The Inbounds: Free Agency and the Magical Musical Chairs

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy. 

If the Pacers don’t match Hibbert’s offer, then Batum could go to Minnesota.

If the Bulls don’t match Asik’s offer, O.J. Mayo could wind up a Bull.

If the Joe Johnson to the Nets trade goes through, Dwight Howard may be a Laker next season.

If Nash goes to Toronto, Kidd could wind up in New York, and Jose Calderon could be a Laker. If he goes to New York, Lin could be a Raptor.

Welcome to the offseason musical chairs game, 2012 edition.

Player movement is the central commodity in the NBA. In a lot of ways, it’s the engine that makes things run. It drives front office decisions and fan interest. The busiest time of the year for scribes isn’t the NBA Finals, it’s this time, when players are whipping from one team to another in trades and free agency.

But there’s a special environment this year, driven by several factors. For starters, the new CBA has created a different set of priorities. The idea of simply matching any offer for a restricted free agent like Omer Asik and dealing with the luxury tax was never a popular one for some teams (even rich teams like the Bulls, who have staved off the tax at all costs in the past), but now it’s sheer poison. The advanced punitive measures enacted in the new CBA, along with the threat of the repeater tax in 2014 have created an environment where every addition is carefully considered.

That’s not to say all of the deals won’t make your heads spin. But from Brandon Bass and David West’s short-term deals signed last December to the “either or” nature of so many deals to come in the next two weeks, the environment has shifted.

Additionally, the super-teams are mucking with this whole thing. Combinations of superstars means title contention, which means players are tempted to take less money to play there, which in turn pushes those superstar teams to slough off their excess, putting them on the market.

Throw in the complicted nature of restricted free agency and a light class without too many that are locks to return, and you have a very delicate ecosystem undergoing some fairly substantial changes, at least around the edges.

Another big secret that often gets lost this time of year is how much of an outlier 2010 was. Stars just don’t often change teams. We’re seeing it this year with Deron Williams looking very likely to head back to Brooklyn with the Nets, and Kevin Garnett staying “home” with the Celtics. It’s difficult for teams to just let go of players and structures they’ve had success with in the past.

The outlier, of course, is Steve Nash, and that shows you the situation the Suns are in. It takes a pretty self-aware and humble front office group to recognize that a two-time MVP can’t help their team at this point and it’s time for a new direction. But that’s what they’ve done.

Nash’s choice has engendered debate. The Raptors have reportedly offered a three-year, $36 million offer for the native son to return to the Maple Leaf nation. To accept, Nash would be spurning better chances to win a title for essentially money (and the prospect of returning “home” to finish his career). If LeBron James was killed for taking less money to try to win a title in Miami, and we tend to revolt against players taking the money, why aren’t we torching Nash for the same?

And it’s a valid criticism. But the root of that is not that we should bash Nash. It’s that a player’s circumstances and feelings matter, and we should respect it and maybe chill out with what we feel a player should do. One set of absurd standards and ridiculous criticism doesn’t mean we should apply those same poor ideas to other people. It means we should never have applied them in the first place.

If Nash goes to Toronto, the Knicks may move towards Jason Kidd, the idea being that he can serve as a mentor to Jeremy Lin (should the Knicks be able to match a poison pill offer from Toronto). There’s debate about whether that’s a good idea. After all, what can Kidd really do for Lin, and what can he give the Knicks at his age?

But the answer to those questions is a lot, and a lot. Kidd famously mentored Deron Williams during the Olympics and international competition process. It’s not just recognizing defenses, understanding where to put the ball, and how to read the opponent. It’s handling pressure, it’s dealing with coaches and teammates, it’s intangibles. And as far as his on-court contributions? In the ISOMelo offense, the best thing you can have is a point guard who can set the frame and then get out of the way and hit a three. That’s become Jason Kidd over the past three years. He’s not going to be an exhilirating playmaker. But the Knicks’ new offense isn’t geared that way anyway. Kidd’s a fit.

The Portland-Hibbert-Pacers-Batum situation may be the most interesting musical chairs scenario.

