The Extra Pass: The All-Mesh Team and Tuesday’s recaps

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While the Golden State Warriors were giving the Detroit Pistons the proverbial business on Tuesday night, the Warriors’ announcing crew fawned over Andre Iguodala before asking, “who wouldn’t want to play with this guy?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but I tried to answer it anyway. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any joyless, Oscar the Grouchian NBA player who wouldn’t love playing with Iguodala.

And it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Iguodala defends the best player on the floor every night. He looks to distribute before anything else. He’s completely unselfish, yet he requires very little from his teammates in order to be successful. I’d be suspicious of any player who didn’t want Iguodala on their team.

Iguodala is just a player who meshes. It seems a little silly that he has only played in one All-Star game and been named to an All-Defensive team just once in his career, but guys who make a living by fitting in sometimes struggle to stand out.

There are other players like Iguodala out there. Maybe the individual accolades won’t come their way, but at least we can name them to the All-Mesh team.

PG: Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks

Even if you don’t have a vested interest in the Knicks, watching guys like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani stand around on the court is enough to make you throw things at your television. Maybe it’s the contrast that makes him so refreshing, but Pablo Prigioni is infinitely entertaining to watch.

Every assumption you probably had about Prigioni before you saw him play was incorrect. He’s 36-years-old and looks unathletic, but Prigioni plays with this non-stop motor defensively that drives opposing point guards nuts. The Knicks were 4.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Prigioni on the floor last year, and through six games this year, Prigioni has a true shooting percentage of 84.4 (!) percent.

Prigioni can play on or off the ball, he can space the floor and make the right swing pass, he won’t take bad shots, and he can change a game with his defensive hounding. The Knicks aren’t hard up for players who just want to score and do very little else, and so Prigioni provides some badly needed balance.

SG: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

You knew it wouldn’t be long until a Spur popped up on this team. Green is the preeminent “3 and D” guy in the league, but people will still make a funny face when you call him a top-10 shooting guard, for some reason.

While 3-point shooting is his calling card, what I like best about Green is his ability to protect the stars around him.

If Tony Parker is having a rough time staying with an opposing point guard, he has Green right there to take the assignment. Instead of having defenders swarm him in the post, Tim Duncan can jab step to his heart’s content because Green is sitting in the corner and keeping his man with glued to him.

His reputation is still attached to his name instead of his game, but Green is a guy literally every team could use.

SF: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

I’ve explained why he’s here, and the fact that he has fit in so incredibly well to a team loaded with wings is a testament to his blending abilities. Just thinking about how maligned he was in Philadelphia for not being Allen Iverson and shooting 35 times a game makes me sick to my stomach.

PF: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

We’ll cheat by listing Horford as a power forward, which he might actually prefer thanks to the long-standing tradition of talented big man (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) not wanting to be considered centers.

If there’s something on a basketball court that Horford can’t do, let me know. He contributes in every single facet of the game, and it’s hard to imagine a frontcourt partner that would be a truly bad fit for him given his varied and balanced skill-set. Every player looks better next to him, and that says it all.

C: Marc Gasol

Before I die, I’d like to write a 40,000 word ode to the Gasol brothers and the beautiful basketball they play, but I’ll spare you for the time being.

Marc resurrected the career of Zach Randolph and conditioned Defensive Player of the Year voters to value positioning over raw blocks totals, which were two things that I thought would never happen in my lifetime.

With Pau on the decline, we should be thanking the basketball gods (or Mr. and Ms. Gasol) that we still have Marc in his prime. There aren’t many players you can say this about, but you can build an entire defense around Marc, and then run your whole offense through him as well. He’s truly a brilliant player.

-D.J. Foster

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Miami 118, Milwaukee 95: The Heat had allowed almost 109 points per game in the team’s three losses this season, and after LeBron James came out and publicly declared that this would be a point of emphasis, you knew the Bucks would be in trouble. Miami led by as many as 28 points before this one was through, and even though Ray Allen missed this on due to illness, James made sure the final outcome was never in doubt with 33 points in just under 30 minutes of action.

Dallas 105, Washington 95: Dirk Nowitzki moved into 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in this one, passing Jerry West with a three-pointer late in the third quarter. As for the game itself, the Wizards were unable to dig themselves out of the hole they dug by scoring just 15 points in the second quarter while falling behind by 12 at the break. Fantasy basketball players have known about Trevor Ariza this season, but he’s starting to drift into the mainstream with performances like the one he put up in Dallas. Ariza finished with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and four steals in the losing effort for the Wizards.

Golden State 113, Detroit 95: This one was over very early, as the Warriors led by 19 points after one and by 21 points at the half. Stephen Curry finished with 25 points on 10 shots in just 29 minutes, and the Warriors assisted on 28 of their 42 shots on the way to shooting 60 percent from the field for the game. Jermaine O’Neal scored 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Golden State — that’s how out of hand this game truly was.

