Three Things to Know: Sixers go all-in right now, Clippers set up future all-in push

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Sixers go all-in right now, Clippers set up future all-in push with a blockbuster trade. If you needed evidence of why Philadelphia needed to go all-in for a playoff push — if GM Elton Brand needed more evidence of what would happen to his team in the postseason — the game against Toronto Tuesday night provided it. Kawhi Leonard’s defense disrupted everything Philly wanted to do, while on the other end of the court he was attacking and getting to the line. Toronto was getting good looks and making them while making Philadelphia work. The result was a 119-107 win that showed The Sixers where they stood.

So the Sixers went all-in with a blockbuster trade: Philadelphia gets an All-Star level player in Tobias Harris, plus big men Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott. However, the price was high in future assets, because the Clippers got Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, the Sixers’ 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected), an unprotected 2021 first-round pick (via Miami) and second-round picks in 2021 and 2023 (via Detroit).

The Sixers’ starting five is now the second best one in the NBA: Ben Simmons, J.J. Reddick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid. Harris brings three-point shooting (43 percent this season), shot creation and much more, he is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. How good is Harris? He dropped 34 on Charlotte Tuesday night including hitting the game-winner.

With this move, Philadelphia jumps into the middle of the conversation with Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee for which team that could make the Finals out of the East.

The Sixers still need to add depth and shooting off the buyout market, but Scott is an upgrade as a stretch big off the bench and Marjanovic can give them quality minutes against second-string bigs they may well see in the playoffs (plus will be an instant fan favorite). This starting/closing five — and coach Brett Brown can stagger them throughout the game and keep a couple of these guys on the floor at all times — will not get pushed around by Toronto or anyone else.

The Sixers now will have to pay to keep this team together — Butler and Harris are free agents this summer, and don’t forget Simmons will have his rookie contract extension coming up in a couple of years. Joshua Harris will need to break out the checkbook — and the Sixers knew that going in. Can they keep Redick on the roster through all of that (he’s a free agent this summer, too)? It’s going to get expensive, but that is the price for putting a contender together.

Los Angeles sacrificed this season with this trade. The Clippers were fighting to hold on to the eight seed but took a step back in the short term. The Kings are one game back, but it’s the Lakers — now with LeBron James healthy again (keep reading No. 2 below for more on them) — just 2.5 games back that likely climbs past the Clippers to nab the eight seed. (Minnesota is four games back and could get in the mix if you believe in them. I do not.)

What the Clippers set up is the future. The team is expected to be a serious player for Kawhi Leonard this summer, but now they are one Danilo Gallinari trade away from having two max contract slots (according to ESPN’s cap guru Bobby Marks). More than that, the Clippers landed one of the most coveted picks floating around the trade market — Miami’s 2021 unprotected pick. Also, if the Clippers miss the playoffs they keep their first-round pick this season (otherwise the Celtics get it). And they now have a quality shooting guard in Shamet to pair with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt.

It sets up bold moves.

The Clippers were on Anthony Davis’ short list of teams he would re-sign with. Now the Clippers have serious assets for a potential trade: Some combination of Miami pick, their own lottery pick this year, Lou Williams and/or Avery Bradley (if the Pelicans want to stay competitive, as is rumored), plus one or more of Montrezl Harrell, Gilgeous-Alexander, or Shamet. Do not underestimate how tempting that Miami pick will be for teams.

Los Angeles looked at itself, looked at the West, and decided to play for another day — and be able to go all-in when they do. That is a power move. Good on Lawrence Frank, Jerry West, and the rest of the Clippers organization. They gave up an All-Star but got a potential franchise-changing package back.

2) So maybe those trade rumors are affecting the young Lakers. Wow, this was ugly. Trade rumors can distract young players not used to seeing their names in packages sent to New Orleans or anywhere else, and if the player is on social media (and they all are) it hits them in the face every time they pick up their phone. It showed on the court Tuesday.

Indiana fans did their part, chanting “LeBron’s gonna trade you” when Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma went to the free throw line.

(The colder one was fans chanting “not worth trading” at JaVale McGee.)

The Lakers were blown out by 42-points by a Victor Oladipo-less Pacers team — but an Indy with some depth that plays hard. From the opening tip, the Lakers looked distracted and out-of-sync. The loss was the largest of LeBron James’ career and led to this on the bench.

Luke Walton and LeBron — it is on both of them — need to rally the team. With the Clippers trading Harris, the eight seed is there for the taking. The Lakers should get it, but they will have to earn it — amazingly because the Kings will play hard and make them earn it. The Lakers are the best team of the ones battling for that playoff spot, they just have to start living up to that potential.

The trade for Reggie Bullock, a good shooter and solid player, will help with that. But the change mostly needs to be internal.

3) John Wall adds ruptured Achilles to his list of injuries, and the Wizards future is now in question. When John Wall had surgery on his heel on Jan. 8, one of the goals was to take pressure off his Achilles and prevent future injuries. But that’s not how things go for the Wizards, who the basketball gods continue to plague with injuries.

Wall slipped at home, fell, and tore his Achilles. He could miss all of next season because of it.

Now what?

In the short-term, nothing changes. Owner Ted Leonsis and GM Ernie Grunfeld have said the team was going to make a push for the playoffs, and they will. (How well that goes is another question, the Wizards are currently the 10 seed, 3.5 games back of the Heat and the final playoff spot.) While teams are calling about Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, and others (including Bradley Beal), don’t expect the Wizards to be sellers at the trade deadline. Probably.

This summer though, the Wizards need to decide who they are. Again, don’t expect a rebuild, expect a re-tooling around Bradley Beal. They will re-sign Tomas Satoransky. But around that, there could be roster shifts. The Wizards are a bit unpredictable that way, but there should be changes.

The problem is Wall’s four-year max contract is just kicking in, it’s the most untradable contract in the NBA (and was before this Achilles injury), and now $37.8 million in cap space (and climbing for the three years after that) is tied up in Wall. It’s an anchor on any reworking of the roster. Wall is a fighter, he will come back from this, but what the Wizards look like when he does is anyone’s guess.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.