The Inbounds: The new Brooklyn Empire and the Crown of Relevance

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Sometime last Wednesday, after yet another round on Twitter battling the Brooklyn faithful (and they are a faithful lot for a franchise that hasn’t played a single minute in its current city) about Brook Lopez and his max contract, about the efforts to remake the team and the failed attempt at obtaining Dwight Howard, I came to a pretty startling conclusion. The Nets are perfect for sports and the people who love them. There are more compelling stories in the NBA. LeBron James and his ongoing battle to save his basketball soul. Kobe Bryant and his continuing obsession with matching Jordan. The Thunder and the hope of tomorrow vs. the empty optimism of a future which may never come.

But the Nets? They are perfect for everything we love about the NBA and about sports. Because they will provide endless hours for us to develop and express opinions about a dozen different things.

They’re a superstar team without superstars. Deron Williams is a top-five point guard in this league who will flirt nightly with the tag of best-to-second-best. But Joe Johnson? Gerald Wallace? Brook Lopez? You have to love basketball to know these names. Yet if you do, you understand how good they really are. Johnson’s contract alone is enough for hours of debate. No one can argue he’s worth the money but if you factor in the fact that the Nets don’t really care how much he costs, at some point once you’re over the luxury tax line it’s irrelevant how much more he costs. And he’s an underrated defender who can guard 1’s, 2’s and 3’s in this league, defend in the post and on the perimeter, can body and bang and contain on the fly. He can also stop his own offense dead in its tracks with his insistence on isolation possessions that involve a lot of dribbling, a lot of contested jumpers, and not a lot of points. He’ll have nights where he lights up the opponent and nights where his own team goes down in the crossfire. It’s perfect for starting a screaming match between any two people.

Gerald Wallace is an underground icon, the guy named “Crash” whose stat-stuffing exploits were best illustrated in the basketball must-read “FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.”  He’s another level, and yet on the level which you can observe with the eye, he seems almost invisible. He’s the hidden play, the quiet moment, master of the “little things which help win games.” And Brook Lopez is the center who can score 30 points but can’t grab eight rebounds. Every accomplishment can be marred with criticism, every criticism can be marred with praise. It’s all there.

And they enter a new arena in the world’s most famous city, ready to strike up a rivalry with the most iconic team on the East Coast (apologies to the greater Boston Celtics, it’s more the Knicks’ failures and your quiet success that trumpet them so loudly). Let’s not be confused on this point. This rivalry will be real from the start.  The Knicks will play big brother and play it off, but they’re not good enough to dismiss the Nets, and the Nets are fighting to establish themselves as legitimate in the boroughs. They even match up well, with no one able to defend Deron Williams, but Williams’ mentor Jason Kidd on the other sideline, the Knicks with defensive ace Iman Shumpert (when he returns from injury) to take on Johnson and the Nets with Wallace to throw at Carmelo Anthony. The Nets have no one to defend Amar’e Stoudemire, but Stoudemire often gets in his own way with injury and defensive issues. The high scoring, no rebound, poor defense center who can score from anywhere on anyone versus the consummate defensive force at the rim. Throw in some young talent and veteran difference makers and you have everything you need. All four matchups next season will be must-watch, even as both teams could be fully embroiled in turmoil and in full disintegration at any point, only to rise from the ashes. God help us if we get a Nets/Knicks-Knicks/Nets 4-5 matchup in the East.

There are questions about how the Nets went about clearing out the populace for the Barclays Center, questions about Dolan’s price gouging, questions about Billy King’s decision making, about how CAA runs the Knicks, are the Nets a real superstar team, is Carmelo Anthony a player you can win with. It’s a whole Baz Luhrmann flick on hardwood.

The Nets will be the best thing anything in sports can be, divisive. You’ll think they don’t get enough credit for how good they are or that they are total frauds masquerading as a Finals contender. Is Brook Lopez a great scorer or a poor rebounder? What happens in three years when the salaries are out of control? What about Dwight Howard?

What about Dwight Howard?

