PBT’s trade deadline report card

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In the last few days, nearly 10 percent of the players in the NBA got traded. Think about that. Apparently the NBA GMs have been watching their baseball counterparts too much.

We won’t really know how all this will shake out for a few months, but what follows is our first impressions. And grades. We like to give things grades.

Atlanta Hawks (Out: Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans. In: Kirk Hinrich, Hilton Armstrong.) The Atlanta Hawks needed to upgrade at the point guard spot and Hinrich is an upgrade. He’s a better defender, a better decision maker, and can knock down the three almost as well as Bibby. This is a good trade for the Hawks from a talent perspective. They still don/t match up with Celtics/Heat/Bulls, but they got better. Grade: B

Boston Celtics (Out: Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Semih Erden, and Luke Harangody. In: Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, a first round pick [top 10 protected] from the Clippers, a 2nd round pick from the Cavaliers, and cash from the Kings.) We talked about this, Boston got worse now for the hopes of easing the transition after the big three leave. The question is how much worse and can Danny Ainge find any scraps out there bought out by other teams that can help? I don’t like messing with the core in the middle of the trade deadline. Grade C-

Charlotte Bobcats (Out: Gerald Wallace, Nazr Mohammed. In: Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, D.J. White and Morris Peterson.) This was all about saving money; Wallace was owed $21 million over the next two seasons. But in doing so the team got worse, they were 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot and they will now take a huge step back. Grade: D.

Chicago Bulls (Out: James Johnson. In: first round pick from Toronto.) Nice move all around. Johnson was out of the Bulls rotation but is starting in Toronto. He gets a chance, and the Bulls get a pick they could use. Grade: B

Cleveland Cavaliers (Out: Mo Williams, Jamario Moon. In: Baron Davis, first round pick.) Yes for this was all about the pick, and they were paying for that by taking on Davis. I get why you do it. But I think an unhappy, unmotivated Davis is a bigger drain on your organization than the Cavs realize. Grade: D

Denver Nuggets (Out: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups. In: Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, first round pick) Their had was forced and at the end of the day they did fairly well under the circumstances. They will make a playoff push this year to at least get in, but they are in rebuilding mode now and need to make bold moves in the future. Grade B-

Golden State Warriors (Out: Brandan Wright, Dan Gadzuric. In: Troy Murphy.) Murphy is about to be bought out, this was about saving money. Which is nice in these recessionary times. Grade: C

Houston Rockets (Out: Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier. In: Goran Dragic, Hasheem Thabeet, first-round pick from Memphis.) Your big winner here could be Chase Budinger, who will get more minutes at the three with Battier gone. Budinger dropped 30 the other night and could really blossom now. Aside that, they get a pick to rebuild on and a quality point guard in Dragic and a pick. You would have thought Battier could have drawn more in, but it helps start the rebuilding and isn’t terrible. Grade: B-

Los Angeles Clippers (Out: Baron Davis, first round pick. In: Mo Williams, Jamario Moon.) Fantastic trade for the Clippers, just to get out from under the Baron Davis contract. Mo Williams can play and more importantly spread the floor with his three-point shooting. Grade: A-

Minnesota Timberwolves (Out: Corey Brewer. In: Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry.) It’s probably not going to make a big difference. Brewer was out of the rotation. Anthony Randolph will get some run and we’ll see if he can start to live up to that potential. Probably not, but no harm in the risk. Grade: B

New Jersey Nets (Out: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy, two first-round picks. In: Deron Williams, Brandan Wright, Dan Gadzuric.) They needed to get a big piece to start building around and they got a very good one. It didn’t come cheap, but they punked the Knicks a little in the process so it worked out well. Grade: A

New Orleans Hornets (Out: Marcus Thornton. In: Carl Landry.) The Hornets were looking for depth along the front line, they got it with a professional and hard working player. Good pick up. Grade: B+

New York Knicks (Out: Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry. In: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams.) They wanted the second star, they got it in Carmelo Anthony. There are serious questions about fit, there are a lot of steps left for them, but the Knicks are going to be entertaining if nothing else from here on out. Grade B+

Oklahoma City Thunder (Out: Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic. In: Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed.) This was a brilliant trade. Sure, a bit of a risk because Perkins is coming off an injury and could be a free agent, but the Thunder addressed their biggest need — a defensive presence in the paint — with one of the best in the game at it. They just got a whole lot better and the West playoffs just got a lot more interesting. Grade: A

Phoenix Suns (Out: Goran Dragic, first round pick. In: Aaron Brooks.) Does this make them that much better? Not a bad move but I still don’t see what the big picture plan is. Grade: C

Portland Trail Blazers (Out: Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham. In: Gerald Wallace.) The Blazers did well with this one. They are taking on more long term salary but Wallace and Nicolas Batum give them fantastic defensive wing players. Man, if Brandon Roy were healthy this team would be scary. Grade A-

