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.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

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The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

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Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (h/t Bleacher Report).

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

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Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.