L.A. Lakers 116, New Orleans 95: Jordan Hill got his first career start, and it resulted in a career-best 21 point performance, to go along with 11 rebounds. The Lakers shot almost 56 percent from the field for the game and 55 percent from three-point distance — quite a difference from their 85-point output against these same Pelicans in New Orleans just two games prior. Nick Young and Xavier Henry combined for 32 points off the bench on 13-of-19 shooting, and Anthony Davis was held in check this time around after dominating the contest during the teams’ last meeting.

Brett Pollakoff

DeMarcus Cousins relishing fresh start in Golden State

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins spent his first eight seasons in the NBA chasing two things – peace and the playoffs.

After signing with Golden State as a free agent, the four-time All-Star center has no doubts he’ll finally find both, and that those will help dispel the notion that he’s a bad teammate.

“Just a chance to play for a winning culture,” Cousins said Thursday. “I also have a chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era. Those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up.”

Looking relaxed while sitting on a stage next to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Cousins was at ease during a news conference at the team’s practice facility.

Golden State’s fiery big man seems content in his new surroundings and wants the hardware to show for it.

“Every guy said let’s go get another championship,” Cousins said. “They are a well-established team and they could have easily been like, `No, we don’t need him.’ But they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything.”

While his signing in Golden State drew mostly groans from around the NBA, Cousins didn’t need much persuading to join the two-time defending champions. He has never played in the postseason, is coming off Achilles surgery in January and didn’t attract much attention in free agency until signing a $5.3 million, one-year contract with Golden State.

From the Warriors’ side, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. They’ve won the championship three of the past four seasons with an attack heavy on perimeter shooting and defense. In the 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound Cousins, they now have a dominant presence on the low block as well.

“It’s a different dimension,” Myers said. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had as far as a low-post threat since I’ve been here. I’m excited. I hope he’s excited.”

Cousins averaged 25.2 points and career highs in rebounds (12.9), assists (5.4) and minutes (36.2) with New Orleans before getting hurt. He has been frustrated by the tediousness of rehab but is being cautious in his approach.

“I’m progressing weekly, which is a positive,” Cousins said. “As far as a timetable . to be determined. I have to be smart about it. I’m in a unique situation as well where I’m not needed right away. Time is kind of on my side so I have a chance to get to 100 percent.

“Making it to the playoffs won’t be an issue for this team obviously. Once the basketball part comes, everything else will take care of itself.”

A throng of media attended the news conference, flanked by 150 young fans who were taking part in a basketball camp held by Warriors. Cousins answered questions from two of the youngsters who were eager to know who his favorite players were growing up.

The 27-year-old with a quick temper and a history of piling up technical fouls at a rapid rate showed a playful side when he joked about the possibility of fighting with new teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two players with whom he’s had on-court issues in the past.

“Might as well,” Cousins said as the crowd laughed.

Cousins turned serious at one point when asked about reports that he had been offered a new contract by New Orleans before signing with Golden State.

“Only me and (Pelicans general manager) Dale Demps know what was said on the phone that night,” Cousins said. “We both know the truth and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for his new team, Cousins has assimilated quickly. He played with several members of the Warriors while winning a gold medal as part of Team USA during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Me and Draymond clicked right away,” Cousins said. “We’re two goofballs that like to joke around a lot. Same with KD and same thing with Steph (Curry). It’s a great group. I think we’ll mesh well.”

Until he is medically cleared to play, Cousins will continue to rehab and learn coach Steve Kerr’s system. He’ll also reach out to the Oakland community, something he made a quiet habit of while in Sacramento playing for the Kings.

“I get out in the `hoods,” Cousins said. “I want to go to the worst, the grimiest places. That’s where I want to be. Those are usually the kids or the communities that kind of get left behind or forgotten about. I feel like I was in that situation at one point. That’s where my mindset is and that’s what I stand for.”

 

Trade to/buyout from Hawks clears way for Carmelo Anthony to join Rockets

Associated Press
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There were a few things that were a given back on July 1 heading into free agency: Kevin Durant would re-sign with the Warriors, Chris Paul was going to stay in Houston, the Washington Wizards would find a way to make their bad locker room chemistry worse

And Carmelo Anthony would end up in Houston.

Every source I have talked to through free agency and at Summer Leagues saw ‘Melo as a Rocket as all but inevitable. Anthony’s people have not exactly been subtle about their efforts.

Thursday’s three-team trade that sends Anthony to Atlanta — where he will be bought out at full price, no discount — clears the way for him to become a Rocket. After Anthony clears waivers, the deal will get done.

Is that a good move for the Rockets is another question.

Anthony and coach Mike D’Antoni had their problems in New York. Both say they are past those now, but when issues flare up again, will the history? And issues will flare up.

With James Harden and CP3, the Rockets offense is built on efficiency — there may be a lot of isolations, but they get threes and shots at the rim with a team of guys willing to move the ball for a better shot. That’s not Anthony. He can still get buckets, and he shot 35.7 percent from three last season, but Anthony is not a guy who moves the ball or is efficient anymore (40.4 percent shooting overall last season). He relies heavily on post up and isolations ( 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season), and he’s still reasonably efficient on those. But he’s a ball stopper, something Harden and Paul are not for all their isolation plays.

