Making sense of the Dion Waiters trade, for everyone involved

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What a weird night. Dion Waiters began Monday evening listed in the starting lineup in his hometown of Philadelphia, and ended it as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. J.R. Smith is now on the Cavaliers. The Knicks actually won a trade, which is the most improbable part of all. It’s still hard to believe last night’s three-team deal actually happened, but it actually makes a lot of sense for everyone involved—although it’s not without its risks.

For the Knicks, there’s no real downside. Phil Jackson wanted J.R. Smith gone for cultural reasons, and he was able to find a taker without taking back any guaranteed money. Losing Iman Shumpert isn’t ideal, but it was basically clear at this point that he wasn’t interested in re-signing with the Knicks this summer, and the Knicks weren’t really set on bringing him back. He’s the best player involved in this trade, but if the decision had already been made that he wasn’t a part of their future, giving him up is a small price to pay to unload Smith. The Knicks took back a bunch of minor contracts and a 2019 second-round pick (it’s still weird anytime the Knicks get a pick in a trade) and added $7 million to their cap space this upcoming summer, which will be approaching $30 million once Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani come off the books. This season was a lost cause anyway, and they should end up with a top-five lottery pick to help rebuild alongside all their cap room and a hopefully rejuvenated Carmelo Anthony. The Zen Master did well here.

For the Cavs, this deal hinges on Smith. Shumpert is a terrific get, instantly becoming the best perimeter defender on the team (since LeBron James has taken several steps back on that end over the last couple years). But if James and David Blatt couldn’t stand Waiters, they basically brought in an older, more set-in-his-ways version of the same player in Smith. For all his faults, Waiters is at least only 23 and, theoretically, can be molded into a more team-oriented player. The 29-year-old Smith is what he is as a player and a personality. Maybe he’ll be motivated being on a good team after a season-plus on a Knicks team that was a disaster on every level, on and off the court. Maybe James will be able to get through to him and make him more of a team player.

This is all possible. But as a player, Smith is similar to Waiters, and if he’s not getting the minutes and touches he wants (which he shouldn’t on a team with LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love), he might be disgruntled, which wouldn’t be great for the locker room. If the Cavs are planning to buy him out (unlikely) or flip him at the deadline (maybe, if they can find a taker), this trade is a huge win for them. If they’re keeping him, it becomes more high-risk/high-reward. This team still needs a real rim protector, and this trade doesn’t immediately put them on the level of the Chicago/Toronto/Atlanta/Washington tier of contenders in the Eastern Conference. But things couldn’t get much worse than they were already, and it’s worth the gamble to see if getting Waiters out helps.

The most intriguing part of the deal is Waiters’ fit in Oklahoma City. In Sam Presti’s mind, Waiters is a replacement for James Harden—the Thunder have lacked that instant scorer off the bench since trading the former Sixth Man of the Year, who has turned into a superstar and MVP candidate in Houston. They needed depth, and they got it without giving that much up. Reggie Jackson was initially reported as being involved in the deal, and giving him up would have been a disaster. The most Presti gave up was a protected first-round pick going to Cleveland, which he wasn’t going to use anyway. So from an asset standpoint, this is fine.

The success of this trade hinges on Waiters’ willingness to buy into the Thunder culture. They have a clearly defined hierarchy of talent, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the top, and then Serge Ibaka, and then everyone else. If Waiters knows his place, it could be a great fit. He was demanding the ball on a team with James, Irving and Love, but he’s been on the Cavaliers longer than two of those players have; this Thunder core, on the other hand, has been to the Finals together, with this coach, and if Waiters doesn’t buy in, he won’t play. And if he doesn’t play, or it doesn’t fit, that could be a disaster for a famously close-knit locker room. With Durant hitting free agency in two years, and Westbrook and Ibaka in three, bringing in a personality like Waiters is a risk. But a common criticism of Presti since the Harden trade is that he doesn’t swing for the fences to bring in talent, and he certainly did that here. Whether the gamble will pay off remains to be seen.

Either way, it will be impossible to evaluate this trade overnight. The Knicks’ perspective is pretty cut-and-dried—they’ve given up on this season and the trade was a salary dump for them. The Cavs and Thunder brought in risky talents with the chance to either save their seasons or derail them. We will see which it is.

Report: Multiple NBA players giving up No. 8 and No. 24 to honor Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving
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Kobe Bryant’s outsized career warranted outsized recognition, and the Lakers found a perfectly fitting honor. They retired both his No. 8 and No. 24 in 2017.

Now, people are searching for the appropriate way to commemorate the unprecedented basketball giant who died so young. Many tributes – including teams opening games with 24-second then 8-second violations – have focused on his numbers. Hawks guard Trae Young wore No. 8. Any 8, 24 or 81 appearing in a box score have become a topic of discussion.

Now, Spencer Dinwiddie – who was particularly proud of Bryant telling him last month he’s playing like an All-Star – is the face of another movement to memorialize Bryant.

Shams Charania:

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Beyond Dinwiddie, players who wear No. 8:

Players who wear No. 24:

Anyone who wants to honor Bryant giving up No. 8 or No. 24 should. Who’s anyone to tell them that’s the wrong way to grieve and pay tribute?

But other players will want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 to honor Bryant. That’s just as respectful. I hope they aren’t peer-pressured out of doing so.

