Author: Matt Moore

Chicago Bulls' Deng goes to the basket against the Miami Heat during second half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago

Warriors’ latest small forward star target: Luol Deng


Andre Iguodala. Danny Granger. Rudy Gay. The Warriors have been chasing a small forward for weeks trying to get a hold on an All-Star upgrade at that position. You can recognize what they’re going for. Stephen Curry runs the show. The star small forward anchors the perimeter defense, Andrew Bogut handles the defensive load down low. Makes sense, and it’s a popular approach. So naturally the next name on their list is Luol Deng. From the Contra Costa Times:

Per the NBA rumor mill, the Chicago Bulls are entertaining giving up Luol Deng to get into the NBA draft lottery. According to sources, Golden State hasn’t talked with Chicago about Deng yet. But Deng is on the Warriors’ short list of veteran small forwards they’d be interested in.

Chicago would have to take some of the Warriors’ baggage in return, such as Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins, along with the No. 7 pick. The Bulls may get better offers. Trade talks, from the Warriors end, have been fairly slow. But things won’t pick up in earnest anyway until next week, as the June 28 draft nears.

via Warriors Notes: Could Deng or Dion Be Fits for the Warriors? – Inside the Warriors – with Marcus Thompson.

That last part is significant. The Bulls are up against the luxury tax, which owner Jerry Reinsdorf abhors terribly. He’ll avoid it at all costs. And if the Bulls are going into the tax, they’re going into the tax for Omer Asik. Even for a lottery pick at No.7, they are unlikely to surrender an All-Star and take on Andris Biedrins contract. They’ve already got to cover up Carlos Boozer’s weaknesses on a big contract. Jefferson’s not a bad fit but that’s still quite a drop down.

The Bulls will try and get into the luxury tax cheap, teams will try and get Deng cheap, and neither are likely to happen unless something funky goes down.

(HT: HoopsHype)

The Wizards and a future of risk

Wizards uniform, logo

You know what I’d be angling for, were I an NBA GM?

A boat. Because those guys make a lot of money and I want a boat.

I’d also be angling for the Washington Wizards’ 2014 and 2015 first rounders.

Getting future firsts is difficult in the NBA. NBA front offices take a lot of flak for their decisions, but in general, they understand that you never know what can happen and you want to hold onto those things. Most teams have a pretty good sense of what the future holds. But the Wizards? They seem like they understand what the future holds, but they’re just not considerably concerned with it. As long as they win now, that’s what matters.

The Wizards’ trade of Rashard Lewis and his buyout-able contract to clear cap space to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza wasn’t a horrible move. There have been considerably worse trades made over the course of the past five years by other teams, and a few by the Wizards. A lot of it comes down to this: if you’re going to get nothing for Lewis, and then have to overpay with long-term contracts for veterans to move forward as a franchise, why not get something for Lewis and get contracts which have a shorter (but not expiring) shelf-life?

It’s a reasonable approach. It doesn’t mean that they can’t draft the best player available with the third pick. It doesn’t mean that they can’t move forward with the remaining young players that they have. It just means they didn’t give out money to veterans who would have wanted five-year deals. It does, however, mean that they are in win-now-while-building-for-the-future mode. That’s a popular approach right now. The Denver Nuggets are a great example of that. They can compete right now, make the playoffs, excel, but they’re also set to make a big move if one comes available. The Houston Rockets are right below them in that regard. So that’s kind of the approach. “Get better for the future while also getting the fanbase to appreciate you not being terrible.” That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

The problem is that the Nuggets have affixed themselves with players of high value and low-cost with younger assets on cheap deals while the Wizards have gone after veterans on big money with more miles on them. This isn’t building an exciting team that can also swing for the fences. It’s building a tolerable team that is just waiting to die. It’s a mix somewhere between the 2010 Bobcats and the 2012 Sixers.

There are any number of risks here, my biggest fears hidden in the idea that the rookie they draft this year doesn’t need heavy minutes. It’s true that rookies don’t play 40 minutes a night. There’s always room. But consider the situation. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson would be entering into a situation where a coach who just made it out of the interim tag is coaching for his job, and has the option of playing a veteran who knows what he’s doing and knows how to win 30-35 minutes a night or splitting those minutes with a rookie who more than likely is going to need quite a bit of development. (If Bradley Beal falls to them, everything works out great and there are puppies and rainbows. This is a pretty likely scenario.).  In that case you’re risking limiting the kid’s confidence and hurting his development, all because you know that Trevor Ariza isn’t going to get completely lost chasing his guy off the backscreen or helping on the pick and roll recovery.

So that’s not a great scenario. But the Wizards feel like they need to win now. That they have to throw the fans a bone. And it’s true you have to get out of the cycle of losing and change the culture. But you do that by drafting quality players. I’m even fine with the Nene acquisition, that gives them the old guy to be a rock for this team. Throw in some low-minute veterans on affordable contracts.

But instead?

