Saturday Starting 5: Injury Damage

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Today’s topic? Injuries that shape this season.

The Big Guy On Ice. Again.

All the talk this week was about Greg Oden having microfracture surgery for the second time on the second knee. It’s the kind of development which makes the hill that much higher for the Blazers to climb. Most annoyingly, it lowers the ceiling on the club. The Blazers have been up and down this season, but the thought was that if they could just reach their potential in the other areas of the game, then add a young, productive center like Oden, all of a sudden a championship seems less like a fairy tale. But with Oden on the shelf, the team not only has to lower their expectations for this season, but to reconfigure their vision of the future. The Blazers will need a new plan because Marcus Camby won’t last forever and they still need a true big to compliment LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Other Terrible Blazer Injury Situation

Oden is at least a conundrum the team is used to. They’ve been playing mostly without him for years. Brandon Roy having to toe the line on avoiding microfracture surgery is a pretty significant development. There’s been some clarification that Roy does not have bone-on-bone arthritis, but the fact is that his knee is pretty jacked. It’s not going to get much better, and you can’t help but wonder if the Blazers are hoping instead of thinking that Roy will be able to avoid injury. And in that instance, the Blazers’ season is pretty much over. The Blazers are pretty much at their breaking point with injuries. They can’t sustain any more hits to their roster, and we’re in November. It’s a long season, and they’re still having to deal with a superstar who just simply may not be the best he can be this season, or ever.

The Dynasty Undone

Yao is already on the shelf for two weeks. Already. And that’s a shame. What’s even more of a shame is that the Rockets can’t get into a rhythm with him being in and out. It just disrupts things and they’re trying to almost be two different teams which simply isn’t going to work. They need a player like Yao to work around so they have consistency when he’s not in. But finding players like Yao is simply too difficult. They can’t not have Yao, he’s too good. But his minute limit complicates things and makes it very difficult for them to be a complete team. It’s hard to see this era in Rockets history ending happily ever after.

The Jazz Addition

Mehmet Okur is due back within the forseeable future. It’s true that he won’t be back to full strength for a good long time after his Achilles’ injury, but getting Okur back to bolster the core of Millsap and Jefferson which has already proven effective is huge. It’s like the Blazers’ situation, only if Oden wasn’t as good of a rebounder and could shoot threes. It’s another weapon for a Jazz team that is already deep and clicking together. He could wind up as the difference between being at home or on the road for most of the first round.

The Championship Bruiser

Hey, take a look, the Celtics are the top team in the East. Looks like they’re just back to business. Yep, this team is really great, even if can’t really improve due to age or… oh, wait. They get Kendrick Perkins back next year. Yeesh. Imagine how good this team is going to be with Perkins as the starting center versus the two constantly banged up old guys they have now? Even Perkins at less than 100% is going to make them meaner, tougher, and more productive on the glass. It’s scary how good this Celtics team could be.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.