When the process matters: Why Charlotte should trade the No.2 pick

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Let’s start off with some instant rebuttal to the premature outcry that headline above is going to muster. First, the basics. The Charlotte Bobcats, in a continuing pattern regarding their awful, horrendous, terrible franchise history, lost the lottery’s No.1 pick despite a 1-in-4 chance to land Anthony Davis. The Bobcats are an awful, awful basketball team that needs help at every position. They have the No.2 pick. There is talk that they could trade the No.2 for more draft picks and/or players. Some people think that’s crazy talk. I’m here to share why it’s not. Now for the immediate outrcy, as kind of a primer:

1. Yes, the Bobcats need a franchise superstar.  The Bobcats need that transcendent player, that guy who they can build around, who they can go to and say “That’s why we we’re winning. We drafted that guy.” The Spurs are a hugely successful franchise and still Gregg Popovich credits Tim Duncan with all of their accomplishments. The Bobcats do not have that guy, have ever had that guy, and desperately need that guy.

2. Unfortunately, this draft is not the one to get it outside the No. 1 spot, from where we sit today. This draft was considered hotcakes a year ago. And a lot of people have talked this up as one of the deeper drafts in years. For what it’s worth, I’m huge on it. I think all the way up to the 22nd pick you can get a franchise impact player. But if you talk to front office people, you’re going to hear a lot about this draft is not that great. It’s been leaked everywhere already. People have soured on this class. Whether it’s Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes’ step backwards, or the incomplete nature of the freshmen, there’s just a huge amount of doubt about this draft, but especially in the superstar category.

There’s just not a perception that Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, or Andre Drummond are going to be franchise savior players. Kidd-Gilchrist has a jumpshot under heavy debate (don’t let one hot workout cloud the issue), Bradley Beal faces questions about height and his shooting percentage considering he’s, you know, a shooter, Robinson was a footnote at Kansas until this season and doesn’t have exceptional length, and Andre Drummond has more questions about his head than the guy from “12 Monkeys.”

So with that No. 2 pick, there’s strong reason to believe the Bobcats aren’t getting that franchise guy. They need him. But you shouldn’t just take a guy who is likely not that because you need him, just like you should’t take a subpar rebounder who’s tall just because you need a guy who can crash the boards. If he can crash the boards (because he’s tall), but he doesn’t, it doesn’t help you in the end.

3. Yes, they can be very, very wrong on this and look stupid. This is what is terrible about the draft. The smart thing if the Bobcats cannot get a superstar is to trade the pick. But if they trade the pick and the player taken turns out to be a superstar in Portland or Cleveland, or wherever, it just makes you look that much dumber for trading the pick. But you have to operate based on the knowledge base that you have right now. And the knowledge base that you have right now says that the smart move is to trade the pick. Why? Because you have so many other needs.

4. No, the Bobcats will likely not get back equal value from an objective viewpoint. The subjective is what matters here. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t matter if the media torches you because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson are better than whoever you get at No. 4 and No. 24 or with a young veteran wing, a first, and a future first. It matters if the players you get from the trade help with your overall plan and process. That process, which is the biggest reason for the Spurs success, is what defines championship organizations. It’s not the market or the money, or (just) the superstar. It’s the way they do business and if it’s consistent and well-thought out with the long-term plan in mind. It’s much like trading a superstar. You’re never going to get equal value for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Your objective should be to get things which will set you up in the future. You think the Hornets got equal value at the time for Chris Paul? Absolutely not. But are they in a great position to take a major step forward in the 2013-2014 season? Absolutely.

5. The Bobcats have desperate needs at every position. You know what would be better for when the Bobcats do land their superstar on that great come and get it day? Having a roster in place that doesn’t put him in a position to fail. I’m a huge believer in that concept. You have to put guys in a position to succeed. The Bobcats, honestly, were not in a position to help Anthony Davis succeed. Now that doesn’t mean that had they drafted him, he couldn’t be successful right off the bat and it certainly doesn’t mean he couldn’t be successful in 2-to-4 years. But it’s still not an environment built for him to succeed. The way you do that is by getting a team that is at least passable.

