The Nets have a cornerstone, now the building starts

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There is — for the first time in recent memory — a palpable buzz about a New Jersey Nets game Friday.

That’s what bringing in a superstar can do. And the Nets got a superstar in Deron Williams. Knicks fans flip out at the idea, but the Nets got the better player, they bested the Knicks in deadline trades. Not the bigger name, not the better pure scorer, but the Nets got the better player. The better defender, the better guy at setting up teammates and lifting them up, the better leader.

Now they have to keep him. What the Knicks are is further along in the rebuilding process.

The Nets just got a cornerstone, but they are just starting out building. There is a lot to do. They are not contenders, they are not even good yet.

The first step is to see if the arrival of Williams elevates Brook Lopez. He was the guy touted as a building block who this season has regressed, coming into camp off a bout of mononucleosis and looking like he was playing with it all season (he has been better the last couple weeks). He also seems to have a natural allergic reaction to rebounding. He’s got a big bag of offensive skills, he could be dangerous on the 1/5 pick-and-roll with Williams, but his game has got to continue on the arc it was the past few seasons, not the one from the first half of this season. And mix in a few boards.

That’s two spots. Two key spots. But the rest of the roster… needs some work, let’s say.

Anthony Morrow could be a quality starting two who teams have to cover out at the arc. After that, Lakers cast-offs Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic are backups on a good team. Pretty much as you go down the line these are guys you want coming off the bench. If you want them coming in at all.

The good news is the Nets have picks and a lot of cap room (how much depends on what the new collective bargaining agreement looks like), they are in a good position to remake this roster. D-Will is an attraction, but the feeling will be that free agents will not want to come unless Williams commits to a longer deal, and Williams will not want to commit to a longer deal unless the free agents come.

There is a lot of work to do. But the Nets took a big first step. They should celebrate and enjoy the buzz tonight. Then get to work. Because there is a lot to do.

PBT Podcast: How do Victor Oladipo, Pacers take next step forward?

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Last season Victor Oladipo burst on the scene, making the leap from solid rotation player to All-NBA level star who could score and defend — and he dragged the Pacers up to being a solid playoff team with him.

The Pacers were the surprise of the NBA, which leads to the question: Can they do it again? More than that, how can they take a step forward? Kurt Helin of NBC Sports talks with J. Michael of the Indy Star about the Pacers and their key role players — Myles Turner, Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Thaddeus Young and more — and what has to happen to move this team into the top three or four of the East.

The pair also discusses the East a little, including whether Toronto is for real, and how big a threat will Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks be.

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.

Report: Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau, owner Glen Taylor unaligned on Jimmy Butler trade

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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly initially expressed no interest in granting Jimmy Butler‘s trade request. Then, owner Glen Taylor reportedly ordered Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden to deal the star. Yet, Thibodeau was still reportedly trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota as of yesterday.

Does that mean Thibodeau was defying his boss? Not necessarily. Thibodeau could be trying to persuade Butler on one front while Thibodeau and Layden also explore trades on another front. There’s room for simultaneous strategies.

But it doesn’t sound as if the Timberwolves are all on the same page.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, who is the point man for trade conversations, continue to leave rival executives and owners unclear about both the specific players and broader kinds of assets that the Wolves value in a deal, sources said. Even more doubt exists about whether there’s even yet alignment between Taylor and Thibodeau on a structure and a timetable for a deal, league sources told ESPN.

From starting the week insisting to other teams that Minnesota wouldn’t trade Butler to slow-playing return phone calls and failing to share guidelines for the kind of deal that Minnesota wants to execute, Layden has graduated to the next phase of negotiations with teams: Asking for stars, starters, draft picks and salary-cap relief for the chance to acquire Butler, league sources said.

there’s a belief among interested teams that Thibodeau is reluctant to bring strong offers to his owner for examination because he’s still holding out hope to get Butler on the floor for Minnesota this season.

As the trade process grinds along, some interested teams are working to bypass Layden and go directly to Wolves ownership with trade offers. Teams dealing with Minnesota describe an unusual level of confusion. Some have heard separately from Taylor and the Layden/Thibodeau management team, with little apparent coordination between the two levels of Minnesota’s organization.

This all sounds believable. Thibodeau can be stubborn. He feuded with Bulls management until he got fired, and there’s a rumor he’d rather leave the Timberwolves than trade Butler for lesser young players and picks. There’d be a selfish logic to that approach, as missing the playoffs next season – more likely without Butler – could get Thibodeau fired, anyway.

