Baseline to Baseline recaps: Fear Memphis, for they are a force

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What you missed while marveling at Japanese beer technology.

Grizzlies 94, Clippers 85: Why does everyone fear the Grizzlies right now? Because they have a huge front line with skill. Because they have very good wing players. Because they have depth. Because they have won 8 of 10 and that includes victories over the Lakers, Thunder, Heat and Mavericks. Now you can add the Clippers to that list.

Memphis is playing good defense and you know what the Clippers are going to run — a whole lot of pick and roll — and the Griz were ready. Blake Griffin (19 points) and DeAndre Jordan were in foul trouble at points, while Chris Paul wasn’t finding room to operate and teammates were not helping out. On the other end, it was a huge game from Marc Gasol — 18 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. That’s one more assist than Chris Paul. Marreese Speights also had a good game for Memphis. Teams should fear the Grizzlies, they will be a very tough out come the playoffs.

Jazz 91, Spurs 84: After an 11 game win streak, somebody finally figured out how to beat the Spurs — Gregg Popovich. San Antonio’s own coach sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And the Spurs still almost won — they were up 9 in the fourth quarter, before an 8-0 Jazz run made it a game again. Devin Harris came alive with 12 of  his 24 in the fourth quarter, while Paul Millsap added 9 of his 18 in the quarter. The win keeps the Jazz in the thick of the playoff race.

Lakers 93, Hornets 91: Well Andrew Bynum, you wanted to be the man on a team. With Kobe Bryant out Bynum became the focal point of the New Orleans defense. The Hornets aggressively doubled and even tripled teamed Bynum in the first half and he got frustrated, shot 2-for-7 to start. He finished 7-for-17 shooting but seemed to adapt. Gasol much more smooth in dealing with that defensive attention, much more polished, and finished with 25 points.

It took a 15-2 run late in the game for the Lakers (sparked by their defense) to get back in this and take the lead, then they held on for the win. Marco Belinelli and Carl Landry each had 20 for the Hornets.

Rockets 94, Trail Blazers 89: The Rockets went 4-0 on a tough late-season road trip and when they make the playoffs they can look back at that as when they secured it. Goran Dragic led the way with 22 points and seven assists, as he has done so often lately.

Thunder 109, Bucks 89: This game was really never in doubt, the Thunder owned it inside and out. Russell Westbrook went right at Brandon Jennings and finished with 26 points. The Thunder were able to get into the paint at will it seemed, and the Bucks only defense to that was to foul.

Orlando 119, Pistons 89: No Dwight Howard, no Hedo Turkoglu, no Chris Duhon (okay, maybe the last one doesn’t matter as much) but it didn’t slow the Magic. This one was never close as the Magic played defense like Stan Van Gundy wanted. Jason Richardson had 22, Jameer Nelson had 18 points and 9 assists. Detroit is just not very good.

Pacers 103, Raptors 98: The Pacers seemed in easy control of this one until a Linus Kleiza explosion — 18 points in the fourth quarter — sparked a 15-2 Raptors run that made a game of it late. The Pacers held on thanks to George Hill — 18 points playing the point, filling in for Darren Collison — and 18 from Danny Granger.

Nuggets 123, Warriors 89: Denver was desperate for a win to stay in the playoffs, the Warriors are rolling over. Combine that and you get a blowout. The big story was rookie Kenneth Faried, who had his best game as a pro with 27 points and 17 rebounds.

Wizards 113, Bobcats 85: Charlotte is going to have the most ping pong balls come the NBA draft lottery — and they deserve it. In a battle of the two worst teams in the league (they have been at the bottom of my power rankings for weeks) the Wizards crushed the Bobcats. The Wizards traded Nick Young in part to give more room for Jordan Crawford and he is responding, with 20 points in this one.

Suns 114, Timberwolves 90: Phoenix tore up the Minnesota “defense” (we had to put that in quotes after this performance) and the Suns shot 57 percent on the night. Rookie Markieff Morris had 21 points off of the bench. Kevin Love finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, but it was kind of moot, the Suns ran away with this one.

Kyrie Irving trade doesn’t change LeBron James’ plans. Probably.

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The Kyrie Irving trade to Boston was really about LeBron James.

Irving wanted out of LeBron’s shadow in Cleveland and asked for a trade. Cleveland got in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder two guys who can help them win next season and chase a ring (and the Warriors) while LeBron is in Cleveland. It also gave the Cavaliers the Brooklyn Nets pick next draft and Ante Zizic, players that could help Cleveland rebuild if LeBron leaves next summer as a free agent.

