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Former Warriors executive: Golden State tanked to get Harrison Barnes

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The NBA is so concerned about tanking, it passed lottery reform – to curb actual tanking or at least the perception of it.

But people in the league keep admitting to tanking.

The latest: Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, who was previously the Warriors’ assistant general manager

In middle of March 2012, Golden State had a better record than two Western Conference teams and every Eastern Conference team outside playoff position. Continuing at that pace would have given the Warriors just a 4% chance of keeping their first-round pick, which was top-seven protected. Far more likely, they would have conveyed the No. 10 pick to the Jazz.

So, Golden State traded its consensus best player, Monta Ellis, for an injured Andrew Bogut, lost 17 of its last 20 games and “fell” to the No. 7 seed in the lottery – nabbing a 75% chance of keeping its pick. The Warriors stayed at No. 7 and drafted Harrison Barnes.

Schlenk, via the CBS Sports Flagrant Two podcast:

We made that deal knowing two things. One, we’d never had a center in Golden State or a rim protector, when I was there anyway. So, with eyes on the future, if we can get him healthy, get him back. We shut Steph down at the time. And we knew that we had to fall into those bottom seven spots to get our pick, and that was really important to us. Tanking? I guess. It was a conscious decision we made to shoot for next year.

I think you have to, as a franchise, do what’s best for the franchise. And sometimes, that means securing your draft pick if you can.

I think the problem with tanking or the perception of tanking is when teams go out there from day and don’t show any intention of winning. We’re not doing that here in Atlanta.

Bogut was central to the Warriors’ defensive resurgence, and they sent Utah the No. 21 pick the next year. Barnes became a key player on Golden State’s 2015 title team, and the franchise’s rise with him and Bogut helped lure Andre Iguodala and eventually Kevin Durant in free agency.

This is the problem with tanking: It works.

It’s not the only way to win, and it doesn’t always work, though I’d argue that many teams that fail while tanking would fail through other methods of team-building because they’re poorly managed. There are also different types of tanking, Golden State’s seen as more permissible.

I define tanking as any decision a team makes that is at least partially driven by a desire to lose more in order to improve draft position.

The Warriors’ trade (and subsequent strategies down the stretch) clearly fit. So does the most-egregious example – the 76ers’ Process. But setting out a season to tank is rare. Doing it multiple years was unprecedented.

Yet, Philadelphia gets so much attention in these tanking discussions. What Golden State did – wasting the final quarter of its season once the first three quarters produced mediocre results – happens far more often. That’s what the league ought to fight against.

One possible solution: Eliminate the ability to protect draft picks within the lottery. That’d remove incentive for teams to nosedive for artificial – and highly important – cutoff points.

But I’m also unconvinced this is a huge problem. As Schlenk said, his Hawks aren’t tanking (not yet, at least). He wants to develop a winning culture. We’ll see whether that strategy is to their benefit, but many general managers take a similar approach. There’s a level of self-policing happening – even by prior tankers.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.