lineup in place of Udonis Haslem. With a starting frontcourt of Bosh, LeBron James and Shane Battier, Miami spread out the Oklahoma City defense, creating driving lanes for their stars and open jumpers for their role players.
Jun 12, 2012
In many ways, the series between the Heat and the Thunder represents the future of the NBA. The stars of both teams learned the game on the AAU circuit, where the only way to win national competitions was to play with, rather than against, other elite players.
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