Doc Rivers says Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have plenty left to give to the Nets

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When the Celtics pulled the plug on their championship aspirations by trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, it wasn’t because those two Hall of Fame players were completely finished.

Salary considerations — along with the reality that even if the core stars were kept together in Boston for one more season, it still wouldn’t have been enough to get out of the Eastern Conference — were among the deciding factors in the team deciding to begin the rebuilding process sooner rather than later.

Pierce and Garnett can both still play at a high level, and that’s what the Nets were banking on when they agreed to take on the payroll and somewhat ridiculous luxury tax bill that it will be paying with those two in the fold next season.

Former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers believes it was a wise investment.

From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

“I think obviously Paul’s younger and in tune to play more minutes than Kevin,” Rivers said. “But I think they’re still at the top of their games. I think Paul is still one of those guys who can go off for big nights and still have big scoring nights. Kevin is a culture change. He won’t play but 20 to 25 minutes a night and there’ll probably be nights when he doesn’t play but his presence there alone will absolutely change the culture of Brooklyn. There’s no doubt about it. I think for some of the young guys, even some of the veteran stars, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, will learn and understand what a winner is and looks like and professionalism and being prepared.

“That’s what I was most impressed with Kevin, how every game he prepared himself for games. That’s what I told our young guys that I just wanted them to watch him prepare for games. It was why he was so consistent. I thought it was that important.”

The example Pierce and Garnett will set for the rest of the Nets form a professional standpoint while having the experience of winning a championship to draw from will be an invaluable contribution to the franchise.

Rivers is obviously coming from a place of great bias when talking up two of his former players, but he’s not wrong, either. Pierce and Garnett do still have plenty to contribute, and should make the Nets a very interesting team to watch next season.

Raptors, Nuggets to face off in game between conference leaders

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Sunday night’s marquee matchup in the NBA features the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conference.

No, it’s not Boston vs. Golden State, as many would expect. Instead, Toronto and Denver lead their respective conferences a third of the way through the season.

The Raptors (23-8) come into Sunday’s matchup in Denver banged up, but they have company. The Nuggets are missing three starters from opening night but have been able to push through for their best start in decades.

Denver (19-9) leads the Western Conference this late in the season for the first time despite not having forward Paul Millsap (broken toe), guard Gary Harris (hip) and forward Will Barton (core muscle surgery). Coach Michael Malone has dug deep into his bench and found some production.

Most notable among the players stepping up is third-year forward Juancho Hernangomez. The Spaniard has played well this season, including 16 points in a key win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

He also had a big block in the final seconds of a 100-98 win over Golden State in the third game of the season.

“Juancho always plays extremely hard,” Malone told reporters after Friday’s win. “I think in his first two years he was playing very hard but not a lot of discipline. He was just all over the place. I think he’s calming down, he’s understanding who he’s guarding, tendencies, he’s having a lot more discipline within the game plan.”

Toronto has also adjusted to injuries, but it will be tested without center Jonas Valanciunas, who underwent surgery on his dislocated left thumb Thursday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Forward Kawhi Leonard scored 28 Friday night at Portland after missing two games with a hip injury, and guard Kyle Lowry is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a thigh injury. He didn’t play against the Trail Blazers two nights after having 23 points and 12 assists in a win at Golden State.

Lowry had been struggling a bit before the win over the Warriors, which was a surprise to teammate Fred VanVleet.

“It’s unusual to see a guy who plays at a high level like that go through slumps,” VanVleet told reporters earlier in the week.

“But it comes and goes. It was just shot-making, really. It wasn’t like he wasn’t showing effort. He was probably frustrated he wasn’t making shots, but that comes and goes, and he’s right back where we want him, and where we need him to be.”

VanVleet had 21 points and eight assists Friday and likely will be tasked with trying to contain Denver point guard Jamal Murray.

The job of containing Nuggets center Nikola Jokic should fall to Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam, but not many have been able to contain the Serbian.

