NBA Trade Deadline Winners, Losers: It’s a good day to be LeBron

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The NBA Trade Deadline did not disappoint.

The stunners started when the Clippers traded Blake Griffin and continued through the Cavaliers blowing up their roster, and Memphis holding on to the one guy that everyone thought would be traded.

Trying to figure out who won and lost trades on the day they happen tends to be a fool’s errand — we often don’t see the wisdom, or we miss the flaws at first. That’s not going to stop us. Here are our Winners and losers from the wild 2018 NBA Trade Deadline.

Winner: LeBron James.
For the first two-and-a-half months of the NBA season, LeBron James played like an MVP and carried the Cavaliers as far as he could. And it wasn’t far enough. It was clear that the Cavaliers were not on the level of the Warriors or Rockets, and they may not be on the level of the Celtics or Raptors. LeBron became dispirited, his effort waned, particularly on defense, and there wasn’t enough on the team to lift the Cavs up without them — Isaiah Thomas returned and was a shell of his former self, Jae Crowder was a disappointment, and Cleveland just looked look old and slow, particularly on defense. They were not contenders and didn’t look like a team that could make the Eastern Conference Finals.

LeBron should be energized now — the Cavaliers will be younger, more athletic, better defenders and better shooters. How much better is an open question, but better. They also should play faster and be more entertaining. That should fire LeBron up — he’s got a chance again. This team could get him back to the NBA Finals. It could help him stay a Cavalier this summer. Maybe it can’t, it’s far too early to know, but we know for sure the previous iteration of the Cavs couldn’t. A chance is all LeBron can ask.

Losers: Boston Celtics/Toronto Raptors. While the Cavaliers found reinforcements and got better, the two top teams in the East stood pat. The gap closed, and that has them as losers.

Both teams tried to make moves. Boston was active making calls — they tried to move Marcus Smart in a trade, they made calls about Tyreke Evans and were close. However, in the end, the only move the Celtics made was to bring in Greg Monroe to add a little scoring punch off the bench and that is it. The Raptors picked up Malachi Richardson in a trade, but the former Syracuse shooter is a project who doesn’t help them now. Toronto contacted the Clippers about DeAndre Jordan, but there was no deal to be had.

The Eastern Conference Finals could still be Boston vs. Toronto, we don’t know how good these Cavaliers are going to be. But the gap narrowed, Cleveland still has LeBron, he can still dominate, he has some help now, and that should worry Boston and Toronto.

Winner: Koby Altman, Cavaliers GM. Within the 48 hours before the trade deadline, Altman was called a puppet of owner Dan Gilbert and a guy thrown in the deep end who couldn’t really swim. There were questions if he was up for the job.

Any more questions?

Altman pulled off what nobody saw coming — in two trades he revamped the problem areas of the roster on and off the court. Cleveland is now more athletic, should defend better, and has more shooting. Altman did all without giving up the Brooklyn Nets pick. Yes, the Cavaliers took on a lot of future money and had to give up their own first-round pick, but this was a bold stroke from the GM to give his team a chance this season. And a chance to retain LeBron James.

Loser: Isaiah Thomas. Think about where Thomas was one year ago. Around the All-Star Game in 2017 we were talking about how IT was carrying the Celtics to a surprisingly good season, he was one of the league’s leading scorers, and he was on the fringes of the MVP conversation. He ended up an All-NBA player.

What a fall it has been. He was traded to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving deal — a trade the Cavaliers considered rescinding after they saw just how injured his hip was (not that they would have gone back on it, what the Cavs wanted most was the unprotected Brooklyn 2018 draft pick). Thomas missed the first couple months of this season, and since his return he has not been his vintage self — shooting 36.1 percent (but still gunning away) and being one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Despite all his flaws this season, he was happy to talk publicly about how everything else was wrong with the Cavaliers. So Cleveland sent him to the Lakers in a three-way trade, and now Thomas will soon be back to a sixth-man role behind Lonzo Ball (once Ball gets healthy), then IT heads into free agency with a lot of question marks. His stock is falling fast, and the Cavaliers pulled the ripcord.

Thomas was classy on his way out the door,

Winner: Detroit Pistons. For now. Don’t forget about the other big deadline trade, just a week earlier. Detroit has won five straight games since Blake Griffin came over from the Clippers, and it’s not a coincidence. The Pistons are dramatically better when Griffin and Andre Drummond share the court (plus +22.4 points per 100 possessions, albeit in limited minutes so far). Detroit has a top-eight offense and defense since the trade. Griffin himself is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, plus he is assisting on 31.3 percent of teammates buckets when on the court. The Pistons look like a playoff team.

