NBA trade deadline report cards: Portland gets an “A”

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Dwight Howard didn’t get traded and neither did any of Boston’s big three. But there were plenty of moves at the deadline. Here are our grades for each team.

Atlanta Hawks: They wanted to move one player to get themselves under the luxury tax line (they are $440,000 over it). They couldn’t do it. So they quietly sold a second-round pick to the Warriors for cash considerations to cover that tax bill. Grade: C.

Boston Celtics: They shopped the Big Three around hard, but GM Danny Ainge wasn’t going to give up Ray Allen for just a pick or a young player. He wanted both. Kind of the same thing with Paul Pierce. In the end, we get one more playoff run with the Big Three. Is that so bad? Grade: Inc.

Charlotte Bobcats: They shopped D.J. Augustin, but no move. Grade: Inc.

Chicago Bulls: You don’t mess with a contending roster. No moves. Grade: Inc.

Cleveland Cavaliers: They held out because they wanted a first-round pick for Ramon Sessions, and they got one. A pick very late in the first round (the Lakers’ pick), but that’s about as good as you’re going to do for a nice point guard who can opt out (and one the Cavs don’t really need). Grade: B.

Dallas Mavericks: They didn’t make any moves, but they get a good grade because with Dwight Howard staying in Orlando, the odds of them getting Deron Williams this summer just went way, way up. Grade B.

Denver Nuggets: They have had buyer’s remorse with Nene, who signed a five-year, $67 million deal this year and has been injured for stretch of the season and not effective in other parts. I get the concern about four more seasons with this guy. The bet they made is that George Karl can coach up JaVale McGee. That out of Washington the athletic big man will mature. I don’t like that bet. However, out of that deal (they also got Ronny Turiaf) they got a huge trade exception. They save some cash. But it will be three years before we really know if this deal works. Grade: C

Detroit Pistons: They stood pat. This is not a good team, and they had pieces that should have drawn interest, but the didn’t do anything. Pistons fans are right to be a little frustrated. Grade: Inc.

Golden State Warriors: Two moves I don’t really like. They trade away Monta Ellis and get Andrew Bogut. I get why, because when healthy, Bogut is a very good defensive center and solid on offense. But Bogut hasn’t been healthy in three years and it’s a roll of the dice on his health (and Stephen Curry’s health, because he is the backcourt leader now). Then at the deadline they swap out Stephen Jackson (who they got in the Ellis trade) for Richard Jefferson. Jefferson is a nice player, but he is making $11 million next year. That will make it hard for them to get in the free-agent game this summer. Look, both moves were about changing the culture of the team and bringing in professional, hard-working guys. But they really need pure talent, and I think they have less of it. Grade: D.

Houston Rockets: They didn’t get Howard, but they got Marcus Camby out of Portland and that is a fantastic fit for them — they have needed a defensive-minded center. All they gave up was guys such as Jonny Flynn who were not playing anyway. They take on Derek Fisher and get a first-round pick for it, but that’s not going to mean much more than a little depth. Houston is going to be a tough out in the playoffs. Grade: A-.

Indiana Pacers: They picked up a solid backup point guard in Leandro Barbosa, who might not fit their style but only cost a second-rounder. Good move. Grade: B.

Los Angeles Clippers: There are questions about what kind of player Nick Young will grow up to be in three years — and he does need to group up. But he can put the ball in the basket, shoot the three, run the floor and is very athletic — he fits in great with the Clippers. And all they gave up to get him were Brian Cook and a second-round pick. Grade: B+.

Los Angeles Lakers: They didn’t hit the home run that their fans demand, but their fans underestimate Ramon Sessions. This is a big upgrade at the point guard spot — Sessions is a slasher who looks to dish, not shoot. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will love him. They will miss Derek Fisher in the locker room, but it’s not that big a loss on the court (except in the final 10 seconds of a game). With Sessions, the Lakers may be the biggest threat to the Thunder in the West. The grade falls a little because they shipped out both of their first-round picks this year. Grade: B.

Memphis Grizzlies: They traded Sam Young to the 76ers in a move that gets them under the luxury tax line. That’s what this was about. Grade: C.

Miami Heat: See the Bulls entry. Grade: Inc.

Milwaukee Bucks: They got Monta Ellis a couple days before the trade deadline. Personally, I like the Ellis/Brandon Jennings back court. They can up the tempo and now you have a couple dangerous slashers. My real questions are what kind of team the Bucks are building and can Scott Skiles coach it? However, short term, this might help them make the playoffs. Grade B.

Minnesota Timberwolves: David Kahn didn’t make a deadline day move? Something weird is going on here. Grade: Inc.

New Jersey Nets: They lost out on Dwight Howard, so they got Gerald Wallace. In theory their starting five is not bad — Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. But Williams and Wallace can opt out this summer and become free agents. You really think they can keep it all together? Neither do I. Grade. D.

New Orleans Hornets: They tried to find a partner willing to take on Chris Kaman, but there were reports they were asking too much. So Kaman will leave this summer as a free agent. Grade: Inc.

New York Knicks: Does Mike Woodson for Mike D’Antoni count for a trade? Grade: Inc.

Oklahoma City Thunder: See the Heat and Bulls entries. Grade: Inc.

Orlando Magic: They kept Dwight Howard in town by calling his bluff. That is as big a win as anybody — except that it is a one-year deal, he’s not opting out early but if the Magic don’t make moves to get this team competing with the Heat and Bulls by next trade deadline we will be right back here. That said, today they celebrate. Grade: A-.

Philadelphia 76ers: They get Sam Young from the Grizzlies for basically nothing, they add some depth. That’s nice. Not thrilling but nice. Grade: B.

Phoenix Suns: No moves expected, none made. Steve Nash is still with team. Check back again in July. Grade: Inc.

Portland Trail Blazers: I love what they did today. Love it. This is not a very good team but they have some nice parts such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. So they got rid of the expensive parts and brought back expiring deals. With today’s moves they will be about $25 million under the salary cap this summer (assuming Jamal Crawford opts out as expected) — they can re-sign Batum and still get a max deal free agent. Plus they have the Nets’ first-round pick this draft. That, my friends, is how you rebuild on the fly. The only thing that would have made it better is finding a taker for Raymond Felton. Grade: A.

Sacramento Kings: No moves… but they got a deal for a new arena! Grade: Inc.

San Antonio Spurs: They got the lesser player in the Stephen Jackson/Richard Jefferson swap. That said, they got the less expensive player, and Gregg Popovich and Jackson have a good relationship. Plus it’s the Spurs. You just know this will work out for them. Grade: B.

Toronto Raptors: They were going to lose Leandro Barbosa anyway after the season, so they got a second-round pick out of it. And they play Jerryd Bayless more. Grade: B-.

Utah Jazz: Stood pat. Grade: Inc.

Washington Wizards: I like bringing in Nene for this reason — it’s about changing the culture. Denver fans will tell you that Nene didn’t play through pain and was not tough, but he’s not a headcase like JaVale McGee. They had to make locker room changes and guys like Nick Young are out. They are not a lot better on the court, but they are making changes that can start to take them down that path. Grade: B-.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.