The Flip Side: Dell Demps' attempt to appease Chris Paul

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chris_paul.jpgYesterday’s four-way trade
saw just about every team involved walk away a winner. However, the
effects of that trade are far more specific than just saying “This team
got better,” or “This team accomplished its goals.” In The Flip Side,
we’ll look at one player from each of the four teams — the Nets, the
Pacers, the Hornets, and the Rockets — and how their career is
impacted by the move in both the immediate and distant future.

Chris Paul wants out of New Orleans. Newly-anointed Hornets GM Dell Demps acquires Trevor Ariza in exchange for James Posey and upstart point guard Darren Collison. Chris Paul still, probably, wants out of New Orleans.

The Hornets’ intent here was obvious, but if scoring Trevor Ariza is the endgame of the team’s plan to convince Chris Paul to stay home, someone miscalculated. Badly.

There’s honestly nothing wrong with Ariza. He’s a fine athlete, a good perimeter defender, a so-so three-point shooter, and a perfectly useful cog as long as he’s not asked to power the machine. The more responsibility Ariza holds in the offense, the worse off both he and the team are going to be. He’s just not a dynamic offensive talent, and that’s fine.

Because what Ariza is — a perfectly average player — comes at a perfectly average cost. He has a contract that fits his abilities, and the only problem with that contract is that it extends over the next four seasons. $28.1 million? Not too bad in the current NBA climate. Yet with earth-shaking changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement right around the corner, paying a guy like Ariza that much money may not be reasonable in a year’s time.

Finances aside, the Hornets need help. They need players like Ariza who can fill in the gaps, sure, but what they really need is a talent who can take over the second fiddle from David West without skipping a beat. West isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future, but this team, as it’s currently constructed, isn’t working. There’s clearly not enough depth (who on earth is going to back up Chris Paul next year?), but talent at the top remains a glaring concern. Paul is a top-five player, but West, Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Marcus Thornton aren’t enough. That combination could conceivably get the Hornets to the playoff brink, but what then?

Here’s what I’m getting at: Though Ariza might be the most intriguing wing player the Hornets have had during the Paul era, little has changed. New Orleans still has contracts that could hurt in the long-term, little financial flexibility, and now they’ve lost Darren Collison. The starting five NOLA trots out on opening night may be more complete because of this move, but I fail to see how it’s evidence of some methodical, long-term plan.

The Hornets traded in their insurance policy for a fresh coat of paint, but Paul’s no fool. He knows what Ariza is and isn’t, what he represents and what he doesn’t. Demps is trying (and that’s something), but if Paul really is insistent on finding a new team to call his own, Dell will have to do much better.   

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.