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The Law Of Small Numbers

Part of what makes basketball so fun is that it combines the collaborative play of team sports with individual dominance. Even though team quality matters a great deal, we know that stars win championships in the NBA.

Five years ago, I dug out the stat for my old site that since 1956, only five teams had ever won an NBA championship without a player who won or would win an MVP award.

Even more astoundingly, only the Detroit Pistons have won a championship without a player who had already won an MVP award since 1981 when the Boston Celtics took the title on a team that had a pre-MVP Larry Bird along with Parish, McHale, and Tiny Archibald. Both of those streaks have added another six champions since that piece was written.

While Kevin Love does not factor heavily into the conversation of players who could win the MVP, he has been an elite player before the age of 26.

NBA teams understand this and value elite talent. We see this throughout the transaction system. The other reason why high-quality players fetch such high prices is that there are not enough of them to go around.

I call this the NBA’s law of small numbers: if you have a valuable asset rare enough, teams will find a way to make it happen.

The Miami Heat cleared their books via sorcery to create the three-player allure strong enough to draw LeBron James away from other opportunities in 2010, and this year we have seen quality franchises like the Houston Rockets combine space for a max player with a strong roster.

All of these factors make the Golden State Warriors’ apparent caginess at getting a Kevin Love deal completed dangerous for their future. While taking a quick glance at the market for Love around draft day could have led to confidence in Oakland, any concept that letting the string play out would be to their advantage would be deeply misguided. After all, the other effect of the NBA’s law of small numbers is that some teams do not get what they want.

In this case, that could potentially be three potential teams: Houston, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers if LeBron ends up there. With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and possibly Chris Bosh sitting as the major difference-makers this time with exactly none of them spending last season with any of those three teams, it always stood to reason that at least one or more of them would miss out on the best of the best.

Inevitably, whatever franchises end up without a chair when the music stops will turn to Kevin Love. This should scare the Warriors because each of those teams holds assets that they cannot match should those teams choose to deploy them: Chicago possesses a high-end young player in Jimmy Butler on the same salary timeline as Klay Thompson and quality cost-controlled players that could help Minnesota now in Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, while Houston has a series of fun young prospects and a shiny new draft pick from New Orleans, and Cleveland has a whole ton of assets if they can pick up the best player in the sport with cap space.

Flip Saunders may like Klay Thompson quite a bit and may see David Lee as an asset despite his contract. Even then, the Bulls and Cavs could put together trade offers to blow Golden State’s out of the water. While we do not know if those teams will enter the Kevin Love derby, the mere possibility should have indicated that the Warriors needed to push hard for a good deal instead of a slight chance at a steal.

The even more jarring fact is that the Warriors would have needed to make a big sacrifice somewhere even if they somehow added Kevin Love without losing Klay Thompson in the process. For the 2015-16 season, a team that has never paid the luxury tax would have commitments to Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Love with both Thompson and Draymond Green in line for substantial raises. Simply put, I would not have expected Joe Lacob and company to foot that kind of luxury tax bill for two-plus seasons even with a new arena on the horizon. That means at least one of those key pieces would have to go anyway- why not use one to make this trade happen?

If the reporting on this story has been correct, the Warriors better have an ace in their pocket or pray for a huge season from Thompson because playing the long game rarely pays off when non-major markets go after elite young players.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Capitalize In Three-Team Deal With Cavs, Nets

The Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to create cap space to facilitate a max offer for LeBron James and the Brooklyn Nets had been targeting Jarrett Jack for months, creating the framework for a trade that needed a third team.

The Boston Celtics were more than happy to grease the wheels, adding to an abundance of long-term assets in the process.

Cleveland will trade Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn and Tyler Zeller and a protected first-round pick in 2016 to Boston, shedding approximately $9.5 million in salary.  The trade helps give the Cavaliers $21.7 million in cap space, spurring speculation that LeBron could return to his home state and the franchise that made him the first overall pick in 2003.

