Celtics loom large as Anthony Davis sweepstakes head to offseason

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The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving 0 games after his trade request. The Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard 0 games after his trade request. The Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler 13 (nearly unbearable) games after his trade request.

The Pelicans will keep Anthony Davis at least 32 games after his trade request.

By holding Davis past today’s trade deadline, New Orleans set the stage for an unprecedented firestorm. One of the NBA’s biggest stars is caught in limbo. Opposing teams – Celtics now at the front of the line – will continue to jockey for him. Rumors will fly.

And it can’t be resolved for months.

The Pelicans didn’t create this chaos alone. Unlike Irving, Leonard and Butler, Davis requested his trade during the season. Cleveland and San Antonio spent a while soliciting and evaluating trades in the seclusion of the offseason. (Minnesota had the same option but stubbornly chose not to.) The Collective Bargaining Agreement effectively prevented Boston from trading for Davis now. Many circumstances contributed to this holding pattern.

Yet, we’re in it now primarily because of one factor – the Celtics.

Interest in the elite center won’t diminish. His desire to leave the Pelicans likely won’t change. But the Celtics are powerful enough to shift the landscape significantly.

Boston couldn’t realistically trade for Davis now, because both he and Kyrie Irving are designated rookie scale players, and teams can acquire only one via trade. But Irving’s contract status will change this offseason, allowing a trade for Davis then.

The Celtics are loaded with assets to send New Orleans. The big prize: Jayson Tatum. Boston has reportedly refused to directly dangle him while still making clear anyone besides Irving will be discussable. Will the Celtics actually include Tatum in an offer for Davis? They surely explained their intent to the Pelicans by now. It was on New Orleans to judge Boston’s specific words and tone. Any promise would be non-binding, anyway. The Celtics can’t officially trade for Davis until July 6.

In the meantime, everyone must handle this waiting period.

The Pelicans must determine how to manage Davis. They made him a healthy scratch the last couple games and are reportedly considering shutting him down the rest of the season. The five games New Orleans has already played after Davis’ trade request have been filled with awkwardness. But he reportedly wants to play, and it could get contentious. Sitting Davis the rest of the season would be a huge shame. He’s in the midst of an excellent season. I understand protecting an asset and tanking for a higher pick, but keeping such a talented player off the court that long would be a black eye for the NBA.

The Lakers must regroup in their playoff push. Trade rumors have seemingly disrupted chemistry, but this team is still capable of a deep run. LeBron James is that good, even without his desired co-star.

Boston must try to win over Davis. The timing of his trade request, when the Celtics effectively couldn’t deal for him, was a transparent attempt to avoid them. Davis’ camp furthered the push by leaking he was concerned about Kyrie Irving leaving Boston. The coup de grace: Davis’ father saying he’d never want his son on the Celtics after how they treated Isaiah Thomas.

Davis must convey what he wants. He won’t sign an extension anywhere, which means his team must ride it out into 2020 unrestricted free agency with him. That gives Davis leverage. He can say where he would and wouldn’t re-sign, incentivizing and de-incentivizing certain teams to trade for him. Anyone can still make New Orleans the best offer, but that’s extremely risky without Davis on board.

Once the season ends, everyone will be off to the races.

A wildcard team could try to trade for Davis, a la the Thunder with Paul George and Raptors with Kawhi Leonard. But Davis’ value is diminished by no longer being available for the 2019 playoffs.

A team will win the lottery and could use the No. 1 pick and right to draft Zion Williamson as trade bait for Davis. It’d have to be the right team winning the lottery, but that’s a head-turning asset.

The Knicks will chase Kevin Durant and Irving and then could try to trade for Davis. Or New York could just try to trade for Davis without having superstars already in place.

The Lakers could push again for Davis, but their offer wasn’t good enough now. How will it improve in the summer? With LeBron’s prime years dwindling, they might not be able to afford to wait for Davis’ free agency after yet another season. They’ll likely prioritize pursuing other stars.