I’ve contended that the Bobcats were this terrible this year on account of a perfect storm of factors. The lockout schedule, some bad breaks in games, injuries, and poor tactical coaching. Honestly, they showed up to play a more focused game than the Wizards did half the time. The Wizards just had more talent. And that’s a big deal here. The Bobcats simply lacked talent at almost every position. Their bright spots were a freak of nature power forward who can’t score and a diminutive point guard who struggles with passing. This is a bad thing. The Bobcats need players. Every position needs an upgrade, and a move backwards in the draft or for young, veteran talents (who are willing to work with the Charlotte franchise — that’s a big one) is going to help them. They’re not going to make any huge leap next season. They’ll still have a chance at Shabazz Muhammad or whoever winds up No. 1 overall. So why not fall back, pick up some talent, get some depth, and set yourself up to not be terrible?

A roster full of young, versatile players on rookie contracts who have shown some life is a much better situation to drop a No. 1 overall pick than a team of upgraded D-Leaguers and malcontents.

Plus, it allows them to get rid of some of that rot. Tyrus Thomas’ attitude? See ya, we got a better power forward so we can trade you for pennies on the dollar just to get rid of your contract. Corey Maggette? Adios, we picked up a shooter wing. Getting multiple positions covered isn’t going to make them a good team. But it’s removing the infected areas so that at least the lifeform isn’t ridden with rot. Doesn’t just adding MKG or Beal help with that? Well, yeah, but you’re also putting them in a position where they have to succeed automatically. You need to allow quality supporting players to be quality supporting players. You build a foundation. You get rid of the things that made you a joke. You stabilize your franchise and instill a winning culture, without the wins.

It’s about process.

I think both MKG, Beal, and Robinson can be fantastic players. I don’t think they can be franchise guys… for the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats need a complete organizational makeover. Moving the pick for multiple assets is the way to go. It doesn’t have to be any deal available, they should wait for the right one. But any deal involving a first rounder this year, an asset either in cap space or player, and a future first should be the model. If the Cats can be smart enough to set themselves up with multiple chances in future lotteries, they can improve now and still have a shot at that franchise player.

I think trading the pick is almost never the answer. But here? I think it’s a must. The Cats need to start the process. And that takes more than one player, if that player is not Anthony Davis.

Kevin Durant reminds everyone who he is, leads Warriors to blowout Game 3 win

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LOS ANGELES — “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am.”

“He’s right. But I already knew who Kevin Durant was,” Doc Rivers joked before Game 3 Thursday night.

Durant reminded Rivers — and everyone else — anyway.

Bouncing back from an off game a couple of nights before, Durant had 38 points on 23 shots, added 7 assists, played good defense, and none of that does credit to how much he dominated early and never let up as the Warriors cruised to a 132-105 win at Staples Center. Golden State is up 2-1 in its first-round series against the Clippers, with a chance Sunday to take complete control of the matchup.

“He said it yesterday, he’s Kevin Durant. He showed everybody who Kevin Durant is,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. Was this was Kerr expected out of his star following a rough outing in Game 2? “Ya. He’s a two-time Finals MVP coming off a poor performance, this is what happens.”

It is what happens, and we have seen this movie a lot over the past five years. Some team comes out and challenges the Warriors, knicking them off for a game with a comeback or maybe just a straight punch to the gut kind of win. Then the Warriors respond with a monster game.

Durant stared in this film, but he wasn’t the only one. Stephen Curry was 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, scoring 13 points. Curry and Durant outscored the Clippers 25-24 in the first quarter, and when the other Warriors jumped in, the Warriors scored 41 in the first quarter, 72 for the first half, and 132 on the night.

“[Durant] came out super aggressive, in kill mode,” Draymond Green said of Durant. “That was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there in the first quarter and never lost control of it.”

A lot of that control stemmed from the fact the Warriors were more dialed in on defense, holding the Clippers to 33.3 percent shooting and 24 points in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot just 35 percent for the game.

That control meant Golden State went up by 31 with 7:10 in the third quarter, a score and time very reminiscent of Game 2, when the Clippers came back from that record deficit to even the series. This time the Warriors did not lose focus, they never let up on defense.