The short term — as long as Griffin stays healthy — was never the question. The negatives were long-haul — the Pistons are loaded with salary and all-in with this roster, considering how much Griffin, Drummond, and the injured Reggie Jackson make there’s not a lot of flexibility. The Pistons are what they are, and they have paid a lot of money for a guy with a long injury history in Griffin. A lot of us think the Pistons will come to regret this trade. Just not this season.

Winner: Dwyane Wade. He gets to go home. Wade had come to Cleveland to play with LeBron again, but as everything went wrong in Cleveland his people made it known he would eventually like to get back to Miami to finish his career there. Thursday, as they blew up the roster, the Cavaliers did Wade a solid and moved him where he wanted to go (for only a protected second-round pick). Wade got what his heart desired.

Loser: Memphis Grizzlies. If there was one thing that was supposed to happen on Thursday, it was Tyreke Evans getting traded. Memphis wanted a first-round pick, but nobody was offering one. The thought was they would eventually cave and take a couple of second-round picks, or a player and a second rounder, just because they had to do something. Evans is on a one-year deal and has played himself to a much bigger contract than the minimum one he was on, but the Grizzlies do not have his Bird rights and likely will not have the cap space to bring him back. Hence the idea was they would trade him.

Memphis was stubborn, they would not come off the first-round pick demand. So the Grizzlies get nothing.

Combine that with them not even considering a Marc Gasol trade, and you get the sense Memphis believes they are just a tweak or two away — plus a healthy Mike Conley — from making it all work and them being in the playoffs. I’m not sold, but they are playing it like they are.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers’ dreams. With the Lakers getting off Jordan Clarkson‘s contract in the Cavaliers deal (and not bringing any long-term salary back, Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas will not be with the Lakers next season), Los Angels can reach its goal of having enough cap space to bring in two max free agents. They have to waive and stretch Loul Deng, plus make a couple other small moves, but the dream is within reach.

What dream? To lure both LeBron James and Paul George to the Lakers next season.

That’s incredibly unlikely. LeBron wants to win now and even with himself and PG13 the Lakers are not ready to challenge the Warriors. Meanwhile, George has said he’s happy in Oklahoma City. The odds are against the Lakers. But it’s possible. The door is open. And in Los Angeles, that will fuel dreams of this summer (even though it’s more likely they make a big splash in the summer of 2019).

If nothing else, the Lakers picked up another first-round pick, something that was hard to come by on this deadline day. Just ask Memphis.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.

 

NBA Draft Winners, Losers: Big nights for Phoenix, Dallas

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Let’s start with the obvious — this whole story is a fool’s errand. It really takes about three years to accurately assess who are the winners and losers in the NBA draft. Guys we thought were locks will turn out to be pretty pedestrian, guys we wrote off as projects down the board will impress. In three years, we’ll have a real sense of which teams read this draft well and nailed it.

But we don’t live in that world.

So here are my projections on the real winners and losers Thursday night in Brooklyn, starting with the guys who didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick.

 

Suns small icon Winner: Phoenix Suns.

It isn’t just that they didn’t screw up the top pick and landed in DeAndre Ayton, the guy most likely to be a franchise cornerstone star in this class. Although they did that. Also, it was their move later to trade their pick at No. 16 (Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith) for Mikal Bridges — most likely the best “3&D” prospect in this draft (it cost them a future first via Miami). By the time everyone was trying to get an Uber outside Barclays Center the Suns had put together a starting lineup of Devin Booker, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton (plus a point guard to be named later). That’s a group worth watching — and they hired Igor Kokoskov as their new coach this summer because he’s strong on player development. It’s the start of something.

Phoenix also drafted French point guard Elie Okobo at 31 in the second round when a lot of teams thought of him as a first-round talent. Another smart move.

Loser: Michael Porter Jr.

A couple of weeks ago, Porter was mentioned as a potential No. 2 selection to the Kings. But after teams got a look at his medical reports from last Friday’s workout — remember, he missed all but three games at Missouri following back surgery — they backed off. Reports about his attitude didn’t help. Porter slid all the way down to Denver at 14. What that means to him besides getting to play at altitude in Denver: The No. 2 pick is slotted for a $7.3 million salary next season, the No. 14 makes less than $3 million. We’ll see if Porter can use this as motivation — and stay healthy.

