Grades for all of the NBA’s trade deadline deals; Thunder, Pistons, Suns emerge as biggest winners

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The NBA trade deadline was busier than expected, with 11 trades going down in total, and some of them getting completed just under the wire.

Here’s a recap of everything that happened, along with some grades and analysis for all of the teams involved.

Nets trade Kevin Garnett to Timberwolves in exchange for Thaddeus Young

Grades: Nets – A, Timberwolves – C+

Garnett returning home is a nice, feel-good story, and the rebuilding Timberwolves could use one of those. But KG is long past his prime, and has little on-court value for a Timberwolves team that won’t sniff the playoffs this season. They may want to re-sign Garnett to a long-term deal, but he’s likely finished, and could only serve as a mentor to younger players for the final eight weeks or so of the current regular season.

For the Nets, however, this is a nice move. Young is a legitimate two-way player, and has averaged 14.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per game for Minnesota this season. His contract is not unreasonable for next season at just under $10 million, but he does hold an early termination option. More importantly, Brooklyn needs guys who can contribute NOW, and Young is exactly that.

Suns trade Goran Dragic to Miami Heat

Grades: Suns – A, Heat – A

This deal was the rare win-win, especially when taking into consideration the other moves that Phoenix made as a result. The Suns also dealt Isaiah Thomas to rid themselves of the three point guard issue that caused Dragic to want out in the first place, and acquired a legitimate replacement for Dragic in the form of Brandon Knight, who was a borderline All-Star for the Bucks this season, and will cost Phoenix much less to re-sign in restricted free agency this summer.

On the Miami side, adding Dragic could make a healthy Heat team dangerous, as quickly as this postseason. Plus, the fact that the future first round picks they sent away aren’t until 2017 and 2021 means that the Heat are still good in the immediate future, and as one of the destinations Dragic specified as markets where he’ll re-sign, Miami should have the inside track on retaining his services on a long-term contract for the next few seasons.

Sixers trade Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks, receive Lakers’ protected 2015 first round pick from Suns 

Grades: Sixers C-, Bucks B-

Michael Carter-Williams is the reigning Rookie of the Year, and while his scoring average has dipped in his second season, his assists per game have increased. The problem is his field goal percentage, which has dropped since last year — he’s at just 38 percent for the season, which includes a mark of only 25.6 percent from three-point distance.

Carter-Williams needs to develop, but has shown plenty of signs of being a legitimate point guard in this league. At some point, the Sixers are going to have to stick with the talent they have, and work on the development side to increase those players’ skill sets, and, by proxy, their respective values to the franchise. For whatever reason, the Philly front office wasn’t feeling it with MCW, so they hit the reset button by dealing him for (another) first round pick. But that strategy will only sit well with the fan base for so long.

As for the Bucks, it’s a low-risk, high-reward maneuver that’s difficult to criticize.

Bucks trade Brandon Knight to Suns, net Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis

Grades: Bucks – B, Suns – A

This was part of the aforementioned three-team deal with the Sixers, so if you’re including Carter-Williams in Milwaukee’s haul, then it’s not bad at all. Knight will be a restricted free agent this summer, which means that Carter-Williams is a lower-cost replacement for him in Milwaukee, and Knight will end up being a lower-cost replacement for Dragic in Phoenix.

Knight was a borderline All-Star this season, and a backcourt featuring him and Eric Bledsoe should be one that wreaks nothing but devastation on Suns opponents. Plumlee has value in the right role, and so does Ennis — but both are young players who will require development, and were expendable in Phoenix when you look at the other assets in place on that Suns roster.

Suns trade Isaiah Thomas to Celtics, receive Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first round pick

Grades: Suns – B, Celtics – A

The Suns had too many point guards; it was the reason that Goran Dragic essentially forced a trade out of town. Trading two of them this deadline day was the way to go, and netting a scoring two-guard in Thornton and a 2016 pick for Thomas seems to be a wise decision.

The Celtics, meanwhile, were flush with picks, and they get an above average point guard in Thomas who’s on a very reasonable contract (under $20 million total over the next three years) that will save enough cap space to add talent in other areas of need.