It wasn’t all focus, Kerr and company made smart adjustments, too. For the first two games, the Clippers had success with a “top lock” defense (meaning the defender isn’t between his man and the basket, instead he stands between his man and the three-point line to cut off his popping out and getting the Warriors’ favorite shot). In Game 3, Golden State started cutting back door more, taking advantage of a weakness of top lock defense. The Warriors got the ball to their cutters in creative ways, at times throwing passes from near halfcourt before the defender was really prepared. Or, the Warriors posted up Andrew Bogut or Durant, then had the top locked guys cut to the rim with their defenders trailing by so much the buckets came easily.

Now it’s on Doc Rivers and the Clippers to adjust. But if Durant is going to make another statement, it will not matter.

Even in KD didn’t see it as a statement.

“I’ve been here for 12 years. I’m 30,” Durant said after the win. “I don’t need to show nobody nothing.”

Derrick White scores 36 points as Spurs take 2-1 lead vs. Nuggets

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SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio point guard Derrick White was screaming, flexing and stomping around the court after almost every basket against Denver.

It was completely out of character for White, but the mild-mannered point guard has never been in this situation before.

White had a career-high 36 points and the Spurs beat the Nuggets 118-108 on Thursday night, withstanding a first-half lapse to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

“I just had a chip on my shoulder,” White said. “This is the way I’ve played since I was young. Just try to go out there, compete and have fun.”

Nikola Jokic had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Denver.

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 3-0 against the Nuggets this season.

White attacked Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray from the opening tip after being on the receiving end of Murray’s career outing Tuesday night. Murray had only six points, a game after scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver overcome a 19-point deficit to even the series.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Derrick White, the last couple of days, has been reminded about Jamal Murray’s fourth-quarter performance,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Derrick White came out like he hadn’t eaten in two days. He came out hungry, he came out (ticked) off and he sent a very loud and clear message. I’m anxious to see our guys, how do we respond to that.”

White set his career high after being fouled by Paul Millsap on a driving layup that bounced off the side of the rim, hit the backboard and fell in to give the Spurs a 99-89 lead with 8:52 remaining. White added five rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 12 for 17. The point guard matched his overall career high with 26 points in the first half.

DeMar DeRozan took over after that, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Rudy Gay had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Spurs finished with 62 points in the paint and had a 45-37 rebound advantage.

“They are doing a good job of attacking the paint,” Jokic said. “They were living in our paint. I think it’s not just smalls, it’s our bigs, too. I think we all need to be more disciplined and more focused.”

White had 10 points in the opening quarter while primarily being defended by Murray.

“He was obviously spectacular,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I don’t know what else to say. At both ends of the floor.”

Denver’s second unit dominated, turning a 31-22 deficit after the first quarter into a 38-31 advantage early in the second quarter. The Nuggets opened the second quarter shooting 7 for 8, including a pair of 3-pointers by Malik Beasley. San Antonio’s first points came on Jakob Poeltl‘s two free throws with 8:41 left.

Beasley finished with 20 points, and Gary Harris added 12 points.

Harris stole the ball from Gay at midcourt and then calmly drained a 3-pointer before the Spurs’ defense could set for a 50-40 lead. San Antonio then went on a 21-8 run to close the half and recapture a lead it would not relinquish.

“We got our (butts) kicked because we couldn’t guard anybody,” Malone said.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is the eighth youngest team in playoff history. . Jokic is averaging 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists the series. … Isaiah Thomas was eligible to play but did not. … Millsap picked up his third foul with 2:12 remaining in the first half after bumping Aldridge near the 3-pointer. Millsap threw his hands up in frustration as he exited. He finished with five fouls.

Spurs: The Spurs are 22-7 against the Nuggets in the postseason, including 13-3 at home. … White’s previous career highs were 26 points in the regular season against Brooklyn on Jan. 31 and 17 against Denver in Game 2. … Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the only players to score more points in any half for the Spurs in the postseason than White’s 26 points in the first half.

MINDSET?

Popovich was bemused when asked what the Spurs’ mindset is after earning a split on the road.

“What’s their mindset,” Popovich asked. “I didn’t give any psychological tests today or anything. It’s their job, they are going to come play, so will the Nuggets. They are going to try to win. Nuggets are going to try to win. It’s a competitive sport, that’s the mindset. It’s not too difficult to imagine.”

EXPERIENCED

White made his first postseason start in Game 1 at Denver, but he joked that he has plenty of playoff experience.

“Everybody said I didn’t have playoff experience, but I did this in the G League,” White said. “Just kidding. But it was big for my development.”

