The Flip Side: Shane Battier lives again

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Wednesday’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.

One piece in The New York Times once turned Shane Battier from fine complementary player into defensive immortal, but a pair of roster moves by the Houston Rockets had somehow rendered him invisible. Last summer, Houston signed Trevor Ariza for the mid-level exception, acquiring Battier’s heir apparent as the Rockets’ primary wing defender. Ariza and Battier, though they have found the most success operating in similar roles, are cut from entirely different defensive molds; Battier’s style is perhaps best described as cerebral, whereas Ariza is more a thin, lanky Ron Artest clone, limiting defenders by way of athleticism, instinct, and will.

The two coexisted on the wing in Houston, but in February of this year, the Rockets traded for the sweet-shooting Kevin Martin, a move designed to restructure the Houston offense. By design, Trevor Ariza’s usage rate began to slip, and the far more effective Kevin Martin gradually began taking more shots and lifted some of Ariza’s shot-creating responsibilities. In the process, Battier, despite his defensive talents, was pushed to the bench, and even worse, teetered on irrelevance.

With Martin in the fold and playing major minutes, Ariza and Battier were no longer a tandem of wing defenders. Instead, they were, in a sense, competing for the same playing time and the same defensive responsibilities. Although Battier has long been a favorite of Rick Adelman and Daryl Morey, Ariza is seven years Battier’s junior and an athletic freak. He was the natural fit next to Martin, and together the two wings were set to guide the Rockets into the world of tomorrow. One a quality scorer, the other a proven defender, and together a solid complement to a star like Yao Ming. Meanwhile, Battier was an aging role player on a now-expiring deal, becoming less and less important to the franchise by the minute.

However, Houston has reorganized the wings yet again, with their third significant move in about a year’s time. Trevor Ariza is a Rocket no more, and in his stead will be Courtney Lee, a similar player in most respects, but a markedly different one in the area that matters most: defense. Lee is a solid defender, but he’s far more suited to defend guards exclusively than opposing he is small forwards. Ariza, on the other hand, has a combination of length and speed that make him an ideal defender at either the 2 or the 3. The difference between the two could be minimal in some situations, but when Kevin Martin, who still seems incapable of guarding just about anybody, is a fixture in the starting lineup? Things get a bit more complicated.

Having a versatile defender like Ariza in the lineup afforded the Rockets the opportunity to hide Martin defensively, but that’s no longer an option every night out. They could try to match Lee up with bigger and stronger opponents at times, though the long-term viability of that strategy is questionable. Instead, the Rockets’ best lineup may be a reversion to what they know, or in this case, who they know: Battier. Even at his age, Shane is capable of covering an opponent’s top perimeter threat, and is better equipped to do so than Lee. Battier has had a lot of success at multiple positions, and without Ariza around to compensate for Martin’s weaknesses, that defensive versatility is invaluable.

The Rockets have plenty of players capable of filling in at either wing position, but none matches Battier’s defensive utility. Trading Ariza for the significantly cheaper Lee was the right move, but if the Rockets really are trying to make an immediate run at that title, Battier will need to play significant minutes on most nights to compensate for Ariza’s absence. Battier and Lee are very much the team of defenders that Battier and Ariza could never have been; they each have their strengths, and while there’s definitely some overlap in their defensive abilities, there should be no mistaking that overlap for redundancy. The Rockets need Battier again, just as they need Lee, and it’ll be up to the two of them to anchor Houston’s otherwise sketchy perimeter defense.  

Dwyane Wade does #SoGoneChallenge, calls for banana-boat buddies to join him (video)

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Rasheed Wallace isn’t the only NBA player doing the #SoGoneChallenge.

Dwyane Wade is also rapping to the music of 2003 Monica song “So Gone”:

Having alil fun haha!!! I challenge #TeamWade @kingjames @cp3 @carmeloanthony do this #Sogonechallenge

A video posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

Wade also invites LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to take the challenge. Will any accept?

