When the process matters: Why Charlotte should trade the No.2 pick

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Let’s start off with some instant rebuttal to the premature outcry that headline above is going to muster. First, the basics. The Charlotte Bobcats, in a continuing pattern regarding their awful, horrendous, terrible franchise history, lost the lottery’s No.1 pick despite a 1-in-4 chance to land Anthony Davis. The Bobcats are an awful, awful basketball team that needs help at every position. They have the No.2 pick. There is talk that they could trade the No.2 for more draft picks and/or players. Some people think that’s crazy talk. I’m here to share why it’s not. Now for the immediate outrcy, as kind of a primer:

1. Yes, the Bobcats need a franchise superstar.  The Bobcats need that transcendent player, that guy who they can build around, who they can go to and say “That’s why we we’re winning. We drafted that guy.” The Spurs are a hugely successful franchise and still Gregg Popovich credits Tim Duncan with all of their accomplishments. The Bobcats do not have that guy, have ever had that guy, and desperately need that guy.

2. Unfortunately, this draft is not the one to get it outside the No. 1 spot, from where we sit today. This draft was considered hotcakes a year ago. And a lot of people have talked this up as one of the deeper drafts in years. For what it’s worth, I’m huge on it. I think all the way up to the 22nd pick you can get a franchise impact player. But if you talk to front office people, you’re going to hear a lot about this draft is not that great. It’s been leaked everywhere already. People have soured on this class. Whether it’s Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes’ step backwards, or the incomplete nature of the freshmen, there’s just a huge amount of doubt about this draft, but especially in the superstar category.

There’s just not a perception that Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, or Andre Drummond are going to be franchise savior players. Kidd-Gilchrist has a jumpshot under heavy debate (don’t let one hot workout cloud the issue), Bradley Beal faces questions about height and his shooting percentage considering he’s, you know, a shooter, Robinson was a footnote at Kansas until this season and doesn’t have exceptional length, and Andre Drummond has more questions about his head than the guy from “12 Monkeys.”

So with that No. 2 pick, there’s strong reason to believe the Bobcats aren’t getting that franchise guy. They need him. But you shouldn’t just take a guy who is likely not that because you need him, just like you should’t take a subpar rebounder who’s tall just because you need a guy who can crash the boards. If he can crash the boards (because he’s tall), but he doesn’t, it doesn’t help you in the end.

3. Yes, they can be very, very wrong on this and look stupid. This is what is terrible about the draft. The smart thing if the Bobcats cannot get a superstar is to trade the pick. But if they trade the pick and the player taken turns out to be a superstar in Portland or Cleveland, or wherever, it just makes you look that much dumber for trading the pick. But you have to operate based on the knowledge base that you have right now. And the knowledge base that you have right now says that the smart move is to trade the pick. Why? Because you have so many other needs.

4. No, the Bobcats will likely not get back equal value from an objective viewpoint. The subjective is what matters here. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t matter if the media torches you because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson are better than whoever you get at No. 4 and No. 24 or with a young veteran wing, a first, and a future first. It matters if the players you get from the trade help with your overall plan and process. That process, which is the biggest reason for the Spurs success, is what defines championship organizations. It’s not the market or the money, or (just) the superstar. It’s the way they do business and if it’s consistent and well-thought out with the long-term plan in mind. It’s much like trading a superstar. You’re never going to get equal value for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Your objective should be to get things which will set you up in the future. You think the Hornets got equal value at the time for Chris Paul? Absolutely not. But are they in a great position to take a major step forward in the 2013-2014 season? Absolutely.

5. The Bobcats have desperate needs at every position. You know what would be better for when the Bobcats do land their superstar on that great come and get it day? Having a roster in place that doesn’t put him in a position to fail. I’m a huge believer in that concept. You have to put guys in a position to succeed. The Bobcats, honestly, were not in a position to help Anthony Davis succeed. Now that doesn’t mean that had they drafted him, he couldn’t be successful right off the bat and it certainly doesn’t mean he couldn’t be successful in 2-to-4 years. But it’s still not an environment built for him to succeed. The way you do that is by getting a team that is at least passable.

I’ve contended that the Bobcats were this terrible this year on account of a perfect storm of factors. The lockout schedule, some bad breaks in games, injuries, and poor tactical coaching. Honestly, they showed up to play a more focused game than the Wizards did half the time. The Wizards just had more talent. And that’s a big deal here. The Bobcats simply lacked talent at almost every position. Their bright spots were a freak of nature power forward who can’t score and a diminutive point guard who struggles with passing. This is a bad thing. The Bobcats need players. Every position needs an upgrade, and a move backwards in the draft or for young, veteran talents (who are willing to work with the Charlotte franchise — that’s a big one) is going to help them. They’re not going to make any huge leap next season. They’ll still have a chance at Shabazz Muhammad or whoever winds up No. 1 overall. So why not fall back, pick up some talent, get some depth, and set yourself up to not be terrible?

A roster full of young, versatile players on rookie contracts who have shown some life is a much better situation to drop a No. 1 overall pick than a team of upgraded D-Leaguers and malcontents.