Toronto will be looking for some revenge, too. The Nuggets snapped the Raptors’ eight-game winning streak with a 106-103 victory on Dec. 3. Jokic had a triple-double and Lowry missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.

Denver had Millsap and Harris in that game but won’t have either Sunday.

Jabari Parker says he doesn’t expect benching to be permanent

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Jabari Parker is no longer a part of the Chicago Bulls lineup, and he is reportedly available in a trade.

Parker was taken out of the Bulls regular rotation after their game against the Orlando Magic this week, and it was just another odd story coming out of the Windy City. In addition to the Parker saga, the team has also fired their coach and had a player-organized protest of his replacement.

The Chicago native is the highest paid player on the Bulls roster, but his short time with the team has been rocky. He’s not been the player the Bulls want, and his attitude hasn’t been great, which led to his benching. For his part, Parker told media that he didn’t think his removal from the lineup would be permanent.

Via Chicago Tribune:

“I’m not expecting it to be (permanent),” Parker said. “Everybody is telling me the truth and that’s just to stay ready. They’re not telling me things I want to hear. They’re not pointing fingers. And personally, I know I’ve done my job to embrace Jim as the head coach. I’ve been nothing but welcoming of him. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

It’s hard to say for certain what will happen with Parker, but it does seem at this juncture that he’s more likely to be traded than he is to be reinserted into the Chicago lineup.

Then again, it will be difficult to trade Parker for anything substantive. His deal is expiring after this season, with a team option for next, but it comes at a whopping at $20 million price tag. That will be hard for teams to swallow, and the best choice for the Bulls might be just to eat Parker’s deal for this season and keep their cap flexibility for next.

Stephen Curry talked with astronaut Scott Kelly on Instagram Live about moon landing comments

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Was Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry just using his moon landing comments to sell his shoes? That’s what it seemed like to me, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

Meanwhile, Curry has gone on his little PR tour in the wake of his boneheaded “joke” about the moon landing being fake. It’s included talking to astronaut Scott Kelly on Instagram Live this week, and two had a discussion about Curry being more judicious with his words.

The video started with Curry essentially making a kind of public apology directly to Kelly. His words were, in part:

“It was important for me to understand, one the magnitude of things that I say and my comments how much weight they carry, joking or not.

For me to reflect on the last week, it’s been one of those situations where I had President Obama contact me, you [Kelly] and one other astronaut. [You all] really wanted to educate me on how significant the moon landing was — obviously it was real — but in terms of the sense national pride, and how that exploration fo mankind has pushed boundaries and limits on what is possible.”

Kelly went on to remark that he felt like the less-harmful conspiracy theories — like the moon landing or the Flat Earth theory — helped lead folks into the realm that big conspiracies might be true.

Meanwhile teams like the Sacramento Kings are running videos trolling Curry for not believing in very recent history. At least that’s one good thing to come out of this.

You can head over to Stephen Curry’s Instagram and watch the full video of the talk with Kelly.

Winners, losers of (eventual) trade of Trevor Ariza to Washington

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It was on. Then it was off over confusion of Brookses.

Eventually, it was back on again in a different form: Trevor Ariza was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Washington Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers. No picks, nothing fancy, just a straight player swap.

Who came out on top in this deal? Let’s look at the winners and losers.

WINNER: Trevor Ariza. You can’t blame Trevor Ariza for bolting Houston last summer. The Rockets were trying to manage costs then along comes Phoenix offering the largest payday of Ariza’s career and a little more than double what he made the year before. Of course he took the cash, we’d all have. But Ariza was an awkward fit in Phoenix on a team of young players still trying to find their game, and a team without a point guard to speak of. Ariza is a role-playing wing who can knock down threes and play good defense, fitting into a system with smart veteran players… except that’s not the Suns. Ariza looked like a round peg on a team with square holes, and he was taking more two-point shots and struggling with them (40.2 percent overall on twos and just 49 percent in the restricted area). Now, Ariza gets his big paychecks and gets sent out of town. But…

