The Inbounds: The Warriors become tank-proof

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The Warriors won’t be able to tank next year if they try. Well, OK, if they try they will. But it’s going to be a lot harder, because all of a sudden, their ten-man rotation isn’t just decent, it’s downright pretty good.

Watching the Warriors’ moves over the past year has been an exercise in intelligent reformation, if not championship recalibration. But at a very basic level, they’ve managed to establish control over what plagued them last year, the disaster when injury was not available, and a lack of acceptable defensive presence. It’s one thing to have the injury issues the Warriors had last year, those are hard to plan for. But it’s another to have those injury issues and have no depth to cover when those players go down. After the Warrior’s moves, though, they have moved into a strong position even in the constantly-strong Western Conference.

Again, they’re a long way from title contention, but they have bolstered the roster enough to make a huge step forward.

The new second line after Monday’s signings includes Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Brandon Rush,  Andris Biedrins, Charles Jenkins and rookies Festus Ezili and Draymond Green. There’s nothing prolific about that lineup, but Jack, Jefferson, and Landry are capable starters playing in bench roles, and Rush and Biedrins can play well in limited minutes. Their second line is considerably better than the tank-fest they put together at the end of last year. If Ezili makes any noticeable splash whatsoever, everything is there for a playoff run.

So is that a good thing?

The Warriors are kind of an oddity, a team that hasn’t been very good in a very long while in a big market with an adoring fanbase. They’re not on Boston, New York, or L.A.’s level, but they’re located in a large California metropolitan area. Oakland or San Francisco, their location is a better attraction to players than almost any of the Midwest cities, save for Chicago. So the secret here is that while fans can express consternation at a roster that is at the cap, but under the luxury tax, that’s playoff worthy but not playoff-series-win worthy team, the Warriors have the luxury of paying for this team now, and still being able to make moves down the line.

The Warriors haven’t gone Pistons ’09 on us, throwing long-term, huge contracts for players that won’t deliver a title. Even the acquisition of Andrew Bogut and his freak injury concerns (seriously, if Greg Oden has his injuries described as freak injuries, Bogut’s are from some other planet) could be considered an overall liability, which they’re not, considering if healthy Bogut is likely the third best center in the league, his contract only runs two more years. The only toxic asset the Warriors have is David Lee’s deal which has $57 million left over four year. One problem with that, David Lee’s actually good. He’s a power forward who can actually produce and while he’s overpaid, especially given the new financial reality of the CBA (man was amnestying Charlie Bell a mistake on so many levels), he’s still a productive member of basketball society.

Stephen Curry’s a free agent after this season, and so he’ll need the big long-term extension. But it’s clear the Warriors are hedging their bets with Curry to see if he’ll ever get healthy. Having one big deal on a four-year extension isn’t terrible, and while that combined with Lee’s could be bad for their future mobilization, the Warriors’ ownership group and market situation allow for them to get around those issues if they play their hand right. And there are promising signs. Don’t pay the luxury tax if you’re not going to contend. If you can get the big fish, like Dwight Howard, stay in the talks. Eventually, one will come your way and when it does, you’ll have the pieces to immediately move forward. There’s a lot to like about the approach.

But for now, the Warriors just have a good team. Not a fast team, or a quirky team, or even a necessarily interesting team. Truth be told, outside of the Klay Thompson-Harrison Barnes combo, there’s not a lot to get juiced up about this team, because every legitimate possibility of compelling play is tempered by injury concerns. Those players making a leap would change things, Curry and/or Bogut staying healthy would change things. But in the end, they’re just a good team with no chance of being great and almost no chance of being terrible. The Warriors may not be as lovable next year, but they also in all likelihood won’t be losers. There’s something to be said for fielding a professional team, and not every team is in a “tank for No.1” or “overspend to contend” mode. The Warriors have the luxury of short-term success with a longer-term goal. And if this current construct is a disaster?

Well, they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it. But tanking out with this team would be exceptionally difficult.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B

Report: Wizards signing Donald Sloan

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The Wizards look like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Tim Frazier.

But they also looked like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Trey Burke and then Brandon Jennings last year – and look how that turned out.

So, even after trading for Frazier, Washington is still trying to increase stability behind John Wall.
CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The Wizards added some depth to their backcourt on Thursday by signing veteran guard Donald Sloan to a one-year deal, CSN’s Chris Miller confirmed on Thursday night.

The 29-year-old Sloan has played for the Hawks, New Orleans Hornets, Cavaliers, Pacers and Nets in a five-year NBA career. He spent last season in China.

Sloan isn’t much of a scorer, and he’s only a decent distributor. But he makes up for it with all-around adequacy, highlighted by his rebounding for his position.

The veteran will compete with second-year Sheldon Mac, whose salary is just $50,000 guaranteed, to be Washington’s third point guard.