And the Celtics will make their offer clear. No more hedging about what they might do. It’ll be time to put their cards on the table.

That’s when we’ll finally see real action.

MSG denies rumor James Dolan looking to sell Knicks

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Rumors that James Dolan is considering selling the Knicks — which elicits a “Hallelujah” chorus from Knicks fans — have been cropping up for a couple of years now. There were rumors he wanted to spin off the Knicks and Rangers into their own company to be sold. That’s just one, there are others — he confirmed he got a feeler $5 billion, but never a firm offer, for the Knicks — and each time he has shot them down.

This is no different.

On his latest Podcast, the Ringer’s Bill Simmons said he had heard that Dolan wanted to focus more on concerts/in-game experiences in Madison Square Garden and that the Knicks were “available.”

The Madison Square Garden Company released this statement (hat tip New York Daily News).

“The story is 100% false. There has been nothing. No discussions. No plans to have discussions – nothing.”

That’s pretty unequivocal.

While Dolan may entertain the idea on some level of selling the Knicks, until he takes concrete steps to do so — not rumors, but actual, documented moves — I’m not buying it. He’s sitting on a gold mine that keeps going up in value, despite how he manages it, so why sell now? Knicks fans that buy this rumor will likely end up like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

 

 

 

Adam Silver: Multi-year rebuilding not a winning strategy

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CHARLOTEE – Former 76ers president Sam Hinkie undertook one of the most ambitious tanking campaigns in NBA history. Over a four-year stretch, Philadelphia went 19-63, 18-64, 10-72 and 28-54.

That incensed many around the league.

The NBA pursued and eventually enacted lottery reform. Despite his denials, many believed NBA commissioner Adam Silver pressured the 76ers to oust Hinkie. In many ways, the league is still shook by Philadelphia’s bold strategy to lose so long.

“I personally don’t think it’s a winning strategy over the long term to engage in multiple years of rebuilding,” Silver said Saturday. “…There’s a mindset that, if you’re going to be bad, you might as well be really bad. I believe, personally, that’s corrosive for those organizations, putting aside my personal view of what the impact it has on the league overall.”

Except it is a winning strategy.

The 76ers are proving that.

They’re 37-21 and led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two players drafted with high picks earned through tanking. Philadelphia traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris using assets stockpiled through tanking. The 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a high salary because they had a low payroll, the byproduct of a assembling a roster of young, cost-controlled players acquired through tanking.

Few teams have ever planned and executed a multi-year tank. Most tanking teams entered the season planning to win then pivoted once that went sideways. Some teams decide to tank for a full season. But deciding in advance to tank even two straight years? It’s rare.

The SuperSonics/Thunder probably did it their last year in Seattle and first in Oklahoma City. With Kevin Durant already on board, that netted them Russell Westbrook, James Harden and a decade of strong teams. Of course, that situation is complicated by the franchise leaving one market and getting a grace period in its new location.

Few teams have the resolve to set out to tank that long, let alone the four years the 76ers committed to the cause. Most teams that go young still add a veteran or two in hopes of winning sooner than expected.

Even Chicago, which knowingly took a step back last season by trading Butler talked big about that being a one-year ordeal. Chicago’s struggles this season were unintended, at least initially. The Bulls have obviously shifted gears, but that was only after failing to win early.

Chicago isn’t alone in major losing this season. Four teams – Suns (11-48), Knicks (11-47), Cavaliers (12-46) and Bulls (14-44) – are on pace to win fewer than 20 games. The last time so many teams won fewer than a quarter of their games was 1998, when a six teams – Nuggets (11-71), Raptors (16-66), Clippers (17-65), Grizzlies (19-63), Warriors (19-63) and Mavericks (20-62) – performed so poorly.

Does that mean the NBA’s lottery reform is failing?

“I’m certainly not here to say we solved the problem,” Silver said. “I will say, though, that while you point out those four teams, we have many more competitive teams this year than we’ve had any time in the recent past of teams that are competing hard, competing for spots in the playoffs, and great competition on the floor. So I think we’ve made progress.”

