Which teams are most impacted by LeBron James not touring for free agency?

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We told you earlier that LeBron would not be going on a worldwide tour of his free agent destinations as had been previously reported. But the question now is, which teams are most impacted by that decision? Let’s take a look at the candidates and rank the impact this has on their chances on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “no change” and 5 being “dramatically impacts.” 

New Jersey Nets: Like we filled you in earlier, the Nets will get first swing, and they’re bringing Jay-Z as their big bat. James decision not to tour the free agent cities helps the Nets quite a bit, evening the field. Why? Because they’re not in Brooklyn for another two years. James knows all the free agency spots, having visited then already. But trying to pitch him on the draws of Newark versus the other locations for two very long years was going to be a hard sell (no offense, Newark). Now the Nets can bring in their basketball impact, with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and the financial benefits of being involved with Jay-Z and Prokhorov. Two years from now this would have hurt the Nets. But meeting James in Akron may be a blessing in disguise in the Nets’ now slim-hopes of landing the King. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 3 (Positive)
Los Angeles Clippers: James hosting the Clippers in Los Angeles is a mixed bag for the still-headless club.  On the one hand, bringing James to the LA hot spots and showing him the gorgeous weather would have been a nice boost for them, the best part of their pitch, really. The team’s not very good, on top of being perennially snake bitten, so pitching James hard on the glamorous life in LA would have been ideal. On the other hand, not bringing him to LA means he won’t see how deeply that city is invested in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and how James will always be viewed as a sideshow to the other LA city. Plus, there’s always the chance of James being heckled in public by devoted Kobe zealots who can’t seem to get over comparisons of the two, despite them playing completely different positions with different skill-sets and games.The overall impact is negated by these conflicting factors. Let’s face it, the Clippers have no shot. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 2 (Neutral)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Home court advantage. With James not going to see the bright lights of the bigger cities, it means more time for him to be home, with everyone wanting him not to abandon them. The Cavs walk out of this arrangement in even better position to re-sign him. If you’re anything like me, whenever I visit a place, I’m constantly saying “I could definitely live here” whenever I’m having a good time (I said that precise thing about Omaha, Nebraska last night. I could not live in Omaha, Nebraska). With James not leaving town, it means that the other cities’ advantages in non-basketball matters will be negated. This is a huge asset for the Cavs, who will be relying on the fact that James has won 60 games with the clubs in the past two seasons, and home, after all, is where the heart is. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Positive)
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could show him the great dining and awesome Chicago way of life if James were to visit, sure. But unlike Miami or Los Angeles, they don’t have great weather. Unlike New York, Chicago isn’t the center of the cultural universe (though it’s definitely close in orbit). So what does this mean for Chicago? Simple. They can walk into the meeting and say “If you want your best chance over the next ten years to win a championship, you’ll choose Chicago. Thanks for your time.” and walk out. Okay, they won’t actually do that. But they could. With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose as the core assets, the Bulls can focus on basketball with James, and that is a huge leg up for them. Chicago itself has a global reputation that precedes it. The Bulls can use that as an advance and then focus on the team and it’s two-max-free-agent cap space. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Positive)
New York Knicks: Well, they’re screwed.  The Knicks had a luxurious feast being prepared by a top-name chef. Everything was in place to show James why he should choose the greatest city in the world. And now? Trying to sell the Knicks without New York is like trying to pitch a father of two on going to Disneyland from the bar. It just sounds like a lot of hassle compared to where you’re at. The Knicks feature a series of swapped picks over the next few years, and their next best player is a young Italian sharpshooter named “The Rooster.” Mike D’Antoni may have to resort to offers like “I’ll make sure you break Wilt’s scoring record” or “We can get you a sextuple double.” This is a pretty big disaster for Knicks fans. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Negative)
Miami Heat: It has not been a great week for the Heat. First, the Chicago Bulls managed to dump off Kirk Hinrich’s contract, meaning they can now offer nearly two-max free agents, the same as the Heat. Then this news, which devastates the Heat’s chances. Let’s face it, the Heat are clinging to two things. 1. If James comes to Miami, Dwyane Wade will re-sign. And that’s still a very good pitch. And 2. the weather. That’s it. The team is in complete ruins, having dumped off everyone to make room for free agents, except there’s no guarantee of there being anything to surround the two big fish. Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are literally the remaining core. And when you shape that up against the other teams vying for James? Only the Knicks are in worst shape. When the Clippers can show they have a roster closer to a championship than you do? You need the weather. And oh, was the weather a big deal. Throw in the friendly tax laws, which James will be reading on some sort of PowerPoint presentation instead of seeing in action, and the Heat are still one of the top bidders, but this is not good news for them. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Negative)

Warriors, Nuggets battle for first in West

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Playing in big games has become the norm for the Golden State Warriors.

Not so much for the Denver Nuggets.

Tuesday’s matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference is new territory for Denver. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Nuggets have been rebuilding and retooling, not competing for titles, but they have arrived this year and are challenging to be the best team in the Western Conference.

