Charlotte sends Gerald Wallace to Portland for picks, savings

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Gerald Wallace for Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, and two future first round picks. If we reduce the trade between the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers to that simple form, both teams did well for themselves. The playoff team acquired a talented piece to complement their already existing core, and the rebuilding club cleared cap space, saved money, and acquired draft picks. Yet if we bring that fuzzy mess into focus, questions of short and long-term strategy seem to loom over any fulfillment of those teams’ general, immediate goals.

Portland needs to restructure their team around LaMarcus Aldridge, and acquiring Wallace isn’t too bad of a start. He’s an incredibly versatile defender who should give the Blazers a lot of lineup flexibility. However, for Portland to field their most effective lineups — say, Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Wallace, and Aldridge, for example — they necessarily have to play Wallace at a position he’s averse to playing and put Aldridge in a full-time position battling against opposing centers. Such a lineup decision isn’t inherently bad, but it does introduce quite a few questions. The biggest may be what exactly becomes of Marcus Camby upon his return; the positional fluidity of Wallace, Batum, and Aldridge creates a ton of interesting possibilities, but Camby has historically made such a profound defensive impact with the Blazers that it would be difficult to deny him major minutes.

However, assuming that Wallace introduces any kind of minute/positional crunch could be wishful thinking. Wallace’s production has declined rather sharply this season, primarily because of his complacency within Charlotte’s offense. His field goal percentage had fallen to the lowest of his Bobcats career (.433), in part because Wallace is taking (and missing) more jumpers than ever before, and getting to the rim less and less. This season’s Wallace has not been an accurate representation of his Bobcats career; he’s capable of more, but whether he’s willing to provide that dynamic slashing for the Blazers has yet to be determined. In principle, Wallace could be an interesting piece for Portland. But if we take him at face value based on his performance this season, it would be a stretch to see him as anything more than a good defensive addition and boost to the Blazers’ wing depth. Even then, losing Cunningham, Przybilla, and Marks obliterates Portland’s rotation of bigs, and puts Camby and Aldridge on an island.

There’s no reason for Portland not to make this trade, but for the moment it relies on the Blazers playing a lot of small-ball and Wallace reversing course mid-season. It’s palatable as an idea, but could be very different when we see the product on the court.

Charlotte received two “future” first round picks as the meat of their return, with Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, and Sean Marks included as trimmings. Przybilla embodies the savings ($21 million over the next two seasons, compared to the Bobcats’ total had they retained Wallace) the Bobcats always crave, and cutting that kind of salary (combined with possibly moving another player or two in the off-season) puts Charlotte in a more flexible position moving forward. That said, a true rebuild doesn’t begin for the Bobcats until Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson are off the roster.

The timing (and possible protectino) of the two first round picks acquired also greatly affects the outcome of this deal for the Bobcats. Michael Jordan’s club is in need of serious prospects; Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Henderson are decent pieces, but purely complementary ones. There is no Bobcats core, and teams in such a position should be in constant pursuit of finding even a single piece to begin building around. If it seems like the Bobcats are rudderless, it’s because they are.

The fact that the picks acquired are described as “future” first rounders is slightly troubling, if only because Charlotte could sure use some help this summer. Whether picks or prospects, the Bobcats need some kind of infusion of talent, and this deal may not even begin to pay off for Charlotte (in terms of actual players) for a few seasons. Savings and cap clearing are great, but the end goal is always to make the team better. The Bobcats set themselves up to maybe start improving down the road, but the actual rebuilding process won’t begin immediately.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.