The Nets are going to be a great team next year, even without the big guy. Johnson and Williams will make for a 1-2 pick and roll that’s going to just kill opponents, and with Wallace crashing the weakside and Lopez as the outlet, they’re going to put up points. They have this new color scheme which is as provocative as it is vintage, recalling the styles of the 40’s barnstorming teams and yet reminiscent of the style of minority owner Jay-Z.

The owner is a billionaire Russian who ran for President in Russia and said he’d beat up Mark Cuban in a kickboxing match, for crying out loud. This story has everything.

So while Nets fans try and shoehorn their team into the title contenders conversation and the rest of us try and explain just how limited their options are going to be in three years and how Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are not worth the money, the NBA and the Nets win.

You want to know the biggest reason why Billy King won the offseason, why the Nets get an A for their summer?

The Nets, more so than even during their stretch of Finals contention, are relevant. They matter. They aren’t dominant enough for us to just accept, they aren’t mediocre enough for us to ignore. They’re just a really good basketball team looking to rewrite history.

This is going to be fun.

Report: Stephen Curry also skipping Team USA minicamp

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In 2015, then-USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo declared a minicamp mandatory for invited players who wanted a chance to join Team USA in the Olympics the following year. (Colangelo didn’t exactly stick with that.)

New USA Basketball chairman Martin Dempsey isn’t bothering to set such a hard line a year before another major competition – the 2019 World Cup.

LeBron James will miss next week’s minicamp, and so will Stephen Curry.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry will not be in attendance for Team USA’s minicamp next week in Las Vegas, league sources tell ESPN.

The two-time NBA MVP, according to sources, will be spending time with his family, including his newborn son.

Curry and James will not be eliminated from consideration moving forward.

Curry and LeBron have both played all the way through the NBA Finals the last four years. I don’t blame them for taking time for themselves. They’re also good enough to still get onto Team USA in 2019 if they want to play. They have leverage other players might not.

If Kawhi Leonard is looking for attention-grabbing cover to attend the camp, he won’t get it from the NBA’s two biggest stars. If Leonard participates, he’ll be – by far – the biggest story there.

Are Raptors viable trade destination for Kawhi Leonard?

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The Lakers, Clippers, 76ers and Celtics have dominated Kawhi Leonard trade discussions for most of the summer.

But the Raptors have emerged as a trendy pick for the star’s destination. One betting site even gave Toronto even odds against the field – including the Spurs – as Leonard’s team to begin next season.

Are the Raptors actually a realistic landing spot for Leonard?

Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN discussed on The Lowe Post podcast.

Windhorst:

Toronto Raptors, I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi. Because I think the Lakers have given up. The Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.

Lowe:

I’ve seen a lot of snark on Twitter that the Raptors stuff is a joke, that the odds went up because of something I said on my podcast and you said on TV. I’ve seen it being dismissed. It may not happen. Most NBA trades don’t happen. But if you think it’s a joke, you should probably recalibrate your expectations.

The Raptors can construct an offer built around:

Because DeRozan and Lowry earn more than Leonard, the Raptors could also take back a costly contract San Antonio wants to dump.

Such a deal would allow the Spurs to remain competitive now while gaining long-term assets under greater team control than Leonard, who can walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.

It’d also give the the Raptors a championship chance they wouldn’t have next season otherwise. The window might not remain open long considering Leonard’s health and contract status, but there’s something to be said for raising the ceiling when it can reach that level – even if it means lowering the floor. Plus, if Leonard left, Toronto could more easily transition into its next phase than if DeRozan and Lowry remained on the books.

This trade framework makes too much sense for the teams not to discuss it. But whether that’d result in an actual deal is another question.

Report: Kawhi Leonard considering participating in Gregg Popovich-led Team USA minicamp

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The Spurs want to repair their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and keep him long-term. Leonard wants to leave San Antonio. Potential trade partners want to know more about his health and mindset.

Something has to give.

Maybe it will next week.

Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich, taking over Team USA, will direct a minicamp in Las Vegas. Leonard is invited and – in a surprising development after he missed the few months of the season due to a quad injury – might actually play.

Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is seriously considering participation in the USA Basketball national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, an event for the embattled All-NBA forward to showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners, league sources told ESPN.

