Surveying trade deadline landscape: League’s second tier got better

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As you survey the NBA landscape in the aftermath of the storm that is always the NBA trade deadline, and a couple things leap out:

First, the title contenders did not change — and they all stood pat. In the East, the path to the finals goes through Miami and Chicago and nobody really moved up to their level. In the West everyone is still chasing Oklahoma City.

But the teams closest to the elite in that chase got better. Much of the NBA’s second tier got better — the Clippers and Lakers, the Magic and Pacers all made moves that improved their sides either a little to a lot.

And with that improvement comes hope they can catch up and pass the elite squads come the playoffs. They have hope, and Red from Shawshank will tell you that can be a dangerous thing.

Look at the West. Six weeks ago the Clippers were starting to look like the second best team in the conference until Chauncey Billups went down with a torn Achilles. Since then they have gone 9-10, they need scoring and steady play from the two spot.

So they went out and got Nick Young for next to nothing (a second round pick and Brian Cook is pretty close to nothing in my book). Young is a gunner, but he is better than anybody they have at that spot. He can get them buckets and defenses have to pay attention to him. But he comes from an undisciplined team and locker room and he’s going to have to adjust his game and focus to play next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If he does he’s a steal, if he doesn’t his contract is up at the end of the season and he walks.

The Clippers got better.

So did the Lakers. Potentially much better.

There is sentimentality towards the loss of Derek Fisher — as there should be, he has a spot in Lakers lore firmly cemented — but Ramon Sessions is a serious upgrade. Sessions is a slasher who can get in the lane but looks to pass first (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are going to love him). He doesn’t shoot a lot of threes but he makes a fair amount of them (and the Lakers need outside shooting). He’s going to have to learn how to play with Kobe Bryant, but he is a dramatic upgrade for the Lakers.

The Lakers got better and if everyone is healthy and Metta World Peace’s head is in the game and not in the clouds, they may be the biggest threat to the Thunder in the West.

In the East, the Orlando Magic just knocked off the Heat and now they get to keep Dwight Howard. When they are hitting threes to go with having the best center in the game they are tough to beat. They have knocked off a lot of the NBA’s best — and while that is very different than beating Miami or Chicago in a seven game series the Magic will be a tough out. Howard believes they are more than that.

Just keeping Howard makes the Magic better.

The Pacers got a little bit better as well by picking up Leandro Barbosa, a speedy backup point guard that gives them depth and they got for almost nothing. The Pacers are a real balanced team that just got deeper. They are another team that will not go quietly come the playoffs.

Basically, the top teams in the NBA didn’t change at the trade deadline, but the teams close to them in the chase did. And that is going to make the stretch run of the NBA season and the playoffs that much more interesting.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.

Not a ‘tattooed guy’: Larry Bird wants mural changed

Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird likes the mural but not the tatts.

A lawyer for the former NBA star has asked an artist to remove certain tattoos from a large painting of Bird on an Indianapolis multi-family residence. The tattoos include two rabbits mating on his right arm and a spider web on a shoulder.

Artist Jules Muck painted Bird in a blue basketball uniform. It’s a replica of a 1977 Sports Illustrated cover when he played for Indiana State.

Attorney Gary Sallee says Bird “needs to protect” his brand and “doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy.” Muck says she adds things like tattoos to her art to avoid creating a complete copy of a photo.

She says she’s trying to reach an agreement with Bird’s representatives.