Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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spurs_pacers.jpgOur game recaps from Wednesday, or what you missed during the Shaun Whiteout.

Spurs 90 Pacers 87: If you’d have told me Tim Duncan had 26 rebounds and Tony Parker had 28 points beforehand, I would have told you the Spurs won this game by 20. But the Pacers kept their feet moving, created some turnovers, and hung in there. With A.J. Price, though, the Pacers had no options at point, and Parker took advantage. DeJuan Blair looked human.

Grizzlies 109 Raptors 102: Even up by eight in the third, you could just tell the Grizzlies were going to blow the lead. And they did, as Chris Bosh took over down the stretch, and Bargnani was knocking down threes and putback hooks, Calderon was dishing, and the Raptors were running and…. wait, the Grizzlies won? Short answer: Down five with less than a minute, O.J. Mayo (OJAM) took over, knocking down a three, playing some defense leading to a teal for the Zach Randolph tying bucket. When the offense sputtered tonight, Mayo kicked it into gear. The Raptors looked like a legit Eastern Contender for stretches, but for all the talk of their second unit, it’s primarily made up of non-scorers, and it hurts them down the stretch like it did tonight.

Bulls 115 Knicks 109: Danil Gallinari will knock down five threes in a row, then airball the next. It’s uncanny. His airballs just seem to ride in on a gust of wind every now and then. Meanwhile, Taj Gibson may not be a very good rebounder, but if you let him rebound, you’re buried. You can’t let a guy who’s not good at something important do something important well. The Knicks did, and it was part of why they lost to the Bulls with Noah on the sideline and Salmons in a hotel room.

Rockets 127 Bucks 99:  If Trevor Ariza decides to go out and score efficiently, you’re dead before the ship even sinks. Ariza was 8-11 including 6-7 from the floor, and that’ll do it. The margin was mostly that the Rockets had seven guys in double figures and the Bucks had almost no ball movement. Just nothing. The Bucks struggled, they tried, but nothing was doing. Bogut had real trouble getting shots up in traffic. He’s got great versatility, but inside, there’s not one move he does better than anyone, yet.

Jazz 98 Hornets 90: The Jazz are playing so well right now that they can get away with a little mediocrity mixed in. The Hornets are not. The Jazz had a few stretches where they looked lost on defense, but towards the end, Kirilenko just wouldn’t let them lose, and the Hornets don’t have a playmaker with confidence in that situation with Paul out. One of those.

Mavs 107 Suns 97: Now this is what we thought we were getting. Caron Butler’s shooting percentage is not great. But he was hyper aggressive, snagged a few huge boards, and as opposed to last night, you could see him figuring out how to work with Nowitzki. It was terrible. Meanwhile, Brendan Haywood is tapping out shots to the perimeter for offensive glass. This team is going to be really scary in the playoffs. Amar’e was dominant for most of the game for a team that doesn’t want him, but then, he was probably showcasing as much as anything.

Miami 87, New Jersey 84: Dwyane Wade left in the first quarter with a strained calf and never returned, and without him the Heat had trouble creating consistent offense (just 36 second half points). That would have done them in against anyone but the Nets, who went 0-11 from the floor down the stretch (including Devin Harris missing some wide-open looks, that man is just not right). Courtney Lee pitched in with an 0-9 shooting night. Slow paced game, bad shooting, no D-Wade, if you missed this one you didn’t miss much.

Washington 108 Minnesota 99: Right before the game, a bunch of Wizards players were told they were traded, and that will screw up a locker room. Then the Timberwolves came out on an 8-0 run to start the game, and everyone was thinking the same thing, “This is going to get ugly.”  But like the little team that could, the Wizards started really playing some ball. Andray Blatche made this one of the five games a year where he decided to focus and dropped 33 and 13. The Wizards almost gave it back early in the fourth because, well they are the Wizards.  But behind Mike Miller’s shooting (5 of 5 from three) they got hot and they went on a 15-2 run late to get the win.

Credit here to the fans in the District, who were as loud and into the game as they have been all season, getting behind their upstart team.

Orlando 116, Detroit 91: It’s good to have Dwight Howard on your team. Ben Wallace is not quick enough to stop him, Jason Maxiell is just overmatched, and Howard could do what he wanted — 33 points on just 16 shots. Vince Carter continues his little hot streak, although he needs to do it for a lot longer before we buy in fully. Richard Hamilton was the only one on Detroit who showed any life on offense, he had 36, but then he doesn’t need to attack inside — where Howard dominated — and lived in the midrange.

Golden State 130, Sacramento 98: If CJ Watson drops 40 on you, you don’t deserve to win. Sacramento, I’m looking right at you. This was a blowout from the beginning, and the only thing of interest was Kevin Martin not playing in the second half because of a trade.