The Cavaliers will also acquire the draft rights to Edin Bavcic and Ilkan Karaman from the Nets. While the Cavaliers are the principal team in the deal, Boston will also acquire Marcus Thornton from Brooklyn to complete the trade.

The Celtics will reportedly surrender a future second-round selection, but is unlikely to be conveyed since it is top-55 protected.

Brooklyn needed help in the backcourt after Shaun Livingston signed with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. The Nets and Cavaliers reportedly discussed Jack last February before Brooklyn acquired Thornton from the Sacramento Kings.

Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren are able to add a pair of assets in Zeller and a first-round pick for the cost of Thornton’s expiring $8.5 million contract. Boston has so many future draft picks that parting with a second-rounder was an easy decision.

The Celtics were able to take on the salaries of Zeller and Thornton thanks to the $10.3 million trade exception they acquired from the Nets last offseason in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett deal. It might be a good idea for Mikhail Prokhorov to bar Billy King from negotiating with Ainge in the future.

Zeller gives Brad Stevens a much-needed big body and the 24-year-old could still develop into something more than he was in Cleveland, but he’ll never be the rim protector that Boston is lacking. At his price point and experience, he should be a nice option off the bench.

He averaged just 15 minutes and 4.1 attempts in 2013-14, but Zeller shot 53.8% from the field and his Total Rebound Percentage (15.1%) ranked third among Cleveland’s regulars. His per 36 numbers last season were solid -- 13.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Thornton, who will play for his fourth team since he was drafted 43rd overall in 2009, will provide scoring and not much else for the Celtics. He has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, but never shot better than 45.1% over the course of a full season. His shooting percentages have all trended downward over the last three years, including a career-low 39.4% in 2013-14.

Primarily the top scorer off the bench throughout his career, which had included 126 starts (341 games), Thornton tends to use up several possessions while rarely finding teammates in position to score. He’s a better shooter, but in many ways he will be Jordan Crawford 2.0.

As you might expect, Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick is the biggest part of this deal from Boston’s perspective. The selection is reportedly top-10 protected for three years until it becomes completely unprotected in 2019. With Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins (or Kevin Love) and possibility LeBron in the fold, the Celtics should except to receive the pick in the first possible draft.

Grade for the Celtics: A-

It’s hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thornton’s expiring deal brings other options as well.

A playoff contender might be interested in acquiring Thornton, who would be due just a portion of his $8.5 million salary, at midseason to bolster their bench.

I mentioned Love above in regards to the Cavaliers, but Ainge is still believed to be in the hunt to acquire the All-Star from the Minnesota Timberwolves. An additional pick in the debt column should help Boston’s cause if they do engage in serious talks with Minnesota.

Here is the breakdown of the first-round picks the Celtics have through 2018:

2015: Own, Clippers, 76ers 15-30 (via Heat)

2016: Own, Nets

2017: Own or Nets, whichever is better

2018: Own, Nets

The Celtics have a ton of tools to execute a successful rebuild, but will have to find the perfect combination of using picks and dealing them for established talent over the next four years.

Orlando Summer League, Day 4 Recap

The fourth day of the Orlando Summer League saw the Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Philadelphia 76ers take the floor. While some sloppy play plagued parts of the day, here are the top stories from Tuesday’s action:

