Three Stars of the Night: Beard Power!

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I’m willing to give Paul George a pass for his slightly questionable beard growing abilities, primarily because he’s still only 22-years-old (scary, right?) and he’s still growing, uh, taller. George is listed at 6-foot-8, but some people are saying he’s now 6-foot-10, and even if that is a Bunyan-sized tall tale, we’ll let him finish growing up before we demand a better beard. It’s only fair, especially when he’s distracting us with offensive explosions against the Miami Heat. As for our other two stars? Those beards and those games require little introduction. It’s Three Stars:

Third Star: Reggie Evans – (2 points and 23 rebounds in 27 minutes)

Evans has been rebounding tirelessly for years, but tonight’s game was his masterpiece. His 23 rebounds marked a new career-high, but that only scratches the surface of his dominance on the glass. Evans pulled down 16 of those boards in the first half alone, and at one point about halfway through the third quarter, he had one more rebound than the entire 76ers team! The only way this could have been better is if Evans were allowed to play garbage time of the Nets’ 109-89 whooping of Philadelphia, or if he didn’t score two points, record two assists and grab one steal. How fun would a line with only 23 rebounds in it be? Instead, we’ll have to revel in the absurd rebounding percentages and rebound per minute stats from tonight — the same stats that for his career firmly place him among the greatest rebounders to ever play.

 

Second Star: James Harden – (31 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists)

Just another day at the office for Harden, who has now scored at least 25 points in his last 13 games. As the Rockets further define their style of play with each passing game, Harden looks like an even better fit. Houston plays at the lightning quick pace of 97 possessions per 48 minutes, a number not even the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns teams played at. These guys push the ball off misses and let threes fly with zero restraint, but it’s Harden who bridges the gap when the primary break or the secondary break doesn’t yield anything. Against the shorthanded Lakers, Harden swept through the lane with his mean eurostep, he threaded the needle (and went in between the legs once) on passes to his roll men, he posted from the elbow occasionally, and when everything else broke down, he’d just stop and pop for a jumper. This offense has staying power, especially if Chandler Parsons keeps playing a mean smallball four.

 

First Star: Paul George – (29 points, 11 rebounds)

It’s awfully hard to keep Dwyane Wade and LeBron James down once you’ve got them there, but George’s second-half scoring outburst did the trick. With Indiana’s defense holding the Heat to a season-low 35 points in the second half, George took care of business on the other end with some huge momentum capturing 3-pointers and some tough finishes off the dribble. 22 of George’s 29 points came in the second half, which provided a much needed boost for one of the league’s worst offenses. It’s not often you see a team shoot 36 percent from the field and win by ten points, but Indiana’s 22 (!) offensive rebounds provided George with enough chances to fill it up. It’s funny, but a lot of people forget just how close Indiana was to defeating Miami in the playoffs last season, even with George giving them nothing offensively. The road to an NBA Finals will go through Miami for quite some time, so George netting a nice scoring night against LeBron and company is just another step in the maturation process for one of the league’s most tantalizing young talents.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins: ‘It’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work’

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DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.

Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:

I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.

Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.

They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.

But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.

I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.

So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.

Rumor: Pelicans will try to trade for wing help, likely around deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.

Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.

So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.

History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.

It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.

Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.

Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.

Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.

 

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.