Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Trade deadline version (plus Clippers beat Spurs)

Associated Press
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NBA basketball was back on Thursday night with three games. But that’s not what anybody is talking about, not on trade deadline Thursday. So here are five takeaways from Thursday, mostly talking trades. Because we love trades.

1) Trade deadline comes and goes, but the balance of power at the top of NBA doesn’t change. Nothing happened Thursday to make the Golden State Warriors turn their heads. Or even the San Antonio Spurs. There were trades Thursday involving two of the four contenders for an NBA title this season — plus the Clippers making a move to try to get into that category — but at the end of the day, the balance of power had not shifted. Nothing changed. The Cavaliers added a little depth to their front line, a shooter in Channing Frye that gives coach Tyronn Lue some bench matchup options, but that’s it. Oklahoma City added Randy Foye to their “we can do this by committee” system at the two guard spot. The Clippers upgraded at the three spot with the erratic Jeff Green (plus there is some addition by subtraction with Lance Stephenson gone to what is now an interesting Memphis locker room).

All of those are moves on the periphery, at best they make those teams marginally better. Golden State is the defending champion and playing better than they did a season ago and nobody made a move that in any way challenged them as the team to beat. The Spurs didn’t make a move either, and I still see them as the clear second-best team in the league. The Cavaliers will get their shot at one of them in the Finals, but they still seem a step back. It was a fun day of trades, but at the top nothing changed.

2) No big name moved at the trade deadline, but wait for this summer. Dwight Howard didn’t change teams because nobody would offer the Houston Rockets much for him. Same with New Orleans trying to trade Ryan Anderson. The Clippers gauged the trade market for Blake Griffin, the Cavaliers did the same with Kevin Love, and while neither team had serious plans to move those two stars in February there was a method to the madness.

This summer is when the big names will be on the move. While everyone will be talking about whether Kevin Durant will bolt Oklahoma City, other moves are coming. With the rising salary cap (thanks to the flood of money from the new NBA television deal) every team is going to have some cap space and a majority will have enough for a max contract. That means teams will have big money to throw at free agents, and can make trades without matching salaries. So free agents  — Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Nicolas Batum — will have options (even if they don’t want to leave their current teams). And GMs who may want to trade name players — potentially Brook Lopez from Brooklyn (now that they finally have a GM), Love, Griffin, others — will have options. What this trade deadline did was set up a summer where we will see some significant moves.

3) By the way, there was an NBA game and the Clippers kept winning (and DeAndre Jordan kept dunking). There was actual basketball in the NBA on Thursday night. The marquee game of the night was the Clippers hosting the Spurs — and Los Angeles didn’t miss a step from where they left off on a run before the All-Star break. That starts with Chris Paul shredding defenses — including on Thursday the NBA’s best one to the tune of 28 points and 12 assists. While the Clipper offense is making plays, quietly they have had the best defensive numbers in the NBA through their last 10 games (allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions), and if they defend like that they become much more dangerous in the playoffs. Not that anyone should read anything about the playoffs out of this game (no Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, for one thing), but the Clippers are playing well. And still throwing lobs to DeAndre Jordan for monster slams.

4) Biggest trade deadline winner was Detroit. Who made out best at the trade deadline? Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons. This may not vault them into the playoffs this season (although they are just half a game back of faltering Chicago for the eight seed) but it’s what they did to set themselves up for the future. The Pistons traded for Tobias Harris on Tuesday, and then on Thursday added Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton. Motiejunas is a bit of a gamble because of his health, but he’d be a great fit.

Think about the Pistons lineup. Andre Drummond is an All-Star at the center spot, and he has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Reggie Jackson at the point. Now around them on the wings are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Marcus Thornton — that’s a lot of long, athletic guys who can shoot the ball, run the floor, and switch everything on defense. And they are all 26 or younger (the average age is 23). This is a team that is going to develop and could be very good in a couple of years.

5) The playoff push at the bottom of East is now most interesting race in NBA. There are just 3.5 games separating the four seed Atlanta Hawks from the current the nine-seed (and out of the playoffs) Detroit Pistons. Then there are the Washington Wizards just two games back of the Pistons. It’s a tight race for the playoffs already, but what makes it even more interesting is to see who made trade deadline deals in the East — the nine seed Pistons were big winners, the seven seed Hornets added Courtney Lee (to replace the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and those 10-seed Wizards upgraded with Markieff Morris (who can be a great fit for them if he chooses to play hard and not be a disruptive force). Meanwhile, Chicago (eighth seed), Miami (fifth), and Indiana (sixth) all stood pat at the deadline. Now the teams that made moves have a burst of energy and are going to make a run at pushing the teams above them out of the playoff picture. What teams make the playoffs in the East — and what the seedings will be in the middle of the pack — will be the best race in the NBA down the stretch.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.