Plus, it allows them to get rid of some of that rot. Tyrus Thomas’ attitude? See ya, we got a better power forward so we can trade you for pennies on the dollar just to get rid of your contract. Corey Maggette? Adios, we picked up a shooter wing. Getting multiple positions covered isn’t going to make them a good team. But it’s removing the infected areas so that at least the lifeform isn’t ridden with rot. Doesn’t just adding MKG or Beal help with that? Well, yeah, but you’re also putting them in a position where they have to succeed automatically. You need to allow quality supporting players to be quality supporting players. You build a foundation. You get rid of the things that made you a joke. You stabilize your franchise and instill a winning culture, without the wins.

It’s about process.

I think both MKG, Beal, and Robinson can be fantastic players. I don’t think they can be franchise guys… for the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats need a complete organizational makeover. Moving the pick for multiple assets is the way to go. It doesn’t have to be any deal available, they should wait for the right one. But any deal involving a first rounder this year, an asset either in cap space or player, and a future first should be the model. If the Cats can be smart enough to set themselves up with multiple chances in future lotteries, they can improve now and still have a shot at that franchise player.

I think trading the pick is almost never the answer. But here? I think it’s a must. The Cats need to start the process. And that takes more than one player, if that player is not Anthony Davis.

Memphis pays tribute to Zach Randolph as he returns to FedEx Forum

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Zach Randolph found his career around in Memphis.

He had fantastic on-the-court years in Portland, then bounced to New York and Los Angeles, but it was in Memphis that he became a beloved figure in the community who embraced it, plus on the court played a big role in the best years in the Grizzlies franchise.

He took the bigger check in Sacramento last summer, and when he returned to FedEx Forum in a Kings uniform Friday he was greeted with nothing but love.

🙌🏽 The @memgrizz pay tribute to @macbo50! #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Randolph has earned this. Hope he savored it.

 

 

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins: All-Star nods bode well for Pelicans pairing

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins figure they’ve proved they can co-exist to spectacular and prolific effect.

Both big men have been named All-Star starters, giving them hope they’ll be paired together beyond this season, which is Cousins’ last under contract.

“First time I’ve ever been in an All-Star game with a teammate,” the 6-foot-11 Cousins noted after practice on Friday, one day after All-Star starters were announced. “This is big for the entire city, the organization and just our team moving forward. It kind of shows what this combo has the potential to have.”

The 6-10 Davis, who was the Pelicans’ lone All-Star last season, sounded equally pleased by the results a decision by New Orleans to counter the trend of guard-heavy “small ball” by pairing dynamic big men who can dominate inside, handle the ball and shoot with range.

“The biggest question was, was it going to work? I think we just proved that it is and it can work,” Davis said. “We feel like we complement each other.”

The 24-year old Davis is averaging 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Cousins, 27, has averaged 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. Their exploits have filled highlight reels, sometimes on plays involving one setting up the other – above the rim or otherwise.

“I’m mostly happy for DeMarcus,” Davis said. “To be a starter, that’s huge – huge for him. He’s having a hell of a season. It’s well deserved.”

The comparable production from both Davis and Cousins shows that “both of those guys are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Both of those guys are willing to leave a little bit of their game off the floor so the other guy can be good.”

There’s just one problem.

New Orleans hasn’t won enough to be firmly on a path toward postseason play.

At 23-21, the Pelicans entered Friday night’s action tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for seventh in the eight-team Western Conference playoff picture.

The Pelicans’ past two results were a microcosm of their season. On Tuesday night, New Orleans beat Eastern Conference-leading Boston. The following night, they lost at Atlanta, which entered the game with the worst record in the NBA.

“We’ve had flashes throughout the year,” Cousins said. “We’re still trying to find that consistency. There’s still a lot of things we need to work.”

Cousins acknowledged the Pelicans have yet to master “being the team we want to be at all times … no matter if we’re playing Golden State or the Atlanta Hawks.”

The Pelicans have yet to string more than three consecutive victories together this season and had developed a habit of losing to teams with losing records well before their Atlanta collapse. New Orleans has dropped home dates with Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas and New York. They’ve lost twice at Memphis.

If that trend continues, it could sour Cousins on the prospect of re-signing with New Orleans.

“I wasn’t really concerned about accolades. I’ve gotten accolades. I’ve done everything except win,” said Cousins, who spent his first seven seasons in Sacramento before his trade to the Pelicans following the 2017 All-Star game in New Orleans. “With the whole (trade) going down, what I thought I had a chance to do was win, and that’s why I was OK with it.”

Still, Cousins sounded confident he won’t be dealt to another club when asked if he liked the league’s decision to move up the trade deadline to Feb. 8 this season, before the All-Star break.

“I don’t really care because I don’t think I’m getting traded,” Cousins said. “Hopefully I’ve never got to deal with it again.”

If the Pelicans aren’t able to make a major addition with a trade, they could get a boost from the expected return of small forward Solomon Hill from an offseason hamstring tear. Valued by the club for his defense, Hill, a former starter, is scheduled to return for the final month or so off the regular season.

In any event, the Pelicans have 38 games to make their push, starting at home Saturday night against Memphis.

 

Thunder’s Paul George finding his role, doing a little bit of everything for new team

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency.

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

“He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. “Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

“I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. “I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

“It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. “I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

“My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. “That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

“He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”

Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

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Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed. These are not likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit, but less so because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.