Caldwell-Pope Hits Game-Winner

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the best player in Orlando thus far and continued to show why on Tuesday. Despite starting 1-of-7 from the field against Miami, he ended the game 7-of-13 including the game winning three-pointer to lead Detroit to an undefeated start.
With 12 seconds left, Detroit had possession trailing, 78-77. Caldwell-Pope inbounded the ball, got it back, used a screen and knocked down a clutch three-pointer with less than seven seconds left. Shabazz Napier missed a three-pointer on the following possession and Detroit improved to 3-0.
“It was just a quick play we called, a play out of bounds,” Caldwell-Pope said on NBA TV. “I wanted to drive initially, but they gave me the three so I pulled up and made it.”
Caldwell-Pope finished with 26 points and seven rebounds. He remains in the top spot of the MVP Tracker despite battling an ankle injury he suffered in the first half. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is looking to take a step forward in his second year with the Pistons.
“I feel more comfortable,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the ball in my hands, the plays I’m making, and the plays I’m making for my team, so I’m just going out there and playing hard.”
Philadelphia Rookie Trio Show Potential
While Casper Ware has been the top player for Philadelphia’s summer league team so far, three rookies impressed against Houston.
Second round picks K.J. McDaniels and Jermai Grant were drafted because of their high upside and showed flashes on Tuesday. McDaniels had 15 points while shooting 4-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-2 from behind the arc. He also added five rebounds and a highlight block. He’s an athletic wing who showed good progress. If he’s able to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’ll be a quality NBA player.
Grant had 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting along with five rebounds. He knocked down his only three-point attempt and showed his athleticism with a dunk in traffic.
Although undrafted, JaKarr Sampson has been a standout as well. On Tuesday, the St. John’s product was 5-of-5 from the floor with 13 points, eight rebounds, and three steals. He’s has some guard skills at 6-foot-9 and his length helps him disrupt passing lanes. Sampson has made an impression as a perimeter player and even knocked down a three against Houston.
Stokes Takes Top Spot in Rookie Tracker
Rookie power forward Jarnell Stokes dethroned teammate Jordan Adams from the top spot on the Rookie Tracker after finishing with his second consecutive double-double on Tuesday. He had 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting with 12 rebounds.
“Right now I’m making a lot of rookie mistakes, there’s a couple things I can fix, but nothing too big,” Stokes said on NBA TV. “I think I’m one of the strongest guys definitely in college, but in the NBA I think I also like to use my body very well and I have very surprising quickness to my game, a little bit of athleticism that most guys don’t have for my size. But if I can clean up a lot of little mistakes, I think I’ll be good.”
Stokes is slightly undersized for the power forward position, measuring 6-foot-8.5 at the NBA Draft Combine, but has a 7-foot-1.25 wingspan to help compensate. He’s a tough rebounder down low who will find minutes due to his tenacious rebounding ability.
“I’m definitely a rebounder,” he added. “I think a lot of guys, definitely as a rookie, want to come in and do some things that the coaches don’t want them to do ­– well I’m not that kind of guy. I understand that my money is made on rebounding and toughness. I’m also working on my game to expand, but right now I got to be tough. I got to find minutes right now.”
The second round pick should find his way onto the Memphis roster if he continues to perform like this.
Bader Signs International Deal
In Sunday’s recap, we mentioned that Travis Bader was an undrafted rookie of note. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Oakland broke the NCAA Division I record for made three-point field goals and continued to show his success as a spot up shooter in Orlando.
After playing with the Philadelphia 76ers summer league squad, 76ers beat writer Keith Pompey reported that Bader signed with the French team ASVEL. He can reportedly opt out if he makes an NBA team. While he may not make an NBA roster, the summer league was a good opportunity to draw international attention.
MVP Tracker

1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 1)
Tuesday’s Line: 26 points, 7 rebounds
Caldwell-Pope had the game-winner against Miami and continues to score at a high level. He has yet to be knocked off from the top spot.
2. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets (Previous: 3)
Tuesday’s Line: No Game
3. James Ennis, Miami Heat (Previous: 2)
Tuesday’s Line: 4 points, 7 rebounds
Ennis had a quiet day and dropped a spot after shooting 1-of-6 from the field. If his jumper is falling, he should remain as one of the top players in Orlando.
4. Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder (Previous: 5)
Tuesday’s Line: No Game
5. Casper Ware, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: NR)
Tuesday’s Line: 16 points, 4 assists
Ware has been one of the most consistent performers in Orlando and debuts on the MVP Tracker after scoring at least 16 points in his third consecutive game. He’s averaging 17.3 points, 3.7 assists, and three rebounds per game in Orlando as he attempts to make the Philadelphia roster.
Rookie Tracker