PBT Podcast: Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 season preview

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Philadelphia 76ers are title contenders — if James Harden and Joel Embiid can play up to their potential on the biggest of NBA stages. That hasn’t always happened before, particularly with Harden.

Those two are now set up well. Philadelphia learned its lessons from the playoff loss to Miami last season. GM Daryl Morey rounded out the roster with more toughness and two-way players in the form of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. Add in the development of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle and you have a deep roster of quality players — down to BBall Paul.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins me to discuss if Doc Rivers is ready to take this team to the next level, and if all the additions can come together when it matters. Can Harden shake his history of playoff reputation and lead a team to the Finals?

You can always listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

When will LeBron James break Kareem’s all-time scoring record?

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LeBron James is trying not to think about it too much.

“The only time I’ve kind of like thought about it is when someone, you know, been posting on social and it went through my scroll, through my feed, and I’ve seen it,” LeBron said at Lakers’ media day. “And every single time I’m kind of in awe of it, like, wow.”

The wow is breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record.

It was a record thought almost untouchable at 38,387 points, but now LeBron sits just 1,326 points shy of breaking it — health willing, he should pass Kareem this season.

When? Well, that takes a little math and speculation.

LeBron scored 30.3 points a game last season, but the two seasons prior to that it was closer to 25 points a game. If we split the difference and land at 27.5 points per game, it would take 48-49 games. We have to assume that 37-year-old LeBron (turning 38 just before the New Year) will sit out at least a couple of those first games, pushing this back a few games.

Considering LeBron could slide back in scoring to close to 25 a game again, the smart bet is he breaks Kareem’s record in late January or early February. The Lakers have a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and New York starting Jan. 28 and running through Feb. 4, and that’s about the window.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, something that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super like humbling, for myself,” LeBron said. “I think it’s super cool.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well. I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Having been in the spotlight for as long as LeBron has — remember he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler — he can be very practiced, very polished with the media. His brand is smooth, as are his dealings with the press in general.

However, when talking about passing Abdul-Jabbar, it felt like LeBron’s guard was down. He was raw, more reflective and genuinely moved.

“You guys always see me use my hashtag #thekidfromakron and that those are the moments where I really think about that kid from Akron. Walking those streets and, you know, playing basketball when I had actually had a basketball and the hoop, or actually just walking around and air dribbling and shooting into it and invisible hoop you know, and counting 5…4…3…2…1 and, you know, making game-winning shots.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on it throughout the season. But I think it’s a pretty historical moment when it gets here and you know, as long as my family and friends are all there that’s that’s the most important for me.”

LeBron’s family will undoubtedly be there, and the whole world will be watching. Longevity and LeBron’s ability to be great into age 38 (and beyond) is part of his GOAT argument — and there is no better cornerstone of that argument than being the game’s all-time leading scorer.

Suns fall to hot shooting Adelaide 36ers from Australia, 134-124

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The Adelaide 36ers may be from Australia’s National Basketball League, but they are professional players — leave them wide open and they will hit shots.

Phoenix treated Sunday like their first preseason game (it was) and the 36ers hit 24 3-pointers on their way to an upset of the Suns, 134-124. The 36ers were the aggressors all night long, playing team basketball and putting Phoenix on its heels.

It’s just preseason. One preseason game is not a bellwether for the season, there should be little more than raised eyebrows in Phoenix. However, with their last game being a crushing 33-point loss to Dallas which eliminated them from the playoffs a season ago, this was not the palate cleanser that Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Craig Randall — you may remember him from the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin — scored 35 points while Robert Franks added 32. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and the 36ers were on fire.

 

The last NBA team to lose to an International squad before Sunday was the Thunder in 2016 to Real Madrid. The year before, Turkish power Fenerbahce beat Brooklyn in the preseason. It does happen.

Reserve point guard Cameron Payne led the Suns with 23 points, while Deandre Ayton looked solid and dropped 22, as did Mikal Bridges, who also had 22. Devin Booker had 13 points and Chris Paul dished out 12 dimes.

With the size of Ayton and the athletic slashing of Bridges, the Suns scored 64 points in the paint, more than doubling the 36ers. But math was not on the Suns’ side, as they traded twos for threes and kept falling behind.

This is great for the NBL and its efforts to grow the brand — the 36ers will now take on the Thunder later this week.

It’s a shrug and move on game for the Suns. Expect a more focused effort from the team next game.