DeAndre Jordan fiasco finally gives Mavericks a reason to start over

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Just a few days ago, fresh off his biggest free-agent score in years, Mark Cuban told a Dallas-area radio station that this summer was do-or-die for the current era of Mavericks contention. They were either going to land a star free agent — as they had just done, luring DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers — or blow it up and start over, something Cuban has been vocal about his aversion to in the past.

“If we got shut out, we weren’t going to just try to fill the roster,” Cuban said (via The Sporting News). “We had the discussion that if we couldn’t get a serious free agent, whether it was one of the guys still out there or some of the guys who already went, then it was time to take a step back.”

Yeah, so, about that.

In the most bizarre sequence of events the NBA has seen since the vetoed Chris Paul/Lakers trade in 2011, the Clippers emerged victorious from the wreckage of the Great Emoji War. Jordan is staying in Los Angeles, and the Mavs are left hanging like Jordan trying to get a high five from CP3, with a ton of cap space and nobody left to spend it on. In the short term, for a news cycle or two, it’s a disaster. But if this is the catalyst for Cuban and the Mavericks to finally embrace a full-on rebuild, it could be a blessing in disguise.

Let’s be clear about something: even with Jordan in the fold, the Mavericks weren’t going to be contending for a title this year. In fact, it was more likely that they’d miss the playoffs than make it out of the first round. The west is too deep for anyone outside of the Spurs/Warriors/Thunder tier to be a sure thing, and Dallas still had (and has) too many question marks on its roster. Their other marquee free-agent signing of the summer, Wesley Matthews, is coming off a torn Achilles, an injury that has historically been difficult to come back from. Starting small forward and master free-agent recruiter Chandler Parsons may or may not have had microfracture surgery on his right knee. Dirk Nowitzki has finally started to visibly decline. They still don’t have a clear starting point guard — they were linked to Jeremy Lin recently, but he’s off the board now, and they’re left to pencil in Raymond Felton for at least some of those minutes, which…no. Elsewhere, their depth is nonexistent.

With Jordan, the Mavs’ roster is essentially where it was last year, in the mix for an eighth seed and a first-round exit as they’ve been every year since the 2011 title run. Without Jordan, and with their other injury and depth concerns, they can hardly be considered a playoff team. And if they’re not a playoff team, now is the time to finally start what Cuban has put off for too long. It’s time to blow it up.

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That won’t take too much work, as there’s not much of a roster to blow up. Parsons can opt out next summer, and if he’s healthy it’s all but a lock that he will. The Mavs will have barely over $20 million on the books besides that: basically Nowitzki and spare parts. They also have an added incentive to be bad if they want to add to that: they owe Boston their pick next year with top-seven protections. Eventually, they’re going to need another young foundational player to transition them to the post-Dirk era. And given their free-agency track record, their best bet to get one is in the draft.

Luckily, if a team is going to be bad in the west, this is the year to do it. Most of the west’s bottom-feeders have gotten significantly better this summer. The Lakers and Kings won’t sniff the playoffs, but they’ve both added legitimate talent to the mix. Utah and Phoenix will be in the playoff hunt. Minnesota is a year or two away from contending for the postseason, but they’ll be better with Karl-Anthony Towns next to Andrew Wiggins. If Denver doesn’t blow up its own roster, there’s enough talent there to be mediocre rather than outright bad. The bottom of the west is Dallas’ for the taking: they’re really only competing with Portland, who are in a similar position after losing four of five starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge.

Without the pressure to contend, the Mavs can bring Matthews along slowly. He’s supposedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from the Achilles injury, but he faces an uphill battle that hasn’t had very many success stories. They can sit him out the entire season if they want to. That probably won’t be necessary, but if they’re not fighting for a playoff spot, there’s no reason to rush him back when they’ve just committed $57 million to him over the next four years.

Elsewhere, they have plenty of flexibility. They can take on other teams’ bad contracts to pick up extra draft picks. The next time an opportunity comes up like the recent Kings-Sixers trade, Cuban is in as good a position as Sam Hinkie to snag a Nik Stauskas-type prospect for nothing.

The Mavs haven’t dealt with anything like this since Cuban bought the team in 2000. It’s to his credit that they’ve always been competitive under his watch, always in the playoff mix and always in the mix to land the top free agents, even if that part of it didn’t usually work out. Now, in the wake of Jordan bailing, in the twilight of Nowitzki’s career, and without much young talent to speak of, it’s time to face the reality that an impressive 15-year run has come to an end. Starting over is going to be rough, but Cuban understands long-term payoff as well as anyone. He’s built a rock-solid organization and infrastructure in Dallas, one that’s better positioned than most to handle a rebuild. But that’s the reality he’s been handed.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.