Surveying trade deadline landscape: League’s second tier got better

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As you survey the NBA landscape in the aftermath of the storm that is always the NBA trade deadline, and a couple things leap out:

First, the title contenders did not change — and they all stood pat. In the East, the path to the finals goes through Miami and Chicago and nobody really moved up to their level. In the West everyone is still chasing Oklahoma City.

But the teams closest to the elite in that chase got better. Much of the NBA’s second tier got better — the Clippers and Lakers, the Magic and Pacers all made moves that improved their sides either a little to a lot.

And with that improvement comes hope they can catch up and pass the elite squads come the playoffs. They have hope, and Red from Shawshank will tell you that can be a dangerous thing.

Look at the West. Six weeks ago the Clippers were starting to look like the second best team in the conference until Chauncey Billups went down with a torn Achilles. Since then they have gone 9-10, they need scoring and steady play from the two spot.

So they went out and got Nick Young for next to nothing (a second round pick and Brian Cook is pretty close to nothing in my book). Young is a gunner, but he is better than anybody they have at that spot. He can get them buckets and defenses have to pay attention to him. But he comes from an undisciplined team and locker room and he’s going to have to adjust his game and focus to play next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If he does he’s a steal, if he doesn’t his contract is up at the end of the season and he walks.

The Clippers got better.

So did the Lakers. Potentially much better.

There is sentimentality towards the loss of Derek Fisher — as there should be, he has a spot in Lakers lore firmly cemented — but Ramon Sessions is a serious upgrade. Sessions is a slasher who can get in the lane but looks to pass first (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are going to love him). He doesn’t shoot a lot of threes but he makes a fair amount of them (and the Lakers need outside shooting). He’s going to have to learn how to play with Kobe Bryant, but he is a dramatic upgrade for the Lakers.

The Lakers got better and if everyone is healthy and Metta World Peace’s head is in the game and not in the clouds, they may be the biggest threat to the Thunder in the West.

In the East, the Orlando Magic just knocked off the Heat and now they get to keep Dwight Howard. When they are hitting threes to go with having the best center in the game they are tough to beat. They have knocked off a lot of the NBA’s best — and while that is very different than beating Miami or Chicago in a seven game series the Magic will be a tough out. Howard believes they are more than that.

Just keeping Howard makes the Magic better.

The Pacers got a little bit better as well by picking up Leandro Barbosa, a speedy backup point guard that gives them depth and they got for almost nothing. The Pacers are a real balanced team that just got deeper. They are another team that will not go quietly come the playoffs.

Basically, the top teams in the NBA didn’t change at the trade deadline, but the teams close to them in the chase did. And that is going to make the stretch run of the NBA season and the playoffs that much more interesting.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.