51Q: Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

The most notable move of the Hornets’ offseason was one they didn’t even make.

Justise Winslow fell to Charlotte’s No. 9 draft pick, and the Celtics reportedly offered at least three certain first-round picks (including a very valuable unprotected Brooklyn first-rounder) to move up. Boston general manager Danny Ainge later expressed regret about how many assets he offered, but the Hornets declined anyway. They didn’t even take Winslow, who seemed to fall due more to circumstance than a hidden flaw.

Charlotte picked Frank Kaminsky – a polished four-year college player considered by many to be the draft’s most NBA-ready player.

The Hornets want to win. Now.

That was also evident in their two evident in their two major offseason trades – Lance Stephenson to the Clippers for Spencer Hawes and the since-flipped Matt Barnes, Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson to the Trail Blazers for Nicolas Batum.

Stephenson was by far the most talented and by far the most erratic player in his deal, and Charlotte clearly had enough his antics. Hawes is the safer, lower-upside contributor. Though Hawes will probably mostly play center, Charlotte surely hopes he can duplicate some of the floor-spacing/passing Josh McRoberts provided next to Al Jefferson in 2013-14.

The Hornets have been chasing a distributing wing like Batum for a while, signing Gordon Hayward to an offer sheet and signing Stephenson. The Jazz matched Hayward’s deal, and Stephenson busted in Charlotte. But the talented Batum, if he rebounds from an uncharacteristically poor shooting season, should help.

He’ll come at a cost, though. Vonleh was the third-youngest player in his draft class (behind Bruno Caboclo and Aaron Gordon), and I still like his potential. He’s under contract for three more years and then headed toward restricted free agency. Batum, on the other hand, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. There are already reports, though Batum denies them, of Batum liking the Raptors. Regardless of whether he’ll end up in Toronto, more teams than ever will have major cap space. He’ll get offers. The Hornets gave up a lot for a potential rental.

But patience was clearly waning in Charlotte, where the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since emerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Charlotte has reached the postseason just twice in that span, including 2014’s unexpected run. That breakthrough season was followed by last year’s 33-49 disappointment – leading to this re-commitment to the present.

To be fair, the Hornets haven’t completely sold out their future. Not even close. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (21), Cody Zeller (22) and Kemba Walker (25) remain, and Charlotte traded for Jeremy Lamb (23). The Hornets have all their future first-round picks, too.

They won’t be stuck.

It’s just that with Vonleh, a couple first-round rookies and a couple extra picks on the way, they could have been exceptionally well-positioned for a few years from now.

Instead, they’re focused on this season – which could totally work out fine.

Count me among the many detractors when they signed Al Jefferson two years ago. I thought they were too far from playoff contention to tie up money to a veteran like that. Well, Jefferson propelled them to 43 wins and a playoff berth. I was totally wrong.

I didn’t like their approach this offseason, either. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they prove me wrong once again. I trust Steve Clifford to tighten Charlotte’s defense after last year’s regression, and the front office clearly values a player like Batum. He could make a world of difference to the Hornets’ lethargic offense. It won’t take much in the East to reach the playoffs.

There’s value in winning immediately rather than building for the future. Players are happier, more willing to re-sign. Their trade value increases. Winning doesn’t have to be a late step in rebuilding. It can be the first.

The stakes are higher now, though.

The opportunity cost to assemble this roster was much bigger than the cap space and implicit draft positioning sacrificed to bring aboard Jefferson. Plus, Charlotte has tasted the playoffs recently.

The Hornets need to make the playoffs to justify this strategy and win a playoff game to really feel good about it. This year, probably. If they come close and re-sign Batum and Jefferson, they can put it off another year – especially if Vonleh and Winslow flop and Brooklyn flourishes the years its pick would have been conveyed.

That’s a lot of reason to second-guess this summer, though. And for what? A roster that, at its best, can win a playoff series?

That might be all the Hornets want, and if so, more power to them. It doesn’t have to be championship or bust.

But they sure gave up a lot for only a decent chance of meeting that modest goal.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.