Did Orlando blow Dwight Howard trade? Too early to tell.

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With the Lakers, we’re going to know very quickly how this blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade worked — they are in win-now mode and with Dwight Howard it is possible for them.

With the Sixers, we’ll know in a few years — Andrew Bynum gives them a true center (on several levels) for their young core, a group that could grow together into something special.

With the Magic it is going to take even longer to judge this trade properly — it is far too early to judge this trade for them. We can’t until we see who they draft.

A lot of people are ripping the Magic today, but to me that is short sighted. If your reaction is “they would have been better with Brook Lopez and the Nets deal” I would counter that nobody is better with Brook Lopez on a max deal. The Nets can absorb that (and the Kris Humphries deal, another guy rumored for Orlando) in a way the Magic cannot. The Nets picks would be no better than the ones they’re getting. Yes, there also were scenarios where Orlando could get Andrew Bynum in three team deals, but those were never that solid and there are questions about whether Orlando kept Bynum past this season when he became a free agent (and Dallas would be out there with cap space).

What the Magic wanted to do in this deal was get young players, a lot of picks, future cap space and rebuild from the ground up. That’s not sexy and easy to sell, but it’s the smart thing to do. Brook Lopez you can sell a little but he kills a rebuilding effort — he’s a huge contract for a nice center. And they would have had to take on Kris Humphries as well, another bloated contract. This deal gets them to their goal of picks and a lot of future cap space.

If you want to argue they could have done better at the trade deadline last year rather than hold on to Howard… maybe. Houston had a good package at the deadline and this summer (more cap space and maybe better picks), but not one dramatically better.  In the case of the Nets offer Orlando would have had flexibility with Lopez then (the Houston deal at the deadline might have worked well). But at the time they wanted to try and win Howard over still.

In retrospect that was their mistake — not pulling the trigger back then.

To judge how the deal they did do works out for Orlando, we are going to have to see what they do with the draft picks and how they pan out.

And I don’t mean the picks they get from the other teams in this trade — those will be second half of the draft picks, not that thrilling.

No, the real key is what they do with their own draft picks. Because the Magic just became a bad team on the court. Their own picks are going to be high lottery ones for the next few years — they have Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington (who will be bought out after this season) and not much else (and you can get those guys from them if you offer more picks and young players).

A lot of teams around the NBA have talked about building in the Oklahoma City model, but Rob Hennigan (a former Thunder assistant GM) has them better placed to do it than anyone. Now, the Thunder had and nailed a top four pick for three consecutive years — we’re not sure the picks will be that high for Orlando. We don’t know if they will draft another Kevin Durant (or Dwight Howard), a true franchise anchor.

They might. They might not. But we can’t judge this trade for nearly five years for Orlando to see what they do with those picks. They have wiped the slate clean to rebuild. It sucks to be a Magic fan today. You just traded away a true franchise center. You can see a rocky road the next few years.

But we don’t know yet what is a few years down the road for this team. We have to wait and see. We can’t judge this trade from their perspective yet.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.