Among NBA teams and USA Basketball officials, there is a belief that Leonard wants to participate in the camp, but could be dissuaded based on ancillary concerns.

Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination — the Lakers — or give the Spurs more cause to hold on to Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.

For what it’s worth, there is conflicting reporting about Leonard’s preferred destination. Some say it’s the Clippers.

This low-intensity camp won’t be a chance for Leonard to prove he’s fully healthy, but he can show enough to ignite trade interest. Maybe that helps propel him out of San Antonio – though if it’s not to Los Angeles, how much would that mean to Leonard?

The camp could also give Leonard and Popovich a chance to reconnect. Depending on whom you believe, maybe some in Leonard’s camp or even Leonard himself don’t want to give the Spurs boss that opportunity.

If Leonard goes to Las Vegas, it’d become a media circus. All his movements and interactions, especially with Popovich, would be closely scrutinized. At one point, I would have figured the reserved Leonard would want no part of that. But I now believe we incorrectly assumed too much about him just because he’s quiet.

So, I’m not entirely sure what he wants – or what direction participating in this camp would send him.

Leonard knows more about the former. It’s on him to evaluate the latter.

Report: Kings get Ben McLemore back in trade with Grizzlies

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Since the NBA instituted a four-year rookie scale for first-rounders in 1998, just 22 top-10 picks spent their entire rookie-scale contract with their original team then left that team in free agency.

Many stayed on their first team long-term. Others got traded while teams were still intrigued by the talent that got the player drafted so high in the first place. Some were signed-and-traded, the threat of restricted free agency giving teams one last chance to recoup value from a high pick.

There’s a certain stagnancy with a player’s development and a team’s decision-making when a team drafts someone high, holds him for his entire rookie-scale contract then just watches him leave in his first free agency.

Former No. 2 pick Jabari Parker is an atypical example of that rare situation, as he was picked especially high before the Bucks let his value drain until he signed with the Bulls last week.

Ben McLemore is far more representative.

The Kings drafted him No. 7 in 2013, and his production oscillated between degrees of poor. Sacramento explored trading him numerous times, but never pulled the trigger. The Kings didn’t even extend him a qualifying offer last summer, and he signed with the Grizzlies.

It was a failure of development by McLemore and foresight by Sacramento. The Kings clearly just never figured what to do with McLemore – which makes this trade, oh, so special.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian:

To be fair to the Kings, maybe this isn’t about McLemore at all. He could just be a salary for matching purposes, the player receiving it completely irrelevant.

All three traded players are on expiring contracts. All three are overpaid based on their production. Temple is the best and highest-paid player in the deal. Davis and McLemore have better chances of helping Sacramento win meaningfully.

The Kings, generously, have minimal chance of winning a satisfactorily next season. Temple wasn’t going to change that, and at 32, he had little chance of helping once Sacramento was ready.

McLemore is a longshot to ever become an effective rotation player, but he has the requisite size and athleticism for an NBA shooting guard, and he’s not old at age 25. The 21-year-old Davis is far more intriguing as a bouncy center, but he must make major strides in effort and awareness.

Even as low-odds bets, Davis and McLemore offer more to Sacramento than Temple did. The second-rounder and cash only improve the Kings’ return.

Sacramento also opens $995,049 in additional cap space. Could that go toward signing another restricted free agent to an offer sheet after the Bulls matched Zach LaVine‘s? Marcus Smart? Rodney Hood? Clint Capela?

Temple is the biggest winner of the trade. He opted in for $8 million next season, even though that meant committing to the lowly Kings. But now he gets his money and gets to join a better team. He might even start at shooting guard in Memphis. Temple is a fine player and an upgrade for the wing-hungry Grizzlies. But he’s also 32 and showed slippage last year. Memphis hopes a change in scenery will solve that and it wasn’t simply aging.

The Grizzlies were wise to bet on Temple considering the low cost of acquiring him. They’re trying to win now, which isn’t necessarily the wrong move with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley under contract. It’ll still be an uphill battle in the loaded West, but Temple is another helpful addition along with Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi and Jevon Carter this summer.