Heat forward James and guard Wade laugh during the closing minutes against the Mavericks in Dallas, Texas

Five things we learned watching the NBA on Christmas

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The NBA gave five Christmas day presents to the fans… which were really more like belated birthday gifts disguised as Christmas gifts because we should have opened the NBA season on Nov. 1. But we’ll forgive and move on, like we do with family around the holidays. We’re just glad to have the NBA back.

There were no real moments of enlightenment among the day of sloppy play. But we did learn a few things. Five things.

1. When the Miami Heat runs they are beasts, and they are running a lot more. Sunday Miami had 100 possessions (via Basketball-Reference) — nearly nine more per game than they averaged last year. The result was Showtime in Miami (and a blowout win).

This is what Erik Spoelstra wants to do all season, it’s why he studied the Oregon offense with Chip Kelly this summer. Despite having all those amazing open-floor finishers — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are as good as there are in the league — the Heat played at the 20th fastest pace in the league last season. If they bump that to top-10 pace this season they become a lot better. Which is scary.

2. The Oklahoma City Thunder are comfortable as contenders. The Thunder dealt with the weight of expectations smoothly on Christmas. They looked polished and like they were having fun.

By the way, that is why OKC got Kendrick Perkins — he threw Dwight Howard off his game and when you can single-cover Howard you can shut down the Magic (even if you are the Hawks). Perkins is going to matter against the Grizzlies and Lakers. He makes them better.

3. The Knicks have the potential to be a reasonable defensive team. The Knicks only played defense in spurts, and I think we can expect that all season. They were good early; the third quarter was a disaster. But on the second to last play they did a good job of taking away the Celtics’ preferred shots and leaving it to Marquis Daniels with the three (he missed). Then again, on the last play the Knicks got lucky because Bill Walker picked off his own man (Tyson Chandler) and left Kevin Garnett with a good look. Simply put, the better their defense the farther they go this season.

4. The Clippers are Chris Paul’s team now. This is not Blake Griffin’s team, this is Chris Paul’s team. Paul has the ball in his hands, he took over late. He was 4-of-4 shooting for eight points and four assists in the final six minutes of the game. There is a lot of work for the Clippers to do: Paul and Griffin have to develop more chemistry, Chauncey Billups has to clean up his shot selection, DeAndre Jordan has to not give up so many offensive rebounds chasing blocks. But when you have a guy like Paul who can take over games you win a lot. And the Clippers are going to win a lot this season.

5. The Lakers have some real grit. There were good signs out of a Lakers loss. Well, not if you watched the last four minutes there wasn’t. But in that game we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know about the Bulls (they play great defense and that Derrick Rose guy is impressive).

But the Lakers, minus Andrew Bynum, played good defense and fought back from being down. Josh McRoberts will do the dirty work and their rookie Devin Ebanks shows promise. Thing is, you don’t win an NBA title without some grit and while we don’t expect it out of the Lakers they showed it. That will serve them well.

The question is can they beat the elite teams? That has yet to be proven.

Before trade, DeMarcus Cousins’ agent said client unlikely to re-sign with new team

Western Conference forward DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (15) plays during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. The New Orleans Pelicans agreed to acquire Cousins from the Kings on Sunday, the same night the center was playing in the All-Star Game in their arena. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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DeMarcus Cousins signing a five-year, $209 million contract extension?

That’s out the window with his trade from the Kings to the Pelicans rendering him ineligible to become a designated veteran player.

Which could explain why Cousins’ agent, Jarrinn Akana, was making noise about not re-signing with another team. Dissuading potential suitors and staying in Sacramento was Cousins’ only path to the biggest payday.

Here’s Akana, before the trade was set, via Marc Stein of ESPN:

A straight contract extension next summer makes no sense. The most that could pay Cousins is $92,559,167 over four years ($23,139,792 annually).

If he simply lets his contract expire and re-signs in 2018, a new deal projects to be worth about $179 million (about $36 million annually).

The Pelicans can try for a renegotiation-and-extension, but they would need cap room to raise his 2017-18 salary from $18,063,850 toward his projected max of about $31 million. With significant money due to Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Omer AsikE'Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy PondexterDante CunninghamTim FrazierCheick Diallo and, they hope, a re-signed Jrue Holiday, it’s unlikely the Pelicans clear enough room to renegotiate Cousins’ deal.

Cousins is probably headed toward unrestricted free agency in 2018. Then, New Orleans projects to be able to offer about $179 million (about $36 million annually) to another team’s projected max of about $133 million (about $33 million annually).

It’s an advantage, but not a bulletproof one. I think Cousins will be more amenable to re-signing than his agent indicated now that a trade is actually happening, but he could still walk.

This is the risk the Pelicans took.

 

 

Why did Kings get so little for Cousins? Lakers not willing to part with Ingram sign of soft market

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Vlade Divac of Serbia watches 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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Back in 2015 there was already a push from people inside the Sacramento Kings organization to move on from the DeMarcus Cousins era. There were groundwork talks with a number of teams, but a lot of rumors circulated around the Lakers, where Jim Buss was trying to land a star for his franchise that would lead to a quick turnaround. While the deal was never finalized, reports had the Lakers offering both their first round picks that year, which became D'Angelo Russell (No. 2) and Larry Nance Jr. (27th), plus a few other pieces.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive shot the deal down then — as he did with every deal until Sunday night.