Defensively he is nowhere near Phoenix-bound Trevor Ariza or Clippers-bound Luc Mbah-a-Moute. Anthony will get targeted on switches and played off the floor at the end of games and in the playoffs. James Ennis is a better option for the Rockets in many lineups.

If Anthony can accept a sixth man role, he could really help the Rockets. However, after the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs last year, Anthony was asked about doing that for OKC and literally laughed the question off. Maybe playing with Harden and CP3 on a contender changes things, but I will see it when I believe it.

Anthony is going to be a Rocket next season. How well that works is something to watch.

 

 

Report: Thunder trading Carmelo Anthony, first-rounder to Hawks for Dennis Schroder

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The Thunder were going to cut loose Carmelo Anthony.

The Hawks were determined to trade Dennis Schroder.

The 76ers needed a stretch four after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal.

Hence…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Royce Young of ESPN:

The Thunder save money in this trade next year by going from Anthony to Schroder. But they could have saved far more simply by stretching Anthony themselves.

Stretching Anthony would have meant a cap hit of $9,309,380 each of the next three seasons. Instead, Oklahoma City will pay Schroder $15.5 million each of the next three seasons.

Why increase that financial burden?

Schroder is an intriguing backup to Russell Westbrook and just 24. Even if he’s overpaid and facing the prospect of felony battery charge, he can play. Anthony’s stretched cap hit can’t. Raymond Felton provided steady backup-point guard minutes last season and re-signed, but he’s 34. Oklahoma City can’t rely on him forever.

The Thunder might have viewed Schroder as worth the difference between his salary and Anthony’s stretched cap hit, and there’s some logic to that. But if Oklahoma City tries to flip Schroder down the road, potential trade partners will evaluate his full salary.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot isn’t nothing, either. The 23-year-old former first-rounder is a project with 3-and-D potential.

On the other hand, the Thunder also surrender a potential first-round pick in the deal. And with Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams locked into lucrative contracts, the upcoming season isn’t the only one Oklahoma City must worry about the repeater luxury tax. Schroder’s future salary could become extremely burdensome.

In a pure basketball sense, this trade could make sense for the Thunder. Anthony didn’t fit, and Schroder brings more talent and has a clearer role. Luwawu-Cabarrot has upside. A lottery-protected pick could warrant going from Anthony to Schroder and Luwawu-Cabarrot, though that’s far from certainly worth it.

But I especially wonder about the long-term financial cost. Will Schroder’s salary the following couple years eventually lead ownership to cut costs and shed better players? If Clay Bennett’s willingness to pay extends beyond the following season, more power to him.

And more power to Anthony, who gets all his money and free agency. Expect him to sign with the Rockets once Atlanta waives him.

The Hawks – nowhere near the luxury tax, let alone the repeater tax – could handle waiving Anthony more easily than the Thunder could have. They get a nice draft pick for their trouble – and to unload Schroder.

Schroder was a leftover from the previous Atlanta regime, and Travis Schlenk is ready to build around Trae Young at point guard. Jeremy Lin is the stopgap veteran backup. There was no place for Schroder.

Justin Anderson only adds to the Hawks’ return. It might be getting late quick for the 24-year-old, but he’s strong and athletic. If he improves his shot, he could be a very helpful 3-and-D player. There’s such a premium on wings, it’s well worth betting on developing him – especially for a rebuilding team like Atlanta.

The 76ers have shifted into winning mode, and Mike Muscala should help. He’s a good 3-point shooter for a big and capable of defending inside and out. Philadelphia adds no long-term cost, as Muscala is entering the final year of his contract with a $5 million salary.

The 76ers also clear a roster spot in the 2-for-1 swap, which could lead to last year’s second-rounder, Jonah Bolden, signing.

Report: Lakers eager to use LeBron James at center flanked by top four young players

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Why did the Lakers, after securing LeBron James, sign Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson? Their explanation leaves plenty to be desired.

What will the Lakers do with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma now that none of those four are being traded for Kawhi Leonard? Their plan there is far more intriguing.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.

LeBron at center is a dangerous weapon. The Cavaliers showed it more during the 2017 playoffs – to positive effect.

But LeBron isn’t Draymond Green, who makes Golden State’s Death/Hamptons Five Lineup function. Green possesses a unique combination of rim protection and – through his ball-handling and especially passing – ability to get into offense quickly. LeBron isn’t as good at protecting the paint, and though he’s lethal in transition when he wants to be, he’ll be fighting years of slow-down habits.

I also wonder how much LeBron embraces the physical toll of playing center. The Lakers have only JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner at the position. Are they banking on LeBron playing there a significant amount during the regular season?

LeBron would likely accept the role more enthusiastically in the playoffs. But Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma will be tested – at least initially – by the heightened level of play. I’d be wary of overly relying on that lineup.

But this is the best way for the Lakers to get talent on the floor and overcome spacing concerns. I’m absolutely excited to see it in action. Whatever concerns I have about it are only multiplied with other potential Lakers lineups.