The Wizards are more than likely pleased that the contract for Okafor and Ariza expire just as John Wall is coming up for an extension. But consider that final year. Assuming neither player opts out (and  if they do, that’s actually worse, because now you’re already committed to the win now concept but just lost one of your valued veterans — Okafor has an Early Termination Option and Ariza a Player Option for 2013-2014), they’ll be going into that season with a 28-year-old Ariza, and a 31-year-old Okafor and Nene. If things go as planned, they won’t have a very good pick in the 2013 draft, because they’ll have improved enough to either escape the lottery or be at the very far reaches of it.

So you enter the final year of Ariza and Okafor’s deals trying to convince John Wall after having either made the playoffs and been vanquished in the first round under any conceivable matchup (does that team beat the Bulls without Derrick Rose, even?), or having won 35 games but barely missed the playoffs. You’re trying to convince John Wall to sign the extension (which he inevitably will, either during the season or in restricted free agency; guys don’t leave off their rookie years, just doesn’t happen). And so that’s when that team either has to sell out to try and make a big jump, or, if they haven’t really accomplished anything or if they get off to a bad start because of the way the team is constructed, they have to blow it up, tanking out.

So then that next year holds even more promise for a return to the high lottery as Nene turns 32 before the start of the season.

As long as you don’t trade them a player that makes them so considerably better that they improve to the point of avoiding that situation? You could wind up with quite the asset by obtaining a draft pick from Washington in either year.

These are a lot of ifs and contingencies. The Wizards could also flip Okafor with an ETO next year for a nice package or prospect. They could move some combination of players. John Wall could make the leap. But it shows you the danger of moving in this direction. The Wizards want to win now. But they need to be careful to make sure that they realize that if this thing starts to turn south, they need to bail for the friendly waters off Rebuild Island. The only sure way to develop into a respectable team long-term is through the lottery, to keep being terrible until you get the right combination of players to change things organically. The Wizards are trying to inject a techno-virus to change everything.

We’ll have to see if the patient survives the shock to the system.

Report: Hornets will match any offer for Eric Gordon

New Orleans Hornets v Phoenix Suns

One of the ways people found to discredit the Hornets’ trade of Chris Paul to the Clippers (as opposed to trading him to the Lakers for three old guys, one of whom is a space cadet) was the question of Eric Gordon’s free agency. Either he wasn’t good enough as a return trade piece, or if he was, the Hornets wouldn’t be able to keep him in restricted free agency. Which is a little nuts.

First off, players, especially stars, almost always re-sign with their team coming off their rookie contract. The money and years is pivotal for establishing the raise structure and financial security. It’s just what’s done. It’s exceptionally rare that a quality player with significant money on the table walks away from the extra year and raise structure he gets from re-signing.

Second, the Hornets have the ability to match in restricted free agency. From there it just comes down to whether his injury history indicates that there would be a reason not to match. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that that amount is apparently “more money than anything, ever” and that anything below that, the Hornets are matching and keeping the shooting guard.

But all indications point toward the Hornets making a concerted effort to re-sign their restricted free agent, shooting guard Eric Gordon.

New Orleans appears ready to match any offer Gordon might get on the open market, even if means extending him a maximum-money contract of five years worth $80 million.

via Trade gives New Orleans Hornets salary cap room for free-agent shopping |

Honestly, given his injury history and everyone’s assurance that the Hornets will match, especially after clearing off that dead weight from their cap in the trade with Washington (thanks, Wiz! Enjoy Trevor Ariza’s 3-point percentage!), it’s likely that the Hornets get a break on him. They may not have to put the full max down for him. If so, great. If not, they’ve got a star shooting guard to pair with Anthony Davis and whoever they get with the No. 10.

That’s a foundation you can build on. This isn’t rocket science. It’s nice to talk about Indiana or whatever, but the most likely scenario in all circumstances is Gordon playing in the green and gold next year. He’s not going anywhere.

Thunder will probably re-sign Scott Brooks… but if not, JVG and Phil are on the list

Scott Brooks

You know, for a guy who just won his conference, Scott Brooks can’t really get much respect. OK, he gets a lot of respect. But probably not as much as he deserves.

Brooks is of course without a contract extension, a free agent after June 30th, despite having just navigated a team so young it needs a parent to see films with the naughty bits to the NBA Finals. ESPN reports that Brooks and his agent are looking for a deal “north of $4 million per year” which puts him in line with what Tom Thibodeau reportedly wants. So what if the Thunder won’t pay it? What if they won’t go for the number of years, as ESPN reports is the hold-up?

ESPN also reports the Thunder have some, shall we say, back-up plans:

The reality is that Brooks and his bosses, after months of talks, don’t have a deal … and time is running out. And sources say that the Thunder, just to be safe, have started brainstorming in-house about whom they plan to pursue should negotiations with Brooks collapse. Two names, according to sources, that have come up in those discussions: ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and, yes, 11-ringed coaching free agent Phil Jackson.