1. Jarnell Stokes, Memphis Grizzlies (Previous: 5)
Tuesday’s Line: 11 points, 12 rebounds
Stokes recorded his second double-double in Orlando and climbed into the top spot. He’s scored in double figures all three days and is averaging 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in summer league play.
2. Nick Johnson, Houston Rockets (Previous: 2)
Tuesday’s Line: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Johnson had a chance to take the top spot, but shot only 4-of-14 from the floor in the loss. He continues to impress, however, due to his ability to contribute in areas outside of the scoring column.
3. Jordan Adams, Memphis Grizzlies (Previous: 1)
Tuesday’s Line: 2 points, 2 steals
Adams had his worst day of the Orlando Summer League and dropped from the top spot. He was held to just two points while shooting 0-of-6 from the field.
4. Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder (Previous: 3)
Tuesday’s Line: No Game
5. Mike Moser, Boston Celtics (Previous: 4)
Tuesday’s Line: No Game

Orlando Summer League, Day 3 Recap

On Willie Reed, Elfrid Payton, Jeremy Lamb and all of the action from Day 3 of the Orlando Summer League.

Orlando Summer League, Day 2 Recap

The second day of the Orlando Summer League saw the Grizzlies, Pistons, 76ers, Thunder, Heat and Nets take the floor. A pair of Long Beach State players impressed, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his success and Shabazz Napier rebounded.

Orlando Summer League, Day 1 Recap

Nerlens Noel, Mason Plumlee, Shabazz Napier, Marcus Smart and Pierre Jackson had notable days as Summer League began.

Why Sign-And-Trades Sometimes Aren't Possible For The Incumbent Team

Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Celtics seem confident Avery Bradley will be healthy and that he’s not done developing.

The Market For Lance Stephenson

No matter how strong the mutual interest in between the Pacers and Lance Stephenson, it’s money that determines most offseason decisions.

Jason Kidd's Great Escape

If Jason Kidd plays it right, he can be the Scott Brooks to their version of the Thunder. Kidd’s already proven he’s a more flexible strategist than Brooks, so hitching his wagon to that type of young talent could give him nearly unparalleled job security.

What They Said: Rundown From 2014 NBA Draft Night

A deep draft class means there was plenty of consternation regarding who would end up where and that many of the league’s newest players were in attendance on the biggest night of their life. Here’s a rundown of what they had to say moments after realizing their dream.

Reviewing The 2014 NBA Draft (From A College Perspective)

Notes on Marcus Smart, James Young, Elfrid Payton, Mitch McGary, Julis Randle, Jordan Adams, Adreian Payne and Isaiah Austin.

David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

T.J. Warren is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

Grading The Deal: Pelicans Trade For Ömer Aşık

Ömer Aşık is a very good player and a true difference-maker on the defensive end, but the Pelicans have mistakenly sacrificed future assets for short-term contention again.

McDermott Looks At 2014 Draft Class In Historical Terms

Doug McDermott believes the 2014 NBA Draft will eventually rank among the best in league history.

The Depth Of The 2014 NBA Draft

We could see as many as 15 solid starters from the 2014 NBA Draft with an impressive number of solid rotation players behind them.

High Reward Second Round Prospects Of The 2014 NBA Draft

Jahii Carson, Jabari Brown, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Johnny O'Bryant and Aaric Murray could join DeAndre Jordan as viable players to come out of the second round.

The Third Way

While a drastic path like stripping enough cap space to sign two max contract players to join Stephen Curry would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

Spurs Redefine The Essence Of Team Basketball

Gregg Popovich successfully implemented a system—where no single individual was bigger than his teammates—no matter how talented he was.

Draft Report: Andrew Wiggins Of Kansas

When Andrew Wiggins was playing AAU basketball, a transition setting where he could make direct-line runs at the rim, he surely looked like the best prospect since LeBron James. You can only see the holes in his game when he’s forced to play in the halfcourt.

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