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.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

 

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.