Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Eric Bledsoe finally traded, heading to Milwaukee. The Suns tried to get a good young player in a trade for Eric Bledsoe, but finally gave up and were willing to settle for a protected first-round pick. The Milwaukee Bucks, losers of three in a row (before the trade, now four) and without a secondary playmaker behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, needed to make a change.
And so, we have a trade. Bledsoe is now a Buck (he did not get to suit up Tuesday night), and in exchange, the Suns get Greg Monroe, an oddly-protected first-round pick, and potentially a second rounder.
This is a win for Bledsoe, he gets his wish and is out of Phoenix and playing for a team that should make the playoffs and play meaningful games (if they don’t, Jason Kidd will want to polish up that resume for the coming job hunt). This is an excellent move for the Bucks, who desperately needed another playmaker besides the Greek Freak, and they got a good one who also can defend and will just be a heady veteran in the locker room.
The Suns did about as well as they could realistically hope, considering GM Ryan McDonough had sent Bledsoe home and away from the team, killing most of his leverage. What the Suns got that was most valuable was the first round pick, but check out these protections: Phoenix gets the pick in 2018 if it is between 11-and-16; in 2019 the Suns get it if it falls between 4-and-16; in 2020 the Suns get it if it falls between 8-and-30; and if the pick has not conveyed before the 2021 draft it is unprotected that year.
Monroe is not going to be bought out by the Suns, rather they will rehab him and then try to trade him for another asset to help their rebuilding. He is now just a pawn in the game of life, a contract to be shuffled around (although he can score inside and help some teams off the bench).
2) Cleveland cares for a night, beats Milwaukee. Let’s take a look at the wins of the now 5-6 Cavaliers: Boston on opening night, then the improving Bucks, then after a little losing streak Wizards after John Wall and Bradley Beal talked some smack in the run-up to the game, then on Tuesday night the Bucks again. (There also is a win over the Bulls in there.) Notice a theme there? Any team that has the perception of being a threat to Cleveland come the playoffs, the Cavaliers rise up and play like they care and get the win. (For the record, the losses are to Orlando, Brooklyn, New Orleans, New York, Indiana, and Atlanta — all teams that are not seen as a threat to the teams at the top of the East.)
Kevin Love had maybe his best game of the year with 32 points and 16 rebounds (he seems to always play well against the Bucks), LeBron James had 30 points and nine assists, and J.R. Smith had 20 points and was 5-of-7 from three. Don’t think this was a sign things are turning around for the Cavaliers — they were still a mess on defense, allowing the Bucks to shoot 56.6 percent for the game, it’s just that their offense was good and covered up the problems. That is what we have seen in past years when the Cavaliers decided to take a break from defense in the regular season, they still won most of their games because the offense was that good. This season, with Kyrie Irving wearing green and Isaiah Thomas rehabbing still, the offense hasn’t been the same, and it’s not covering up the defensive flaws — but it did for one night Tuesday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 40 on the Cavaliers while taking just 21 shots. He’s a big winner from the Bledsoe trade because the man needs some help with shot creation.
3) Oklahoma City cares plenty, but that’s not enough and they lose to Sacramento. Through 10 games and 200 minutes together on the court, when Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony share the floor the Thunder have outscored opponents by 5 points. Total. All season. They have a net rating of 0.0.
The new big three era in OKC is still a work in progress. The team’s floor spacing is bad, there is a lot of “you take a turn attacking one-on-one, then I’ll go” turn taking rather than playing together, and we have not seen much of Olympic ‘Melo because the ball is stopping in his hands. We saw a lot of all that on Tuesday night when the now 4-6 Thunder fell to a Kings team that was struggling and 1-8. In the loss, the Westbrook/George/Anthony trio shot 15-of-54 (27.7 percent). Let’s tip our hat to the Kings for a quality win, behind 21 from Buddy Hield.
But the Thunder should be better than this. They have the second best defense in the NBA this season, but the lack of shooting and depth is canceling out all that big-name firepower on offense.
We should officially note here that when LeBron returned to Cleveland (2014-15) they started 19-20 and made the NBA Finals. Same with his first year in Miami when the Heat started 9-8. Over the course of the long NBA season, those teams started to figure out how to make the necessary sacrifices to win — in Miami Chris Bosh changed how he played to accommodate LeBron, while Love and others had to do that in Cleveland, and those players were far from alone. Guys sacrificed touches and points to focus on other parts of their game to help the team win.
Will Westbrook/George/Anthony be able to do that in OKC? If so, will they do it fast enough that George is happy and decides not to explore his free agent options next summer? Those were the questions going into this season about the Thunder, and 10 games in we do not have a definitive answer — but the ones we’ve gotten are not promising.