Silver raises a good point. Judging the shape of the league by only the bottom four teams is far too simplistic. There are a historic number of teams in the playoff mix. Maybe that’s because of lottery reform, which offers better chances of a top-four pick to teams that barely miss the postseason.

Here’s how each team’s win percentage in each conference compares to teams in the same place in the standings in prior 15-team conferences. The 2018-19 teams are show by their logo. Prior teams are marked with a dot. Columns are sorted by place within a conference, 1-15.

Eastern Conference

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Western Conference

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The 10th- through 14th-place teams in the Western Conference are historically good for their place in the conference. That matters.

But the sixth- through 11th-place teams in the Eastern Conference being in a tight race is because the top teams in that group are historically bad for their place in the conference. That matters, too.

There’s no simple way to judge this.

The glut of terrible teams this season is somewhat surprising because the draft projects to feature only one elite prospect – Zion Williamson. The new lottery rules give the bottom three teams each an equal chance (14%) of the No. 1 pick. The advantage of finishing with the worst vs. second-worst vs. third-worst is getting slotted higher in the draft if multiple of those teams get their numbers pulled in the lottery.

Maybe it’s just that four teams happened to be quite bad, and all four are committed to avoiding the fourth-worst record and just a 12.5% chance of the No. 1 pick.

Though tanking has undeniably worked for some teams, it’s probably bad for the NBA. So many games are uncompetitive. Fans lose interest.

But as long as high draft picks remain so valuable and tied to having a worse record, teams will tank.

“You understand now why there’s relegation, in European soccer, for example, because you pay an enormous price if you’re not competitive,” Silver said. “I think, again, for the league and for our teams, there’s that ongoing challenge of whether we can come up with yet a better system.”

Report: Some within organization believe Anthony Davis has played last game for Pelicans

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Anthony Davis only added confusion about where he wants to go next.

But there’s also the pesky matter of what the Pelicans star will do the rest of this season.

Davis has repeatedly said he wants to play. The NBA threatened to fine the Pelicans if they didn’t play him. So, they put him in the lineup… to get booed by New Orleans fans. His performance in four games since the trade deadline has been incredibly uneven, ranging from elite to dreadful. In the Pelicans’ last game before the All-Star break, Davis left the arena after suffering an shoulder injury. He played just five minutes in the All-Star game, fewer than anyone but 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki

So, what now?

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

According to sources on both sides, there is no plan yet in place for how they will handle this after the All-Star break. The Pelicans and Davis (with Paul advising) are re-evaluating the best way to handle his playing time – again.

While sources say the situation has not involved the National Basketball Players Association to this point, that would change if New Orleans attempted to protect its monumental trade chip by sitting Davis for the rest of the season – presuming he wanted to play. Then again, maybe Davis decides that he’s better off training in obscurity while we wait to see where his next stop might be.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry called the situation a “dumpster fire.” New Orleans can’t just simply return to the status quo.

But who makes this call?

New Orleans just fired general manager Dell Demps to elevate Danny Ferry into the interim role. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson is seeking someone to run basketball operations and report directly to her, but she hasn’t made that hire yet. The league can obviously intervene, too.

I’m extremely uneasy about making Davis a healthy scratch for nearly two months in the midst of an excellent season. But even just four games of him playing has been so ugly. Pelicans fans don’t want it. The Pelicans probably don’t want it. After his injury scare and dealing with the fallout of his trade request, Davis might not still want it.

Does the NBA? That’s the big question. Davis is a national draw. In a league where every game is available streaming online, that matters. The controversy surrounding Davis only adds to the intrigue.

In the end, the interested parties – New Orleans, Davis, NBA – will choose among the uncomfortable options. But at least this part of the saga will end in fewer than two months.

Then, the bigger questions about Davis’ future will kick into high gear.