What this trade doesn’t do is change LeBron’s calculus.

Probably.

LeBron can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent next summer, and he almost certainly will do that. Even if he wanted to stay in Cleveland, he’d opt out to sign a bigger, longer deal.

What has not changed with this trade is the sense around the league is LeBron has one foot out the door — good luck finding anyone who thinks he’s likely to stay a Cav after next season. He seems ready to move on to the next chapter and challenge, having brought a ring to Cleveland and it looks like this era and team has played itself out.

However, what LeBron has done well is leave his options open, something he has done very intentionally sources tell me. Maybe he wants to go to Los Angeles to enjoy the weather, be close to his business interests, and chase rings with Lonzo Ball and whoever else the Lakers can land in free agency (such as Paul George). Maybe Blake Griffin is on to something and he wants to be a Knick. Maybe a lot of things, the point is LeBron left his options open to make whatever call he wants.

Including staying in Cleveland. Even if it’s a longshot right now, a season is a lifetime in the NBA and attitudes shift.

With this trade, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East, and Crowder gives them the kind of shooter and wing defender the team desperately needed in a matchup with the Warriors (they need more like him). The reality is that if the Warriors are healthy, maybe the series ends in six games instead of five (and that’s a big maybe), but Golden State is still clearly superior. However, the Cavs will be in the Finals, they will get their shot — and stuff happens. We’ve seen it before, a player misses a game (let’s say due to a suspension for kicking) or another has an injury and is not quite 100 percent, and the door opens — then LeBron and Thomas can bust right through it. If the Cavaliers are in the Finals, they have a chance.

Win a ring, or even if the Cavs look like they can legitimately win a ring, LeBron will take it into consideration. That’s where the Brooklyn Nets pick comes in — maybe the Cavs can draft an elite player to add to the mix, or maybe they can trade the pick to get another top veteran player to come to Cleveland to round out the team.

That’s a lot of ifs. LeBron still is more likely to leave then stay next summer. His thoughts, his calculus does not change. What this trade does is give the Cavaliers a slightly better shot at a ring (even though Thomas has some serious defensive issues that can be exposed). With that there’s a chance.

The trade also gives Cleveland options if LeBron looks like he’s leaving. They have a little more flexibility, too.

Winners, losers in the Kyrie Irving trade to Boston

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Here’s the hard thing about coming up with this list: There really weren’t big losers.

Unlike some of the other blockbuster trades this summer — Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Paul George to Oklahoma City — the trade of Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s first-round pick next draft didn’t have a clear loser. The Cavs did well in the short term and got themselves more flexibility, the Celtics may have set themselves up for future banners. So this list is heavy with winners. But here it is.

Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers. Once it became public knowledge that Irving wanted out of Cleveland their leverage was gone. They went looking for a potential young star player in a deal — Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum — and were shot down at each turn. It looked like they would have to settle for a lesser package or bring Irving back to training camp and tell him to get along with LeBron James.

Then this deal came through, and it’s a clear “A+” for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lands an All-NBA point guard whose production next season will be close to what Irving provided, and Thomas plays with more of a chip on his shoulder. Also, the Cavaliers added what they desperately needed — a quality “3&D” wing in Crowder, a guy who can knock down jumpers and cover Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant (as much as anyone can cover them). On top of it, the Cavaliers get what will be a high draft pick — Brooklyn may be better but this is still no worse than the 5-6 pick — in a draft deep with quality big men.

Cleveland is still the best team, the team to beat in the East, and they got a key pick to help add youth and athleticism to the roster.

Winner: Boston in a couple of years. Boston’s argument it won the trade is simple — it got the best player in the trade. Thomas and Irving put up comparable numbers last season, but Irving is capable of defending (even though he rarely does, not even in the Finals last season). Irving is a couple of years younger, and because of his height will likely age better than Thomas. However, in giving up Crowder and the Brooklyn pick, the Celtics surrendered their best trade assets.

Cleveland is going to be a better team than Boston next season, but the Irving/Hayward combo with good role players around them has Boston poised to be even better in a couple of years, once guys like Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown develop. Boston is set to be next (providing they can re-sign Irving).

Winner: Kyrie Irving. He wanted out of the immense shadow of LeBron and he got it — and he still landed on a contender. In Boston, he is the most marketable player and while the team has other stars — Gordon Hayward, Al Horford — none are the kind of dominant force of nature that LeBron is. Kyrie will get plenty of time in the sun, he will get great opportunities in Brad Stevens offense (better sets than he was running in Cleveland), and he will continue to win.

