After the NBA Lottery screwed them, where do the Nets go from here?

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cousins.jpgSo, that didn’t go so well for the Nyets.

The franchise savior will be headed to Washington, or, if they lose their minds, Philadelphia. The odds of landing LeBron, Wade, Bosh have just shrunk to tiny proportions, and they’re looking at the third pick in a two-superstar-pick draft. That’s a pretty big fall on the first big day of the new Nets, or whatever they’ll be called.

But third pick it is, and they’ll have to try and come up with the best option available. So what do they need?

Obviously, Devin Harris isn’t going anywhere. Brook Lopez is their best player now that Wall’s out of the picture. Courtney Lee can work as a two guard. Terrence Williams showed a lot of promise at small forward. So that just leaves power forward, if we’re going from a true need standpoint. Yi Jianlian has not been a viable option from production or injury stability so that’s the easiest way to go. Let’s look at some options.

1A. Derrick Favors, PF/C, Georgia Tech: The (un)sure thing. You can go ahead and take the “/C” off Mr. Favors. Brook Lopez is the big here. Favors is the easy choice. 6-9 and change (depending on who you ask), with a good frame and excellent athleticism, he’s got a lot of the words you want associated with a third overall pick as a forward. But while everyone seems to be certain that this is where the Nets should go, there have to be some doubts.

For starters, and most glaringly, is the situation of redundancy. Lopez provides them with a superb all-around big. He has touch around the basket and an arsenal of moves, but also the brute strength to rebound and fight down low. Adding Favors as a superfreak athlete doesn’t really address their biggest need from an offensive standpoint, and that’s a forward that can stretch the floor. An ideal candidate would have Favors athleticism but a more polished offensive game. Even a handful of post moves would be handy. But at Georgia Tech, in a limited system, albeit, Favors failed to showcase that kind of potential.

The Nets geared their strategy around getting Wall and signing free agents. They now do not have Wall, nor Turner (most likely), and going with Favors would be acquiring another hyperathlete that can’t necessarily move the NBA’s worst offense forward.

1B. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky: The headcase.  Cousins is at least one spot lower than he should be, and possibly two, based solely on his maturity level. Which is remarkably questionable. Cousins is a massive headcase, prone to fits, tantrums, freak-outs, and mouthing off. Let me put it this way. If we’re taking bets on “Most likely to say something in the press that will result in a NBA veteran destroying him” for the 2010 rookies? The money line is Cousins (-50) and field (-7000). He’s got the potential to rival Sheed in technicals by the end of his career. So he certainly deserves a drop and that may be too much for the young Nets.

But on the flip side, it’s hard to find a prospect outside of Wall with as powerful a combination of immediate impact and upside as Cousins. He has the most impressive set of physical assets of any big in the draft, with length, frame and muscle all to the standard of an NBA starter from the get go. Give him the ball, and he knows what to do with it. At Kentucky he showed not only a patience in working to develop a shot but a ridiculous ability to draw fouls. He’s just too big and physical to contain. Pair that polish and aggressiveness with Lopez and you have a pretty killer frontcourt.

Cousins is questionable defensively but that’s tied into the headcase thing. When motivated, he can be smothering, and between he and Lopez, opponents might never see the light of day again.

Cousins is a remarkably risky pick but has the highest chance of making an immediate impact.

2a. Wesley Johnson, SF/PF, Syracuse: The complication. Okay, let’s say the Nets decide that the Orange wing is the way to go. He’s simply not big enough to play power forward in the NBA, but that’s alright, because Terrence Williams logged most of his time at the shooting guard position anyway. So you push Courtney Lee to the bench, move Williams to the 2, slot in Johnson as your dynamic three, figure out something at power forward, and keep Lopez banging along. Not a bad option. Even Courtney Lee as the backup shooting guard seems like a good plan. But it does create somewhat of a glut at the position, particularly if the team elects to re-sign troubled but talented wing Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Having too much talent isn’t exactly something New Jersey needs to be concerned with right now, but in planning for the future, a small forward that has difficulty in creating his own shot might not be the best option.

2b. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF, Wake Forest: The reach. Aminu brings a lot of what the Nets are looking for. Versatility, an ability to spread the floor, enough size to play 4 in a jam, enough versatility to play 3 as a natural position. He’s long, talented, has good work ethic and can score at the rim. He doesn’t have terrific range, but the other wings for the Nets have those things. The problem is that he’s simply too much of a reach. He’s not considered on level with Wesley Johnson, Cousins, or Favors, and is part of the “soup” of picks between No. 5 and No. 12 in most mocks.

If the Nets can move down a few slots to take him and either pick up another pick (to bundle together for a later trade) or a veteran that can contribute, that might be a wise move. The Nets have so many concerns from a talent standpoint that trying to maximize their options may be the best approach. Getting Aminu would serve a lot of needs while not necessarily solving any, and a move down would relinquish them of the intense scrutiny of any of the other picks listed.

3a. Cole Aldrich, PF/C, Kansas: The bust. This would be a disaster. Aldrich was a phenomenal college athlete but his upside in the pros is limited, as is how he would fit in with Brook Lopez. The Nets would have a considerably bigger team, but how much that would help given their other deficiencies has to be a concern.