Consider this: there’s a three-day matching period that goes on after the moratorium ends on the 11th. Say a team lands Nicolas Batum to a huge contract before the Blazers can get Roy Hibbert inked to an offer sheet. Then the Blazers ink Hibbert, putting a hold on their cap space while Indiana debates. If Indiana were to hold out until the last minute, then match, the Blazers would have had their cap space held by the Hibbert deal, not match Batum, and lose out on Hibbert. Timing is fun!

Now, there’s a million ways this won’t become an issue, but it does represent the complexities in play for these teams.

And then, of course, there’s the Nets situation and the relationship with Dwight Howard and the Magic.

If the Nets go all in on Joe Johnson (and we’ll talk about this one tomorrow), then that means there’s no room for Dwight Howard. Which means Howard would have to consider what team that isn’t on his list he wants to play for. Can he get along with Kobe? Is he willing to play in Houston? Does San Francisco mesh with his religious upbringing? The Nets went halfway in another direction with the Gerald Wallace signing. Bringing in Joe Johnson locks in their core. Do that, and the Dwight Howard situation becomes somehow more insane.

But if they do land Dwight, then what does Atlanta do? Is that their best and only shot at dumping Joe Johnson’s contract?

Oh, and if the Bulls match Omer Asik’s offer from Houston, they’re amnestying Carlos Boozer at some point. But waiting to amnesty Boozer means there’s less of a chance another team will take on part of his contract.

This isn’t rocket science. But to a degree, it is game theory. Welcome to the 2012 NBA Free Agency period. Choose wisely.

This is chess, it ain’t checkers.

Report: Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, Heat have proposed Kyrie Irving trades

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade – reportedly ideally to the Knicks, Heat, Spurs or Timberwolves.

All those teams – plus the Clippers and Suns – have made offers to the Cavaliers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

So far, these are among the teams who’ve made offers to the Cavaliers for Irving, league sources tell ESPN: The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired with Cleveland upon the news of Irving’s trade request, league sources said, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Denver Nuggets-New York Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks, league sources said. For new general manager Koby Altman, this is a textbook way to open trade discussions. But for now, most Irving suitors are using the Minnesota Timberwolves-Chicago Bulls trade model for Jimmy Butler, a scaled-down model of Melo’s rich return of assets.

The Miami Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said.

Altman and the Cavaliers haven’t been overzealous on the phones. They’ve been deliberate in returning calls and canvassing for offers, trying to create the illusion that there’s no urgency, no desperation.

A few important things to keep in mind: This isn’t necessarily a complete list of teams that have proposed a trade for Irving. These offers aren’t necessarily reasonable. The Cavs can make offers themselves.

But if Cleveland is concerned about not looking desperate and therefore not proposing trades itself, which teams have made proposals takes on greater importance. Going through the known offering teams:

  • The Heat are reportedly pessimistic/uninterested. Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow shouldn’t be enough. I’m not sure what else Miami can offer to make up the difference.
  • As long as Carmelo Anthony remains set on the Rockets and the Knicks won’t trade Kristaps Porzingis, New York will have a near-impossible time forming a suitable offer for Irving – unless the Knicks can re-route players acquired for Anthony. That would get complicated.
  • The Spurs lack assets beyond Kawhi Leonard, and their next-best player – LaMarcus Aldridge – would exacerbate a logjam with Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland.
  • The Timberwolves make a lot of sense on paper, but they’re still negotiating a contract extension with Andrew Wiggins. While that might actually be a precursor to an Irving trade, Wiggins finalizing an extension would signal Minnesota is going another direction. The Timberwolves trading for Irving would almost have to include Wiggins.
  • An Eric Bledsoe-and-Josh Jackson package for Irving seems about fair, but the Suns are reportedly refusing to include Jackson. Phoenix has a wide enough array of other assets that a deal could still be struck, though.
  • The Clippers haven’t been mentioned much, but here’s a theoretical starting point for an Irving trade:

The Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony trade has long been held up as the gold standard for dealing a star. But what an indictment of the Bulls that their Jimmy Butler trade is now viewed as the reference point for teams low-balling teams with stars. Chicago deserves it.

The Cavaliers just have to sort through these offers – and maybe eventually propose a few of their own – to ensure they emerge looking more like Denver than Chicago.

