Even if they could, should the Lakers go after ‘Melo to pair with Kobe, Nash? No.

44 Comments

We start this exercise in the hypothetical with this grounded in reality caveat — very few people around the league think Carmelo Anthony is leaving New York next summer as a free agent. Yes, he certainly will opt out of his current deal as he told the New York Observer, and anything can happen in a year, but the conventional wisdom around league front offices is he stays put. He worked too hard to get to NYC and would leave a guaranteed year and $30 million on the table to bolt.

That said, if he leaves, the Lakers are the most likely landing spot. Kobe and Anthony are buddies, he lives there in the off-season, his wife loves it there, the Lakers have cap space… we can go on if you want.

Yes, Dallas is a potential landing spot as are a bunch of other teams with cap space (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Orlando and so on). Plus other teams with trade chips could try to get in the mix (Greg Monroe in Detroit?). But the Lakers are the team most people point to when they talk about ‘Melo leaving the Big Apple.

To me, the bigger question is: Would that really a smart idea for the Lakers?

No, not really.

Not if they are trying to build a title contender.

First, it’s going to take a salary cap high wire act to get Anthony to the Lakers. While it well documented the Lakers only have $12 million on the books next season ($9.7 million of that belonging to Steve Nash) they have massive cap holds for Kobe Bryant ($32 million) and Pau Gasol ($20.2 million). (This assumes the Lakers do not trade Gasol mid-season.) There are also cap holds for Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and others the Lakers might renounce.

The only way for the Lakers to use all that cap space to bring in Anthony is to either renounce the rights to Kobe or Gasol, or get one of them to take a reduced contract and let the other one walk. That second option is the more likely scenario — the Lakers aren’t going to let Kobe go but they will ask him to take a Kevin Garnett/Tim Duncan pay cut down to the $10 million range (and despite his earlier comments I expect he will). If that happens the Lakers can sign ‘Melo to a max deal, pair him with Kobe and Nash.

Again, there are a host of ways it could go down but that is the most likely scenario….

And it’s a  terrible one if the Lakers are chasing a ring.

Look at what LA would have: The Lakers would start the 2014-15 season with 30-year-old Anthony, 36-year-old Kobe Bryant and 40-year-old Nash surrounded by a bunch of role players. The best part is all of them are likely running Mike D’Antoni’s system that Anthony chaffed against in New York.

Even if they change systems it wouldn’t matter. The Lakers would have two unconscious gunners who love (and make a fair amount of) bad shots, plus they would be a defensive mess. Their best players would be old, injury prone and in a deep West this roster likely is a middle of the pack seed that would be one-and-done. Even if they keep Gasol somehow it doesn’t change the dynamic. Then in a few years they could try to rebuild around Anthony and his massive contract as his skills are deteriorating.

How would this seem like a good plan to anyone?

The Lakers can take a meeting with Anthony next summer, but he is a terrible rebuilding plan. They can find a better one.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

image

Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
1 Comment

Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.

New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: ‘I think I’m in the best place in the league’

AP Photo/Morry Gash
5 Comments

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly finish fourth in Most Valuable Player voting this year, his age-23 season.

The last coach to take over a team with a player who already accomplished so much at such a young age – Del Harris (a familiar name in Milwaukee), who inherited reigning MVP Moses Malone with the Rockets in 1979. It’s just so rare for jobs coaching such a promising player top come open.

“I think I’m in the best place in the league,” new Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference today.

Budenholzer had his pick of Milwaukee and Toronto, another highly successful team, especially for one seeking a new coach. But the Bucks offer Antetokounmpo and more modest expectations.

Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Budenholzer was asked today as much about delivering a division title as an NBA title.

Topping the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons and Bulls sounds much easier than surpassing the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and 76ers in coming years.

Not that Budenholzer, who reached the conference finals with the Hawks, is completely ducking big talk.

“We’re lucky to have a Giannis, who will do anything to win, and a Khris Middleton that will do anything to win,” Budenholzer said. “When you have your best players that are true competitors and that are truly unselfish and care more about the team than they do themselves, those are a couple of big, foundational blocks to winning championships and doing things that are special.”

The Bucks held the press conference at their still-under-construction new arena, the media wearing hard hats and orange vests:

But this isn’t a complete rebuild for Budenholzer.

Milwaukee has made the playoffs the last two seasons, including winning 44 games this year. Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Middleton is a borderline All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is a solid starter. Restricted free agent-to-be Jabari Parker is talented. The rotation is somewhat deep.

The Bucks just underachieved under former coach Jason Kidd (and never capitalized before him for more than a decade for other reasons).

Citing the potential of current players, Budenholzer said Milwaukee could become “elite” defensively. The Bucks are full of long and athletic players, and Budenholzer coached sound defenses in Atlanta. There’s only one reason to doubt him: Milwaukee finished just 17th in points allowed per possession this season.

But that’s a feature of this job, not a bug. The Bucks aren’t stuck with an inevitably bad defenders. They just underperformed. Budenholzer can nudge them ahead – and is positioned to receive outsized credit if he does.

“Working with the entire with the entire roster, with the front office, with ownership,” Budenholzer said, “I can’t wait to take us to the next level in Milwaukee.”

That next level isn’t that high, which is why Budenholzer is right.

Milwaukee is a great place for a coach to be.

Mike D’Antoni: Rockets ‘played soft’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
1 Comment

The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 last night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

We didn’t switch up into people, we didn’t box off. It’s just one thing led to another. Played soft, actually.

His stars agreed.

James Harden:

He’s right. We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We started off the game pretty solid, and then we let them gain some confidence to end the first quarter. You know, but just defensively they didn’t feel us and it showed tonight.

Chis Paul:

Coach is right. We’ve got to be better. I think, you know, we’ve got to come out more aggressive. We were letting them hit first, you know what I mean? They were running their screens and all that stuff like that. I mean, we know that we’re at our best when we’re in transition and not taking the ball out the net. And tonight we were taking the ball out the net. We had 19 turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic of us. We knew we were going to get a great game from them being back here at home, but we’ve got to be better Game 4.

That’s a harsh assessment – but at least somewhat warranted. The Rockets applied far too little defensive pressure, and they missed shots inside and committed turnovers as if they were rattled.

I don’t think the Rockets are soft. But they looked soft in the face of Golden State’s elite ability.

The Warriors pressure teams into mistakes and then exploit many of them. Play that doesn’t look soft against other opponents suddenly does against Golden State.

Houston can toughen up before Game 4 Tuesday. Acclimating to the Warriors’ high level of play, especially at home, could help. The Rockets are good enough to hang at this level.

But it certainly won’t be easy.