The Extra Pass: Analyzing the Kings-Rockets Trade

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine the trade between the Kings and the Rockets.

How often does a team save money and improve on the court in a trade?

That’s essentially what the Sacramento Kings did when they acquired Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and cash from the Houston Rockets for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt and a second round pick on the eve of the trade deadline.

And if the world were to end sometime in June, this would be a good trade — maybe even a great trade — for Sacramento. The Kings shed about 3.7 million of salary this year (that’s prorated, mind you), pick up a million in cash, and get the best player in the deal right now in Patterson, a 23-year-old power forward who can fly up the court and stretch the floor.

Of course, the world isn’t ending in June — unless your last name is Maloof or Petrie. If all goes according to plan, longtime GM Geoff Petrie will be on a beach somewhere with his cellphone off, while the owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, will finally (thankfully) be removed of basketball decision making power — something that would have happened long ago in a more just world. These are the final days for their basketball lives, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey just happened to stroll by their garage sale at sunset.

Of course, Morey is really good at this sort of thing, and so he walked right past all the junk Sacramento wanted to get rid of and instead went inside and found the newest, shiniest thing he could. And that shiny thing was this year’s 5th pick in the NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson.

The reason this trade stunned people around the league so much was because it was assumed the Kings bumbling management group wouldn’t have the cohesiveness or the power to muck things up, but somehow (unfortunately, we don’t get to hear about the side deals) they were able to convince the Seattle group that this was something that would be beneficial for everyone.

For the Maloofs, this move is nothing more than a self-serving cash grab that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched the relocation drama unfold. Even beginning to dissect the “basketball reasons” for Sacramento making this deal is a useless exercise — there is only one real motivation here.

Houston’s motivations aren’t entirely different. As Zach Lowe of Grantland notes, the Rockets will save 1.6 million in 2013-14, which could make all the difference in being able to offer a max contract. Of course it goes beyond that for Houston — Robinson is by far the best asset in the trade, even if you don’t think he’s capable of playing up to his draft slot. I’d be hesitant to label Robinson a bust despite his shaky play so far this year, as Sacramento isn’t exactly a breeding ground for young promising talent. There’s no “royal jelly” going on there, as David Thorpe would like to say.

Robinson could of course use more time (he’s played 809 career minutes), but even with below average early season numbers like 42 percent shooting and a PER of 10.8, Robinson already does one thing great, and that’s hitting the offensive glass. Robinson averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per36 minutes –a number that would lead you to believe he can be a valuable role player as an energy guy off the bench, if nothing else.

That’s where the deal makes sense for Houston. They had three years and 3,500 minutes to evaluate Patterson, and though I’m sure they appreciated the solid production he provided (15.6 PER, 16 points per36), they likely weren’t sold enough to pay him a real contract once his rookie deal expired next season. But in Robinson, Houston gets to reset the clock and enjoy three and a half seasons of production on a rookie deal, or alternatively, they’ll have a more valuable asset to flip at some point due to Robinson’s potential — something Sacramento’s management has no time or use for.

Although trading Patterson and moving Marcus Morris to Phoenix for a second round draft pick makes the Rockets a little less stretchy, it does make them more flexible with playing time. Fellow rookies Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas will eventually need playing time, and moving Aldrich clears up some PT for promising young big man Greg Smith. In Garcia, the Rockets also get some wing depth and a veteran 3 and D guy in the mold of Carlos Delfino without having to commit any future salary. Losing a player and clearing a roster spot is actually a great thing for Houston.

While the move might not be popular with the team right now or Kevin McHale, who I’m sure enjoyed having “veterans” like Patterson and Douglas to call on, it’s a great asset acquisition at a steep discount. Would the Kings have ever traded the 5th pick  for a package of Patterson, Aldrich and Douglas before the draft? Of course not. They would have laughed at that offer.

But now? Selling Robinson’s potential, something that’s not tangible to Sacramento’s management but is to Houston, sadly makes dollars and sense.

Report: Cavaliers flying blind into draft because LeBron doesn’t know what he’s going to do

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The first day we’re going to get a hint of LeBron James‘ plan this summer is June 29 — that’s the date he has to opt into, or out of, the $35.6 million on his contract for next season.

Opt-in and that means either he’s staying with the Cavaliers or there has been an arrangement made to trade him (likely to Houston). Opt- out and he becomes a free agent on July 1 — he could re-sign with the Cavaliers, or he could sign anywhere else for next season.

What LeBron is doing could impact what the Cavaliers do at the NBA draft, keep the No. 8 pick and draft for the future or try to trade it (probably packaged with Kevin Love or another player) to get LeBron more help now.

But LeBron isn’t going to let the Cavaliers know because he himself doesn’t know, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to sources, the Cavs’ front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James’ future is concerned.

Because the superstar himself doesn’t know.

The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they’re looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.

If LeBron is going, then the Cavaliers should consider trading that pick to a team eager to land someone still on the board (if Michael Porter Jr. is still available there likely would be plenty of solid offers). However, if he’s going they should use that pick to start the rebuild (and Porter would be a good step that direction).

In reality, the Cavaliers have to act as if LeBron is gone. That was the sense one got being around the team through the playoffs and Finals, that this relationship had run its course. The Cavaliers should draft the best player they can with that pick, unless some team comes through with a killer offer for the slot (and Love plus the No. 8 is not going to land Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are not moving that fast to trade anyway). Then, if and when LeBron leaves, start looking at possible trades for Love, Kyle Korver, and every other veteran on the roster. Start the rebuild.

Still, new GM Koby Altman is flying blind on draft night, and LeBron’s not going to help the team out.

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.