The Inbounds: The commonly sensible signing of Serge Ibaka

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I’m not known as the biggest Serge Ibaka guy. I have an analytic relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder that too closely mirrors that of an indie rock fan in its obnoxiousness. In short, I saw the jump coming in the early months of 2010 when they started the leap to contention and was huge on them, so now I think their early work was better before they got popular. This is, of course, nonsense, they’re a much better team now but something was lost in that first year of exploration as it is with jazz music, gin, a new city’s restaurant scene and teenage sexuality.

So I tend to get a little exhausted at the superlatives thrown at Ibaka. When he took second in Defensive Player of the Year, an award I spent a great deal of time thinking about as part of my gig, I nearly blew a gasket. The nice thing about Ibaka is you don’t actually have to pump fake, because as soon as you’ve thought about it, he’s in the air. Nobody else in the league takes so many points off the board with blocks and puts them back on with goaltends. (OK< that joke’s weak because we all know JaVale McGee is the answer there.) I’ve got a million of them.

So surely I’m ready to roast OKC for, at the very least, putting the possibility of losing James Harden on the table, and paying Ibaka upwards of $48 million over four years, right?

Nope.

The Thunder made the right call, and it’s one that reflects their approach as an organization. Now, there’s every reason to think that keeping Harden is nowhere near off the table. It is still very much possible that Harden remains a Thunder, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Presti quietly announced it on Monday on his way to his honeymoon. But even if this move lead them to terminate their relationship with Harden in the short and long-term, it would be the right one. Consider the following:

  • The areas in which Ibaka struggles, namely face-up defense, tactical decision-making, and over-pursuit of the weakside block, those are all elements which project to improve as he gets older. Even with a loss of athleticism as he adds more muscle and transitions to bulk defender, his aggressiveness with a smarter set of principles translates to more success. He’s a smart player now. When he adds experience and wisdom, his value raises considerably. He’ll be 26 when this contract expires, just scraping that surface and still as athletic as ever.
  • Harden, comparatively, relies on sharp shooting, crafty play, and a playmaking ability. He’ll improve. He’ll be terrific. But there’s only so much better he can get. His game isn’t predicated on athleticism (though he’s athletic). What makes Harden remarkable is his almost instinctive understanding of how to make plays which take players sometimes nearly two decades to learn. But that also means he’s not going to add that element to a natural set of skills. Harden’s already a star. He’s arrived. And he’ll improve. This isn’t to diminish Harden’s ability, but to simply acknowledge that Ibaka can grow to have more of an impact and in this league, you pay for potential.
  • Stretch fours are the leading cause of death for teams. The Celtics would be a shambled pile of bones if Kevin Garnett (and to an extent Brandon Bass) didn’t keep them afloat. Chris Bosh was lethal to Oklahoma City (I know, I know, again, see the first point on him improving). Having a player who’s not so big that he can drift beyond the paint to defend causes all sorts of issues for the opponent. Ibaka’s athleticism and frame lets him guard the beasts and cover the ones that victimize through spacing. It’s a big plus, compared to a standard-sized shooting guard with limited lateral quickness. Oh, and have I mentioned that Ibaka pays Pau Gasol well?
  • Here’s a list of the best power forwards who played at least 20 minutes per game last season at shooting from 16-23 feet: Nick Collison, Dirk Nowitzki, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, David West, Serge Ibaka. Now, Collison and Ibaka had the least attempts of those players and fit a vastly different role. But the point is that no matter how irritating it may be to Spurs fans or anyone else, the shooting from mid-range isn’t a fluke. Ibaka can hit that. He’s a player who defends as he does, and can finish with the big dunk, and can hit the mid-range shot.
  • And maybe the biggest reason? The rule change the NBA is aiming for to adopt FIBA-style rules for goaltending. Under the new rules, as soon as that sucker hits rim, it’s fair game. So a lot of those goaltends are going to shift to legal blocks. Ibaka’s timing and athleticism means he can challenge with more abandon under those rules and that’s not insignificant. If those kinds of players become premium based on how the rule affects play, something we really don’t know yet, it would have a huge impact on his value.

At $12 million he’s still making less than Nene. He’s making just more than JaVale McGee. It was a reasonable market value for the player’s value without getting a steal that would leave him happy or handing him a massive contract to handcuff the Thunder.

Ibaka’s signing is less about who he’s been, but about who he could be. And even as the Thunder move very firmly into the “now’ period of their ascension, they’re still looking down the line. What could be more “Thunder” than that?

What is Jamal Crawford looking for in a new home? “Fit”

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It’s a little surprising Jamal Crawford is still available as a free agent. Yes, he is 38, and his skills and his efficiency have slipped in recent years, but the man can still get buckets off the bench and averaged 10.3 points per game last season in Minnesota.

He turned down an $4.5 million player option and is still waiting for a contract. What is he looking for? He talked about it with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, in a story about the amazing pro-am Crawford runs in Seattle every summer.

The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is an unrestricted free agent, which he said is equally worrisome and exciting…

“Fit is first and foremost when I’m thinking about where I’ll play next,” said Crawford, who wants to play another 2-3 years. “Last year, I may have made the mistake of not thinking fit all the way through.

