San Antonio Spurs v Chicago Bulls

The Extra Pass: Winners, losers from Bynum/Deng trade (plus Monday’s recaps)

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Winner: Luol Deng

Deng is going to a team that desperately needs him. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ small forwards have a PER of 9.2 and yield a PER of 15.5 to opposing small forwards, according to 82Games.  That’s a horrific net PER of –6.3. Of the 150 positions in the NBA (five per team), only three have have a worse net PER than Cleveland small forwards: Utah Jazz point guards, Sacramento Kings shooting guards and Milwaukee Bucks centers.

No longer forced to start Earl Clark or Alonzo Gee, two substandard options, the Cavaliers will feature Deng prominently. That should elevate his individual production.

Plus, Deng fills what could be a suddenly strong lineup with Kyrie Irving at point guard, one of C.J. Miles/Dion Waiters/Jarrett Jack at shooting guard, Tristan Thompson at power forward and Anderson Varejao at center. With Deng bringing everything together, the 11-23 Cavaliers should improve from here out, likely challenging for a playoff spot. That would bring positive attention to Deng for his leadership and winning pedigree, two traits many teams covet.

Not a bad opportunity heading into free agency.

Loser: Andrew Bynum

It was a longshot even before the Cavaliers suspended Bynum, but it remained possible Cleveland kept Bynum past this week’s deadline for 2013-14 salaries to become fully guaranteed. He still would have held trade value as a cap/tax reducer, given his completely unguaranteed 2014-15 salary (no way he was ever getting paid that). In exchange for keeping and paying him, the Cavaliers would have gotten a longer window to find maximum return in a deal.

Instead, Bynum is going to the Chicago Bulls, who announced they’d acquired “multiple draft picks, along with the contract of Andrew Bynum.” He’s not even an afterthought. His contract is.

The Bulls are definitely waiving Bynum and in doing so, the center will lose $6.25 million in unguaranteed 2013-14 salary.

Winners: Chris Grant and Mike Brown

Before the season, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made clear three straight trips to the lottery were enough for him. “I think there is an expectation that this team is a playoff contender,” Gilbert said.

For a moment, let’s put aside whether or not Cleveland – which certainly had enough lottery picks lately to build a strong young core but nailed only one (Kyrie Irving) before underwhelming on one (Tristan Thompson), blowing one (Dion Waiters) and potentially striking disaster on another (Anthony Bennett) – should suddenly give up tanking just in time for the best draft since 2003. Gilbert is the boss, and his underlings must try to appease the direction he sets for the team.

That’s why this trade helps the Cavaliers’ general manager, Grant, and head coach, Brown. Deng makes Cleveland more likely to reach the playoffs, which makes Grant and Brown more likely to remain employed.

Loser: Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau is all about winning. Winning right now. Not later, not once Derrick Rose gets healthy, not for the long term. Winning this very second.

That philosophy has fostered the Bulls’ incredible competitive spirit, but it has also led Thibodeau to play his top players big minutes and right into the ground over long seasons. When the Bulls were among the Eastern Conference’s top teams, that tradeoff made sense.

Now that Thibodeau has lost two of his top players – Derrick Rose and Deng, whom Thibodeau didn’t want to lose after the season, let alone during it – it’s quite possible the coach’s fiery attitude just drives him and his players mad. The Bulls are clearly tanking, and even if that stops with dumping Deng and never approaches the level of instructing players and coaches to give less than their best, it’s unlikely Thibodeau is on board.

A coach-GM rift quite possibly just got wider.

Winner: Jerry Reinsdorf

The Bulls owner will trim his payroll this season by shedding Deng, though Chicago must still pay Bynum a little more than $1 million. More significantly, the Bulls will avoid the luxury tax, offering bigger savings.

However, the biggest impact could – should – come in future years. Avoiding the luxury tax this season, one lost when Derrick Rose went down, makes a lot of sense. That will allow Chicago to exceed the luxury tax – which could happen if Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News is right and the Bulls also amnesty Carlos Boozer, leaving them room to sign a big-time free agent – without triggering the steep repeater penalties.

But that plan would require Reinsdorf spending the big bucks when it makes more sense, which is not a given. He could always collect this year’s savings and then try to save more in the future.

