Free Lou Williams?

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Kevin Love averages just 26 minutes a game, and the world is outraged. How could Kurt Rambis leave an elite rebounder and promising young big man on the bench for the pitiful Timberwolves? How dare he play Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, and Anthony Tolliver — all lesser talents than Love at this juncture — instead of the once and future rebounding king? It’s an injustice to Love, the Timberwolves, and anyone who is a fan of either.

Only, here’s the thing: if we’re trying to free Love from Rambis’ dungeon, we should probably be trying to jailbreak Lou Williams from his holding facility in Philly as well.

Williams, too, averages just 26 minutes per game, and if that persists, the world should, eventually, be outraged. So far this season (small sample size, rabblerabblerabble), Williams is averaging a remarkable 18 points per game on 10 shots, 46% shooting from the field, and just over four assists. He’s milking those 26-minute outings for all they’re worth, and if we extrapolate his numbers over 36, his scoring average jumps to 25. That per-minute scoring is 10th in the league among all players that average at least 20 minutes a night, which has Williams rubbing shoulders with a few guys named Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Martin. No big deal.

Lou’s situation is admittedly a bit different. For one, Doug Collins is new to the Sixers, and though a poster of incumbent point guard Jrue Holiday is probably on the wall in Collins’ bedroom (remember, he touted Holiday as a top-five PG this season), he’s still figuring out his roster. Given more familiarity with Williams, it’s conceivable that Lou’s minutes could resemble that of a starter by the end of the year. Additionally, Collins’ young tenure in Philly also means that there’s less of a precedent for injustice. This isn’t a long-standing issue, as is the case with Love.

It also doesn’t help that the two players are evaluated according to vastly different criteria. There are those who would hold Williams’ high scoring average against him, claiming point guard sacrosanct. How dare a player do what he does best! How dare Williams shoot efficiently from the floor and get to the line frequently in an otherwise distressing offense! He’s one of them combo guards, and apparently, we don’t serve their kind here.

Putting up gaudy scoring totals shouldn’t mean everything, but it still has to mean something. Perhaps we’ve come so far in our rejection of scoring averages as a definitive measure of a player’s worth that now we give them less justice than they deserve. Scoring still matters. Shot creation still matters. And Lou is making it all happen whether with the Sixers’ second unit and starters alike. Over the first five games of the season, Williams has been the Sixers’ top guard, but the possibility of him overtaking Jrue Holiday for the starting job — and the corresponding playing time benefits — remains slim. I know Lou has had his chance as the starter before, but is it so odd to think that a player could really start to come into his own at 24?

And for that matter, what did Holiday ever really do to take the job from Williams in the first place? Both are similarly effective playmakers, only Williams is able to better complement those abilities with his scoring. Both have an excellent handle, but Lou is able to use it to create shots for himself as well as his teammates. Both are defensive sieves, and don’t let Holiday enthusiasts, enamored by his height and long arms, convince you otherwise. Neither is a particularly effective defender, and both have plenty of work to do in their defensive development.

Jrue is 20, and a promising long-term prospect. Some may have been too willing to invest in Holiday’s stock late last season, but he’s athletic and talented. I’m just not sure we should write off Williams just yet, or naturally assume that Holiday will be the better player when all is said and done. We shouldn’t base too much off of a mere five games, and don’t misunderstand my intention: I’m making no call for immediate action. In fact, benching Holiday now could completely nuke his confidence and destroy any aptitude he’s shown up to this point. But should Williams’ numbers hold and Holiday’s hover around their currently decent but unremarkable level, switching their roles should be considered a legitimate possibility. I’m not sure it will be, but it should be.

Report: Chris Paul demanded trade after Rockets’ second round loss

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Things apparently aren’t as bad as they have seemed recently between James Harden and Chris Paul.

They’re worse.

Paul demanded a trade after the Rockets’ playoff exit because that relationship couldn’t be salvaged, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reports.

Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said.

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise…

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Paul is not easy to play with, just ask Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the highest IQ and most competitive players in the league, but that leads him to be relentless on teammates, continually pushing and correcting them, and that led to tension in Los Angeles.

Harden, who is the reigning MVP and finished second two of the previous three years (and that likely will be three-of-four after this year’s results are released), is a guy who is not going to put up with that.

At the heart of the issue is style: James Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul prefers a more fluid offense. Coach Mike D’Antoni, the guy who does not have a contract beyond next season (extension talks faltered), gives a lot of leeway to Harden. Paul, among other players, complained to D’Antoni about that. Nothing changed.