Atlanta 110, Los Angeles Clippers 92: No Baron Davis for the Clippers tonight, so newcomer Steve Blake and sophomore Eric Gordon have the ball handling duties. The result is 22 turnovers. Do that to the Hawks — let them get out running and get some easy baskets — and it is all over. This one was all over early, the Hawks got the taste of blood early and played good defense. Al Horford did whatever he wanted on offense, and the Hawks had 70 points in the paint. You think that happens if Marcus Camby is patrolling the paint? But the Clippers have cleared cap space heading into this summer, so they have that going for them. Which is nice.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.

51 Questions: Who is better, Bulls or Knicks?

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls looses control of the ball after being hit by Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks at the United Center on October 31, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Knicks 82-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Today PBT launches its 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). And we start with a fun topic:

Who is better, the Bulls or the Knicks?

Two proud franchises in two of the nation’s biggest markets, with two fan bases that demand results (but haven’t gotten them lately). Those fan bases are restless because we are talking about two franchises that disappointed and missed the playoffs last season.

That put a lot of pressure on the front offices of the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, and both were aggressive making changes this summer — Chicago traded Derrick Rose to New York, in one of the bigger deals of the offseason.

Expectations are high in New York and Chicago, with the playoffs considered a baseline.

But did those teams improve that much? Will either make the playoffs?

And which team is better?

Forced to choose, I’d say the Bulls. Barely.

Both are going to be in a battle with other teams — Washington, Charlotte, Miami, Milwaukee, maybe Atlanta,— for the final few playoff spots in the East. Both teams could conceivably miss the playoffs again.

Sorry Derrick Rose, your Knicks are not a superteam.

Rose is the common thread between these two team’s summers.

The Bulls needed to choose between him and Jimmy Butler, and they wisely chose the younger and, at this point, just flat out better Butler. It was the only call (outside trading both for a bottom-out rebuild, which wouldn’t have been wise). The Bulls traded Rose away then proceeded to surround Butler with older guards — Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — who are not great defenders, have had injury issues, don’t space the floor with their shooting, and need the ball in their hands to be their best. They also added a solid big man in Robin Lopez to the paint, he should at least block some of the shots from opposing wings who blow by Rondo and Wade.

Wade can still score — he averaged 19 points a game last season and showed in the playoffs (and other short stretches) he can put a team on his back and still be a force. He’s not vintage Wade, but he hasn’t slipped as far as critics suggest — most nights now he is good, not great. The knee maintenance program from Miami that had Wade resting some nights (although fewer last season) needs to come north and be part of the plan for him in Chicago.

The Bulls have decent raw talent and depth with Butler, Wade, Lopez, Taj Gibson (at least until he is traded), Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine. That’s why I have them just slightly ahead of the Knicks. But there are real questions about the fit of this roster. They are going to have defensive holes on the perimeter. On offense, there isn’t near enough shooting to keep opposing teams from just packing the paint and taking away driving lanes for Wade and Butler. (It’s why I think Mirotic will have to start and get heavy minutes with the first unit, they need the floor spacing shooting, the downside is he hurts the defense.) None of this fits what coach Fred Hoiberg ideally wants to run, and does the young coach have the force of personality to keep this team pulling the same direction on the rope?

The Knicks were the team that took on Derrick Rose — then landed Joakim Noah as well. Combine them with Carmelo Anthony and, if this were 2011, they would be title favorites.

The Knicks starting five could be quite good: Rose, Courtney Lee, Anthony (fresh off the Olympics), Kristaps Porzingis, and Noah. But will that group even play 50 games together healthy? If the starters are together for 60-plus games this season, the Knicks almost certainly are a playoff team (and better than the Bulls). But we all know the injury history: Rose missed 244 games in the last five seasons and is not nearly the explosive MVP version of himself, while Noah has missed 68 games the past two seasons and does not move like the Defensive Player of the Year anymore. Anthony has had his injury issues too. That trio could well fall below Knicks’ fans expectations.

Also, none of those guys seem ready to run like new coach Jeff Hornacek wants. The depth behind that starting five is unimpressive, with Brandon Jennings at the point being the best one of the bunch. When those starters start missing games — or just when the starters go to the bench — the Knicks drop off fast. This was a 32-win team last season, how much better did they really get?

Two things could have me underestimating the Knicks. One is Porzingis. He was impressive as a rookie and on his way to being very good, but how big a leap does he make this season? He will certainly be improved, he remains the future Knicks fans build altars to, and if he makes a bigger leap than I predict (which is possible) he can carry this team to the playoffs.

Second, this is contract year Derrick Rose — does he rise to the occasion? Will he be healthier, a better jump shooter, and just more creative than we have seen in recent years.

The bottom line: Both of these teams will be hovering around .500 and in a scramble for the playoffs. Both teams made short-term moves that don’t make a lot of long-term sense considering they have good young pieces to build around. Both fan bases expect more than these teams are going to deliver.

The Bulls depth should have them playing slightly better. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Of course, the real answer to all questions about who is better in the East should just be answered “Cleveland.”

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.