Let’s give a golf clap to Flip Saunders for handling Love trade well

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Flip Saunders couldn’t win.

You simply cannot trade a superstar, an elite talent and get equal value back.

Kevin Love is an elite talent (if you don’t see that it speaks to your hoops IQ) and he was forcing a trade — Love wasn’t coming back and everyone around the league knew it. That wasn’t Saunders’ fault — it was all the previous GM David Kahn who screwed up picks to put players around Love (drafting Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry and Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins) then insulting Love by not giving him a five-year max rookie contract extension — but Saunders could not repair the relationship. It was too far gone.

By the time of the playoffs and Finals this summer Love’s agent was working hard to get his client out of Minnesota and to a destination of his choosing, using he hammer of where he would and would not re-sign after this current deal is up. That started the build up.

By the time of the draft in June there a buzz and the feeling of pressure — the naive on twitter and some talking heads said, “Saunders needs to trade Love right now, the market is never going to get better.” But teams were low-balling Minnesota, thinking there really was pressure and they wanted to get the deal done sooner rather than later.

So Saunders walked away. He was patient. He knew the low-ball offers would always be there, he could wait for better.

In any negotiation, the guy with the power is the guy more willing to walk away from the table. Saunders was that guy. He took a page out of Masai Ujiri’s book when he had the same situation with Carmelo Anthony in Denver — be patient, let a trade market really develop, wait for someone to give you something you really want.

Better offers did come in, slowly. Chicago came in with Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and future picks, but that was not enough. The Celtics had a nice package of potential picks and young players, but Minnesota wasn’t ready to go that route.

Then the Warriors came in with a tempting offer but Saunders held out for their most prized rookie contract — Klay Thompson. Golden State wouldn’t do it. A team who has great former shooting guards in key decision making positions — consultant/owner Jerry West and coach Steve Kerr — did not want to give up on Thompson and pairing him with Curry. So Saunders waited.

Eventually, Cleveland threw Andrew Wiggins in a package. Most likely because LeBron James told them to — part of the reason he returned to Cleveland is he and his guys have a lot more power in the organization there. Once Cleveland got LeBron back they became a win-now team and Love fits that better than the developing Wiggins. Credit LeBron for being a smart GM here.

Now the Wiggins for Love deal is set, it just can’t be executed until Aug. 23.

But that worked for Saunders. If not an outright win, it was as close to it as he would get.

Saunders got what he needed — a potential elite player back. We don’t know how good Wiggins is going to turn out to ultimately be — he is incredibly talented but has a long ways to go — but Saunders got a young player who at the very least will be part of the future core of this team. If not it’s leader and cornerstone. And he got a guy on a rookie deal that he can control for a while (Wiggins will eventually sign some kind of rookie contract extension in Minnesota and likely be there at least seven years, maybe more).

Saunders also got Anthony Bennett, a former No. 1 pick who will never live up to that billing but showed at Las Vegas Summer League this year he can become a solid rotation big in the NBA. And he got a future first round pick.

Combine that with the potential of Zach LaVine (athletic but a lot farther to go in terms of game feel than Wiggins), plus the still young Ricky Rubio and others you might have something to build on in Minnesota. Saunders will look to move players of some value for assets now — J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and others — and start to build for the future. In the deep West there is no reason for them to get vets and try to get the eight seed, rebuild the right way. It’s about player development in Minnesota.

But the key part of rebuilding is getting the cornerstone piece, and Saunders got that.

Saunders couldn’t win, but he played this all about as well as one can. He deserves a nice golf clap for that.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B

Report: Wizards signing Donald Sloan

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The Wizards look like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Tim Frazier.

But they also looked like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Trey Burke and then Brandon Jennings last year – and look how that turned out.

So, even after trading for Frazier, Washington is still trying to increase stability behind John Wall.
CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The Wizards added some depth to their backcourt on Thursday by signing veteran guard Donald Sloan to a one-year deal, CSN’s Chris Miller confirmed on Thursday night.

The 29-year-old Sloan has played for the Hawks, New Orleans Hornets, Cavaliers, Pacers and Nets in a five-year NBA career. He spent last season in China.

Sloan isn’t much of a scorer, and he’s only a decent distributor. But he makes up for it with all-around adequacy, highlighted by his rebounding for his position.

The veteran will compete with second-year Sheldon Mac, whose salary is just $50,000 guaranteed, to be Washington’s third point guard.