Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Lakers

The Inbounds: Hennigan’s Rainbow

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Earlier this month, it seemed like new Magic GM Rob Hennigan was trapped, and succumbing to the pressure. Word spread that the Nets were that magical word, “close” to a deal for Dwight Howard, in one of the most complicated trades maybe ever proposed, involving up to 14 players being swapped. The result was shady and never clarified the particulars, but some elements indicated that the Magic would have received Brook Lopez in a max-deal sign-and-trade (had Lopez agreed to such a deal), picks from the Nets, and theoretically one other team. So the haul would have included a very talented center that comes with a huge series of concerns long-term, on a max contract, poor draft picks, and only would have sent out Jason Richardson and potentially one other contract.

It was an impressive full-court press from Billy King just to get the Magic talking and move the trade to that point. King did everything you do when you want to exert pressure, including making it seem like there were no other options than to take the Nets deal.

In short, Hennigan was “close” to vomiting in a trash can and calling that the Dwight Howard trade.

The most important move of his career, just weeks into his tenure, and Hennigan seemed set to fail in every conceivable way. Writers, columnists, fans, and bloggers like me sharpened our knives to carve apart the decision while facepalming with the other hand.

The deal fell apart.

Throughout the process, all the talk about the deal came from two sources: reporters with sources close to the Nets and reporters with sources close to Howard. In short, from the two sides that most desperately wanted the deal to come through. But from other places the indications were strong that the Magic planned to be patient, that the Magic were always, always weighing their options. So after the deal fell apart, it wasn’t a huge shock. Hennigan proved to be the more patient party. Resisting the pressure and the invisible clock on getting a deal done for Howard before the season starts and Magic ownership and executives were forced to deal with the indignity of another year under the cloud of the mess they helped make last year with their emotional reactions to the Howard situation.

Now, it would appear, that great come-and-get-it day is on the horizon, and Hennigan’s rainbow is coming into view.

With word that Howard has finally accepted reality quit being unreasonable grown up agreed to re-sign with the Lakers in free agency if traded there, the Magic are now dealing with a team that has a worthy asset to send to a third team. Andrew Bynum is arguably on the level of Dwight Howard, and while his similar expiring contract presents issues, there’s considerable hope that the Lakers can pull in a third team who wants Bynum to send the picks and assets to the Magic.

Most importantly? There’s a decent chance the Lakers or a facilitating partner will be willing to take the salary from Orlando that the Magic want to ditch. Hedo Turkoglu is obviously the big sticking point, but Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon, and Glen Davis all have longer deals for fair-size money which the Magic need to unload. They need young players. They need picks. This trade scenario affords them that and there’s a good chance that whether it’s Cleveland or Houston that the picks will have more value than what they would get from Brooklyn.

Even if the Lakers talks fall through as well, the ball has been moved forward, the bar for offers has been raised. Vomit in a trash can is no longer good enough.

So to review: instead of being forced into taking on a questionable max contract, poor draft picks, filler, and not unloading as much as they need, the Magic are closer to being able to get more flexibility, better draft picks, young assets, and maybe salvage some dignity from the deal.

The key here has been patience. Hennigan hasn’t taken a ton of questions, he’s not leaking a ton of information to the press. He’s been succinct in his statements and in reality, there’s been very little noise from anyone in Orlando outside of Howard.  Hennigan hasn’t overreacted and has been careful in not going after any one particular asset. He’s not focusing in on Andrew Bynum, but he’s open to it. He’s used the three teams in the running for Howard (Brooklyn, the Lakers, and the Rockets) to raise the value of the offer.

Two months ago, the Magic had no leverage. It was all in Howard’s court, all the Nets’ pressure. The Nets were able to say “he only wants to come here.” Howard was able to say “I can go where I want in free agency.” But when the Nets used up all that space, that option disappeared. So it became about whether Howard was willing to deal with another full year of this just to prove his point, or if he would buckle and open up his “list.” Howard will end up somewhere nice regardless. He’s not going to Milwaukee. But he doesn’t get everything he wanted.

It was a game of chicken. Howard has swerved first.

There’s a lot more to be done, a deal could fall apart. But the reality is that Hennigan has reasserted control over the situation with cold, clinical precision. When Howard gets traded, if Howard gets traded, it will be on Hennigan’s terms and will put the Magic as close to where they want to be going forward. It won’t be perfect. But it’s got a good chance of being the best move possible.

Hennigan took a job coming into a difficult situation and while the contract for Jameer Nelson was an auspicious start, his early tenure will be judged entirely on how the Howard trade is handled. Early on, he’s managed to avoid the big disaster and has moved the pieces in place to get what they need. In the NBA it’s not just about what moves you do make, it’s about the ones you don’t. And Hennigan’s proven he’s not over his head.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.