By the tine Ranadive came around to the idea of trading Cousins, the market had changed. And dried up. All the Kings landed was last draft’s No. 6 pick Buddy Hield (who Vlade Divac has been higher on than most), the Pelicans pick this draft in the mid-teens, a high second round pick, and some pieces such as Tyreke Evans that are not part of the Kings’ future.

The deal has been widely panned for the Kings, but what they got may well have been the best offer available right now. A lot of teams have concerns about Cousins’ impact on their locker rooms — teams that liked their rosters didn’t want to add drama. Plenty of teams would not talk trade. Also, there is a glut of bigs on the market right now. If teams wanted to give up multiple first-round picks for a center, they could have already because Nets have Brook Lopez on the block — not as talented, but also not a challenge in the locker room. Jahlil Okafor, Tyson Chandler and other centers also are available.

The Kings went back to the Lakers, but when they asked for the young guy the Lakers are highest on, Brandon Ingram, it fell apart, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report added this interesting tidbit about the Kings and Lakers talks in recent days.

Then Buss, in particular, was sorely tempted to shift course yet again Sunday, break from those plans and trade whatever youth it took in the hopes of landing DeMarcus Cousins, according to a team source.

It wasn’t just the Lakers who would not go in big on Cousins.

Calls to Boston found even worse offers, with Danny Ainge worried about Cousins’ impact in the locker room and if they could/would want to retain him. The Booklyn picks were never close to on the table.

Philly is no longer really interested thanks to Joel Embiid (even with the health concerns there).

There were talks with the Suns, but Sacramento didn’t like Brandon Knight as the best player they would get back.

And so it goes down the list, teams were hesitant to give up much and the Kings were left to take the best of bad options. Part of the reason for the Cousins market being dry is that since he is traded, Cousins is no longer eligible for the “designated player” supermax deal, and the difference between what the team that has his Bird rights in 2018 can offer and what other teams can offer is not that great. Which is to say, a lot of teams think they can take a swing at Cousins as a free agent in two summers if they really want him, and they don’t have to give up assets to get him.

The Pelicans were never going to get a seat at the table in those free agent conversations, so trading for him makes a lot of sense for New Orleans.

But for most teams, they were willing to pass. Which left the Kings without good options for a deadline trade.

Of course, what a more stable organization might have done is decide the offers were terrible and hold off on a trade until around the draft or into summer free agency. The deals are not going to get worse, and they might well get a little better. But for whatever reason — concern that Ranadive would change his mind, again? — the Kings moved now.

And that leaves them in a tough spot.

 

Report: Kings expected to waive Matt Barnes to facilitate DeMarcus Cousins trade

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 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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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to change their culture.

So, Sacramento is also unsurprisingly dumping the player who allegedly partnered with Cousins nightclub fight: Matt Barnes.

 

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Beyond fitting the Kings’ new vision, the move is necessary, because they have a full roster and are acquiring more players (Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway) than they’re sending out (Cousins and Omri Casspi) in the Pelicans trade.

Barnes, who turns 37 in a couple weeks, is slipping. But he could still add experienced depth to a contender as a 3-and-D wing. (Hello, Cavaliers?)

A hard-nosed player, he’s a great teammate in many ways. And the veterans who comprise contenders would be less likely to be influenced by the ways he’s not — which wasn’t the case in Sacramento.

John Wall, will Wizards made trade deadline move? “I think so,” will seek bench help

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Since Dec. 1, the Washington Wizards have been the best team in the East.

That is if you go by their record, which 28-10 since the calendar flipped to December. However, nobody sane thinks the Wizards could beat a healthy Cavaliers teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s fair to ask if they need more help to get by Boston or Toronto just to get a shot at the Cavaliers.

That need for a little more help has led to trade rumors about Washington heading into the trade deadline Thursday (Feb. 23), and John Wall confirmed the team is looking to J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“I think so,” Wall said when asked if he expected president Ernie Grunfeld to make a move as he has done the last several years, and the most recent being for Markieff Morris. “We’re looking at some options to help our bench out. Other than that I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it.”

There are two scenarios for a Wizards trade that get the most traction around the league.

One is to get Lou Williams from the Lakers. This makes sense as a plug-and-play option, Williams is averaging a career-high 18.6 points this season and is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award with his play. He’s a bit of a volume scorer, but that can work well with a sixth man (see Jamal Crawford for example).

The other rumor is Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who brings more size up front (6’8″) but can still shoot the three (35 percent this season). Bogdanovic is averaging 14.2 points per game.

Of course, the question is what the Wizards would have to give up to make these deals happen? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has said the Wizards might well be willing to give up a protected first-round pick in a deal, and that could well be enough to get a trade done (depending upon the exact protections, and the year). That said, the Lakers, in particular, have been hesitant to make a move.

Don’t be shocked if the Wizards make a move at the deadline. This is their best team in a long time, and they want to capitalize on it.