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: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.