3b. Greg Monroe, PF/C:
The slip. Monroe was as high as No. 3 in some drafts earlier in the year, but a subpar season along with a poor showing in the tournament has left him plummeting back down to double digits. Monroe’s offensive game is developed enough for him to play at the four and his size is a huge plus at 6-11, but a lack of passing ability and limited athleticism have him hampered. And the reach factor again comes into play here, as Monroe would be available later. There’s also a similar concern as with Aldrich as to his ability to fit in with Lopez. Monroe may be the most ready to make an immediate impact but his longterm viability and upside may render this too much for the Nets to go for.

4a. Trade the pick:
The gamble. The Nets have three of the first 32 selections in the 2010 NBA Draft, including the number three. They aren’t tethered to anyone but Lopez in terms of a talent standpoint, and have the cap space to take on any large contract a team would need to dump off in a talent upgrade. While the biggest prizes of the summer may be out of reach, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options if Thorn is willing to pursue them.

The Nets are in the weeds, but at least there are some choices. For the sake of the franchise, they’d best tread carefully though.

Three Things to Know: Two game suspension for Ariza, Green, without punch being thrown

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) NBA suspends Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green two games for Clippers’ locker room incident.
The NBA wanted to send a clear message: Try to enter another team’s locker room and you will pay the price. Literally. Players who do this will lose multiple game checks with a suspension. I get that — a locker room brawl has the potential to erupt into something very ugly. (James Harden and Chris Paul were not suspended because the league found them to be in more of a peacemaker role, not being the aggressors.)

However, what about guys who throw actual punches in games? On the court. That gets less of a suspension? The NBA’s suspension criteria is off.

Just a quick recap of what happened Monday night at Staples Center: It got to be a very chippy game between the Rockets and Clippers. It had been an emotional game from the start with Chris Paul’s return against his former team — an organization he ripped a couple of times since leaving. On the court Blake Griffin bumped into Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and those two exchanged heated words. Ariza ripped Griffin’s leg tights during a play with a foul. Austin Rivers – out for the game and wearing a suit on the sidelines – was incredibly vocal (remember Paul called out nepotism between Austin and Doc) and Ariza responded, which led to another argument with Griffin. After the game, Ariza and Gerald Green tried to use a not-really-secret tunnel behind the locker rooms (where players often meet after games to talk) to try to enter the Clippers locker room and confront Rivers. There was a lot of yelling and insulting, but no punches were thrown.

My quick thoughts, in bullet points:

• I get wanting to send the “you can’t enter the opposing locker room looking to fight” message, but does that really warrant a larger suspension than guys who throw actual punches while on the floor? Serge Ibaka and James Johnson each got one game suspensions for throwing punches in full view of the cameras, so the video could be re-shown on every highlight package coast-to-coast for 24 hours. That seems soft if you get two games for yelling at a locker room door.

• If it’s two games for Ariza and Green, how many does Aaron Afflalo get for his wild haymaker punch attempt the other day? Does he get less than Ariza/Green because Nemanja Bjelica has some Floyd Mayweather in him and knew how to duck the punch?

• Nothing for Griffin running into D’Antoni? Watch the video and it’s pretty evident to me Griffin intentionally tried to brush back the Rockets’ coach — something Mark Jackson pointed out in the broadcast Wednesday Griffin has done before. However, Griffin gets off scot-free in this. Was D’Antoni out of the coach’s box? Yes. But if that’s the enforcement rule then every coach since Phil Jackson didn’t get out of his chair can be run into because they all go out of the box and venture near (or in many cases) the court. Where D’Antoni stood was not the least bit uncommon. Griffin got lucky.

2) Those Clippers won again Wednesday, beating the Nuggets and shaking up both the West playoff race and the trade deadline. Lost in all this: The Clippers are playing good basketball right now. Wednesday night they beat the Denver Nuggets 109-104 behind 20 points from Griffin and 17 from Lou Williams, who is playing well enough coaches have to consider him for the All-Star Game next month in Staples. That’s six wins in a row for Los Angeles and if the playoffs started today they would be in. Doc Rivers has to get some consideration for Coach of the Year considering where he has this team despite losing CP3 and then a rash of injuries.

The best race to watch the second half of this season is for the final three playoff slots in the West: As of Thursday morning the Pelicans, Clippers and the Trail Blazers are all tied with records of 23-21, and the Nuggets are just half-a-game back at 23-22. (Oklahoma City is just 1.5 games ahead of the tied three, but it feels unlikely they get caught; Utah is 4.5 games behind Denver, but with the injuries to the Jazz it’s hard to imagine them making up the ground.) Using its algorithm, fivethirtyeight.com says the Clippers (78 percent chance), Pelicans (77 percent) and Nuggets (73 percent) will get in, while the Trail Blazers have just a 57 percent chance of beating one of those teams out. Over at Cleaning the Glass, Ben Falk projects the Pelicans in the sixth slot at 45 wins, Denver with 43, and the Clippers and Blazers each with 42 (he has the Clippers just slightly ahead in projected wins). The reality is much more boring: The teams among those four that can stay the healthiest the second half of the season will get in.