“You look at my career, when the fit was right, I contributed on the court. … I know people that care for me want me to win (an NBA title), but I don’t know if my career will be defined by that.”

Crawford’s name was rumored with contenders such as Golden State and Houston, but nothing came of any of it. At this point Crawford is not going to be able to be as picky about fit, he may have to look at any offers that come in.

Most teams’ rosters are set, and at this point in the summer most teams are happy with their rosters, or at least have talked themselves into being happy with it. Crawford may be a guy who gets a call a couple weeks into training camp, or a week or two into the season, when a team realizes its bench was not as impressive as it thought. There are teams he could still help, even if those teams don’t realize it yet.

Scout on Rodney Hood: ‘Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point’

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Rodney Hood is the best free agent still available.

Hood’s problem is he’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer for him. No team was interested enough in his skills — after last season when the Jazz traded him away to Cleveland and he struggled to get off the Cavs’ bench — to come in over the top with an offer the Cavs wouldn’t match, so teams never tied up their money with an offer. He still has no contract in front of him to sign.

Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz, talking to a scout, asked about the Cavaliers (the scout agrees with those of us in the “why didn’t they just start the rebuild now?” camp) and Hood in particular.

“Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point. I don’t think anyone else wants him, which is surprising because I really liked him in Utah. Utah just let him fly. I was impressed with how he came back in the Finals as an ‘I’ll show you’ game.

“I always liked him. He’ll be good in Cleveland because Cleveland’s going to be bad, and they’ll need his scoring. Who else are they going to go to? He’ll get quality minutes on that roster. How could he not? I’m not sure how tough he is, though. He can put up big scoring numbers on a bad team.”

It’s incredible how far Hood’s stock fell in one season. Heading into last season he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz (Donovan Mitchell became that guy). By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench), although once put into the Finals he showed by Tyronn Lue should have gone to him earlier.

Hood’s options at this point are to play for the $3.4 million qualifying offer and become a free agent next summer, or work out a deal with the Cavaliers for a couple of seasons at a number he likes.

 

Baron Davis vs. Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis in Big3 championship showdown next Friday

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The Big3 finals are set — and there are a lot of names NBA fans will know.

On one side is Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Chris “The Birdman” Andersen of top-ranked Power. They are coached by former NBA assistant coach and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman — and they had to sweat out their semi-finals win.

On the other side are DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, and Andre Emmett of 3’s Company, the three seed, who are coached by Lakers’ legend and NBA/WNBA coach Michael Cooper. Emmett got them to the finals.

Power and 3’s Company will face off to decide the Big3 title next Friday night in Brooklyn (live on Fox at 8 p.m. Eastern). The semi-finals drew a record crowd in Dallas, and the league has seen its ratings climb on its regular live Friday night slot (they drew 1.47 million viewers this past Friday, roughly the same as an NBA regular season game). All of that has to make Ice Cube happy.

It will be an interesting matchup. Power has been the team to beat all season, with a balanced scoring attack led by Maggette, who has the second most points in the league (behind the legendary Ricky Davis, a player beloved by NBA Twitter, with good reason). In the clutch though Power has looked to Big Baby and his power game inside.

However, Emmett — the former Texas Tech standout from when Bobby Knight coached the team, who was a second-round NBA draft pick and has spent most of his career overseas — may well be the MVP of the league. He is capable of taking over the one-game Finals and making the upset a reality.

North Dakota Standing Rock tribe to honor Celtics’ Kyrie Irving

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It’s not something known by a lot of fans, but Celtics’ star Kyrie Irving has Native American roots. His mother (who has passed away), and Irving’s grandparents and on back on her side, were members of the North Dakota Standing Rock tribe, part of the Sioux nation.

Irving has a Standing Rock tribal image tattooed on his neck and even in social media messages about something else he has included #StandingRockSiouxTribe.

The hardest thing to do sometimes is accept the uncontrollable things life throws at you. You try consistently to learn, grow, and prepare everyday to equip your mind, body, and spirit with tools to deal with some of those things, but I feel when those moments arise they all give you a sense of unfulfillment, simply because it puts some of your professional journey and goals on a brief hold. It's simply a test of your perseverance and Will, to be present, even in the wake of what's going on. In this case, finding out I have an infection in my knee is definitely a moment that I now accept and move past without holding on to the all the what ifs, proving the nay-Sayers completely f***ing wrong, and accomplishing the goals I've set out for the team and myself. This season was only a snapshot of what's to come from me. Trust Me. "The journey back to the top of Mt. Everest continues." #StandingRockSiouxTribe Let's go Celtics!! Celtics fans, I look forward to hearing how loud it gets in the TD Garden during the playoffs and experiencing how intense the environment gets. Thank you all!

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Next week, Irving will head to North Dakota to be honored by them and take part in a community event.

Many people know Standing Rock as the tribe that stood up to and protested the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which ran an oil pipeline through their lands. Irving Tweeted support for them at the time.

Good for Irving. More and more NBA players seem to be honoring their heritage, their families. Irving’s takes a little different path than most, but he stands up strong for it.