Weekend Observations: 25 notes about the trade deadline

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We’re thee days past the trade deadline. Some players have already landed and played a game with their new teams, some haven’t even arrived in their new destinations (does Hasheem Thabeet really have that busy of a calendar?). But we’re starting to recover from the shock of a still-nuts-if-quieter-than-last-year deadline that saw two coaches let go the same week so many players switched laundry.

With that in mind, here are 25 things that came to mind from the decisions made in the past week.

1. So many “nothing to lose deals.” Sam Young to Philly, Leandro Barbosa to Indiana, and in part, Ramon Sessions to L.A..

2. The Cavs’ move of Ramon Sessions in terms of how you view it essentially comes down to whether you believe that the market for Sessions was good enough to get better or not. It’s easy to say that Chris Grant got poor return on what is considered a starter-quality point guard as a reserve (a position of leverage), but the point guard market was simply pretty weak at the deadline. Raymond Felton was a player mentioned repeatedly and that’s only because Portland would have sold off children to get rid of him.

3. What sold me on the trade for Cleveland was the pick swap in 2013. Should the Lakers continue to regress given that they have yet to make a significant move and both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will be a year older, there’s a good chance that the Cavs could see their second draft pick in 2013 move up from 28-30 all the way to somewhere between 18 and 20. A ten-spot bump can be the difference between a training camp flameout and a quality rotation player.

4. I do hate them taking on the extra money from Luke Walton’s extra year. It doesn’t hurt because of their cap situation, I just hate the idea of a team that isn’t primed to contend with dead money.

5. What exactly did George Karl do to God? He seems like a good man, a good father, has tried to live his life well and coach his players responsibly. Why has God responded by giving him Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and JaVale McGee inside of two years?

6. John Wall had to have been skipping when he found out he was getting Nene. “A real live NBA player!”

7. Flip Saunders is somewhere going “Now you get veterans. I get it.”

8. Nick Young’s not a bad pick-up for the Clippers, he just doesn’t solve any of the significant issues they have in front of them. The bleeding won’t stop because of Nick Young.

9. The Warriors were always going to make a move like they did in the Monta Ellis trade. They’ve been in pursuit of a defensive change to their culture for a year now. That’s why Mark Jackson was brought in. New ownership doesn’t want the fun and gun identity the Warriors have had. It’s going to take time and several moves to get a new mindset installed but adding Bogut, however healthy he is, is a good start.

10. For the Bucks, one thing that you have to hope Scott Skiles will do is post Monta Ellis. He’s a surprisingly killer post player and with the offensive putback bigs the Bucks have, a forced miss could be okay if they crash effectively.

11. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Ellis playing next to Brandon Jennings. But considering there rampant talks of moving Jennings, it doesn’t seem like the Bucks are sold on him long-term. The real challenge is Skiles getting Ellis to commit defensively.

12. The Lakers have never been big on sentimentality. So moving Derek Fisher shouldn’t stand as a monster shock for them. Ownership has long put the emphasis on the greatness of the team and its legacy rather than any individual player.

13. In unrelated news, Kobe Bryant is making $30 million in two years when the new CBA’s most punitive tax measures kick in and the team still hasn’t used its amnesty clause.

14. Mitch Kupchak was criticized for not amnestying Luke Walton and for the Jason Kapono contract. Then he managed to move both players and a pick they inevitably will not need for a significant upgrade. It’s like teams just line up to take the Lakers’ roster flotsam and jetsam.

15. Jordan Hill’s a better pick-up than considered, also. He’s not going to dominate at any time on the floor, but he’s a quality rebounder with some athleticism, the area they were really missing the most.

16. This is the team that has made D.J. MBenga and Josh Powell look capable, after all.

17. How did the Blazers not move Raymond Felton or Jamal Crawford? How do you have the two most unhappiest, most disruptive, arguably best value trade assets and not move either one? Or are those things related? Taking dirt-for-dollars on Felton likely would have been the best move for both sides.

18. But getting the Nets’ pick was genius. They sent them a player which can only help to make them slightly better but not significantly better, meaning they have a great chance at even the 4th pick, especially if one team leaps them in the lottery. That could work out disastrously for the Nets, who need to tank, violently.

19. New Jersey: “Well, we didn’t get Dwight yet, which means that our massive gamble of our long-term future failed and we’re facing losing Deron Williams after giving up all that for him in the trade to get him. I know! Let’s double down, mortgage more of our future, and do it for a player who if he opts in, costs us cap space and if he doesn’t means we have an even worse team to try and lure Deron back. Great!”

20. Gregg Popovich would have had to think about acquiring Stephen Jackson for about 35 seconds. Jackson doesn’t have to shoot well, doesn’t have to score a lot, just has to defend and wait for open shots. He can’t disrupt the locker room and he won’t fight with Popovich because of the respect he has. It works for both sides.

21. Detroit reportedly tried to move Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Should have tried harder. They’re among a handful of teams that should have done a deal at the deadline.

22. There were discussions to move D.J. Augustin to OKC according to a report from Oklahoma TV. That would have been the ultimate Thunder one-up of the Lakers on their grab of Sessions.

23. Richard Jefferson was in uniform and played Saturday night. Same for Barbosa. It doesn’t matter how they played. It’s the matter of professionalism. A lot of other, younger players still haven’t shown up for their teams yet.

24. There was a brief moment in time when the Blazers had on roster Hasheem Thabeet and Greg Oden. Let that sink in.

25. When Dwight Howard say he was just happy that “it’s over,” I wanted to know just what exactly he thought was over. Because in two months when the Magic are eliminated in the second round, the whole thing starts over again. Yay.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.