C.J. McCollum

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Everyone is losing their mind about Carmelo Anthony and Lonzo Ball’s ESPN rank

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It is early September and so you know what that means. Soon it will be team preview time! I know that because we are already deep into the early season rankings for players.

This typically results in some lively conversations, including several that include NBA players themselves. Usually, the big ruckus is all about some player who feels they are ranked too low. The noise is even worse when that player has a considerable fan base behind them. This has not changed in 2017.

Enter Carmelo Anthony.

According to ESPN’s “NBARank” for NBA players, the New York Knicks forward is ranked behind Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. Carmelo came in at 64th overall and Ball is just under him at number 63.

This got Anthony a bit ticked off, and he took to his Instagram account on Tuesday to let fans know how he felt.

A bit of a warning for NSFW language in the post below.

Via Instagram:

That sounds about right in terms of a reaction from a potential Hall of Famer being below a rookie who has yet to play an NBA game.

Meanwhile, other players are upset not only about Anthony’s ranking but how they have stood up in rankings at other outlets, including Sports Illustrated.

One of those players is Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum.

McCollum was arguably a better player for the Trail Blazers last season than star guard Damian Lillard (mostly due to a nagging injury) but he came in at just 39 on SI’s list — two spots below Anthony.

That’s certainly an interesting idea from McCollum, although it does trigger the question that at least one journalist has asked and that’s why any players in the league pay attention to these rankings at all.

I’ll let you peek behind the curtain here a little bit in case it’s not obvious: what’s really happening with these lists is an attempt to generate page views and chatter online. It’s not any more complicated than that, and it’s not very subtle, either.

Ranking individual players against each other before a game has even been played is ridiculous. Rankings also don’t make sense due to positional need, style, and team construction. They really don’t make sense within the world of professional team basketball, especially once you get below a certain threshold.

You could point out that McCollum was a journalism major, but he and many others don’t have the simple industry experience to suss out what is really happening here. These rankings are a thought experiment dedicated to draw the kind of reaction that McCollum expressed. It happens literally every year. Everyone lost their marbles when Kobe Bryant came in at No. 93 in 2015.

Seriously, you can just Google this stuff.

Should you take the ranking seriously? No. Neither should anybody else. This is part of a post-Twitter culture where we rank everything from fruits to Kanye West albums, where the answer is never clear and that fact doesn’t matter. It’s malleable and subject to opinion.

And, while this may come as a shock to many, there is no vast conspiracy against certain players in the NBA. When it comes to analyzing statements by writers — just as you were taught in college — it’s best to understand the environmental (or explicit) biases of writers rather than to proclaim organizational or industrial sabotage.

Things like original rooting interests, beat coverage, what other sports they cover, what time zone they’re in, and other factors all affect how a writer sees a player — or whether they even watch them at all.

That’s before we even get to the way that the ESPN NBA rank actually works. Without getting too dull, it simply functions on a player vs. player voting system where writers vote which player is better between two options. ESPN then uses a model to figure out where players rank based off of the head-to-head voting results.

Just another way that computers have ruined sports if you ask me.

So no, you shouldn’t be worried about whether or not Carmelo Anthony is ranked lower than Lonzo Ball. My own eyes tell me that even given Carmelo’s shortcomings, he is still a “better” player than Ball.

What does “better” mean? That question is the subject of much of the basketball writing you read that has any value today. It’s one that is incalculable, subjective, and difficult to ascribe to even a whole set of statistics.

If you think Carmelo is a better player than Ball, then do what you can to enjoy watching him when he plays, wherever he does end up playing.

Mark Cuban takes exception to C.J. McCollum’s trolling of Mavs

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C.J. McCollum — and the people around him — have had a little fun putting together a “Law & Order” style “victims” video series he has released on Twitter. Each one shows a victim of a great play by McCollum from last season (so there is a long list of potential targets — McCollum had a monster year).

The “victim” in the latest video? Dallas’ Wesley Matthews.

Mark Cuban was not going to let his guys get trolled.

Cuban has a point. In four games against the Mavericks, McCallum averaged 20.5 points per game (down from 24 for the season), shot just 29.5 percent from three (42.1 percent) and had a true shooting percentage of 55.9 (58.5). The Mavs kept him in relative check.

McCollum knew it was all in good fun.

