The Extra Pass: Winners, losers from Bynum/Deng trade (plus Monday’s recaps)

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Winner: Luol Deng

Deng is going to a team that desperately needs him. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ small forwards have a PER of 9.2 and yield a PER of 15.5 to opposing small forwards, according to 82Games.  That’s a horrific net PER of –6.3. Of the 150 positions in the NBA (five per team), only three have have a worse net PER than Cleveland small forwards: Utah Jazz point guards, Sacramento Kings shooting guards and Milwaukee Bucks centers.

No longer forced to start Earl Clark or Alonzo Gee, two substandard options, the Cavaliers will feature Deng prominently. That should elevate his individual production.

Plus, Deng fills what could be a suddenly strong lineup with Kyrie Irving at point guard, one of C.J. Miles/Dion Waiters/Jarrett Jack at shooting guard, Tristan Thompson at power forward and Anderson Varejao at center. With Deng bringing everything together, the 11-23 Cavaliers should improve from here out, likely challenging for a playoff spot. That would bring positive attention to Deng for his leadership and winning pedigree, two traits many teams covet.

Not a bad opportunity heading into free agency.

Loser: Andrew Bynum

It was a longshot even before the Cavaliers suspended Bynum, but it remained possible Cleveland kept Bynum past this week’s deadline for 2013-14 salaries to become fully guaranteed. He still would have held trade value as a cap/tax reducer, given his completely unguaranteed 2014-15 salary (no way he was ever getting paid that). In exchange for keeping and paying him, the Cavaliers would have gotten a longer window to find maximum return in a deal.

Instead, Bynum is going to the Chicago Bulls, who announced they’d acquired “multiple draft picks, along with the contract of Andrew Bynum.” He’s not even an afterthought. His contract is.

The Bulls are definitely waiving Bynum and in doing so, the center will lose $6.25 million in unguaranteed 2013-14 salary.

Winners: Chris Grant and Mike Brown

Before the season, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made clear three straight trips to the lottery were enough for him. “I think there is an expectation that this team is a playoff contender,” Gilbert said.

For a moment, let’s put aside whether or not Cleveland – which certainly had enough lottery picks lately to build a strong young core but nailed only one (Kyrie Irving) before underwhelming on one (Tristan Thompson), blowing one (Dion Waiters) and potentially striking disaster on another (Anthony Bennett) – should suddenly give up tanking just in time for the best draft since 2003. Gilbert is the boss, and his underlings must try to appease the direction he sets for the team.

That’s why this trade helps the Cavaliers’ general manager, Grant, and head coach, Brown. Deng makes Cleveland more likely to reach the playoffs, which makes Grant and Brown more likely to remain employed.

Loser: Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau is all about winning. Winning right now. Not later, not once Derrick Rose gets healthy, not for the long term. Winning this very second.

That philosophy has fostered the Bulls’ incredible competitive spirit, but it has also led Thibodeau to play his top players big minutes and right into the ground over long seasons. When the Bulls were among the Eastern Conference’s top teams, that tradeoff made sense.

Now that Thibodeau has lost two of his top players – Derrick Rose and Deng, whom Thibodeau didn’t want to lose after the season, let alone during it – it’s quite possible the coach’s fiery attitude just drives him and his players mad. The Bulls are clearly tanking, and even if that stops with dumping Deng and never approaches the level of instructing players and coaches to give less than their best, it’s unlikely Thibodeau is on board.

A coach-GM rift quite possibly just got wider.

Winner: Jerry Reinsdorf

The Bulls owner will trim his payroll this season by shedding Deng, though Chicago must still pay Bynum a little more than $1 million. More significantly, the Bulls will avoid the luxury tax, offering bigger savings.

However, the biggest impact could – should – come in future years. Avoiding the luxury tax this season, one lost when Derrick Rose went down, makes a lot of sense. That will allow Chicago to exceed the luxury tax – which could happen if Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News is right and the Bulls also amnesty Carlos Boozer, leaving them room to sign a big-time free agent – without triggering the steep repeater penalties.

But that plan would require Reinsdorf spending the big bucks when it makes more sense, which is not a given. He could always collect this year’s savings and then try to save more in the future.

