Kobe Bryant returned, Rudy Gay was traded, and the Knicks were crushed. Grading a busy Sunday of NBA action:
Toronto Raptors: What the Toronto Raptors have not had in recent years is a GM with a plan and financial flexibility. With this and previous trades you get a sense that GM Masai Ujiri has a plan. First, get the big contracts for guys you don’t want to build around off the roster — goodbye Andrea Bargnani and now Rudy Gay. This trade saves them $13 million in obligations next summer. It also removes the Gay/DeMar DeRozan roster duplication. If they want they can bet on DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and whoever they can get in the draft (clearly the target) as a start for a rebuild. More than that, the Raptors can buy out John Salmons for $1 million after this season, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are on rookie deals, and Chuck Hayes is solid and makes $5.9 million next season. Flexibility. Plus Vasquez on the roster means they can shop Kyle Lowry hard. Can the Raptors recruit a superstar up to the north as an anchor? Maybe not. But they have picks the next couple years to chase one and the flexibility to put a good team around him. — Kurt Helin
Sacramento Kings: If you judge your trade winner based on who got the best player then the Kings “won” Sunday’s trade — Rudy Gay is a quality wing. Sure, he’s a volume scorer (read: not efficient) but he puts up points and is a shot creator the Kings could use. Aaron Gray is a solid big in the middle. Kings fans will not miss John Salmons in the least, plus now they get more Isaiah Thomas. That said, after watching Gay fire up jumpers rather than feed an open Jonas Valanciunas in the paint all season, not sure if he is really a great fit with DeMarcus Cousins. Still, this is a nice move for a rebuilding Kings team. Bottom line: if Gay opts out of the $19.3 million he is due next season it is a good trade for Sacramento (it’s possible if he thinks he can get the security of four years and say $35 million). If he stays for another season it’s not bad financially (and the team likely is still lottery bound), and they could possibly move him next season. — KH
Kobe Bryant: Bryant played 28 minutes in his season debut, but was in facilitator mode from the start and appeared understandably rusty offensively, which was to be somewhat expected after an eight-month absence. Bryant finished 2-of-9 from the field with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and eight turnovers — a fine start for a player finding his way back into the rhythm of regular season game action after so much time missed.
New York Knicks: It isn’t easy to lose by 41 points at home, but the Knicks got the job done proving yet again that tip-off times of 12 noon just aren’t their style. After briefly turning the corner by following up a nine-game losing streak by winning consecutive games by 30-plus points, New York fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter on Sunday, essentially ensuring defeat less than 12 minutes into Sunday’s contest.
An intriguing battle emerged late in free agency over Dante Cunningham.
The Pelicans and Timberwolves were desperate at small forward, and Cunningham rare contributor at the position still available. New Orleans even traded a second-rounder and cash to dump Quincy Pondexter and get far enough below the hard cap to take advantage of Cunningham’s Bird Rights.
That’ll pay off.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
It’s not the $3,106,500 Cunningham opted out of, but a $2.3 million salary beats his minimum ($2,106,470), which is all Minnesota could’ve offered.
That’s a great rate on someone who might be the Pelicans’ starting small forward, considering Solomon Hill‘s injury. Even if he plays behind Tony Allen on a team that starts small on the perimeter, Cunningham will reduce the time New Orleans must rely on also-rans.
Cunningham is probably better at power forward, but he can defend either position. He also has become a good enough 3-point shooter to credibly play small forward.
For the Pelicans, he’s a huge upgrade at a bargain price.
Kevin Durant – tweeting in the third person, suggesting he forget to switch to a secret Twitter account – said he left the Thunder because he didn’t like the organization or playing for Billy Donovan and that Oklahoma City’s surrounding cast around himself and Russell Westbrook was lacking. Durant also appeared to have a second Instagram account he has used to insult critics.
Durant at TechCrunch:
I do have other another Instagram account, but that’s just for my friends and family. So, I wouldn’t say I was using that to clap back at anybody.
But I use Twitter to engage with the fans. I think it’s a great way to engage with basketball fans.
But I happened to take it a little too far, and that’s what happens sometimes when I get into these basketball debates. Or what I really love is just to play basketball. I went a little too far.
And I don’t regret clapping back at anybody or talking to my fans on Twitter. I do regret using my former coach’s name and the former organization that I played for. That was childish. That was idiotic. All those type of words. I regret doing that, and I apologize to him for doing that.
But I don’t think I’ll ever stop engaging with my fans. I think they really enjoy it, and I think it’s a good way to connect us all. But I will scale back a little bit right now and just focus on playing basketball. So, I want to move on from that. It was tough to deal with yesterday. I was really upset with myself. But definitely want to move on and keep playing basketball. But I still want to interact with my fans, as well.
Durant can defend himself all he wants on social media. Fans, even those who detest him, do enjoy the interaction.
But an anonymous-looking account defending Durant provides no joy to those fans. They don’t – or at least didn’t – know they were interacting with the famous basketball star. This is something else entirely.
And it sure looks like Durant used his secret Instagram account to clap back at fans. Via SB Nation:
Durant denying that really makes it hard to accept this as him coming clean.
Mostly, Durant just opened himself to numerous follow-up questions:
Did he really dislike the Thunder organization? Did he really dislike playing for Donovan? If yes to either question, why? If no to either question, why say that? How does lying serve the fans he’s claiming he wants to engage?
While sipping from a can of Pepsi, Stan Van Gundy calmly explained to the assembled media that Magic management told him Dwight Howard wanted the coach fired. Then, an unsuspecting Howard walked up and put his arm around Van Gundy. Van Gundy slinked away, leaving Howard to answer questions.
That 2012 press conference was an all-time great NBA moment.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:
To hear Howard tell it, he has been the victim of more subtle misunderstandings than Larry David. The excruciatingly awkward press conference, when Stan Van Gundy confirmed that Howard was lobbying the Magic front office to fire him, only for an unsuspecting Howard to join Van Gundy and deny what the coach claimed? “That previous summer, the front office asked me about Stan, and I told them I thought he was losing his voice with the team. But they were the ones who said they should start looking for other coaches.”
Howard already admitted in 2014 he told the Magic he thought Van Gundy should have been fired after the 2011 playoffs. Howard even griped that Orlando didn’t listen to him!
I get that Howard is (again) trying to rehabilitate his image, but he has to do a better job of keeping his story straight.
Doug Collins burns out. Burns out his players, burns out himself. That was his reputation through 11 seasons coaching the Bulls, Pistons, Wizards and 76ers.
When Collins left Philadelphia in 2013, he declared he was done coaching. There was just too much pressure, he said.
Perhaps, Collins has found a role that better suits him.
Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:
In a surprise announcement, the Chicago Bulls have brought former coach Doug Collins back into the fold, naming him a senior advisor to Executive Vice President John Paxson.
Even among NBA personnel, Collins was a basketball expert in his time. Whether he has kept up in a rapidly evolving league is an open question.
It won’t hurt having his voice in the room. It might hurt if the Bulls lean too heavily on it.
Hopefully, everyone entered this arrangement for the right reasons. Paxson played for Collins in Chicago. Collins’ son – Chris Collins – coaches nearby Northwestern. An overreliance on comfort won’t yield positive results. The Bulls need forward-thinkers, not just familiar faces. Successful executives put in a lot of work and aren’t just hanging around to be close with family.
This hire probably won’t move the needle much, but there’s certainly a chance it could – in either direction.