LOSER: Trevor Ariza. He ended up with the Wizards, the most dysfunctional locker room in the NBA. A team where there have been apathetic efforts on the court and finger-pointing off it — not something adding a role player solves, especially when the effort issues can start with the team’s “best” player. Worse for Ariza, he had been rumored to a number of teams looking to go deep in the playoffs, including his former team the Rockets, the improved Thunder, and his hometown Lakers (he played his college ball at UCLA) but he ended up with the Wizards. Ariza’s skill set fits better with what the Wizards’ need than it did in Phoenix (he’s an upgrade over Oubre), and he unquestionably will be solid for them. However, no matter how good Ariza is as the adult in the locker room (and he is a respected veteran leader) he is not going to solve the long-running personality problems in our nation’s capital.

WINNER: Memphis Grizzlies. They stayed out of this mess. While GM Chris Wallace should get a little blame for how the Brooks screw up went down, it appears it was more the Wizards’ GM Ernie Grunfeld and the Suns leaking things that were the bigger issues. The Grizzlies were smart never to want to give up Dillon Brooks — a 22-year-old 3-&-D wing who started for them much of last season, has been good off the bench this season, and is making just $1.6 million next season — and only offer MarShon Brooks, who is 29-year-old and needs the ball in his hands to provide much value and plays a limited role. Not sure why the Suns thought it was Dillon who was in on this trade, that’s not the guy you throw in a deal, but the Grizzlies dodged this whole mess and are better off for it.

LOSER: Washington Wizards. I will stipulate one thing up front: Ariza is an upgrade over Oubre. Usually, the team that gets the best player in a trade wins it. Not this time. Ariza is a rental, a player on a one-year contract who will go where the money takes him next summer, and teams that bring in rentals should be ones trying to push themselves into elite status. Ariza does not put Washington anywhere near the Toronto/Boston/Milwaukee/Philadelphia level, and I still have them behind Indiana and probably Detroit as well. At best, this trade means maybe the Wizards have a slightly better chance of making the playoffs (and the Wizards save a little money on salary and tax, but not a significant amount). In doing so, the Wizards gave up a young trade asset who was a restricted free agent that they could control. Yes, Oubre was probably going to command more money next summer than the Wizards were willing to match, but he is young and has value, and for him the Wizards got a modest upgrade at best. It’s not a good omen for Wizards fans, considering there are more and bigger trades coming in the next year that will have a much more significant impact on the franchise.

LOSER: Kelly Oubre. On Friday night he was headed to the Memphis Grizzlies, a 16-13 team currently in the playoff mix in the West, and a team in need of good wing play. He would have gotten a lot of run, quality touches, and been on a team playing meaningful games and maybe playoff bound. On Saturday, he was headed to Phoenix, the only team in the West out of the playoff chase, and a team loaded with young talent on the wing already. That’s a punch to the gut.

LOSER: Phoenix Suns. This isn’t as severe a loss as the people above, but I can’t call this a win for Phoenix. At best, the trade is “meh” for them, a “C” if you’re grading it. Austin Rivers is a below average NBA point guard, but he’s better than the black hole Phoenix has at that position, so technically it’s an upgrade. However, Trevor Ariza was the best trade asset the Suns had by a mile and a highly coveted player, a lot of teams were talking and making offers. However, owner Robert Sarver didn’t want to deal with the Lakers and the rebuilding Suns were not willing to roll the dice on bringing in Markelle Fultz. So, with this valuable trade piece in Ariza, the Suns get a below average point guard and a nice young wing player for a team already loaded with young wing players scrapping for minutes. The Suns could have done better, but that feels like the story of this franchise the past decade. At least this distracted people from Sarver and company spinning how they didn’t threaten to move the team out if the city didn’t use taxpayer dollars to enrich the team owner.