After All-Star glamour, Kemba Walker returning to mundane reality of carrying Hornets

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CHARLOTTE – Kemba Walker just started a basketball game alongside Stephen Curry, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. The NBA’s biggest stars came to his city. World-class entertainers performed throughout the weekend.

“It was amazing, man,” Walker said. “It was amazing.”

Walker will start his next game on the same court, but it’ll be alongside Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller. Walker’s 27-30 Hornets will face the Wizards in a battle for a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Most celebrities will have long cleared out.

Except Walker.

Walker remains as the face of the Hornets, a role he has embraced despite the franchise’s mediocrity. When his name emerged in trade talks last year, he said he’d be “devastated” to get dealt. He has made Charlotte his home and was so delighted to play host for yesterday’s All-Star game and all the accompanying festivities.

His reality here otherwise has been markedly different. In his eight seasons with the Hornets, he has never had an All-Star teammate. Not a single one.

Here’s every player in NBA history who played his first eight seasons without an All-Star teammate (seasons, including partial, with each team in parentheses):

Player Teams
Kemba Walker (2012-2019) CHA (8)
JaVale McGee (2009-2016) WAS (4), DEN (4), PHI (1), DAL (1)
David Lee (2006-2013) NYK (5), GSW (3)
Monta Ellis (2006-2013) GSW (7), MIL (2)
Ben Gordon (2005-2012) CHI (5), DET (3)
Andris Biedrins (2005-2012) GSW (8)
Zach Randolph (2002-2009) POR (6), NYK (2), LAC (1)
Eddy Curry (2002-2009) CHI (4), NYK (4)
Jamal Crawford (2001-2008) CHI (4), NYK (4)
Elton Brand (2000-2007) CHI (2), LAC (6)
Adonal Foyle (1998-2005) GSW (8)
Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1997-2004) VAN (5), ATL (3), POR (1)
Erick Dampier (1997-2004) IND (1), GSW (7)
Lamond Murray (1995-2002) LAC (5), CLE (3)
Glen Rice (1990-1997) MIA (6), CHA (2)
Grant Long (1989-1996) MIA (7), ATL (2)
Herb Williams (1982-1989) IND (8), DAL (1)
Larry Drew (1981-1988) DET (1), KCK/SAC (5), LAC (2)

Of that list, just Walker, David Lee, Elton Brand, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glen Rice became All-Stars in their first eight seasons. Walker’s three All-Star appearances lead the group.

Just three of those players – Walker, Andris Biedrins (Warriors) and Adonal Foyle (Warriors) – spent that entire time with only one team.

So, obviously Walker is the only player in NBA history with a first eight seasons like this – All-Star himself, one team, no All-Star teammates.

I asked Walker whether he felt playing with another star was a missing piece of his career.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Walker said, pausing as if he were truly contemplating then shaking his head and shrugging. “I don’t know.”

If Walker wants to play with other stars, he’ll have an opportunity this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Some teams pursuing Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson will strike out. There will be opportunities for Walker to land with better teams. The Bronx native has poohpoohed the Knicks, but there are many other possible destinations.

There’s something to be said about staying in Charlotte, too. Walker is probably already the greatest player in Hornets history, and another contract with them could cinch it. For a player who’s relatively underpaid, a five-year max-contract projected to be worth $190 million could be quite appealing. Walker could continue to stand alone in a league where stars frequently switch teams and join forces. That probably won’t lead to championships, but that isn’t the only way to define success.

“He’s made this franchise relevant,” LeBron James said.

Still, that has translated to only two playoff appearances for Walker, both first-round losses. Charlotte landed in the lottery the last two years and has a 55% chance to return there this season, according to 538. The Hornets are capped out with unappealing contracts, so significant progress soon seems unlikely.

But with All-Star Weekend behind him, the last All-Star left in Charlotte is focused on a stretch run with the Hornets.

“That’s what we do,” Walker said. “We play basketball. And for us, if we really want to make a push, we’ve just got to be locked in. So, I’ll try to my best to get some rest, recover a little bit from this weekend and keep it going.”