One winner in this: The Denver Nuggets for grabbing him at 14. That is a good team (they just missed the playoffs) with strong players already where Porter can be brought along slowly without unreasonable expectations.

Mavericks small icon Winner: Dallas Mavericks.

Mark Cuban and company traded up from No. 5 to No. 3 and landed Luka Doncic — the player they had highest rated on the board. This is a win for the Mavs and for Doncic because he lands with a brilliant Xs and Os coach in Rick Carlisle who will put him in positions to succeed, plus Doncic gets mentored by Dirk Nowitzki. This pick also is a strong move because he should pair well with young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. — Doncic can run the pick-and-roll at times with Smith cutting and moving off the ball, and in the reverse Doncic has a good catch-and-shoot game. Dallas has options for playmaking now.

Also, nice second-round pickup of Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson. That’s a high IQ player who can step in as a reserve and help immediately.

Loser: Robert Williams.

The Texas A&M big man has the talent of a late lottery pick — the Clippers met with him a couple of times — but concerns about his attitude and work ethic saw him plummet all the way down the board to 27. Will he use this as motivation to play with a high motor all the time, or will he continue to coast? If he brings it, he could be the steal of this draft. That brings us to…

Celtics small iconWinner: Boston Celtics (because they got Robert Williams).

This was an Oceans 9 level robbery (that’s the next movie, right?) for Danny Ainge this late in the first round. At No. 27 you’re usually just hoping to get a guy who can develop into a role player in a few years. Williams is much more than that, he has the tools to be an elite NBA defender, and in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. In the NBA he’s going to be a rim running big, ala DeAndre Jordan — except Jordan fulfilled his potential. It’s up to Boston to get that out of Williams (and it’s up to Williams himself to work), but if they do this was another brilliant Ainge pick.

Loser: Golden State Warriors.

They tried to buy into the second round as they did a year ago and pick up someone who fits their style — and this year they had $5.1 million to do it (more than the $3.5 million a year ago). However, other GMs remember how much heat the Bulls front office took for selling their pick to Golden State last year and watching the Warriors draft Jordan Bell — Mr. “cash considerations” was playing a role in the NBA Finals. No GM wanted to repeat that mistake. No early second-round pick for the Warriors this year.

However, their first-round pick of Jacob Evans was a good one, he’s the kind of versatile wing player who fits into their rotation.

Winner: Puma.

The German soccer cleat maker shoe and apparel company wanted to get back into the basketball game, and the did it with a splash — their guys Ayton and Bagley went No. 1 and 2. That’s going to be a lot of free publicity and a lot of eyes on their players starting in Summer League and beyond. The company also landed guys with real potential in Michael Porter Jr. and Zhaire Smith.

Oh, and they hired Jay-Z as well. That’s a good week whatever else happens.

Winner: NBA Twitter

The guys in suits up the executive food chain tried to put an end to Woj bombs this year — ESPN was trying to clamp down on their news breakers Tweeting out the picks before they happened (as had been the case for a few years, with Twitter often two or three picks ahead of Adam Silver and the broadcast). Other major news breakers (such as Yahoo’s Shams Charania) agreed to play along. We all thought we would have to wait around for Adam Silver to saunter up to the table.

But if there is one thing NBA Twitter has taught us it’s that it will not be contained. It breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. NBA Twitter, uh… finds a way.

Before long Twitter picks were leaking and Twitter was a pick ahead of the broadcast again, and Adrian Wojnarowski was dropping bombs, cleverly not saying who the pick was but….

NBA Twitter is the best.

Lonnie Walker’s Spurs hat appears as if it’s floating above his head (photo)

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Basketball players don’t wear hats.

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

OK, scratch that. NBA players don’t wear hats.

But it has become tradition for draft picks to don a cap of the team that selected him.

So, even though Lonnie Walker‘s hair looks like this (via AP):

Pittsburgh Miami Basketball

…he put on a Spurs hat when they selected him No. 18:

NBA Draft Basketball

Even Elfrid Payton did a much better job cramming his do into his hat on draft night:

Walker, an athletic shooting guard who underperformed at Miami, was a surprising choice by San Antonio. The Spurs generally prioritize basketball intelligence over athleticism (though, to be fair, that’s hardly an absolute).

But no matter how Walker fits in San Antonio goes, it probably won’t be more awkward than this.