Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Situations (Pacific Division)

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Yesterday, we looked at the Northwest Division. Today, we head out to the Pacific Division.

Los Angeles Clippers: 32-10, 1st in Pacific Division, $440,000 short of tax

Off Limits: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul

Since the Clippers have a great early season record, tons of depth, and a roster that is right at the tax line, any big deal would be a shock. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are obviously excluded from any conversation. The Clippers are gunning for a championship.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Eric Bledsoe ($1.7 million/2 years)

With his suffocating defense and his 22.2 PER, Bledsoe has earned a starting opportunity somewhere, and Chris Paul has said as much. However, trading Bledsoe for a proven wing (which would likely be the target) would be difficult given his low salary and the Clippers lack of desire to go into the tax. Most likely, they’d have to combine Bledsoe with someone like Caron Butler, an average small forward but a perfect fit as an outside shooter. Also, with Paul still not having signed on with the Clippers long-term (even though everyone expects he will), Bledsoe represents an insurance policy. Although it’s likely he’s traded eventually, doing it this season doesn’t make much sense for the Clippers.

Player to target: SG Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

The Clippers’ previous regime was high on Afflalo in Denver, viewing him as the perfect corner shooter (51% on corner 3-pointers this year) and wing defender to put next to Paul and Griffin. With Orlando rebuilding completely after the 2013-14 season and needing a young franchise point guard, there would almost certainly be mutual interest. There will be plenty of suitors for Bledsoe and getting a strong two-way player on the wing in return will likely be the priority down the line.

Chances of a deal: Low

The Clippers have done much of what they’ve done through great chemistry and depth. With little needs to address and very little financial flexibility, it’s unlikely the Clippers make a move now.

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Golden State Warriors25-15, 2nd in Pacific Division, $1.2 million in tax

Off limits: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes

Curry was just signed to a very reasonable long-term deal (averaging around $10 million a year) and has a good chance at making the All-Star team this year. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are productive players on rookie deals, and there’s a reason why those types of players rarely get dealt. You can probably add David Lee and Carl Landry to this list because they’ve played so well, but they aren’t quite as hands-off as these three.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Richard Jefferson ($10 million/2 years)

Can the Warriors somehow find a sucker for Jefferson’s contract? They have reportedly shopped Jefferson recently, trying to get Memphis to take on his contract in exchange for Rudy Gay. While it makes sense the Grizzlies balked, Jefferson will only become more valuable as a trade asset as his contract nears expiring status for the 2014 offseason, which should be a free agent frenzy. With teams like Orlando already gearing up for the free agents available during that time, Jefferson might be easier to move than his contract and lack of production suggests.

Player to target: SF Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons

The Warriors were on the right track with Gay, but the Grizzlies needed to cut cap now (which they’ve done). The Pistons can be one of the biggest players in free agency two years from now if they unloaded forwards Prince ($6.7 million over 3 years) and Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million over 3), clearing over $10 million total. Swapping Jefferson for Prince and filler would work from a positional standpoint, although the Warriors would almost certainly have to throw in draft picks to account for the difference in talent. Unless the Pistons really think they’re contending for the playoffs, the Warriors could add a nice piece and maybe even get under the tax themselves.

Chances of a deal: High

It’s not very often a playoff run happens in Oakland, so don’t be surprised if Warriors management makes an extra move to help in the push for a homecourt advantage. That’s something that would make the Warriors a very scary first round opponent. 

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Los Angeles Lakers: 17-24, 3rd in Pacific Division, $29 million in the tax

Off-limits: Kobe Bryant

You can’t trade Kobe without his consent, he makes $27 million a year, and the thought of seeing Bryant in another jersey for Lakers fans is sickening. He’ll play his massive contract out. As for everyone else? Given the team’s performance this season, it’s hard to imagine anyone else is untouchable.

Most likely to be dealt: C Pau Gasol ($19 million/2 years)

Notice how I listed Gasol as a center? That’s because he is one, and that’s how opposing teams will view him as a potential acquisition. The Gasol-Howard combo should have been deadly, but it’s a defensive combo that’s far too slow to defend anything well. Pair them with a slow, incapable perimeter defender in Nash and an aloof off-ball defender in Bryant, and you’ve got the 20th ranked defense in the league. Will moving Gasol fix all of that? No. But getting someone who can actually move a bit defensively and stretch the defense in exchange for the scapegoat seems like a course of action the Lakers might take.