Irving may have wanted to be the star, but he didn’t want to be the one-man show on a bad team. Now he’s in a good place.

Loser: The Los Angeles Lakers (maybe, or any other team with dreams of signing LeBron next summer). LeBron James still more than likely bolts Cleveland next year. But Cleveland got a little closer to keeping them with this trade, and as our own Dan Feldman noted on the PBT podcast that is not good for teams dreaming of signing LeBron. Isaiah Thomas brings buckets at the point guard spot plus he plays with a chip on his shoulder that this team could use (the Cavaliers coast too much during the season). In Crowder the Cavaliers land the kind of wing player they need to match up better with Golden State. If they want to pick up a role player at the trade deadline, Ante Zizic could be part of that package. More importantly, that Brooklyn pick could be used to bring in a high draft pick player LeBron likes, or it could be traded to get a veteran that LeBron wants to play with.

LeBron wants to add rings to his legacy. If this trade helps him think Cleveland is where he can best do that, he could stay. I wouldn’t bet on it as likely, but the odds LeBron stays in Cleveland after next season got just a little more likely. Which makes the Lakers potential losers.

Winner: Koby Altman. I couldn’t bring myself to put Dan Gilbert here, it was still a stupid decision to show David Griffin the door. But give due credit to the man who replaced Gilbert, Kobe Altman. He just orchestrated a brilliant trade that keeps the Cavaliers as the favorites in the East next season and gives them more flexibility going forward. It was a master stroke, getting a guy in Danny Ainge known for hoarding assets to give up two of his best shows Altman knows how to do his job.

Winner: NBA Fans. Opening night, Oct. 17, the first game of the NBA season is the Boston Celtics visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is going to get booed mercilessly. Isaiah Thomas (if his hip is healthy) will be looking to put on a show for the new home fans. It’s going to be glorious.

It may not have tilted the balance of power in the East, but it made the conference far more entertaining to watch this season.

LeBron James on Kyrie Irving: “Nothing but respect”

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Kyrie Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics. Tuesday’s trade sent Isaiah Thomas to Ohio to join forces with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Irving gets to head east to Boston.

On paper, many believe Cleveland appears to have received the better side of the deal. I’m not absolutely certain that’s the case, as the Celtics were able to get a point guard on an extra few years while simultaneously giving themselves some flexibility in the years to come.

The Cavaliers should be in good shape, especially if Thomas’ hip is A-OK. They beefed up their wing depth with Jae Crowder, and added a 2018 first round pick from the Brooklyn Nets that will help them either draft in LeBron’s absence next summer or trade for another star this year.

Meanwhile, LeBron himself took to Twitter — as did many other NBA players — to respond to the trade.

In a tweet sent out on Tuesday night, Lebron said he had nothing but respect for Irving.

Via Twitter:

Well there you have it. We still don’t know whether James is going to stay in Cleveland past this summer, but we have to assume they are again favorites to make the Finals this year.

We will have to wait until the season starts until we find out whether Irving can make an impact on that arc with his new team in Boston.

Andrew Wiggins fires agent shortly after negotiating $148 million max deal

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Is Andrew Wiggins still going to sign a $148 million max contract extension? Probably!

The big question now will be whether in his previous agent, Bill Duffy, will receive a commission for negotiating that contract.

According to a report from ESPN, Wiggins filed paperwork with the NBA to separate his association with Duffy and representing firm BDA Sports.

The move comes as a shock to many in the NBA sphere, as it certainly is an oddity to release one’s agent directly after negotiating such a large new contract offer.

Meanwhile, it appears that Duffy has already contacted the players association to discuss his rights in a potential tampering case.

How juicy.

Via ESPN:

Duffy, the chairman of BDA Sports and one of the league’s most prominent player agents, told ESPN on Tuesday that he had recently been made aware of rival agencies and potential start-up enterprises who were recruiting Wiggins with inducements that included no commission fees on contracts.

“We are disappointed that Andrew made this decision, especially after a three-year partnership where we worked closely with Andrew and his entire family,” Duffy told ESPN. “Unfortunately, tampering is a common problem in our industry, and that’s part of the reason why I’ve already been in contact with the NBPA to discuss my rights in this matter. Obviously, whenever Andrew signs the max extension that we negotiated with Minnesota, we will work with the NBPA to make sure that our interests are protected.”

Wiggins and the team still have yet to formally agree to the extension, so it’s not really clear what will happen for any of the parties involved.

But if the recent Paul George tampering case and the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas trade isn’t enough to make you think the NBA offseason is completely wild, this one ought to do.