Report: Kyrie Irving’s has tampered down partying, boosting trade stock

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Chauncey Billups – who thinks like an NBA executive in that the Cavaliers offered him a job running their front office – called Kyrie Irving‘s trade request “alarming.” Billups found it incomprehensible a player would want to leave LeBron James and Cleveland, which has reached three straight NBA Finals and won a title.

Maybe Irving’s trade request reflects poorly on the Cavs. After all, Billups declined their offer.

But Billups also clearly took issue with Irving. What kind of player wants to leaving all that winning?

Any team considering trading for him is investigating that question and many others.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Truth be told, the Cavaliers trade talks have been buoyed with teams getting back better, if not perfect, reports on Irving’s growth, league sources said. Among the consensus: Irving has a history of late nights and partying, but there’s no trail of missed practices, bloodshot eyes or hungover shootarounds. Most intel has come back that he has curbed those tendencies into his mid-20s, picking his spots more wisely. As a teammate, Irving can be moody, but most agree he’s ultimately invested. He hasn’t always loved deferring to James on the Cavaliers, or Kevin Durant in USA Basketball. This is the Kobe Bryant inside of him, and that’s part of the DNA that can be a blessing and a curse. Teams believe he’s smart, savvy and, above all, they believe he’s a winner.

“Go back through every team he’s played on, talked to people involved — or just study the results — and it doesn’t matter whether it was high school, college, USA development and national teams, and in the NBA — and you see a pattern of him impacting winning,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “There are questions about those first couple years before LeBron came back, but I think there were a lot of issues around there that were out of his control. That said, he didn’t always help himself then either.”

Before LeBron returned, the Cavaliers went 21-45, 24-58 and 33-49 with Irving. He’s a winner? Yes, maybe.

There’s a difference between a player “impacting winning” and winning. A single player can control whether he impacts winning – making individual plays that help his team and limiting errors that hurt. He can’t control whether he wins. That requires enough of his teammates to impact winning, and many of Irving’s in Cleveland didn’t. It can be difficult to separate a player’s individual contributions from overall team success, but that’s the job of an NBA executive. Teams are trading for Irving, not the 2013-14 Cavs. It seems the verdict is in: Irving is not being blamed for those losing seasons.

Irving is smart and driven. He parties late into the night? Many players do, especially when they’re younger. There apparently isn’t reason to be particularly concerned about Irving.

He has learned what it takes to succeed on the biggest stages. Though he has clearly disliked deferring to LeBron, Irving did it anyway – at a championship level. That’s a sign of maturity.

Irving clearly isn’t the same player or person he was a few years ago, and though that’s the only timeframe he led a team, his growth demands viewing a bigger picture.

It seems potential trade partners are doing that and mostly liking what they’ve found.

Retired from the NBA or not, Tim Duncan would kick your a** in an MMA fight

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Tim Duncan has retired from the NBA.

But if you think that means he’s not still wearing Punisher T-shirts and is not still working out and staying in shape, you should watch the video above.

San Antonio-based kickboxing trainer Jason Echols posted a Facebook video of him and Duncan sparing, and the 41-year-old five-time NBA champ is still kicking a**. Sure, this sparring is at half speed, but if Duncan were going all out he could do some real damage.

He’s probably even got a move called the bank shot in his repertoire.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Watch LeBron James walk over to scorer’s table at son’s AAU game to correct score

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I feel LeBron on this one. I have two daughters who play on club soccer teams and I get more frustrated, angrier at referees, and generally am far more emotionally invested their youth games than any NBA game. Over the years I have learned a lot, both from and saw it echoed in Coach David Thorpe’s book, about how to be supportive to them and their experiences, not make it about my feelings and wishes.

But sometimes you need to step in.

LeBron James is in Las Vegas and so far all the stories have been about how he is working out with Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, and what does that all mean (nothing, NBA guys often work out together all summer, especially teammates and guys who share an agent). But he’s also there for the AAU Adidas Uprising tournament where his son is playing.

And when LeBron saw the score was wrong, he went over to the scorer’s table at a time out to tell them.

I love the way the scorer’s wave him off, like they would any parent who walks up and complains.

Then they corrected the score, because LeBron was right. You knew he would be, the man has an eidetic memory about basketball.