Five Things we learned in NBA Sunday: Cleveland will not stop digging the hole deeper

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Pay  attention and every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons. Here’s what you missed while thinking clearly you have a lot of movies to see before the Oscars….

1) LeBron being out isn’t Cleveland’s biggest problem. Maybe we didn’t actually learn this tonight, we had a pretty good idea already, but getting just thrashed 103-84 by Sacramento really drove the point home. This feels like the old Cavaliers — they need LeBron James to carry them because the rest of this team isn’t near good enough. That shouldn’t be the case, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love this team should be respectable. But they have lost five in a row and after Sunday players admitted they didn’t really play hard enough (while the Kings players did and owned the game because of it). Cavs coach David Blatt is going to take the heat and maybe the fall for this play, and clearly he is not reaching this roster, but also those players haven’t really given him a chance. A coach should be able to count on hustle, on effort from professional players — this isn’t some “rah rah” college kids, these guys should be able to motivate themselves. They are not. And ultimately it has to fall to LeBron to both hold them accountable and lead by example, the latter of which he was not doing consistently before his shut it down for a couple of weeks.

2) Damian Lillard owns fourth quarters against the Lakers. For the second time this season a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers team hung around with the Trail Blazers for a little more than three quarters. And then Damian Lillard said “screw this” and just took over — he had 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the final frame, leading Portland past the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-94 win. Oh, and he did this to the rim and Jordan Hill.

And earlier in the game he did this.

3) Hassan Whiteside cannot be stopped by mere mortals. Well, at least for a day. Sunday afternoon Hassan Whiteside looked more like DeAndre Jordan than DeAndre Jordan did (or, more accurately, he looked like the DeAndre Jordan the Clippers wish they had consistently this year). Whiteside came off the bench for Miami and was the second best big man in the game, putting up 23 points (on 10-of-13 shooting), 16 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. (The real problem for the Clippers is the best big man on the court in this game was Miami’s Chris Bosh, who had 34 and hit everything, contested or not.) Whiteside, who was in the D-League earlier this season, has scored in double digits in the last four games for Miami and has brought a real energy off the bench, something the Heat needed. He keyed a quality road win for them.

4) The Atlanta Hawks remain the best team in the East. We can debate if the Hawks can hang with the best of the West for seven games (they’ve beaten Memphis, Portland and the Clippers recently). Honestly, I don’t think they can if they get to the Finals — but make no mistake they can get to the Finals. They went up against a solid Washington team Sunday and just destroyed them — eight Atlanta players scored in double figures, the ball movement and player movement left the Wizards defenders lost, and the Hawks forced turnovers on 21 percent of the Wizards’ possessions (19 total). Maybe come the playoffs, when teams can really focus on the Hawks offense, they can slow the team down. Maybe. We thought that might happen to the Spurs in the playoffs last season and….

5) Marc Gasol is the best double overtime player in the league. Apparently. This was not a great night overall for the Spaniard, he was outplayed by Alex Len for most of the game. Then in the second overtime he poured in seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and the Grizzlies pulled away from the Suns for a 122-110 win. Despite the high score this was actually one of the better defensive games from Memphis in a while, which is the end of the court where they need to turn things around. Oh, and if you want some fancy shooting from Gasol, we can show you this:

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.