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.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.