Sacramento Kings (Out: Carl Landry. In: Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels.) Landry is the kind of solid professional that fits better on a playoff team than the rebuilding Kings. Thornton showed a lot of promise as a rookie, but the return of Chris Paul and a change of role threw him off. We’ll see how he adjusts to playing with Tyreke Evans (when he returns) but it’s not a bad risk for the Kings. Daniels is not expected to play the rest of this season, that was a money thing. Grade: B

Toronto Raptors (Out: first round pick. In: James Johnson.) Really depends on how the shooter pans out. He started and scored nine against the Bulls, but did they really need to give up a first for him? This is a time-will-tell thing, but it’s good to see him get the chance. Grade C

Utah Jazz (Out: Deron Williams. In: Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks.) The Jazz had a challenge with Williams. Owner Greg Miller said he saw what happened with LeBron, with Carmelo Anthony and he didn’t want that to happen with the Jazz and Deron. So they were insanely proactive. They got a decent amount back, you never get equal money for a superstar but they got some nice pieces. But the hardest piece to get is the superstar and they traded theirs away before they had to. Grade: D+

Washington Wizards (Out: Kirk Hinrich, Hilton Armstrong. In: Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans.) We like Jordan Crawford, he could be the kind of shooter that could develop into the kind of guy to go with John Wall. Mike Bibby will not be happy backing up Wall, being a veteran on a losing team, or much of anything else. The Wizards do save a little money. There was demand for Hinrich, could the Wizards have done better? Grade: C-

Report: LeBron James won’t take discount from max salary

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In 2014, LeBron James made clear he’d accept no less than a max salary.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

James’ position on maximum contracts hasn’t changed, sources said.

Are we sure LeBron will even opt out next summer? If he opts in, he’ll earn $35,607,968 next season. If he opts out, his max starting salary projects to be $35,350,000.

Those numbers are obviously close, but LeBron will be working with imperfect information. He must decide on his player option by June 29. The salary cap, from which max salaries are derived, won’t be released until July 1.

But I doubt LeBron is fretting a few hundred thousand dollars. I don’t think he’s worried directly about the monetary difference between a max and near-max contract at all. He’s set financially, regardless.

I think this is about power. LeBron can demand a team give him as much money as allowed, and whichever one he picks will. That’s appealing from an ego standpoint, which is why I expect LeBron to opt out (or at least wield his player option to get where he wants, but more on that later).

Demanding a max salary also fits LeBron as player-union vice president. It sets a precedent teams must spend to acquire talent. That’s healthy for players as a collective.

It’s easy to say LeBron can afford to take a small discount to help his team win a championship, because that’s the paradigm. Instead, he’s challenging teams to think smartly and creatively to find a way to max him out and still build a strong supporting cast.

That doesn’t preclude LeBron from eventually relenting and taking a discount if it’s advantageous. After all, LeBron once said he’d take a discount to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. But he’s setting a far harder line than before.

LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh took discounts to join Miami in 2010. Heat owner Micky Arison delighted in the championships and recognition those stars provided – then cut corners on the rest of the roster to save money. LeBron noticed then left. He’s clearly not accepting that anymore.

So, every team is on notice – which is why it’s overly simplistic to say every team wants to sign LeBron. Of course, every team wants to sign LeBron. But not every team is willing to take the steps necessary to seriously pursue LeBron.

In 2014, the Cavaliers made a salary-dump trade before securing a commitment from LeBron. That paid off, but they could have just been frittering away assets if he signed elsewhere. Worse, if they didn’t make the trade, LeBron might not have returned.

The 76ers won’t necessarily have max cap space next summer, but they’re reportedly expected to chase LeBron. That suggests they’ll make proactive moves if necessary to have a chance. The Lakers should have max cap space, regardless.

And what about the Rockets? They’re another team linked to LeBron, but they’ll be hard-pressed to clear max space for him. They already have nearly $76 million committed to just five players (James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene) plus three starters (Paul, Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza) headed into free agency.

But they could trade for LeBron if he opts in on condition of a deal, a la Paul last summer. How about Anderson and either Gordon or a signed-and-traded Ariza plus picks to the Cavs if they’re convinced LeBron would leave in free agency otherwise? Houston would have to send a load of picks, but it’s at least feasible.

That way, LeBron might earn more next season and re-sign for a larger max contract in 2019 – a projected $219 million over five years. That’s more than he projects to get if he re-signs with Cleveland long-term this summer ($205 million over five years).

However, that’s based on salary-cap projections that could change. And the Rockets might balk at spending so much. Of course, LeBron could also always execute the opt-in/re-sign-in-2019 plan with the Cavaliers. A trade to Houston won’t change how much money he can command from his team.

But it’s the type of no-settling thinking that might appeal to him.

Kevin Durant coming up ‘big’ for Warriors

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DETROIT – Soft. Scared. Cupcake.

Kevin Durant can’t help but hear his detractors.