Report: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum did “good job of recruiting” Carmelo Anthony

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According to every report and every source, as of right now Carmelo Anthony will only waive his no-trade clause for the Houston Rockets.

That doesn’t mean plenty of people are not trying to get ‘Melo to broaden that list. The Knicks certainly are. So have been the Portland Trail Blazers, in the persons of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN Radio’s The Russillo Show,

Wojnarowski had said before that Portland was a dark horse in the chase.

Lillard and McCollum have been public about it and worked hard to get Anthony to put Portland in the mix. So far to no avail, but the pair apparently has not given up.

Portland has the salary to make a trade work, particularly if the Knicks take on Evan Turner plus another rotation player, although with Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. on the roster that may not work for New York. To match the salaries the Blazers could do Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu’s and Ed Davis, plus the Blazers can throw in picks and maybe one of their recent draftees. But I can’t see the Knicks taking on Leonard. Also, if the Knicks want a quality young player or if the Trail Blazers want to shed Leonard they will need a third team.

You could ask at this point how picky can the Knicks be, unless they want to bring ‘Melo into to training camp? However, GM Scott Perry has made it clear the Knicks are willing do just that.

All of this is fun speculation, but also moot if Anthony doesn’t add Portland to his list of destinations. So far, he has not.

 

With Allen Crabbe in Brooklyn, what do the Blazers do now?

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Allen Crabbe is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, this time for good.

The Portland Trail Blazers traded Crabbe to the team that signed him to a massive four-year, $75 million restricted free agent deal in the summer of 2016. In exchange for Crabbe’s services, the Trail Blazers received Andrew Nicholson, a struggling young big man who Portland will reportedly waive using the stretch provision.

The move gets the Blazers closer to the tax line, shaving off an estimated $43 million off of their luxury tax bill. That’s the primary motivation for this trade of a young, talented 3-point shooter and it sort of begs the question: Just what are the Blazers doing?

To understand the Crabbe trade in context, you have to go back to last summer. Portland was in the hunt for several big name players, including Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and Chandler Parsons.

Portland, never a big free agent destination, missed out on all three, instead having to panic at the last second. The Nets extended a huge offer sheet to Crabbe on July 7, the same day that Portland agreed to a similarly huge contract with Evan Turner.

With their free agent targets gone, Portland had to do the next best thing: retain talent.

After signing Turner, the Blazers matched Crabbe a few days later. They also signed contracts with Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless, and extended C.J. McCollum. Between Turner, Leonard, Harkless, and McCollum the Blazers have committed $62 million to just four players in 2017-18. That’s after wiping Crabbe’s $19 million off the books.

There’s little doubt President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been trying to find trade suitors for Crabbe once he got past the RFA trade moratorium. Likewise, the team seems to have soured on Leonard, coming off of a shoulder injury and who told NBC Sports last season that he didn’t feel fully healthy until the end of winter.

The team was massively disappointing compared to their magical run in 2015-16. Still, there hasn’t been reason to panic in Oregon given that Olshey’s plan with this team since last summer was to swap their assets for a powerful starting lineup.

That plan began to flounder when Crabbe didn’t play up to expectations and when Leonard and Harkless didn’t show continued growth on expectations from seasons past.

Crabbe is an excellent 3-point shooter, but he is also thought of as a potentially great defender. In 2016-17 he looked lost at times on defense, especially when it came to defending top-level players or when he was in weak side situations off the ball. His value plateaued.

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That’s to state nothing of the rest of the team’s performance, specifically by Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu was vastly important to Portland’s bottom-feeding defense, but he became a liability as a 3-point shooter, allowing teams to help off of the pick-and-roll involving Lillard and McCollum. Turner, never a good fit on paper, didn’t really figure out how to play with the team until he returned from injury later in the season. Rumors around Portland have been that Turner has been favored over Crabbe to remain with the team because of the ball-handling relief he could bring to Lillard and McCollum, a point that is largely moot considering his outrageous salary. Jusuf Nurkic came at the deadline, and was a savior for the team until he fractured his leg late in the year.

Portland’s first cause for concern came during June’s draft. Olshey, flush with three first round draft picks, a burgeoning guard in Crabbe, and several players with deflated trade value, could not find a suitable deal. Olshey had to settle, trading two of his first round picks to move up and take Gonzaga’s Zach Collins as Leonard’s replacement.