You’d still be wise to expect an extension for Brooks in the near future.

via Thunder’s next challenge: Brooks’ contract – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

Those are some back-up plans. It’s likely that those names have been tossed out to try and drive down Brooks’ price. That’s the most likely scenario, that this is a bunch of smoke and mirrors in negotiation. But either one represents an interesting choice. Van Gundy is a bit of a worrier so that would be a radical departure, but his defensive schemes would do wonders in an area the Thunder need help. He brings credibility in a big way. But would he mess with the chemistry? You have to wonder if so many years away broadcasting have mellowed the former Knicks and Rockets coach.

Jackson… is a bit more complicated. Any deal with Jackson comes with ties to personnel control. And limitations on how much time he’ll be spending. And is Jackson really going to trek it to Oklahoma City that regularly, considering he’s already hanging out in remote Montana? The conservative nature of the Sooner State is likely an impact as well, it doesn’t exactly vibe with Jackson’s general outlook.

But Jackson’s reportedly been waiting on another “opportunity” and this would be a big one.

But, no. Brooks will be re-signed, because you don’t let the guy who took you to within three wins (or a couple of calls) of an NBA title walk away. Not when chemistry has been such a big contributing factor for the club, and not when the franchise ultra-star has the man’s back. It’s just not done.

But if Brooks is gone…

2012 NBA Finals Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade and the aura of two

Miami Heat's Wade goes up for basket past Oklahoma City Thunder's Westbrook and Perkins during Game 4 of NBA basketball finals in Miami

It’s not going to mean to him what it means to LeBron James.

It can’t. He didn’t go through the suffering year after year. He didn’t face the constant questions, the constant criticism. No matter what, Wade had cemented his legacy in his third season. He had a ring, and once you hit that level, you’re protected by shielding. That’s not to say Wade hasn’t taken criticism over the past two years. But the difference in what it means is significant. So no, this isn’t going to mean to Dwyane Wade what it means to LeBron James.

But in the aftermath of the Heat’s 121-106 win over the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship in the Triad era, we’re left with the revision to Wade’s legacy. Because two matters. And if you don’t think it does, talk to any member of the Boston Celtics, talk to anyone around the league. Multiple titles does put you on a different tier. One ring can be evaluated as a one-off, a sneak-in, it’s getting off the targeting of not having a title. But two? You’re legit. You’re someone you can build multiple titles around.

Wade’s path is different, and the Decision is always going to color that, but in a lot of ways, Wade’s second title was more difficult to accomplish than the first. Setting aside the level of difficulty the Heat faced in their opponents (and this should not take away from that ’06 Mavs team which was phenomenal), this was the first title where Wade had to figure out his role in a team, not the other way around. In 2006, everything was built around Wade. It was 15 Strong, but in reality, it was 14 complimenting one. And that’s a model for success. Putting a great player in a position to succeed has proven to be a path to the title.

But this was much more difficult. Wade had to figure out when to be the aggressor, the initiator, and when to move off-ball. He had to know when to operate as a decoy, and when to excel as a playmaker. He had to score, he had to play smart, and most of all, he had to defend.

These playoffs were far from the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade that we’re used to. He struggled with his shot, struggled with his touch, struggled with the toll on his body. But defensively, Wade was locked in. After a series of uncharacteristic whining episodes against the Pacers, he responded. It should not be understated that Wade had a fantastic series guarding James Harden. It’s spoken of as if Harden simply vanished, and like it was with LeBron James against the Mavericks in 2011, that wasn’t the case. It was a series of brilliant defensive adjustments and individual efforts that lead to Harden being limited, shut out, disappearing.

Wade may go down as the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and this series was a showcase of that. His unique combination of elevation and timing for a superstar, especially given his overall output, makes him a gamechanger. If the Heat’s offense settled into a hierarchy of LeBron-Wade-Bosh-everyone else, the defense was a cloud of talent that played together. Wade was a huge part of that.

Let’s also not ignore the elephant in the room. We’ve seen superstars run coaches and other stars out of multiple teams. Wade could have balked at the role he was tasked with, he could have blown up Erik Spoelstra or had Bosh traded. He could have created a power struggle in defiance. He didn’t. He kept his head down, responded to bad games with good games, and made the little plays. He became the best complimentary player since Scottie Pippen.

Wade became a villain publicly more than ever these playoffs, which is a shame because of his contributions off the floor to charity and his overall maturity. But maybe that was necessary for the Heat to establish the identity they needed. He supported James at every moment, supported his coach, even after yelling at him in a game, supported the franchise.

Wade joins the fraternity of players with multiple titles, and when he retires, that will be the first thing we discuss about him. He gave us flashes, the one-handed runner, the finish after contact, the explosive transition plays. Wade has already made noise about how “father time” and how he can see it in the distance. We may have already seen the best years of Dwyane Wade’s career. But there’s every indicationto believe we haven’t seen the best of Dwyane Wade’s teams.

The star and the teammate. Dwyane Wade, 2-time NBA champion.