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Former Warriors executive: Golden State tanked to get Harrison Barnes

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The NBA is so concerned about tanking, it passed lottery reform – to curb actual tanking or at least the perception of it.

But people in the league keep admitting to tanking.

The latest: Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, who was previously the Warriors’ assistant general manager

In middle of March 2012, Golden State had a better record than two Western Conference teams and every Eastern Conference team outside playoff position. Continuing at that pace would have given the Warriors just a 4% chance of keeping their first-round pick, which was top-seven protected. Far more likely, they would have conveyed the No. 10 pick to the Jazz.

So, Golden State traded its consensus best player, Monta Ellis, for an injured Andrew Bogut, lost 17 of its last 20 games and “fell” to the No. 7 seed in the lottery – nabbing a 75% chance of keeping its pick. The Warriors stayed at No. 7 and drafted Harrison Barnes.

Schlenk, via the CBS Sports Flagrant Two podcast:

We made that deal knowing two things. One, we’d never had a center in Golden State or a rim protector, when I was there anyway. So, with eyes on the future, if we can get him healthy, get him back. We shut Steph down at the time. And we knew that we had to fall into those bottom seven spots to get our pick, and that was really important to us. Tanking? I guess. It was a conscious decision we made to shoot for next year.

I think you have to, as a franchise, do what’s best for the franchise. And sometimes, that means securing your draft pick if you can.

I think the problem with tanking or the perception of tanking is when teams go out there from day and don’t show any intention of winning. We’re not doing that here in Atlanta.

Bogut was central to the Warriors’ defensive resurgence, and they sent Utah the No. 21 pick the next year. Barnes became a key player on Golden State’s 2015 title team, and the franchise’s rise with him and Bogut helped lure Andre Iguodala and eventually Kevin Durant in free agency.

This is the problem with tanking: It works.

It’s not the only way to win, and it doesn’t always work, though I’d argue that many teams that fail while tanking would fail through other methods of team-building because they’re poorly managed. There are also different types of tanking, Golden State’s seen as more permissible.

I define tanking as any decision a team makes that is at least partially driven by a desire to lose more in order to improve draft position.

The Warriors’ trade (and subsequent strategies down the stretch) clearly fit. So does the most-egregious example – the 76ers’ Process. But setting out a season to tank is rare. Doing it multiple years was unprecedented.

Yet, Philadelphia gets so much attention in these tanking discussions. What Golden State did – wasting the final quarter of its season once the first three quarters produced mediocre results – happens far more often. That’s what the league ought to fight against.

One possible solution: Eliminate the ability to protect draft picks within the lottery. That’d remove incentive for teams to nosedive for artificial – and highly important – cutoff points.

But I’m also unconvinced this is a huge problem. As Schlenk said, his Hawks aren’t tanking (not yet, at least). He wants to develop a winning culture. We’ll see whether that strategy is to their benefit, but many general managers take a similar approach. There’s a level of self-policing happening – even by prior tankers.

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.