Losers: Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks

These four teams definitely want to make the 2014 playoffs. They’ve sacrificed future flexibility in order to increase success this season.

All four have traded a first-round pick they could surrender in 2014 without even making the playoffs. In other words, to varying degrees, tanking might not even let these teams reap the rewards of a high draft pick. They’re fully or nearly fully on the playoff-contention track.

But it hasn’t gone so well. None of the four has a winning record, and just two would make the postseason if it began today. Here’s how they, and the two teams in this trade, stand in the Eastern Conference:

5. Wizards (14-17)

6. Bulls (14-18)

8. Pistons (14-20)

———————–

9. Nets (12-21)

12. Knicks (11-22)

13. Cavaliers (11-12)

This trade obviously shakes up the postseason picture. The Cavaliers are more likely to make the playoffs. The Bulls are less likely to make the playoffs. But the magnitude by which Cleveland’s odds increase is less than the magnitude by which Chicago’s odds decrease.

Simply, that’s because the Bulls are starting in playoff position and the Cavaliers aren’t. Deng will obviously make the Cavaliers better, especially because he fills such a glaring hole for them. But Thibodeau will keep the Bulls playing hard and defending to the best of their capabilities, and that might keep them in the postseason race.

In other words, the Wizards, Pistons, Nets and Knicks must now fend off Cleveland while still combating a dangerous Chicago.

Winner: Derrick Rose

Rose didn’t want the Bulls to rebuild, and they’re at least positioning themselves to appease their injured star. If the Bulls were set on rebuilding, they likely could have gotten a better draft pick for Deng.

Instead, they settled for two second-round picks, the right to swap picks with Cleveland in 2015 as long as Cleveland is drafting after No. 15 and another pick that is being called a first-rounder. Here are the protections on that “first-round” pick, which originally belonged to the Sacramento Kings, according to RealGM:

  • 2014: top 12
  • 2015: top 10
  • 2016: top 10
  • 2017: top 10

If the Kings don’t improve to the point they’re drafting above that line, they’ll give send 2017 second-round pick instead of a first rounder.*

*As long as the 2017 second rounder doesn’t fall 56-60. If that happens, Sacramento doesn’t have to give up any pick.

The Bulls might be betting they’re timing the Kings rebuild just right, but that’s a dangerous wager. More likely, Chicago is making amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent – someone who can complement Rose immediately, rather than a draft pick who will need time to develop – more palatable.

But there’s still another step: The Bulls actually amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent. There’s a difference between it being workable and it being done.

That’s where Rose comes in. If Rose comes back strong, he can pressure the Bulls to spend the money they now have available to build an immediate contender around him. So, Rose has a chance at his preferred direction for the team – especially he still has the star power to demand it.

-Dan Feldman

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Timberwolves 126, 76ers 95: Minnesota does this — 10 of their 17 wins are by double digits. When their outside shots are falling (they were 16-of-26 from three) they become very difficult to stop. This game was actually close for a quarter and a half, but Minnesota’s bench started the rout with an 8-0 run midway through the second and Minny put up 70 first half points. This wasn’t a defensive struggle. Then Minnesota owned the third quarter, with Kevin Love scoring 16 of his 26 in the period and it was a 31-point game and garbage time entering the fourth. Philly looked like a team in its first game home after a 17-day road trip who just relaxed. They got 20 out of Thaddeus Young, which might help his trade value.

Nets 91, Hawks 86: In a battle of “which team can better survive the loss of their star” (Deron Williams, ankle, and Al Horford, torn pectoral both out) Brooklyn had Joe Johnson dropping 23 — including a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter — and he was key to creating decent shots and it got the Nets another win. Brooklyn has now won three in a row, while the Hawks have dropped three straight and are 2-4 since Horford got injured. Jeff Teague had 16 points but needed 15 shots to get there.

Clippers 101, Magic 81: That final score makes the game seem closer than it actually was. Seriously. The Cippers had an early 18-0 and were up 20-3 before you could blink, then led by 26 at the half and by 35 at one point in the third. This became a Clipper showcase dunkfest, which the fans at Staples loved. Give Darren Collison some props for leading the onslaught, he had 13 in the first quarter and 21 for the game, plus seven dimes. Also credit Orlando, which played poor defense and shot just 35.7 percent on the night.

—Kurt Helin

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. 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 Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”