“They’re trying psychoanalyze me when they don’t know me,” Durant said. “So, it’s like you have more information about the game of basketball than you do me as a person. So, ‘you’re soft,’ ‘cupcake,’ all that stuff comes from trying figure me out as a person, not worrying about my basketball skills. But if you watch me on the basketball court, then you come up with your own observation.”

That on-court observation no longer jibes with the unflattering perception of his mindset.

Durant’s height has long been a fascination. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but he’s almost certainly taller. Durant once said he’s 7-foot when he talks to women. “He’s 7 feet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says plainly.

Durant just didn’t play like it.

He entered the NBA as a finesse player. He couldn’t bench press 185 pounds a single time his pre-draft combine, and he spent his rookie year in Seattle playing shooting guard – as far from the paint as a player so tall could get.

Never mind that Durant improved greatly with the Thunder as a defender and rebounder, skills that require physicality. And never mind that he was a superstar on the perimeter, giving little reason to alter his style.

When he left Oklahoma City – where he settled in at small forward – for Golden State, Durant’s on- and off-court reputations merged to form a single image. Afraid of contact, afraid of competition.

Durant is making it much harder for his critics to paint him that way. He’s playing more like a traditional big than ever.

His 2.1 blocks per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward since Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith more than a decade ago (minimum: two games). His 5.3 post touches per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward in the NBA.com database (which dates back to 2013-14).

“Getting in the mix with the bigs a little bit, I think that’s one role that I always wanted to play and always appreciated about my teammates in the past – from Kendrick Perkins to Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond to David West to Serge Ibaka,” Durant said. “I appreciated those guys for doing the dirty work and allowing me to be the player that I am on the offensive end.”

The Warriors are spoiled to have Durant assume this responsibility.

Many of his post touches come on split cuts, an action Kerr popularized in Golden State. A player – often Andrew Bogut when Kerr first implemented the play – posts up while a teammate screens for another teammate on the perimeter. Most teams would kill to have a shooter like Durant set or receive the screen. But the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to do that. So, Durant serves as the post man, surveying the screen carnage and occasionally just taking matters into his own hands. This video from Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind excellently shows a few variations:

Defensively, Durant has become more comfortable defending power forwards and centers. Sometimes, he blocks their shots:

Other times, guarding a big just positions Durant to protect the basket:

“He’s just being active,” Kerr said. “When he’s active on the weak side of the play, he’s a devastating defender.”

Durant still just bottles up an opponent in a traditional wing matchup for him and blocks a jumper. He also blocks shots in transition.

But he leads non-centers, non-power forwards with 4.8 shots defended at the rim per game (minimum: two games). His block numbers aren’t telling a misleading story. Durant is doing work in the paint.

It helps that the league has shifted toward small-ball. When the slender Durant matches up against fours and fives, his opponents aren’t as big as they would have been a few years ago.

The Warriors played Durant at center to great effect in last year’s Finals, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t turn to him there again in high-leverage situations.

Make no mistake, though: Durant remains a generational perimeter player. He’s a dead-eye shooter with tight handles and jaw-dropping fluidity. Whatever time Durant spends moonlighting as an interior player, he can always switch into the style that made him a future Hall of Famer in the first place.

His ability to play both ways just makes him even more dangerous.

Still, Durant has made his name as a small forward. He says he has always played the role coaches gave him, but it’s tough to look past the fears of Kevin Garnett, another skilled tall player who worried when he was younger he’d get pigeonholed inside if he were listed as a 7-footer. As we talked, Durant picked up on my line of questioning and interjected.

“You trying to turn me into a four guy?” Durant said.

“Maybe even a five,” I said.

“Maybe,” Durant. “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the way the league is going.”

Listen to what LeBron James told Lonzo Ball on court (video)

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LeBron Jameson-court conversation with Lonzo Ball after the Cavaliers beat the Lakers last night quickly became a fascination.

With LeBron-to-the-Lakers rumorsfueled by Ball himself – swirling, did LeBron tip his plans for free agency?

Here’s what LeBron said after the game:

LeBron:

I don’t see the reaction, because I don’t get involved in it. I don’t do it to get a reaction.

I do it because he’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after. And who was his favorite player? And it was me, and I was humbled by that. So me wishing him a happy birthday was kind of a salute back to him.

I see all the stupid noise that happens, and I can’t buy a place in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it, because when I post things, I don’t look at comments. I’m so far removed of the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me.

Were you mentoring Ball or giving him advice? LeBron:

None of y’all business.

Unfortunately for LeBron, a microphone picked up most of the conversation (hat tip: reddit user IT-3):

LeBron, best I can tell:

Find your zone and just stay f—ing locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day.

It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.

LeBron was never going to say something controversial in front of all those cameras. He knows better, especially after attention drawn by his on-court conversation with Dwyane Wade a few years ago.

Unsurprisingly, LeBron’s words directly to Ball mirror what he told the media after the game. There’s no secret plot here – just someone who has been in the spotlight for years trying to help someone going through it now.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard: