Chris Paul is simply the latest consumer of the NBA arms race that started in Boston

12 Comments

cpaul_sits.jpgIn 2007, the Spurs won their fourth title inside of a decade. They defeated a LeBron James-led Cavs team that featured Sasha Pavlovic as the fifth-leading scorer on the team. The arguable second-best team was the Phoenix Suns who would immediately begin a spiral based off of the hyper-reactive initial moves of Steve Kerr. The Mavericks were in there, with Josh Howard as a pivotal component, a player who now has yet to secure a team for next season.

The Spurs were masters of overcoming odds but were not considered dominant, despite their jewelry. There was parity, there was dilution, there was no true superpower.

And then the arms race began. In reality, we can trace all of this back to Joe Barry Carroll.  Carroll was such an attractive first round pick that the Warriors traded the rights to the third-overall pick to Boston. While Carroll would wind up flittering in and out of the league and Italy, the Celtics would use that third-overall on Kevin McHale in 1980. 27 years later, McHale would trade Kevin Garnett to the Celtics for a platter of players, the crown jewel of which was just traded for a series of late first-round picks.

Boston acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to go along with Paul Pierce. And a new superpower was born. The Celtics’ power was pretty evident from the start. Torching the league up and down. Until the new year. The Lakers, having barely survived a near-Kobe-trade-demand meltdown realized that they had to improve. That good wasn’t good enough. And then somehow, the Grizzlies helped create Voltron 2. With Pau Gasol in place, the Lakers immediately became #1a in the league. This was in addition to Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom, mind you. Later, the Celtics would add Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace. The Lakers would add Ron Artest for the MLE.

Good? Good was now average. Great was now “pretty good.” And elite was the standard.

And that’s how it went for three years. The Cavs would try and add value players without ever going for the home run. The Nuggets and Mavs would each make moves they thought would bring them to the elite level. More and more you’d hear the phrases “what they need to beat the Lakers/Celtics.” It was no longer about building a complete roster, it was imperative to get as much size and as much talent. That’s always the goal of building a team, right? Previously the idea was one superstar, one supporting star, and then role players. Now you needed multiple superstars just to compete.

Which brings us to this summer. After three years of watching teams with that kind of starpower win titles while they wallowed with one-star teams, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James elected to no longer stand by and watch other teams go to battle with that kind of firepower. They combined their forces and now have a team that should challenge those other elite teams. (Boston has to get old at some point, right? Right? Right?!)

And sure, the world hates them. Chicago. New York. New Jersey. Especially Cleveland, with the fire of a million suns. But past the terrible PR moves and the horrendous decision making and the woeful soundbites is a sense that these three aren’t trendsetters. They’re not doing anything unheard of. They’re simply taking the game they’ve been handed and upping the stakes.

Which brings us to Chris Paul. Paul has been a model citizen for years. In 2008, with the Hornets pushing the Spurs to seven games, the future couldn’t be brighter. But since then, he’s watched two things. He’s seen his own team spiral into the frustrating position Cleveland and Miami have been, and he’s seen three of his best friends team up to combat the team of older veterans he’s seen dominate the league. And Paul wants a piece. Paul understands the new world that Boston and LA have created, and wants a piece of it. Paul’s not asking for a trade to anywhere with solid collections of talent. He wants to slide into a contender. He’s seen the present, and the present means starpower.

Amar’e already made multiple pitches for another Big 3. The Magic are trying to formulate as such. And the Lakers and Celtics are still the favorites, along with the Heat. This arms race is in full swing. Driving up contract prices, making franchises desperate, and forcing small market superstars to position themselves on superteams.

Most blame selfishness, laziness, desperation for the behavior of this group of friends and their multi-star machinations. But in reality, they’re simply products of their environment. Chris Pauls’ potential trade was put in motion decades ago. You can even start with Joe Barry Carroll.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

0 Comments

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.