Charlotte sends Gerald Wallace to Portland for picks, savings

2 Comments

Gerald Wallace for Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, and two future first round picks. If we reduce the trade between the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers to that simple form, both teams did well for themselves. The playoff team acquired a talented piece to complement their already existing core, and the rebuilding club cleared cap space, saved money, and acquired draft picks. Yet if we bring that fuzzy mess into focus, questions of short and long-term strategy seem to loom over any fulfillment of those teams’ general, immediate goals.

Portland needs to restructure their team around LaMarcus Aldridge, and acquiring Wallace isn’t too bad of a start. He’s an incredibly versatile defender who should give the Blazers a lot of lineup flexibility. However, for Portland to field their most effective lineups — say, Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Wallace, and Aldridge, for example — they necessarily have to play Wallace at a position he’s averse to playing and put Aldridge in a full-time position battling against opposing centers. Such a lineup decision isn’t inherently bad, but it does introduce quite a few questions. The biggest may be what exactly becomes of Marcus Camby upon his return; the positional fluidity of Wallace, Batum, and Aldridge creates a ton of interesting possibilities, but Camby has historically made such a profound defensive impact with the Blazers that it would be difficult to deny him major minutes.

However, assuming that Wallace introduces any kind of minute/positional crunch could be wishful thinking. Wallace’s production has declined rather sharply this season, primarily because of his complacency within Charlotte’s offense. His field goal percentage had fallen to the lowest of his Bobcats career (.433), in part because Wallace is taking (and missing) more jumpers than ever before, and getting to the rim less and less. This season’s Wallace has not been an accurate representation of his Bobcats career; he’s capable of more, but whether he’s willing to provide that dynamic slashing for the Blazers has yet to be determined. In principle, Wallace could be an interesting piece for Portland. But if we take him at face value based on his performance this season, it would be a stretch to see him as anything more than a good defensive addition and boost to the Blazers’ wing depth. Even then, losing Cunningham, Przybilla, and Marks obliterates Portland’s rotation of bigs, and puts Camby and Aldridge on an island.

There’s no reason for Portland not to make this trade, but for the moment it relies on the Blazers playing a lot of small-ball and Wallace reversing course mid-season. It’s palatable as an idea, but could be very different when we see the product on the court.

Charlotte received two “future” first round picks as the meat of their return, with Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, and Sean Marks included as trimmings. Przybilla embodies the savings ($21 million over the next two seasons, compared to the Bobcats’ total had they retained Wallace) the Bobcats always crave, and cutting that kind of salary (combined with possibly moving another player or two in the off-season) puts Charlotte in a more flexible position moving forward. That said, a true rebuild doesn’t begin for the Bobcats until Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson are off the roster.

The timing (and possible protectino) of the two first round picks acquired also greatly affects the outcome of this deal for the Bobcats. Michael Jordan’s club is in need of serious prospects; Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Henderson are decent pieces, but purely complementary ones. There is no Bobcats core, and teams in such a position should be in constant pursuit of finding even a single piece to begin building around. If it seems like the Bobcats are rudderless, it’s because they are.

The fact that the picks acquired are described as “future” first rounders is slightly troubling, if only because Charlotte could sure use some help this summer. Whether picks or prospects, the Bobcats need some kind of infusion of talent, and this deal may not even begin to pay off for Charlotte (in terms of actual players) for a few seasons. Savings and cap clearing are great, but the end goal is always to make the team better. The Bobcats set themselves up to maybe start improving down the road, but the actual rebuilding process won’t begin immediately.

Damian Lillard on players keeping strict bubble: ‘My confidence ain’t great’

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA is creating a bubble for its players at Disney World. Anyone who enters the bubble must pass multiple coronavirus tests beforehand. Everyone inside the bubble will receive frequently coronavirus testing and be distanced from people outside the bubble.

So why does it matter that coronavirus cases are rising in Florida?

Because the bubble has vulnerabilities. And if the bubble is penetrated by people who come into contact with the surrounding community, their likelihood of having coronavirus affects the odds of them spreading coronavirus within the bubble.

Disney employees who enter and exit the NBA campus (and NBA commissioner Adam Silver who plans to do the same) are required to stay distanced from players, but could get too close or even spread coronavirus via surfaces. Players could suffer significant injuries that require them to seek medical attention outside the bubble.

And players could sneak out of and back into the bubble or sneak in someone.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt that all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

“I know there’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be: What time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for game day. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”

“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said.

Why are they playing? Money. A lot of money.

The restrictions are cumbersome. Five-on-five basketball games are generally an unsafe activity amid this pandemic. To counteract that, the NBA must implement tight protocols that greatly minimize the risk of anyone playing with coronavirus.

Will players abide? Lillard knows NBA players well and has doubts, which is why he’s taking extra precautions by staying in his room so much. There are videos and rumors of players not socially distancing.

If caught leaving the bubble, players will face a 10-day quarantine. That’s a strong disincentive.

But the temptation to live freely is strong, too.

Though many voiced reservations, players signed up for this. Hopefully, they follow the rules designed to keep everyone in the bubble safe.

They have at least one doubter, though.

Doc Rivers: Lou Williams expected to join Clippers for restart

Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Lou Williams
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Lou Williams is expected to join the team for the NBA’s restart in Florida.

Williams has described himself as “50-50” on whether he would finish out the pandemic-interrupted season because he didn’t want to distract from the ongoing push for social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

“Obviously, up until we get on the plane, anything can happen,” Rivers said during a video conference with media Wednesday. “But I do expect Lou to be with us. I would be very surprised if he’s not.”

Williams, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 60 games before the league shut down in March due to the coronavirus.

Rivers said he doesn’t think any of the Clippers are opting out from resuming the season. The team heads to Orlando, Florida, on July 8.

“But listen, it is their choice and we support that,” the coach said. “There are so many reasons for everybody to play but there are also very valid reasons for guys to opt out. I don’t think many will. I think they are all invested in what we are trying to do. But again you don’t hold it against anyone on any team. This is extraordinary times and we just have to support each other.”

Guard Landry Shamet echoed other players’ feelings about traveling to Florida at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in certain states.

“It’s obviously a concern, but we’re in the best possible situation and scenario to combat that,” he said. “If there’s a scenario where you feel more comfortable it would be being in a bubble. That’s as controlled as any environment can be, so that’s one positive that I’ve been thinking about.”

Rivers added, “I’m hoping when we get to the bubble it becomes the safest place in America.”

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

LeBron James Orlando
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

AP Photo
Leave a comment

A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”