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.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.