Losers: Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks

These four teams definitely want to make the 2014 playoffs. They’ve sacrificed future flexibility in order to increase success this season.

All four have traded a first-round pick they could surrender in 2014 without even making the playoffs. In other words, to varying degrees, tanking might not even let these teams reap the rewards of a high draft pick. They’re fully or nearly fully on the playoff-contention track.

But it hasn’t gone so well. None of the four has a winning record, and just two would make the postseason if it began today. Here’s how they, and the two teams in this trade, stand in the Eastern Conference:

5. Wizards (14-17)

6. Bulls (14-18)

8. Pistons (14-20)

———————–

9. Nets (12-21)

12. Knicks (11-22)

13. Cavaliers (11-12)

This trade obviously shakes up the postseason picture. The Cavaliers are more likely to make the playoffs. The Bulls are less likely to make the playoffs. But the magnitude by which Cleveland’s odds increase is less than the magnitude by which Chicago’s odds decrease.

Simply, that’s because the Bulls are starting in playoff position and the Cavaliers aren’t. Deng will obviously make the Cavaliers better, especially because he fills such a glaring hole for them. But Thibodeau will keep the Bulls playing hard and defending to the best of their capabilities, and that might keep them in the postseason race.

In other words, the Wizards, Pistons, Nets and Knicks must now fend off Cleveland while still combating a dangerous Chicago.

Winner: Derrick Rose

Rose didn’t want the Bulls to rebuild, and they’re at least positioning themselves to appease their injured star. If the Bulls were set on rebuilding, they likely could have gotten a better draft pick for Deng.

Instead, they settled for two second-round picks, the right to swap picks with Cleveland in 2015 as long as Cleveland is drafting after No. 15 and another pick that is being called a first-rounder. Here are the protections on that “first-round” pick, which originally belonged to the Sacramento Kings, according to RealGM:

  • 2014: top 12
  • 2015: top 10
  • 2016: top 10
  • 2017: top 10

If the Kings don’t improve to the point they’re drafting above that line, they’ll give send 2017 second-round pick instead of a first rounder.*

*As long as the 2017 second rounder doesn’t fall 56-60. If that happens, Sacramento doesn’t have to give up any pick.

The Bulls might be betting they’re timing the Kings rebuild just right, but that’s a dangerous wager. More likely, Chicago is making amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent – someone who can complement Rose immediately, rather than a draft pick who will need time to develop – more palatable.

But there’s still another step: The Bulls actually amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent. There’s a difference between it being workable and it being done.

That’s where Rose comes in. If Rose comes back strong, he can pressure the Bulls to spend the money they now have available to build an immediate contender around him. So, Rose has a chance at his preferred direction for the team – especially he still has the star power to demand it.

-Dan Feldman

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Timberwolves 126, 76ers 95: Minnesota does this — 10 of their 17 wins are by double digits. When their outside shots are falling (they were 16-of-26 from three) they become very difficult to stop. This game was actually close for a quarter and a half, but Minnesota’s bench started the rout with an 8-0 run midway through the second and Minny put up 70 first half points. This wasn’t a defensive struggle. Then Minnesota owned the third quarter, with Kevin Love scoring 16 of his 26 in the period and it was a 31-point game and garbage time entering the fourth. Philly looked like a team in its first game home after a 17-day road trip who just relaxed. They got 20 out of Thaddeus Young, which might help his trade value.

Nets 91, Hawks 86: In a battle of “which team can better survive the loss of their star” (Deron Williams, ankle, and Al Horford, torn pectoral both out) Brooklyn had Joe Johnson dropping 23 — including a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter — and he was key to creating decent shots and it got the Nets another win. Brooklyn has now won three in a row, while the Hawks have dropped three straight and are 2-4 since Horford got injured. Jeff Teague had 16 points but needed 15 shots to get there.

Clippers 101, Magic 81: That final score makes the game seem closer than it actually was. Seriously. The Cippers had an early 18-0 and were up 20-3 before you could blink, then led by 26 at the half and by 35 at one point in the third. This became a Clipper showcase dunkfest, which the fans at Staples loved. Give Darren Collison some props for leading the onslaught, he had 13 in the first quarter and 21 for the game, plus seven dimes. Also credit Orlando, which played poor defense and shot just 35.7 percent on the night.