As a tandem they have made the Rockets the second best team in the West for two years running, and if not for CP3’s hamstring injury in 2018 they might both have rings. Do the injuries to Kevin Durant (who might leave the Warriors anyway) and Klay Thompson change their perception and approach to this relationship? Together they are a serious threat to win a ring.

There’s also the practical matter: Trading Paul is going to be very difficult and might require the Rockets to throw a sweetener (a pick or young player) in the deal to get it done. It’s not that CP3 is terrible — he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season, and he remains the best floor general in the game — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and most importantly is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money to take on.

The Rockets have talked to teams seeking a point guard (Phoenix, for example) but sources have said there has been little traction on any deal.

Just as the door to the Finals through the West swings wide open, the Rockets are stumbling and may not be able to walk through it.

Report: Knicks, who have No. 3 pick, to work out Darius Garland

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Duke forward R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. He wants to join the Knicks. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

Perfect match?

Maybe not.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Maybe this is just New York doing its due diligence. The Knicks could also be trying to drum up trade interest among teams that want Garland.

But this feels a little like 2015, when Jahlil Okafor was the consensus No. 2 prospect for most of the pre-draft process but D'Angelo Russell emerged late as the Lakers’ No. 2 pick.

Barrett is a flawed prospect. He didn’t hit jumpers efficiently at Duke. His decision-making is suspect. He’s too left-handed dominant. He rarely uses his defensive tools. There’s a lot to like, to be sure. Barrett has nice size, athleticism and physicality. He’s a good ball-handler and playmaker. He seems built for a leading role.

But it wouldn’t shock me if a team likes Garland more. The point guard is a knockdown shooter with the ball-handling and footwork to get that shot off. He needs work as a distributor and lacks Barrett’s defensive potential.

Garland might not be as good as Barrett right now. But Garland’s path to success might be a little more projectable.

Harrison Barnes declining $25,102,512 player option with Kings

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Harrison Barnes‘ salary was so high, he became a talking point in the debate about WNBA salaries.

But he’s so confident he’ll get a better deal, he’s leaving $25,102,512 on the table with the Kings.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Kings project to have about $60 million in cap space – likely more than they know what do with.

They could re-sign Barnes. By trading for him last year, they indicated they value him more than the rest of the league does.

Even if he settles for a lower salary next season than his player option called for, this could be the 27-year-old Barnes’ opportunity to secure a long-term deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and, even if he’s better at power forward, capable of playing small forward in a league thirsty for wings.

Sacramento could definitely use a player like him.

Can the Kings lure someone better, either this summer or – if they keep their books clean – a future year? Unless way overpaid, free agents have tended to avoid Sacramento. But the rapidly improving De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are leading a turnaround.

Barnes’ free agency could be a good litmus test for the Kings’ reputation now. Can they convince him to continue his role on a rising team? Will they have to pay a premium to keep him? Or does he just want to leave?

Report: Anthony Davis intends to receive full trade bonus

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The Lakers are reportedly on track to trade for Anthony Davis on July 6 – the date an important distinction in determining the Lakers’ cap space.

The other key question: Will Davis take his full $4,063,953 trade bonus?

The Pelicans will pay the bonus. It will count against the Lakers’ cap.

Especially considering Davis requested a trade, New Orleans could have pressed him to waive the trade bonus in order to accommodate him. Likewise, the Lakers – his desired team – could have made the deal contingent on Davis waiving the trade bonus.

Ramona Shelburne on ESPN:

My understanding is he doesn’t intend to waive that. He’s due the four million dollars, and he’s going to keep it. But again, as you just noted in that monologue, things can change.

If he takes the full bonus, Davis’ salary next season will increase from $27,093,018 to $31,156,971. And good for him. He earned the trade kicker in his contract.

This also supports agent Rich Paul’s contention that he puts Davis’ interests first while representing Davis, not catering to fellow client LeBron James. Because while the extra money is nice for Davis, this hurts LeBron’s Lakers.

The Lakers now project to have just $24 million in cap room. They can still get a helpful player or two, but $28 million would have gone further.

I wonder whether the Pelicans prefer to pay Davis’ bonus. Though a $4,063,953 check is nothing to sneeze at, tying up the Lakers’ cap space has value with New Orleans getting so many future draft picks from Los Angeles. Maybe the Pelicans have already made Davis getting his full bonus an essential aspect of this trade.

If not, the Lakers have a week before the Davis trade can become official to pitch free agents. Perhaps, if they line up certain free agents and show him the spending power of that extra money, Davis would waive all or some of his trade bonus.

But I wouldn’t blame him if he wants his money and puts the onus on the Lakers to build a strong team, anyway. That’d sounds a lot like another Paul client.