Thunder trade Reggie Jackson to Pistons in three-team deal with Jazz

Grades: Thunder – A, Pistons – A, Jazz – C

OKC helped themselves with this deal, in more ways than one. Jackson was disgruntled, and had already turned down a four-year, $48 million contract extension. As a restricted free agent this summer, he was going to seek an offer sheet much larger than that, and wanted to be a starter somewhere else. By sending him out of town, and securing front line offensive help in Enes Kanter as well as a serviceable replacement in the form of D.J. Augustin, the Thunder successfully addressed more than one of their weaknesses. And, ridding themselves of Kendrick Perkins in the deal is simply icing on the cake.

The Pistons, meanwhile, added some much-needed young talent, and should be able to give Jackson the role he is seeking, especially for the remainder of this season with Brandon Jennings sidelined due to injury.

Kanter, too, will be a restricted free agent this summer, and was unhappy in his role in Utah. But it feels like the Jazz could have done a little bit better in terms of getting assets in exchange for what he brings.

Rockets trade for K.J. McDaniels from Sixers, Pablo Prigioni from Knicks

Grades: Rockets B+, Sixers C, Knicks B+

Once again, we have the Sixers hitting the reset button when they already have appeared to land a significant level of talent. McDaniels is a ridiculous defender as well as an athlete, yet Philadelphia gave him away to try their luck again at the NBA roulette table. That’s a nice pickup for the Rockets, and the same could be said for Prigioni, who could provide veteran minutes as a backup point guard for the stretch run of the season. The Knicks netted two second-round picks for the 37-year-old Prigioni, which is a coup in and of itself.

Pelicans acquire Norris Cole from Suns (via Heat) in exchange for John Salmons

Grades: Pelicans – B, Heat/Suns – B

New Orleans needed guard help with Jrue Holiday sidelined due to injury, and with Cole becoming a restricted free agent this summer, the Heat were happy to let him walk. Cole was technically included from Miami in the deal for Goran Dragic, but the Suns had no need for another guard, and in fact, are expected to waive Salmons (who’s more of a wing) when all is said and done.

Blazers acquire Arron Afflalo in trade from Nuggets

Grades: Blazers B+, Nuggets C

The Western Conference is crazy in terms of its competitiveness, and while the Blazers are currently tied with Houston for third, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay there. Portland had a deficiency in defense and scoring on the wing, so the team went out and got Afflalo in order to help fill that gap. He could also fill in nicely for Nicolas Batum, should Batum continue his sub-par play this season.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, got some pieces in Thomas Robinson (now playing for his fourth team), Will Barton and Victor Claver, but all of those players will require development. Afflalo can play, but this trade may be for now more than it is for the future, because he has a player option for next season that he’s likely to forego in order to become an unrestricted free agent.

Kings acquire Andre Miller from Wizards in exchange for Ramon Sessions

Grades: Wizards B, Kings A-

The Wizards needed an upgrade at the backup point guard position, and with Andre Miller having a reduced role in favor of Garrett Temple, he became expendable. Sessions could be that upgrade, though he was averaging career-lows in points (5.4) and minutes (17.8) in Sacramento this season. He’s guaranteed only one more year at a little over $2 million, though, so it was a low-risk maneuver for the Wizards that was worth taking as they look to improve for the stretch run of the season.

In Sacramento, meanwhile, this is about George Karl having a veteran voice in his new locker room that is on his side. Karl has tons of respect for Miller, and the feeling is mutual, thanks to a relationship that was formed when the two were members of the Nuggets organization. As Karl implements his system, Miller can help be a liaison of sorts to make the transition go that much more smoothly.

Referee bumps into waitress, tray of drinks spilled on court during Blazers game

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Katy Stevens has been a courtside server at Trail Blazers games for more than a decade — but this year has been unlike any other.

Back in December, LeBron James knocked her over, then helped her back up.

Then on Friday night, veteran referee Tony Brown backed into her and spilled an entire tray of drinks onto the court.

Let me say, as a guy who waited tables/bartended through college and a little while after — that job is hard. Katy is earning her money, and I felt terrible for her. I was not alone, as NBC Sports Northwest noted.

