GM Survey: Where Darko Milicic is underrated and Carmelo Anthony is MVP

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Everyone has that buddy that acts perfectly logical and sane, but forces you to reevaluate your friendship after he blurts out something like, “Carlos Boozer is going to win MVP this year!” Well, good news everyone: NBA General Managers are just like you, me, and your friend you can no longer take seriously.

Let’s take a look at some particularly bizarre things that were said in the NBA GM survey released today. Keep in mind that general managers weren’t allowed to vote for their own players or personnel, which makes these answers (and the who-done-it mystery) all the more confounding.

1. Carmelo Anthony: MVP

Let’s try to rationalize this. The MVP award can be all about the narrative, right? Maybe New York comes out and crushes the league during the regular season, and it’s Carmelo Anthony leading the way. The long awaited actualization of immense natural talent — what a story! And ever since LeBron James and Kevin Durant were abducted by aliens, it’s an easy call to make! Look, unless “defense” and “scoring efficiency” cease to exist in the year 2013, let’s go ahead and chalk this up to a GM doing some grade-A trolling.

Likely culprit: Masai Ujiri, Denver Nuggets GM, Master Troll

2. Most underrated player acquisition: Darko Milicic

If by “underrated” this GM means “not rated all because it doesn’t matter” then this is a great pick that makes all kinds of sense. It’s hard to express just how awful Darko Milicic has been throughout his entire career, but I’ll try. Darko posted a PER of 9.0 (average PER is 15), had a true shooting percentage of 45.8 percent, had zero win shares, had a lower defensive rebounding percentage than Andrea Bargnani, and was considered a malcontent through it all. But, other than that, I’m sure he’s on the brink of a breakout in his 10th NBA season. That happens all the time.

Likely Culprit: David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves GM, Manna from Heaven Believer

 

3. Best Perimeter Defender: Kobe Bryant

Aren’t reputations fun? Bryant has been playing matador defense for a while now, sending everything to the bigs in the paint behind him. That may be a viable strategy now that Dwight Howard is patrolling the paint, but it’s laughable to suggest that Bryant is the best perimeter defender in the league when there are much quicker players who are really only in the league because defense is their one skill. You think Tony Allen gets playing time for his isolation ability? Or that Thabo Seflosha plays over James Harden because he’s a pure scorer? Bryant can still play a mean center field defensively, but he’s nowhere near the on-ball defender he used to be.

Likely Culprit:  Lon Babby, Phoenix Suns GM, Part-Time Lakers Assistant GM

4. Player you want taking a shot with the game on the line: Chauncey Billups

Behold the power of a nickname! Chauncey Billups, also known as Mr. Big Shot, had gone 3-of-27 with the game on the line from 2006-2011. In that same time frame, Chris Paul was 14-for-31. So while the GM who picked Chuancey Billups may have had the right team, he definitely picked the wrong player. In fact, anyone not named Chauncey with at least 15 attempts would have been a better choice. This is an impressive level of wrong here.

Likely Culprit: Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons GM, Proud Nostalgist

5. The Timberwolves will win the Northwest Division instead of the Thunder or Nuggets

Who needs baby steps when you can take gigantic leaps? This isn’t an indictment on what Minnesota has cooking — many smart people predict Minnesota to make the playoffs and the numbers support it. But are they really better than the Thunder? It’s hard to make that massive jump with Ricky Rubio still making his way back from ACL surgery and Kevin Love sidelined for the beginning of the season. Maybe the GM forgot the Thunder were in this division. After all, Oklahoma City really isn’t in the Northwest.

Likely Culprit: Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets GM, Numbers Fiend

6. The Hawks will win the Southeast Division instead of the Heat

Nevermind that the Heat are the defending champs, added some guy named Ray Allen, and still feature the best player in the league in the prime of his career. That’s all circumstantial, because the Hawks…traded Joe Johnson? You won’t find a bigger Anthony Morrow fan than me (with the possible exception of this GM), but only Harry the Hawk or someone who runs a team that has adopted a vendetta against all things Miami could possibly believe something like…oh. Right.

Likely Culprit: Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics GM, Loyal Feudist (Obviously this was actually Pat Riley, since he can’t vote for his own team. But it’s more fun to think that it’s Ainge, isn’t it?)

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).