—Kurt Helin

Report: Knicks will roll over cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks are chasing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York will reportedly get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.

But Irving appears headed to the Nets, and Durant might follow. Leonard appears to favor the Raptors in a two-team race with the Clippers.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New York still believes it’s in the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, Irving and Durant. But, according to a source, the Knicks will punt their $70 million-plus in cap space if they can’t land one of those Tier A free agents.

This plan would require patience Knicks owner James Dolan has rarely shown. The Knicks have missed the playoffs six straight years. Twice during that span – including last season – they posted their worst record in franchise history (17-65). Dolan publicly proclaimed confidence New York would sign major free agents this summer.

He’d really allow the Knicks to delay winning even further?

New York is positioned to wait until 2020 free agency (though Joakim Noah‘s cap hit will remain on the books after an avoidable error). R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox will still be on relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts. As a second-round pick, Mitchell Robinson is even lower-paid. If they sign players to only one-year contracts this offseason, the Knicks will once again have massive cap room.

But good players generally want multi-year deals. So, New York would be choosing among a far more limited pool of free agents. Another gloomy season would likely await.

And then the 2020 free-agent class looks weak. Especially with Anthony Davis already on the Lakers, there probably won’t be an attainable superstar for the Knicks. There might not even be an attainable star.

Then what? Sacrifice the 2020-21 season to gear up for 2021 free agency? Maybe Barrett, Knox and Robinson develop and send New York on a different track, but that’s far from assured.

The genius of this plan is it allows Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to keep their jobs while the team continues to stink. There would be no expectations of winning anytime soon – as long as Dolan abides.

Report: Kyrie Irving doesn’t like living in Boston

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Has Kyrie Irving been in contact with the Boston Celtics about his free agency? We have reports that say that Irving has “ghosted” the Celtics… and of course we have counter reports that say just the opposite.

It’s hard to believe anything that swirls around Irving, one of the more enigmatic and tiring personalities in the NBA. At the very least, Irving has appeared to send signals that he is looking to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Chief among them being that Irving recently fired his longtime representation and signed with Roc Nation, which has a close partnership with the Brooklyn front office.

Boston has had a hard time getting free agents to come to play for the franchise, and that’s before they had a standing beef with Klutch Sports. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, one of our Irving’s problems with the Celtics was that he simply didn’t like living in Boston.

Via ESPN:

“Kyrie Irving didn’t like Boston. I’ve been told this by many people. He didn’t like living in Boston — he just didn’t. By the end he had issues with Brad, by the end he had issues with Danny… by the end he had issues with pretty much all of us.”

We have heard rumors that things started to go wrong in the Celtics locker room when coach Brad Stevens seemed to openly favor injured star Gordon Hayward a bit too heavily (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler in college).

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has the propensity to rub folks the wrong way. He makes whatever decision he thinks is the best from a basketball perspective, relationships be damned. We learned that with the Isaiah Thomas trade.

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Irving will return to the Celtics. Meanwhile, we will probably continue to get stories like this out of Boston.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.

 

Zion Williamson on Pelicans: ‘I’m ready to stay here’ (VIDEO)

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Zion Williamson is finally, officially a New Orleans Pelican. David Griffin and the Pelicans front office selected Williamson No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday.

Now, we just have to wait for the Anthony Davis trade to be official and we can put this whole thing behind us.

Meanwhile, Williamson has been celebrating. According to TMZ, he had a big pizza party with his friends after the draft in New York. Williamson has since reported to the team in Louisiana, where he’s already saying all the right things to the media.

Speaking during a team event, Williamson said that something just hit him and that it was a gut feeling that he was glad to be in New Orleans.

“This is my home,” said Williamson. “I’m ready to stay here.”

Via Twitter:

Williamson could also be seen getting recommendations for the excellent cuisine in the Bayou.

As No. 1 overall picks and future franchise cornerstones go, Williamson already seems to have the temperament of a guy who’s willing to take over from the last one in Davis.