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

Ben Simmons scores 31 points, 76ers beat Nets without Joel Embiid

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NEW YORK — Ben Simmons scored a career playoff-high 31 points, Tobias Harris added 29 points and 16 rebounds and the Philadelphia 76ers shook off the absence of Joel Embiid to beat the Brooklyn Nets 131-115 on Thursday night for a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

Without their All-Star man in the middle, the 76ers relied on Simmons slashing to the basket, and Harris and JJ Redick shooting from the perimeter.

“We have the pieces to get games, to complete games and I think everybody in the organization knows that,” Simmons said.

Simmons was 11 for 13 from the field, repeatedly getting to the rim even with the Nets sagging well off him in hopes he would shoot a jumper. He added nine assists and eventually quieted a crowd that loudly booed him every time he touched the ball early.

Harris had his playoff highs in both points and rebounds, and was 6 for 6 from 3-point range. Redick was 5 of 9 behind the arc and finished with 26 points.

“Listen, I think their big players came to play,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Ben had a great game, I thought JJ was great, Tobias also hit some big 3s.”

Embiid warmed up before the game but the 76ers announced shortly before the start that the All-Star center wouldn’t be available because of a sore left knee. Greg Monroe started in his place and had nine points and 13 rebounds.

“Just came in, obviously with Joel down that’s a big scoring loss that we had there,” Harris said. “So just had to be aggressive from the start.”

D'Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert each scored 26 points for the Nets. They have dropped the last two games after surprising the No. 3 seed in the opener in Philadelphia.

Energized by a lively Brooklyn crowd seeing playoff basketball for the first time since 2015 and perhaps by the absence of Embiid, who averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the first two games, the Nets started well but then stalled. They went about 4 1/2 minutes without a basket and Philadelphia took advantage to lead 32-24 after one.

The lead quickly went into double digits in the second before LeVert got going. He scored six straight points and had Brooklyn’s first 14 of the period to tie it at 38. The 76ers regained control and opened an 11-point lead with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining before halftime, but LeVert had another burst to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 65-59 at the break. He finished with 19 points in the period.

Redick hit a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around Harris’ three-point play, pushing it to 81-67, and another 3 by Redick had the Sixers leading 97-81 with 1:16 left in the third. But a four-point play by Spencer Dinwiddie highlighted Brooklyn’s run of nine straight points to end the period and trim it to 97-90.

The Nets cut it to six in the fourth on Russell’s 3-pointer, but the 76ers soon pulled away again.

TIP-INS

76ers: Simmons was 5 for 5 on free throws when the Nets fouled him intentionally with 3:38 remaining. He missed both, but hit two on the next possession and finished 9 for 11. … Monroe didn’t even make his Sixers debut until April 6.

Nets: Brooklyn was 8 for 39 (20.5%) from 3-point range. … LeVert’s 19 points were the most he scored in any quarter of his career. … The Nets had won their last three Game 3s.

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in Brooklyn.

In least surprising NBA offseason news, Dwight Howard opts into $5.6 million with Wizards

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Dwight Howard played in just nine games for the Washington Wizards last season due to injury, mostly his chronic back issues. Howard also will be 34 years old before next season starts. Because of that, the offseason market for Howard as a free agent would be somewhere between frigid and “I just stuck my hand in liquid nitrogen.”

Not shockingly, Howard has decided to take the money on the table — “just” $5.6 million, but that still buys a lot of Skittles — and has opted into his deal with the Wizards, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

The Wizards are still searching for their next general manager after Ernie Grunfeld was (finally!) let go near the end of last season. Maybe Tommy Sheppard gets hired from in house, maybe owner Ted Leonsis decides to go outside the organization, but there seems to be no rush to make a decision.

That GM walks into one of the toughest jobs in the NBA because of how hamstrung the roster is. John Wall will make $38.2 million next season and may not play (or only play the end of the season) because of a torn Achilles. Bradley Beal will make $27.1 million and the team needs to decide whether to extend him (he can get a supermax extension if he makes an All-NBA team, and he’s on the bubble for that) or trade him and rebuild. Ian Mahinmi will make $15.5 million. There are decisions to be made on players such as Tomas Satoransky and Sam Dekkar.

And that GM will have Dwight Howard. Good luck with that.