Five players that need a change of scenery

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Breakups are never fun, but sometimes it just has to be done. Maybe there’s someone new, or things have become stale, or both parties just need to go a different direction. The following is a list of five talented players who could really use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech from their current teams.

Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets

There was a time when Martin and the Rockets were absolutely perfect for each other. Martin was really the poster boy for “Moreyball” —  he was awkward as could be, but he put up incredible stats. However, after multiple failed (or vetoed) attempts to acquire a superstar, the Rockets have shifted young and are perhaps finally breaking bad — accepting short-term failure for potential long-term gains.

But where does that leave poor Kevin Martin? Although he has played the majority of his career on losing teams (475 regular season games played, but only 6 playoff game appearances) the 28-year-old shooting guard incorporates a style that requires the games to mean something. Despite his slender frame and injury history, Martin led the NBA in made free throws in 2010-2011, and has finished in the top 10 of that category four times in his career. After a huge drop-off in that department last season, it’s clear that Martin could stand to play meaningful basketball again. That’s probably not happening in Houston. As he recently said himself, the Rockets just don’t have a chance to compete with the Thunder and Lakers any longer.

Martin is on a 12.9 million dollar deal that expires this season. He can’t afford to have his minutes jerked around like Kevin McHale did last year. Don’t be surprised if a contender takes a chance on one of the most efficient scorers the league has to offer — so long as he’s healthy.

J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic

The Dwight Howard saga affected a lot of people, but J.J. Redick may have been hurt the most. Not only does Redick lose the post presence that freed him up for his outside sharpshooting, but he also has to fight for minutes with the “big haul” from the trade: shooting guard Arron Afflalo. You can actually make the argument that Redick is a better offensive player than Afflalo, and at least last season, he may have been the better defender as well. Afflalo is a nice player, but there was a Trevor Ariza quality to his play last year, as his defensive performance dipped dramatically (Synergy Sports ranked him the worst wing defender in basketball) as he focused more on expanding his offensive game.

Nevertheless, Orlando has little choice but to give Afflalo the majority of the minutes at the 2 to keep the egg off their face, and that means there is a prime opportunity for a team to swoop in and steal Redick, who is a knockdown 3-point shooter (40% career) who takes nothing off the table. You’d be hard pressed to find a contender that couldn’t use a sure thing like Redick — and because he’s on an expiring contract, Orlando might be wise to see what they can get in return before he leaves town.

Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

There’s a clear movement taking place in Toronto. The Raptors want to get younger, and they want to get better defensively. Kyle Lowry starting over Jose Calderon accomplishes both of those things, but that doesn’t mean Calderon can’t be a starting point guard in the league anymore. Calderon is really a coach’s best friend — he gets his teams into their sets, he hardly ever turns over the ball or makes careless mistakes, and he’s an incredible free throw shooter. Calderon could provide plenty of stability to a team that really sticks to their stuff in the halfcourt (think Utah or New Orleans) so long as they’re willing to forfeit a few points on the other end. Calderon is still a swinging door defensively, but point guard is the position where you can most afford a bad defender.

Another player on a big deal that expires after this season, Calderon will probably head the list of available point guard options on the market come trade deadline season.

Ekpe Udoh, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Finally, someone on this list who plays a little defense! Udoh is an incredibly flawed big man that can’t score in the paint or rebound, but pair him with a specific type of frontcourt player (think along the lines of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap) and Udoh’s rim protection (4th in block percentage last year), pick-and-roll defense, and stretchiness out to 15-feet make him well worth the playing time. The Bucks were much better defensively last season with Udoh on the floor, but they threw another log in the frontcourt jam when they drafted John Henson — another shot blocking specialist. With Ersan Illyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Henson all needing minutes at either the 4 or the 5, Udoh could be left scrapping for leftovers.

With big time decisions on tap for Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (and Beno Udrih’s contract expiring), Milwaukee might want to sell Udoh’s late bloomer appeal for a viable backcourt option.

DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the only team with the chutzpah not to pass on the ACL-less DeJuan Blair in the 2009 NBA Draft, and Blair immediately rewarded the Spurs by posting the league’s best offensive rebounding percentage in 2010-11. Even though Blair is a solid contributor during the regular season, where Gregg Popovich distributes minutes like he’s dealing cards in a poker card game, that all quickly comes to a halt during playoff time. More than ever before, the Spurs are relying on spacing and stretching the floor — which is the main reason why Boris Diaw leapfrogged the other bigs on the roster. With Diaw, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter all commanding time in the frontcourt, there just doesn’t seem to be any room for Blair, despite his impressive 17.5 career PER.

Although the league is trending away from throwback power forwards who gobble up rebounds and score in the paint, Blair could still carry a second unit with his energy and post scoring. Like Martin and Calderon, Blair can’t defend a lick, but it would be a crime to see a young rebounding machine yet again relegated to the end of the bench when the games begin to really matter.

Rudy Gobert on dynamic with Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: ‘I’m the a—hole’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
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Rudy Gobert is the Jazz’s best player.

Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s biggest star.

That situation naturally creates tension. Gobert and Mitchell testing positive for coronavirus exacerbated it.

Mitchell was upset with Gobert, whose reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus. Now, Mitchell sounds ready to move on.

But other issues remain.

Mitchell quickly became Utah’s go-to offensive player. He’s a sensational scorer with a magnetic personality and electrifying dunks. But he’s still developing as a playmaker, which can frustrate Gobert.

Most famously, Gobert cried when discussing his All-Star snub last year. Gobert plays a complementary style that can be underrated. He’s an elite defender who cleans up for his teammates. On offense, does all the little things – screening, finishing, rebounding. Yet, all that diligent screening isn’t always rewarded with passes when he gets open.

Should Mitchell pass more to Gobert? Yes. But Gobert has also let his effort slip this season when not getting touches, and that’s not the right solution, either.

Gobert, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” said Gobert, adding that he knows Mitchell’s job is difficult as the focal point of defenses. “I think maybe because he was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it.

“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent. Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”

“If I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t want to be watching f—ing Rudy Gobert. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell. I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course.

“I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”

There’s an endearing amount of self-awareness in these quotes.

Gobert and Mitchell have a chance to form a highly successful partnership in Utah. Winning could bond them. On the other hand, losing could push them further apart. Another potential complication: Mitchell – with all his talent and about four years younger than Gobert – will probably soon surpass Gobert as a player. Then what? How will each handle that?

The future is unpredictable, but it’s worth understanding the current relationship between Gobert and Mitchell. To do that, I highly recommend reading MacMahon’s excellent article.

Nets’ Taurean Prince tests positive for coronavirus, will sit out restart

Taurean Prince Nets
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Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Nicholas Claxton all had pre-existing injuries and were never expected to play in the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Wilson Chandler opted out of the restart to spend time with his family.  DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie both tested positive for the coronavirus and did not join the team headed to Orlando on Tuesday. That’s six players from the Nets roster not playing in the restart.

Make that seven — forward Taurean Prince tested positive for coronavirus and will sit out restart as well. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Prince started at the four for the Nets and averaged 12.1 points and six rebounds a game.

The Nets are free to sign a substitute player to fill in for Prince, however, that player must have fewer than three years of NBA experience. Whoever the Nets line up, it will be a drop off in quality from what Prince brought to the table.

Expect the Nets to look at big men for substitute players because they need size. Jarrett Allen is the only true center on the roster, and there are only two other players — Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa — are taller than 6’9″. Amir Johnson is one Nets’ big man target, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Brooklyn enters the restart as the seven seed in the East, but just half a game up on eight seed Orlando, a team that is largely healthy and bringing its full roster. It’s likely the Nets slide back to the eight seed, but likely make the playoffs (Washington, playing without Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans, would have to make up two games on the Nets during the eight seeding games, then beat Brooklyn in a two straight play-in series games, a tall order). The Nets reward for making the playoffs? Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee.

WNBA players call for ouster of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
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NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.

WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.

Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.

The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:

The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front.   Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts.  “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.

In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.

The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.

The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.

Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.

Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.

Women’s National Basketball Players Association:

WNBA:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice.  Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”

That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.

She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”

If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.

Regardless, backlash spread.

Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:

Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:

Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:

There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)

But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.

Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.

It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.

The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.

The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.

It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.

She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.

Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.

 

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
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Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.