The Extra Pass: Analyzing a potential Memphis-Toronto deal

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we analyze a potential deal between the Grizzlies and Raptors. 

The recent reports linking Rudy Gay to Toronto aren’t all that surprising. It’s no big secret around the league that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is in the market for a “star” player, and we can safely assume that Memphis wants to move Gay at some point to avoid the luxury tax going forward.

It’s a good match on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper:

The motivation to deal

Toronto: Why is a young 16-29 team so anxious to acquire a B-level star on a huge contract? The answer has an awful lot to do with Jose Calderon.

Calderon is a really good player, but more importantly, his $10.5 million dollar expiring contract may be the best asset the Raptors have to lure a big name to Toronto. After having cap space last free agency and failing to land Steve Nash, the Raps were stuck footing the bill for Landry Fields ($6.25 million/3 years remaining). That sort of thing can’t happen again, but the good news is that it almost definitely can’t. DeMar DeRozan’s contract extension all but guarantees the Raptors won’t have the chance to strike out this offseason, as even without Calderon, they’ll have about $59 million dollars on the books next season.

With the avenue to improve in free agency pretty much closed, the only real way for the Raptors to acquire a “star” is via trade — especially since they no longer have their first round pick thanks to the Kyle Lowry trade. Colangelo has to know he screwed this up, and a trade involving Calderon or Lowry to bring back an asset may be his last chance at fixing the problem.

Memphis: 

The absolute most important thing to remember when considering a potential Rudy Gay trade ($16.4 million/3 years remaining) is that the Grizzlies aren’t looking to take on substantial future salary. They need to get under the luxury tax for the future, and with the Conley/Gay/Randolph/Gasol core, that’s going to be incredibly difficult to do.

Because they don’t want to add future salary, you can safely rule out Andrea Bargnani ($10 million/3 years remaining) and DeRozan ($9.5 million/4 years remaining) coming to Memphis in any two-team deal involving Gay. That robs us of the hilarity of “Grit and Grind” having to deal with Bargnani, but such is life.

From a salary matching perspective, that means Jose Calderon ($10.5 million/expiring) would almost have to be involved in any deal for Gay. The Raptors may be more interested in moving Kyle Lowry ($5.75 million/2 years remaining), but the Grizzlies would have to take on an undesirable mid-level contract or two to make that happen, which again, seems counter-intuitive to the whole point of trading Gay in the first place.

The pieces

That doesn’t leave Lowry completely out of the question, though.  He’d likely be a good fit as a scoring 6th man for the Grizzlies, but more importantly, his contract isn’t guaranteed next season. That means Memphis could shave about $5.2 million in salary if they waive him before July 15th. That’s likely pretty appealing, but a third team would almost certainly have to get involved if the Raptors decided to hang on to Calderon and deal Lowry instead.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the Grizzlies don’t really need a point guard with Mike Conley holding down the starting spot, so a question of positional depth comes into play. If Gay gets shipped out, who plays the 3 for the Grizzlies? Quincy Pondexter should be back from his knee injury soon, and D-League call-up Chris Johnson has been impressive thus far, but is that enough to head into the playoffs with? Would a guy like Raptors swingman Alan Anderson be enough to calm those concerns?

That’s just one of the many questions surrounding a potential deal that’s also rumored to include a swap of Grizzlies’ super-sub Darrell Arthur and promising young big man Ed Davis. Simply gathering cheap, productive assets like Davis while gaining tax relief may be enough for the Grizzlies to part with Gay, but it makes a potential trade more curious for Toronto, unless future draft picks are involved.

All that said, the motivation to make a deal is there with both teams — especially since Toronto doesn’t have the leverage most teams would hold over the Grizzlies. Calderon is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is heading into the twilight of his career, so you have to figure he’ll want a chance at a ring elsewhere.  Toronto can’t afford to let him walk away for nothing, just like Memphis can’t afford to keep paying Gay. It’s a classic buyer-seller fit, even if a third team might be required to make the pieces match up.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.