That move signaled that Portland’s assets weren’t as valuable as Olshey was hoping they would be. Part of that is due to the performance of the players involved, and part was due to the lower standing of Portland’s draft picks. There’s also something to be said about the NBA’s cap not expanding to the level teams projected, making the salaries of Turner, Crabbe, Leonard, and Harkless less palatable.

This is how we end up with a talented but flawed young player like Crabbe getting moved for a salary dump and a trade kicker that would put them back into the luxury tax if utilized.

No doubt Olshey’s expectation when he matched — which was the right thing to do, by the way — was to use him and his picks in a future deal to return a third or fourth piece to the starting lineup for Portland. But the tone has swung, and now many are suggesting it was commendable that Olshey did not have to include a first round pick in order to offload Crabbe. That is really a head-scratching way to look at things, and a huge swing in expected value.

Portland is in a tough position given that none of their recommended moves from last year seem to have gone their way. Still, Olshey has been a good GM for the Blazers. He spun wheat into gold by trading for Robin Lopez, and grabbed Nurkic, a potential franchise building block center when he’s healthy for a non-championship caliber big man in Mason Plumlee. He locked down Aminu on a descending salary deal. He has done quite a bit.

Portland still has the ability to be a trade partner in deals including Carmelo Anthony, which could net them usable players or potential future assets. But what is getting harder to understand is how Portland is going to get any better outside of the roster they have now given salary considerations, team fit, and ceiling.

Drastic internal development or relenting on either Turner or the Lillard-McCollum backcourt pairing are likely the only two realistic ways the Blazers will be able to make a dent next year. Or perhaps fans in Portland can hope that Olshey will be able to work his magic yet again and turn one of their role players into a playoff spot.

The 2017-18 season has been weird enough as it is. Portland can head south of their competition or finagle their way to the postseason. At this point, neither would surprise me.

Report: Carmelo Anthony willing to waive $8 million trade kicker for Rockets

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Carmelo Anthony does not want to return to the Knicks. The Knicks want to trade Carmelo Anthony. The Houston Rockets would like to trade for Carmelo Anthony.

So far all that will has not gotten a deal nearly as close to done as has been reported, I was told by sources. There are major hurdles, and the Knicks don’t like the offers they’ve gotten so far, which is why they pulled back (not because of the Scott Perry hiring or some desire to change Anthony’s mind). As has been reported before, Anthony is willing to waive his no trade clause for the right team to get the deal done, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on The Jump.

“My sources tell me he’s willing to waive the trade kicker, which is worth around $8 million, so that makes a little easier for Houston to do a trade.”

That’s nice. It doesn’t solve the core problem with a Rockets’ trade.

The Rockets are over the cap so the only way this trade gets done is they send out enough salary to match and create space for Anthony. The Rockets could do that with a combination of Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, and some expiring deals, but that cuts way too deeply into the roster and hurts the Rockets more than it helps. What the Rockets need to do in this trade is move Ryan Anderson, and his three-years, $60 million — except the Knicks don’t want that contract on their books (even though Anderson is a good player when healthy). So now the two sides are trying to find a third team that would take on Anderson’s contract, but the Rockets are going to have to give up sweeteners — a couple first round picks or a pick and a quality young player — that they don’t have to get the deal done. So enter a fourth team to get the sweeteners, but that team will want things back, and quickly the house of cards falls apart.

On top of all that, the Knicks still don’t think they’re getting enough back in the trade to want to do it. Yet, anyway.

Over on the left coast, there is Portland saying “look at us, look at us!” They would be willing to trade for Anthony, as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have made clear.

One massive problem with that: Anthony has not been interested in waiving his no trade clause for anyone but Cleveland and Houston.

If he changes his mind — and that’s a huge, unlikely “if” — maybe a deal could be found. The Blazers already have a top-five payroll in the NBA (may be top two when all is said and done) and that means they have to send out salary as well, someone like Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard (moving Allen Crabbe is the dream, but also highly unlikely). The Knicks could have interest in Turner, the Blazers have picks to throw in, and if a third team picked up Leonard maybe we’re close to something. But until Anthony makes it clear he would accept a trade to Portland, something he has yet to do, this is all a moot exercize.

But hey, Anthony will waive his trade kicker. So there’s that.