But a dose of skepticism about this report: If you were a team trying to trade for Butler, would you rather deal with Thibodeau – a basketball expert who is adamant about getting a good return – or Taylor, a businessman who built his fortune outside basketball then bought an NBA team? The answer is probably Taylor, and a way to do that is sow discord in Minnesota with leaks like this. This report could cause Taylor to take over Butler-trade negotiations completely.

Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks team up to “Rally the Vote,” push voter registration

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Voter participation numbers in the United States can be depressing. In 2016, during the last presidential election, an estimated 61.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and in non-presidential election cycles that number can fall way, way off. Voter apathy in the USA is a real issue, one that hurts our democracy.

To help counter that a number of NBA teams — Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks — as well as teams from other sports are teaming up to “Rally the Vote,” a new drive to push voter registration among sports fans. The goal is to get the message out before the deadline to register for the upcoming November elections (in most states that is in October).

It is an effort from teams that falls in line with what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has encouraged players to do — speak out on social issues, be involved, try to make the world a better place. The idea is a simple one: to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the ballot box, where it can make a real impact on our country.

“If we can make buying a ticket to a sporting event accessible in a few clicks, there is no reason why registering to vote shouldn’t be the same,” said Vivek Ranadivé, Owner and Chairman of the Sacramento Kings, who spearheaded this project. “Voting is one of the most important things we do as Americans and is central to our democracy, yet tens of millions of people are not registered to vote. Sports teams have a responsibility to enact positive change in their communities, and I’m proud to see so many of us coming together to help fans register to vote so that they can have a voice in elections.”

The teams are partnering with Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology to make voting easier. Teams involved in Rally the Vote — which also includes the MLB’s White Sox, Giants, and A’s, plus the NFL’s 49ers — will encourage fans to register to vote this election season. Through team mobile apps, websites and social media platforms, fans will be directed to TurboVote, a Democracy Works tool that allows voters to register, file for an absentee ballot and receive election reminders. 

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III recorded a PSA for the project. Fans attending games for these teams in the coming weeks will see that PSA and hear about it though arena announcements, plus the teams will make pushes on other platforms to get people involved.

It’s an important cause, and good on Ranadivé and the Kings for spearheading this push. More people voting, more people taking advantage of their rights and expressing their voice, the better. Like at a sporting event, it’s just more fun with more people involved.

 

 

Ted Leonsis’ goals for Wizards: Win 50 games, make conference finals

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Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis is setting the bar high. Incredibly high.

Las Vegas set the under/over on wins for Washington at 44.5, which was sixth highest in the East. That sounds about right (Washington won 43 games last season and did not make big moves this off-season, the team’s hands tied by the salary cap). Three of the past five seasons this team has been solid but not spectacular, winning in the mid-to-high 40s during the season, then reaching the second round before bowing out of the playoffs.

While this team has talent, John Wall and Bradley Beal have never really meshed (and both have battled health issues), now Dwight Howard is the starting center, and a lot of is asked of Otto Porter, Markeiff Morris, and other role players. The Wizards have never been more than their parts, they have never added up to as much as it looked like they should on paper.

Leonsis expects that to change this season as they move into a new practice facility. He set the bar for this team higher than it’s been in years, as he told Ben Standig of TheSportsCapital.com (a fantastic site covering Washington D.C. sports).

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins* and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round^ then we didn’t meet our goals. We have to improve upon last year, but this is a really good team practicing in a world-class building. I think it’s the most complete team and we want to focus on everyone’s health. John (Wall) last year missed half the season. Otto (Porter) struggled at the end of the season (with hip, leg injuries). If we can keep them healthy and they’re well-treated and well-tended and well-compensated, we should have high expectations for them.”

(* The Wizards last won at least 50 games in the 1978-79 season.)

(^The franchise hasn’t advanced to the conference finals, the bar now set by Leonsis, since the Washington Bullets lost in the 1979 NBA Finals.)

Beating out all but one of Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana to make the conference finals seems… unlikely. I get that Leonsis sees reaching the conference finals as the next step forward, it’s just hard to see how this roster does it. The Wizards keep changing the pieces around the core — this year it’s Marcin Gortat out, Dwight Howard in — and still coming up short, which suggests maybe it’s not the pieces around the core that’s the problem.

The Wizards are locked into this core for another year after this — Wall will make $38 million the season after this, Beal, and Otto Porter will make north of $20 million, plus don’t forget Ian Mahinmi will make more than $15 million each of the next two seasons. If Leonsis is frustrated with this squad, it will not be easy to change, not for a while.