The Extra Pass: Analyzing the Kings-Rockets Trade

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine the trade between the Kings and the Rockets.

How often does a team save money and improve on the court in a trade?

That’s essentially what the Sacramento Kings did when they acquired Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and cash from the Houston Rockets for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt and a second round pick on the eve of the trade deadline.

And if the world were to end sometime in June, this would be a good trade — maybe even a great trade — for Sacramento. The Kings shed about 3.7 million of salary this year (that’s prorated, mind you), pick up a million in cash, and get the best player in the deal right now in Patterson, a 23-year-old power forward who can fly up the court and stretch the floor.

Of course, the world isn’t ending in June — unless your last name is Maloof or Petrie. If all goes according to plan, longtime GM Geoff Petrie will be on a beach somewhere with his cellphone off, while the owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, will finally (thankfully) be removed of basketball decision making power — something that would have happened long ago in a more just world. These are the final days for their basketball lives, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey just happened to stroll by their garage sale at sunset.

Of course, Morey is really good at this sort of thing, and so he walked right past all the junk Sacramento wanted to get rid of and instead went inside and found the newest, shiniest thing he could. And that shiny thing was this year’s 5th pick in the NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson.

The reason this trade stunned people around the league so much was because it was assumed the Kings bumbling management group wouldn’t have the cohesiveness or the power to muck things up, but somehow (unfortunately, we don’t get to hear about the side deals) they were able to convince the Seattle group that this was something that would be beneficial for everyone.

For the Maloofs, this move is nothing more than a self-serving cash grab that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched the relocation drama unfold. Even beginning to dissect the “basketball reasons” for Sacramento making this deal is a useless exercise — there is only one real motivation here.

Houston’s motivations aren’t entirely different. As Zach Lowe of Grantland notes, the Rockets will save 1.6 million in 2013-14, which could make all the difference in being able to offer a max contract. Of course it goes beyond that for Houston — Robinson is by far the best asset in the trade, even if you don’t think he’s capable of playing up to his draft slot. I’d be hesitant to label Robinson a bust despite his shaky play so far this year, as Sacramento isn’t exactly a breeding ground for young promising talent. There’s no “royal jelly” going on there, as David Thorpe would like to say.

Robinson could of course use more time (he’s played 809 career minutes), but even with below average early season numbers like 42 percent shooting and a PER of 10.8, Robinson already does one thing great, and that’s hitting the offensive glass. Robinson averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per36 minutes –a number that would lead you to believe he can be a valuable role player as an energy guy off the bench, if nothing else.

That’s where the deal makes sense for Houston. They had three years and 3,500 minutes to evaluate Patterson, and though I’m sure they appreciated the solid production he provided (15.6 PER, 16 points per36), they likely weren’t sold enough to pay him a real contract once his rookie deal expired next season. But in Robinson, Houston gets to reset the clock and enjoy three and a half seasons of production on a rookie deal, or alternatively, they’ll have a more valuable asset to flip at some point due to Robinson’s potential — something Sacramento’s management has no time or use for.

Although trading Patterson and moving Marcus Morris to Phoenix for a second round draft pick makes the Rockets a little less stretchy, it does make them more flexible with playing time. Fellow rookies Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas will eventually need playing time, and moving Aldrich clears up some PT for promising young big man Greg Smith. In Garcia, the Rockets also get some wing depth and a veteran 3 and D guy in the mold of Carlos Delfino without having to commit any future salary. Losing a player and clearing a roster spot is actually a great thing for Houston.

While the move might not be popular with the team right now or Kevin McHale, who I’m sure enjoyed having “veterans” like Patterson and Douglas to call on, it’s a great asset acquisition at a steep discount. Would the Kings have ever traded the 5th pick  for a package of Patterson, Aldrich and Douglas before the draft? Of course not. They would have laughed at that offer.

But now? Selling Robinson’s potential, something that’s not tangible to Sacramento’s management but is to Houston, sadly makes dollars and sense.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Spurs’ David Lee will not need surgery on knee, will be ready for training camp in the fall

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David Lee was certainly not going to swing the series against the Warriors one way or another. However, the veteran forward with a varried offensive game still has an NBA role in the right setting.

He has a $1.6 million player option with the Spurs next season, and whatever he decides it’s good news that he will not need surgery to repair the knee injury that sidelined him in the Conference Finals. From Ramona Shelburn of ESPN.

Good news to end the week. David Lee doesn’t need surgery on his knee, per his agent Mark Bartelstein. He’s got a sprained patellar tendon that should heal in about six weeks.

As a big off the bench, David Lee can still help the right team. His game has limitations, but put him in the right situation and he can help. It’s just that due to injury, the Spurs had to ask more of him in the playoffs than he can deliver anymore.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.