John Wall: Bradley Beal and I ‘have a tendency to dislike each other on the court’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23:  Bradley Beal #3 and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talk in the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Verizon Center on March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Why is new Wizards coach Scott Brooks going so far out of his way to praise Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal?

Maybe because the guards need positive reinforcement about their ability to excel together.

Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Beal, via Michael:

“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.

“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.”

Wall and Beal have spent four seasons together. Wall is locked up for three more and Beal five more.

This isn’t a fleeting problem.

In theory, Wall and Beal should play off each other well. Wall is more of a slasher and passer. Beal excels as an outside shooter.

But complementary skills matter only so much if there’s a personality difference.

Michael credited Alan Anderson and Garrett Temple with soothing tension, but both those veterans have left Washington. It’s time for Wall and Beal to handle this better on their own – or, without the right support around them, interpersonal issues could sink the Wizards.

Jazz sign second-rounders Joel Bolomboy, Marcus Paige

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels prepares to shoot a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Jazz expedited their rise this offseason by trading their first-round pick for George Hill, using cap space to acquire Boris Diaw in another deal and signing Joe Johnson.

But Utah still has room for youth.

The Jazz signed two of their three 2016 second-round picks – No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy and No. 55 pick Marcus Paige.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick forward/center Joel Bolomboy (Ball-um-boy).

He will wear jersey #22 for the Jazz.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick guard Marcus Paige.

He will wear jersey #16 for the Jazz.

Bolomboy is an energetic and athletic rebounder, and that should translate to the NBA. Will the rest of his game round into form? If not, will rebounding and hustle be enough to carve out a role? The power forward from Weber State was worth betting on late in the second round. He might not get much playing time behind Derrick Favors, Diaw and Trey Lyles, but it’s probably worth keeping Bolomboy on an NBA contract and monitoring his development.

Paige is in a similar situation, though point guard is even more crowded with George Hill, Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto. After four years at North Carolina, how much untapped potential remains?

The Jazz have 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus Jeff Withey and Chris Johnson. So, barring something unforeseen, there isn’t room for both Bolomboy and Paige (let alone unsigned No. 60 pick Tyrone Wallace) to stick. Utah could waive either rookie and assign his D-League rights to its affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. But that player would become an NBA free agent.

That’s why I’m a little surprised the Jazz signed both. Perhaps, Paige forced their hand by accepting the required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain a player’s draft rights).

Essentially, this sets up a training-camp competition between Bolomboy, Paige, Withey and Johnson with one NBA salary on the line. My money is on Bolomboy.

Kevin Durant wants to top Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic scoring record, still unsure about 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Gold medalist Kevin Durant of the United States celebrates after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Olympics served a therapeutic purpose for Kevin Durant, who won gold with Team USA after facing immense backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

What about 2020? What will motivate him to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games?

Maybe Carmelo Anthony‘s American Olympic scoring record. Durant is just 25 points behind the Knicks star.

Durant, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“I can’t say right now,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’ll be 31, going on 32 …”

Overhearing the conversation, Anthony jumped in and shouted, “He’ll be playing in 2020 and 2024! I’m right. I’m right.”

Durant laughed and shook his head as Anthony darted ahead as the most decorated American Olympic basketball player. For now. “I want to pass him, for sure. Just because it’s ‘Melo, I would love to pass him. But I don’t know if I’ll play or not,” Durant told The Vertical. “Who knows? We’ll see. You never know what’s going to happen in four years. I’m just going to enjoy this one right now.”

Durant has already won gold medals (in 2008 and 2012). Potentially, he’ll rack up heavy mileage with multiple deep playoff runs with Golden State in the coming years. And as he said, he’ll be nearly 32 in four years.

That’s the type of record that usually leads a player to skip the Olympics.

But Durant would still be young enough that it’s plausible, and his game should age well enough that he’ll remain one of the top American players. Breaking Melo’s record could entice him, too.