Some players who want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 in memory of Bryant might even be among those giving up the number now.

In 2009, LeBron James – who was wearing No. 23 with the Cavaliers – said the NBA should retire No. 23 for Michael Jordan. He pledged to kickstart the movement the next season by changing his own number. He signed with the Heat – who already retired No. 23 for Jordan despite him never playing for them – and wore No. 6.

LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2010. His number during his second Cavs stint? No. 23. His number with the Lakers now? No. 23.

People change their minds on these things – especially when the cloudiness of grief subsides. Individual players should choose their number as they see fit.

So, I hope this doesn’t turn into a formal league-wide retirement of Bryant’s numbers. It seems more fitting – outside the most extreme cases, like Jackie Robinson in baseball – for that to remain a team honor.

Bryant is headed to the Hall of Fame. That’s the way to ratify his legacy through all of basketball.

Report: Allen Iverson had backpack containing $500K of jewelry stolen

Allen Iverson
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Allen Iverson, like the rest of us, has been dealing with the incredible shock of Kobe Bryant dying. Iverson released a statement that includes a story that truly captures both stars:

“Words cannot express how I’m feeling today. The only 2 words that ring in my head — devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I’ve tried to do since hearing this yesterday.

“People will always remember how we competed against each other in the league, but it goes so much deeper than that for me. The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the NBA can be debated for many years to come. However, his generosity and respect for the game is something that I witnessed first-hand every time we stepped on the dance floor to compete.

“It’s one memory of him that I can’t stop thinking about. It was our rookie season and my first trip to LA for a game against the Lakers. He came to my hotel, picked me up and took me to a restaurant. When we returned before he left, he asked me, “What are you going to do tonight?” My reply was, “I’m going to the club, what are you going to do?” He said, “I’m going to the gym.” That is who he always was, a true student of the game of basketball and also the game of life. He prepared relentlessly. There is something we can all learn from the “Mamba” mentality and from the way my brother lived his life. He will always have my respect as a competitor, as a friend, as a brother.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Vanessa, their children and the families of all of the victims of yesterday’s tragedy. As a father, I cannot wrap my head around how they must feel.

“We are not okay. But we will find the strength to pull through this together because that’s what Kobe would want us to do.”

Amid his grief, Iverson now has another issue to deal with.

NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Police are searching for a man accused of stealing a half-million dollars’ worth of jewelry from Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson.

Police said the unidentified man entered the Sofitel Hotel at 120 S. 17th Street Monday around 10:30 a.m. and snatched a backpack containing jewelry valued at approximately $500,000. NBC10 later confirmed with sources that the jewelry belonged to Iverson.

I can’t imagine many people in Philadelphia helping someone get away with stealing from Iverson.

Gordon Hayward: I didn’t step into lane to help Kobe Bryant score 60

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Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final NBA game – an incredible sendoff for a great career and, tragically, a moment with added significance considering its proximity to his death.

Bryant’s final point came on a free throw with 14.8 seconds remaining in the Lakers’ win over the Jazz in 2016. Before Bryant attempted his free throw, Utah forward Gordon Hayward stepped into the paint. A story swirled in the last day that Hayward deliberately committed the violation so Bryant, if necessary, would get an extra free throw to score 60.

Hayward – now with the Celtics – set the record straight:

Did the Jazz, who were already eliminated from the playoffs, play their absolute tightest defense on Bryant? No. Do players sometimes help opponents – especially a revered star like Bryant – reach milestones in otherwise-insignificant moments? Yes.

But unintentional lane violations happen somewhat frequently (and are often uncalled). There was just a big one last night. It’s not an area where players or referees stringently follow the rules.

It’s totally believable Hayward didn’t have some deeper meaning behind his step into the paint.

I’d take him at his word.

Report: No teams requested Sunday’s games be canceled after Kobe Bryant’s death

Kobe Bryant tribute at Spurs-Raptors
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Kobe Bryant’s death devastated the basketball world.

The NBA even postponed the Lakers-Clippers game originally scheduled for tonight. That led to the question: Why didn’t the league postpone games Sunday, the day Bryant died? Obviously there should be special consideration in Los Angeles, where Bryant spent his entire career. But nobody – from those involved to onlookers – had their hearts and heads in Sunday’s games.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

I wonder how many teams thought to request a cancellation. I bet many awaited guidance from the league office.

Likewise, I wonder how many players felt they could step away. Kyrie Irvingwho was quite close with Bryant – missed the Nets’ game for personal reasons.

Eight teams hosted games Sunday:

  • Nuggets (vs. Rockets)
  • Spurs (vs. Raptors)
  • Hawks (vs. Wizards)
  • Grizzlies (vs. Suns)
  • Pelicans (vs. Celtics)
  • Knicks (vs. Nets)
  • Clippers (vs. Magic)
  • Trail Blazers (vs. Pacers)

Postponing games (finding makeup dates, extra travel) or canceling games (refunding tickets, unbalanced schedules) would have created different headaches down the road. Maybe it would’ve been better to deal with those issues than playing. But playing also gave teams an opportunity to honor Bryant, find distraction amid grief and start the process of moving forward.

I wouldn’t get too hung up in the debate of whether the NBA should have canceled games Sunday. Whether or not games were played, Bryant was gone. There was no good solution here.