Unless there is a trade. The Clippers have been listening to offers for DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams (but reportedly so far have been unimpressed with what other teams are pitching). We can talk about what team president Lawrence Frank wants to do, but in reality this is an ownership-level question: Do Steve Ballmer want to hold on to two of his three best players and make a run at a bottom three seed in the playoffs because he just wants to win, or does he approve getting a jump-start on the rebuild with whatever assets they can land in this deal. Fans love to say “blow it up” but Ballmer and the Clippers could have done that last summer when CP3 forced a trade, they didn’t. So now they’re going to do it at the deadline when they could get less back in deals? Plus, does Ballmer want to try to get approvals for his new arena while his team struggles on the court?

3) Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely. Again. Ugh. Kawhi Leonard has played in just nine NBA games this season. He didn’t return from a quad injury (which he played through last season and bothered him through the summer) until Dec. 12. He was rounding into form when he had to sit for a few games due to an injured shoulder, then on the day he was rumored to be re-entering the lineup the Spurs announced he is out again indefinitely with the same quad injury. The reports were the Spurs expect this to be shorter than the last time he was out, but there is no timetable.

With LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level and the Spurs being the Spurs and not beating themselves, they will be fine in the regular season. They are projected to win about 50 games, and they will make the playoffs as the three or four seed.

However, in the playoffs they need a fully-functioning Leonard to be a real threat to anyone. The Spurs need his defense and his athleticism, they are too old and slow without him and that can get exposed in a series. If Leonard is still out as we get into March, then it’s time to be concerned. Until then, the Spurs are just going to Spur — for example beating the Nets 100-95 Wednesday behind 34 from Aldridge.

PBT Extra: Better communication needed between NBA players, referees

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NBA players are frustrated. They feel the calls from NBA officials are inconsistent, but if they try to talk to an official about it they are pushed aside or handed a technical.

NBA referees feel that players seem to complain about every call and that there has been a decline in civility — players are more aggressive now toward them.

In this PBT Extra, I discuss how there needs to be a better level of communication between the two sides. There is always going to be tension between players and refs, it’s the nature of the roles. But both sides can handle this a whole lot better than they have.

Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win

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CHICAGO (AP) — When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.

Such is life for the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson scored 38 points, Stephen Curry added 30 and the Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls 119-112 on Wednesday night for their franchise record-tying 14th straight road win.

“It was an old-school Splash Brother game,” coach Steve Kerr said.

The “Splash Brothers” nickname for Thompson and Curry has faded in prominence since Durant joined the duo before last season, but the sharpshooting guards can still put on a show. Thompson was 7 for 13 from 3-point range and Curry was 6 for 11 from behind the arc; no other player made a 3 for the Warriors.

“When they got it going like that, you just play your role and know your place, man,” Durant said.

Durant had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Golden State moved into a tie for the third-longest road winning streak in a season in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers hold the record with 16 straight road wins during the 1971-72 season.

Next up for the NBA-leading Warriors (37-9) is a prime-time showdown with Houston on Saturday in the finale of a five-game trip.

“It’s going to be a very tough game Saturday, probably the toughest of the trip,” Thompson said, “and if we could go undefeated on this road trip that would be incredible.”

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points for Chicago, which dropped to 14-8 since its 3-20 start. Robin Lopez scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, and Kris Dunn also had 16.

“We played three quarters of really good basketball, but you take one off against a team like this, you’re not going to win,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

The Warriors played without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala due to injuries, and Jordan Bell sprained his left ankle when he challenged Lopez’s dunk on the Bulls’ first possession. Bell stayed down for a while and then was helped to his feet. He tried to put pressure on his leg and grimaced before he opted for a wheelchair ride off the court.

The 23-year-old Bell was selected by the Bulls in the second round of the June draft and then dealt to the Warriors for financial considerations. X-rays were negative, but he was using crutches and a walking boot after the win and will have an MRI on Thursday.

“It was definitely way worse than a normal sprain,” Bell said. “Like I said, I thought I broke it.”

Thompson and Curry led the way as Golden State outscored Chicago 32-12 in the third quarter to open a 95-78 lead. Curry made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 9:23 left in the period, sparking a 19-0 run for the Warriors.

The Bulls made a late charge, closing to 112-107 on Dunn’s fast-break dunk with 2:55 left. Dunn landed awkwardly on the play and his face slammed into the floor. He was being evaluated for a possible concussion after the loss.

The NBA champion Warriors responded with Thompson’s driving layup and a three-point play for Durant. Thompson also made two foul shots with 17.4 seconds left to help Golden State secure the win.

 

PBT Extra: Fan votes from twitter on MVP, other awards

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We reached the middle of the NBA season, which is a good time to consider where things stand for the end-of-season awards such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year. We have made our picks and even broken them down in a podcast.

Now it was time to ask you who you thought should win awards.

I put it out there on Twitter in some polls, and I cover your responses in this PBT Extra. I’m with you on Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, although I think it’s close. Did you choose LeBron James or James Harden for MVP? Watch and find out.