‘Melo gives New Jersey a star, does not make them winners

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It’s plainly obvious why New Jersey wants Carmelo Anthony — they need a big star to sell their new Brooklyn home (opening in 2012, didn’t you see the pictures?). You don’t sell those luxury suits when the building’s doors open, you sell them this coming summer, a year out. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov needs his star now. Anthony is one of the brightest stars in the NBA firmament — and one of Brooklyn’s own. His name can sell suites and seats.

The fit is perfect. For marketing.

On the court, not so much.

The current proposed trade that brings Anthony to New Jersey makes the Nets a little better now, but leaves them a long way and a lot of moves away from really competing in the East. And with the salary they’d bring in — particularly if they foolishly accepted Al Harrington — they’d be less flexible to make the moves they need to make.

With all the contortions the Nets have made to make this move a reality, it is not a good basketball trade. The Nets would be better being patient, but with suites to sell this summer, that is not an option.

The trade being discussed is one of the biggest in NBA history. There are at least 15 players and three teams involved. The heart of the trade would send Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton to New Jersey (to reunite what could have been in Detroit); bring Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Anthony Morrow, some other players and a couple first-round picks to Denver; and send Troy Murphy and Johan Petro, some money saved and some picks to Detroit.

Some will try to sell it this way, but don’t confuse Anthony/Billups/Hamilton with the arrival of the big three in Boston and that turnaround. Boston’s turnaround was fueled by defense and Anthony is not bringing KG’s defensive intensity and leadership. He’s not bringing a quarter of it. What Anthony brings is scoring — he’s one of the best shooters of contested two-point shots in the league. But that is different than bringing victories. Also, Billups is 34 and Hamilton is 32 and showing signs of slowing down — these are not the players of the Nets’ future. They are a bridge to the next rebuilding around Anthony (26).

This move — which sends the promise of Derrick Favors out the door — would leave the Nets with a third-tier roster in the East. They would be nowhere near the level of Boston or Miami or Orlando (we can debate another day if Orlando is really on that level). The Nets would not be as good as the Bulls. They would still be chasing the Hawks.

That means even with this big trade, the Nets would be fighting the Knicks, Pacers, Bobcats, Bucks and Sixers for those final playoff spots in the East next season. Yes, next season — this season the Nets are five games out of the eighth seed in the East right now, with six teams between them and that spot. They aren’t going to the playoffs this year.

Over the coming several years the Nets will need to make a lot of moves to bring in more talent  — but that won’t be easy. In part because they will have shipped out so many good draft picks to get Anthony. But in part because of the salaries this trade brings in.

The big talk will be going after Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul in the summer of 2012 (when both can be free agents) — but with this trade the Nets will have $43 million in payroll already on the books that season. And that is without an extension for Brook Lopez (probably in the $10 million a year range). So they are already near the salary cap under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that cap probably will go down when they strike a new deal this summer (or this fall, or the coming winter). The Nets will have an older, not very athletic roster. Flat out, they will not be attractive to or have the money to throw at elite free agents. Not without a lot of other moves.

If this deal goes through it will look great in the power point that pitches companies on buying a suite in the new Barclay Center. But what fans will see from those suites is (as currently constructed) a pretty average team — one that is a step back (or two) from the Nuggets roster Anthony is leaving. One that will be more interesting to imagine trades for than to watch play. One that has no cap space this coming summer to make moves.

Anthony might get to go home, but you can’t always go home again.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.