The Inbounds: Deron Williams and the meaning of Brooklyn cool

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Let’s start here: Deron Williams did not decide to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets because it was his best chance to win an NBA title. And that’s OK.

Williams made a lot of comments about how winning a title would dictate his decision. But the mere fact that he limited his options to Brooklyn and the Dallas Mavericks was proof enough that wasn’t the priority. The Indiana Pacers would have given Williams a better team to contend with, deep, versatile, and well-structured. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and one of the smartest ownership and management groups in the league. But the also have no young pieces and no star power to slide next to Williams and Nowitzki. And the Nets? Well, they took on an albatross with an anchor wrapped around its neck, tied to a concrete block in Joe Johnson’s contract. That was their big move. It limits their future ability to improve the team, and makes it a near certainty that their core will feature Gerald Wallace and a likely-overpaid Brook Lopez. There were better options to win the title.

But we tend to view these things from a binary perspective. As if the only things that went through Williams’ decision making process were what we felt were important or even what he openly states mattered.

Let’s digress, for a second.

Say you’re considering a move. You have a job offer, and that’s the biggest thing you’re looking at. But aren’t you going to factor everything in? Won’t you consider what kind of weather there is and if you like to live in it? Do you have friends there? Can your spouse stand it? Can you afford to live there?

Is it too close to your family?

Because that’s a huge concern. My brother refers to the concept of a DMZ between he and the rest of the family. Maybe for Deron Williams, playing in his hometown of Dallas wasn’t enough of a buffer zone.

Maybe it was just the money.

It’s fine to consider Williams’ decision and weight it against his stated priorities. It’s fine to question if he’ll win a title or if the Nets are even a top-three team in the league. But let’s not act like this decision was as simple as it is for anyone on the outside. It was what Williams felt was best for his life. He was contractually free to make that decision.

The ramifications of that decision are far-reaching and dramatic. Do you know what the biggest problem the Nets had in pursuing free agents over the past two years has been? It hasn’t been playing in New Jersey, though that was part of it. It wasn’t how God awful the team was, though that was part of it (and that’s the supporting cast now!). It was that the Nets weren’t cool. That shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Playing for the Lakers? The coolest. That’s why you’ve seen players take paycuts to don the purple and gold. Playing for the Knicks? Cool, despite their lack of on-court success. Playing for Boston? Cool, because of the history and classic iconic nature of the team. But the Nets? They were not cool. Not even a little bit. Not even when they were making Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. They were the TCBY of NBA teams.

But now, not just with the Mad Russian owner, or HOVA as minority owner, and a new arena in Brooklyn, but with all that and superstar talent, the Nets are cool. And that has value to players. They want the winning, and they want the money, and they want to feel cool while doing it. The Milwaukee Bucks may never win another title because of this dynamic, and the fact that the Spurs have won four despite not being cool in any way, shape, or form, is more impressive.

The Nets have a Big 3. Unless they get Dwight Howard, which is looking unlikely, they won’t be better than many of the other Big 3’s (but they are on par with New York, maybe better, which is important), and their future prospects get worse with Joe Johnson’s contract swallowing up all light in their cap universe. But they’re in the conversation. They’ll be able to attract those free agents looking to take a discount to compete for a title. They are a big ticket item.

For years, the Nets have been frustrated with being a joke. But now? They’re the awkward kids who went through a growth spurt and now everyone’s starting to notice them.

Cool.

As for the Mavericks, uh…

Well that’s not going over well.

But one thing should be noted. The Mavericks have always been masters at negotiating smart pieces, not landing huge ones. They rarely made league-shattering trades, but always made smart ones, constantly building forward. The trick for them is going to be getting Dirk’s successor. It was supposed to be Williams, but without him, they’ll have to go forward, adding pieces, building a core, but not having the spire. That’s the same situation Denver’s in, Utah’s in, Philadelphia’s in. But the Mavericks know that just because they lost out on Williams doesn’t mean there won’t be future opportunities. And if they see one, they’ll know enough to go all out for it, and maybe won’t be on uneven ground to start next time.

Cuban and Donnie Nelson have cap space, now and in the future. We’ve seen what can happen to good management when it makes a bad series of decisions in Detroit. But the Mavericks show no such weaknesses. The process has been sound, even if some of it is predicated upon ducking the damage from the luxury tax punitive measures in 2014, and even if the gamble didn’t work out.

There will be some smart moves made, some daring moves made, some surpising moves made. Dallas will hit on some endeavors, swing out on others. But in the end they should remain a competitive team. But the underlying puzzle now is the most difficult for any NBA team: how to acquire an elite player. Dirk can’t last forever. And the lifeboat just sailed away to New York.

Here’s LeBron James trying on Lonzo Ball’s weirdo jump shooting form (VIDEO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.

Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.

During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.

Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

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Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.