The winner of Tuesday’s game in Denver will sit atop the conference standings. Denver (29-13) has been up there for a while now, but the Warriors (29-14) might yet find another gear in the second half of the season as they pursue a third consecutive NBA championship.

They are about to get a new, big piece when DeMarcus Cousins returns this week.

The center, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, tore his Achilles almost a year ago. His season debut is projected to come on Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers. Golden State is expecting it will take time for Cousins to get fully immersed and integrated into the offense.

“We’re excited, but it’s a little daunting, too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not going to be simple just to plug him in. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He knows that, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The Nuggets have a big enough task stopping Golden State’s other stars. Guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP, hit 11 3-pointers in a 48-point effort to beat Dallas on Sunday, and then there’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to worry about.

And the Warriors have a revenge factor to use. The Nuggets beat them 100-98 in Denver on Oct. 21 when Juancho Hernangomez blocked Damian Jones‘ layup at the buzzer.

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level lately, especially at home, where they are 18-3 and have won their last 12. The latest was a grind-it-out 116-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, which might have been a perfect tune-up for the Warriors.

Denver has its own star power in center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic, averaging team-highs with 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, had consecutive triple-doubles last week and then clocked in with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Portland.

With or without Cousins, Golden State will have a tough time handling the Serbian. But the Warriors are best when they force teams to adjust to them, and they come at teams from different angles. One night it could be Curry, the next Durant. When tuned in, Golden State is hard to beat.

The Nuggets are ready for the challenge after getting everyone’s best this season.

“As teams give us their best shot because we’re No. 1 in the West right now, everybody gives the Warriors their best shot,” said Murray, who is averaging 18.5 points. “We just know we have the home court, and we beat them last time here.”

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the MVP race, other NBA mid-season awards

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Patience is not the NBA community’s strong suit — we were talking MVP race the first week of the season.

Now, however, it’s time. Teams are more than halfway through the season and we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start discussing who is the frontrunners for all of the league’s end-of-season awards.

Is it James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP?

Can anyone challenge Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year?

It’s a deep field for Coach of the Year, but is Mike Budenholzer the front-runner and can Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger or someone else catch him?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports talk about their picks at this point of the season and who is in the running long term.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan: Andre Roberson ‘not anywhere near playing’

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When Andre Roberson – who ruptured his patellar tendon last January then suffered a setback in October – suffered another setback in November, the Thunder said he’d miss at least six weeks.

That was more than six weeks ago.

Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman:

What a disappointing year for Roberson. He just can’t get healthy.

Even already possessing the NBA’s best defense, Roberson would help the Thunder. He’s a lockdown perimeter defender. Paul George has stepped up defensively, but a George-Roberson wing pairing would scare the daylights out of opposing offenses.

That said, Roberson is a tricky fit due to his dismal shooting. He’d disrupt Oklahoma City’s offensive spacing. The Thunder would need time to adjust, and if Roberson isn’t close to returning, there might not be time to establish chemistry before the playoffs.

George, Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines and Hamidou Diallo have been fine on the wing in Roberson’s absence. Continuing to rely on that group sans Roberson doesn’t maximize Oklahoma City’s production, but at least it’s a simple and workable solution.

Rumor: Grizzlies could trade Marc Gasol before he opts out and leaves next summer

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The Grizzlies have been unwavering in their desire to keep Marc Gasol. Likewise, Gasol has consistently pledged loyalty to Memphis.

But with the Grizzlies (19-24) slipping to 14th in the West and Gasol holding a $25,595,700 player option for next season, maybe both sides are approaching a breaking point.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

I doubt Gasol, who’ll turn 34 this month, would draw a higher salary in free agency than his $25,595,700 player option. But maybe he could get a multi-year deal that provides more overall compensation than he’d get opting in then testing free agency at age 35.

He also might value getting to a better team.

Gasol has sometimes sounded impatient with Memphis getting younger. He was clearly proud of the team’s veteran core.

The Grizzlies appeared intent on winning as much as possible with Gasol and Mike Conley rather than rebuilding. So, there seemed to be enough overlap in vision between the organization and Gasol.

But Memphis also just hit on its 2018 lottery pick, drafting Jaren Jackson Jr. No. 4. Jackson could be the Grizzlies’ next franchise player and convince them to shift gears. A core led by Jackson and whatever assets are acquired for Gasol could have a nice future. Ditto if Memphis also trades Conley, who’d make less sense on the team sans Gasol.

Remaining competitive with Gasol and Conley isn’t the worst place to be. The Grizzlies already have a major future building block in Jackson. They can groom him while winning enough to keep fans entertained. But that plan would fall apart if Gasol opts out and leaves.

So, being proactive could make sense.

The first step should be assessing Gasol’s commitment to Memphis. If he already knows he wants to leave next summer, I doubt he’d mind getting traded elsewhere now. An honest conversation about the future could serve everyone well.