Players to target: PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Samuel Dalembert, SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

The Bucks should be the first team on speed dial for the Lakers. They have a stretchy 4 in Ilyasova who is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, a good shotblocking center who is buried on the bench in Dalembert, and a really good individual defender who can guard just about anyone on the floor in Mbah a Moute. If those pieces don’t fit, Mike Dunleavy is an ace perimeter shooter and Beno Udrih is a solid backup point guard on an expiring deal. Gasol would add the low-post scoring the Bucks desperately need — something that might finally vault them off the treadmill of mediocrity. The Lakers could use the depth and plus defenders, but more importantly, the tax relief the expiring deal of Dalembert or Udrih would provide next season. I know the TV deal was huge and the Lakers’ pockets run deep, but the incredibly punitive repeater tax will hurt them down the line. They can’t keep this up.

Chances of a deal: Very High

The pitchforks are out. Lakers fans don’t take too kindly to losing, and Dwight Howard’s future with the franchise is at stake. Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing.

***

Sacramento Kings16-26, 4th in Pacific Division, $12 million short of tax

Off-Limits: No one

The Kings may say they’re holding on to DeMarcus Cousins, and with the change of ownership and the move putting things up in the air, that may be true. Still, it’s easy to imagine a blowout sale here that puts the team right at the minimum salary. New owners typically like the cupboard bare and the paychecks light to start their franchise. Cousins could be used as the piece that sends out less desirable contracts.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Francisco Garcia ($6.1 million/2 years, with last year being a team option)

That team option essentially makes Garcia an expiring contract, as no GM in their right mind would pick him up at $6 million per. That said, Garcia is still a useful player in the “3 and D” mold. His career 36 percent 3-point shooting should make him a target for teams looking to add to their benches for a playoff run.

Player to target: Anyone on a rookie contract

As we’ve said, those contracts are the most valuable in sports. They don’t even need to be particularly productive players — it might be better for the Kings if they’re not. The sad truth is that in the NBA, you usually have to get really bad before you can get really good. I would be shocked if the Seattle version of this team looks anything remotely similar to the Sacramento version.

Chances of a deal: TBD

Kind of a cop-out, I know, but we need to know more officially about the change of management, how much the Maloofs will be invested, and who will be making the decisions for the rest of the season. Either way, cutting salary seems like a mutually beneficial option for the old ownership group and the new guys.

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Phoenix Suns13-28, Last in Pacific Division, $17 million short of tax

Off-Limits: Luis Scola

Not because Scola is this unattainable asset or anything — he just can’t be acquired until a year after his amnesty claim date, meaning Phoenix can’t trade him to anyone this season. Everyone else can probably be had for the right price.

Most likely to be dealt: C Marcin Gortat ($7.7 million/2 years)

Gortat may say that he doesn’t want to escape the sinking boat, but it’s clear he’s unhappy in Phoenix. As one of the few assets who can actually bring back something substantial, whether it be draft picks or a young player, the Suns would be crazy not to shop Gortat. It’s nice to think he’s a piece for the future, but he’s already 28 years old and highly unlikely to stay when the choice truly becomes his.

Player to target: PG Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

This, of course, is crazy. But if for some reason the Celtics decide the combo of Gortat and Dragic is more valuable than Rondo and a salary dump (like Courtney Lee or Brandon Bass), then it might be worth exploring. Rudy Gay becomes a free agent the same time Rondo does, and the two apparently want to play together, so maybe Phoenix represents their best shot. All hypothetical trades aside, Phoenix either needs to find a way to acquire a true star on a long-term deal, or bottom out and rebuild through the draft. Going halfway with signings like Dragic and Michael Beasley isn’t the way to do it.

Chances of a deal: Medium

With Lindsey Hunter replacing long-time coach Alvin Gentry, it’s a period of change for the Suns. Despite the lost season, there are some valuable assets still on board. Jared Dudley is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc and should be a hotly pursued commodity as a solid role player. If someone comes along with the right package of draft picks for one of their bigger pieces, the Suns’ brass would be hard pressed to say no.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.