It was a rough night all the way around in the Moda Center. Portland, without Damian Lillard due to a groin injury, fell to the Pelicans 128-115 in a contest between two teams trying to catch Memphis for the final seed in the West (and the Grizzlies lost to the Lakers Friday).

Watch LeBron James score 32; Anthony Davis’ big second half lift Lakers past Grizzlies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 32 points, Anthony Davis recovered from an early injury scare to get 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Avery Bradley added 14 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who finished strong after blowing most of their 25-point lead accumulated in a superb first half. Davis had 14 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles improved to 42-12 with its fourth straight win since Feb. 6.

Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost back-to-back games in California after heading into the All-Star break with eight wins in 10. Ja Morant added 17 points as Memphis dropped to 0-2 on its four-game West Coast trip, which matches its longest road stretch of the season.

Davis departed less than two minutes after the opening tip when he bruised his right calf on an opponent’s knee. The All-Star went to the locker room and missed the rest of the first quarter, but returned early in the second before scoring 24 points in the second half.

Although James, Davis and Dwight Howard were busy in Chicago over the break, the Lakers returned with impressive defensive focus across the roster. Los Angeles held Memphis to 15-for-38 shooting and forced 11 turnovers in the first half to jump to a 19-point lead.

The Grizzlies trimmed the lead to four points early in the fourth quarter with a prolonged surge. The Lakers hung on with a series of big plays, including a jaw-dropping rebound dunk by Alex Caruso off a missed free throw by Davis with 6:16 to play.

James clinched it with a driving layup followed by a gorgeous fadeaway jumper with 1:12 left. Davis then hit his second 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Lakers improved to 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season. They meet again in Memphis on Feb. 29.

 

Pilot in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash had FAA reprimand for flying in reduced visibility

Image courtesy Kurt Helin
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a Southern California hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was reprimanded five years ago for flying without permission into airspace while he had reduced visibility, according to a Federal Aviation Administration enforcement record.

Ara Zobayan was counseled by an FAA investigator after he violated FAA rules by crossing into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport on May 11, 2015, according to the record, which was first reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

The record doesn’t indicate whether Zobayan was carrying any passengers at the time.

Zobayan, 50, died Jan. 26 when his helicopter plunged at high speed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles. Zobayan had been trying to climb above a cloud layer when the aircraft banked left and plunged 1,200 feet (366 meters) at high speed. There has been speculation that the pilot became disoriented in the foggy weather. The crash remains under investigation.

The crash also killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with six others. The victims will be honored at a Feb. 24 public memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the time, Zaboyan was chief pilot for the charter service Island Express Helicopters Inc.

He was flying for the same company during the 2015 incident.

According to the FAA report, Zobayan’s helicopter was near the Hawthorne, California, airport and heading north when he asked the LAX tower for permission to cross LAX airspace. Zobayan was told that weather conditions didn’t meet the minimum for pilots using visual flight rules — that is, flying by sight.

Zaboyan was asked whether he could maintain “VFR conditions.”

Zaboyan replied that he could “maintain special VFR” — meaning he sought permission to fly by sight in less-than-optimal visibility.

When air traffic control denied the request and told him to stay clear of the area, Zobayan replied that he could “maintain VRF” but during the conversation, the helicopter entered the airspace, according to the record.

Zobayan contacted authorities and his company after the incident and was cooperative. But an FAA investigator faulted him for failing to properly plan and review current weather at LAX, which would have allowed him time to communicate earlier with the tower in order to receive clearance, according to the record.

The report said Zobayan “admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

“There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan,” the report said.

Zobayan was counseled “on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather, and anticipating required action,” the report said. “He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling.”

Island Express Helicopters Inc, reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with Zaboyan.

Veteran helicopter pilots were divided over the severity of the FAA violation, the Times reported.

“I don’t know a single pilot out there who hasn’t violated a rule,” Shawn Coyle said. “If that’s the only violation he’s ever had then I would say he’s pretty safe.”

But former Island Express pilot Kurt Deetz said entering LAX airspace without approval can be dangerous because of the possible presence of commercial jets. He also questioned Zaboyan’s communication with air traffic controllers.

“You can’t request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, ‘Oh wait a minute, actually I’m VFR’, ” he told the Times. “That’s not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR as opposed to VFR was cloudy.”

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.