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

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: