Andre Drummond

AP Photo/Chris Szagola

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.

Ish Smith says Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson is looking like old self

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There were a number of reasons the Detroit Pistons took a step backwards last season, but at the top of the list was Reggie Jackson. He was battling knee tendonitis, only played in 52 games after missing the first couple months of the season, and when he returned he was a step slower and his chemistry with Andre Drummond was gone. Stan Van Gundy started to lean on journeyman Ish Smith because the team was better with Smith out there.

Detroit has plans to return to the playoffs this coming season, but they will need more out of the point guard spot to do it. Smith told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press that Jackson is looking good — like his old self.

“He’s out there in California enjoying himself, but he’s getting better,” Smith, the Pistons’ backup point guard, said at the news conference to unveil the team’s new uniforms. “He’s getting back to the Reggie Jackson everybody knows and loves.”

Stan Van Gundy hopes so and is going to spend some time with Jackson soon.

“He’s doing well and feeling good, and I think feeling confident too,” Van Gundy said. “Things are going in the right way so I’m going to go out there some time in the next couple weeks and spend some time with him.”

Van Gundy said they have changed Jackson’s off-season protocol, slowly ramping him up for the season to make it easier on his knees and get them the rest they need. Smith seems to think it is working.

Van Gundy has also shopped Jackson around and searched for another point guard, don’t expect that process to stop either. If Jackson is healthy, he’s easier to trade.

Looking ahead: Who will make Eastern All-Star Team?

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This summer saw an almost unprecedented shift of All-Star level player talent in the NBA — and a lot of it went from the East to the West. Three All-Stars from a year ago — Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Jimmy Butler — all moved from the Eastern Conference to a now stacked Western Conference.

It led to the question: What will the All-Star teams look like?

Here is my best guess, starting with the Eastern Conference (we will get to the West tomorrow).

ALL-STAR STARTERS (two guards, three frontcourt players):

Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)

Comment: These are voted on by a combination of fan, media, and player votes. Irving may not be in the East come the time for All-Star voting as he has asked for a trade, however, as of this writing, he is still a Cavalier, so he will be treated as a member of the East. Three of these starters are the same as a year ago, with Hayward replacing Butler, and I have Thomas beating out one of the Raptors guards to start thanks to a push from Boston fans.

ALL-STAR RESERVES (two guards, three frontcourt players, two wild cards):

John Wall (Washington Wizards)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Comment: These are selected by a vote of the coaches, and this is where players who have strong first halves will be rewarded. Wall and DeRozan could be starters, they will be close with votes, something also true for the Knicks’ Porzingis. I do not have Carmelo Anthony on this list not because he could be traded to the West, but because as his game fades with age other players will pass him. Putting Embiid on the team implies he’s healthy enough to play at least 40 of the 50ish games played up to that point, which may be more wish than hope from me (and Sixers fans), but I’ll bet it happens. I think we’ll see Drummond take a step forward this season, so I have him making it. There are a host of other guards who could bump Beal or others off this list with strong first halves — Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, to name a couple — last year’s East lineup was guard heavy for that reason.

Head Coach: Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers). Remember, Boston’s Brad Stevens coached in 2017, so he is ineligible this time around, and even if Irving is traded I’m not sure any team is higher in the standings than the Cavaliers. It is possible Scott Brooks in Washington could slide in here if his team comes together and Cleveland stumbles, same with Dwane Casey in Toronto, but the bet here is Lue gets the call again.

Stan Van Gundy wants Andre Drummond to defend like DeAndre Jordan

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With an 8-foot wingspan and the ability to jump out of the building, Andre Drummond has the tools to be an elite NBA defender. He’s not. Drummond is improving slowly on defense, better recognizing how to handle pick-and-roll angles and where to be for help, but he has a ways to go.

Stan Van Gundy has a model for him — DeAndre Jordan.

Here is what Van Gundy told the official Pistons’ website.

“The step, to me, for Andre is to do a little bit of what DeAndre Jordan does and dominate the game at the defensive end of the floor. Become that All-Defense type of guy. Because he’s already a historically great rebounder and to add to that becoming a great defender and build his game from there and everything to be built around the basket – his pick and rolls, going to the rim, running the floor, all of that.”

Drummond is the best rebounder in the NBA right now, and a good pick-and-roll big man. However, last season 27 percent of his possessions came in the post and he scored just 0.73 points per possessions on those plays, struggling when he faces up. He is efficient when he can get to the rim, but he did that less last season.  Offensively the Pistons need to be better as a team (and that is more about shooting around Drummond than the big man himself). Drummond’s offseason surgery to remove a nasal blockage could help his endurance and get him putting up more 20-10 nights.

Van Gundy is right, however, the big stride for Drummond needs to be defensive. He can and should be elite. The Pistons were a top 10 defense last season, but if the goal is a return to the playoffs — and for Drummond to return to the All-Star Game — he needs to be a defensive force. Van Gundy has laid out the challenge, we’ll see if he can live up to it.

Report: Pistons interested in Kyrie Irving, but is there a deal to be had?

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Most of the teams in the NBA are going to call up the Cleveland Cavaliers and at least inquire about the availability of Kyrie Irving. Call it due diligence. Not all will be serious suitors, but they will at least call.

Detroit might be more serious than most. They have a strong inside game with Andre Drummond (who they have listened to trade offers for), but Reggie Jackson has not worked out at the point so far as Stan Van Gundy envisioned, and Irving would vault them up into the ranks of more interesting teams in the East. There is interest, reports Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

A person with knowledge of the Pistons’ front office told the Free Press recently that the organization is interested in the four-time NBA All-Star, who nailed the winning shot to clinch the 2016 NBA title for the Cavs…

And team president and coach Stan Van Gundy isn’t even trying to hide Pistons interest, telling the team website earlier this week “the Pistons have had some level of conversation with the Cavs.”

Van Gundy may be serious about trying, but either way, this leak looks good to the fan base, “see, we’re trying.”

The problem for Detroit — like with every team trying to get involved with Cleveland on an Irving deal — is finding a way to make it work.

Cleveland’s top priority in a deal is getting back a young, elite, blue-chip player on a rookie contract. Stanley Johnson is nice, but he does not qualify. The Cavaliers also want veterans who can help them win now, and maybe the only Piston who qualifies there is Andre Drummond (who makes more than Irving right now). There is no deal between the two teams directly that makes sense.

Which means bringing in a third team, and that tends to be where things fall apart. Ellis in the Free Press talks about a three-way deal with the Clippers that came up on ESPN where:

The Pistons received: Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
The Clippers received: Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson and a future Pistons first-round pick.
The Cavaliers received: DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Jackson.

The Cavaliers do not get the young player they want — call it LeBron James leaves insurance — in this trade. I’m not sure they do it. The Clippers might be willing to swap out centers who can’t hit free throws because they could lose DeAndre Jordan next summer where Drummond is locked up. But the Pistons would surrender Drummond, Johnson, Jackson and a future first-round pick to get Irving and Thompson, is that a good deal for them? I’m not sold.

Bottom line, the Pistons may be interested, but it’s hard to see how they pull off a deal. Something to watch, but don’t expect anything coming soon.