Five big takeaways from NBA trade deadline

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So much for a quiet trade deadline — from when New York surprised Knicks’ fans by trading their favorite player, through the end of the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there were more than 20 NBA trades.

A few that shifted the landscape, a lot that were more about the salary cap or setting things up for the future. And the biggest trade of all did not happen.

Here are the five big takeaways from the NBA trade deadline.

1) Anthony Davis is still a Pelican, now Boston gets into the mix and this saga will drag out into the offseason. Rich Paul’s gambit failed. He told the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis would not re-sign with the team — which wasn’t surprising news to the New Orleans front office — and then demanded a trade. Then leaked that trade news to the press (and got Davis fined for it). Everything was orchestrated to get Davis to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James (another Paul client). The Lakers were all-in on the idea and put everything they could into an offer – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, first-round picks and more were all on the table — to the point it has led to team chemistry issues.

And the Pelicans didn’t want to play. They listened to the Lakers, but never seriously engaged. Part of the reason for that, according to sources, is that people high up the food chain in the New Orleans organization didn’t want to be pressured into making a trade on someone else’s terms, to just blindly trade Davis where he wanted to go. They wanted some control over the process.

The other main reason for the delay is the Pelicans wanted Boston to get involved. While trades in the last few days weakened a couple of Boston’s potential first-round picks — the Clippers now will likely fall out of the playoffs and keep their pick; Sacramento got better so that pick gets a little worse — the future Memphis pick looks even better as the Grizzlies start their rebuild. Plus, if Jayson Tatum is in the mix, the Pelicans want him — almost every team/scout I have spoken to has him rated much higher than any of the young Lakers.

Add to all that Pelicans want to see how the draft lottery shakes out — if the Knicks get the No. 1 pick things get interesting. They want to see if a surprise team — maybe the Clippers now? — get in on the bidding. They want to wait.

This will get resolved by early July at the latest. But for now, Anthony Davis is a Pelican and the Lakers are worse for it.

2) There was an arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference and the East playoffs are going to be insane. Starting with the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it could be a bloodbath. As happened in the West for many years (but not this one, at least not at the top), there was an arms race among the top teams.

It started when the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris from the Clippers — Philly now has the second-best starting five in the NBA. At least on paper. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid can match up with anyone. The team needs to add depth, and the Sixers stars need to show they are willing to sacrifice points/touches for the betterment of the team, but the Sixers just got demonstrably better.

That woke up the other teams in the East.

Milwaukee responded by trading for Nikola Mirotic, the sharpshooting big man who will be a great fit with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mirotic will thrive the same way Brook Lopez has in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Remember how much Mirotic looked good playing next to Anthony Davis in the Pelicans’ playoff run last season? Now the Bucks add that to the team with the best record in the NBA already.

The Raptors topped that with the addition of Marc Gasol in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. He provides floor spacing shooting, strong rebounding, fantastic passing, and just a high IQ game that Nick Nurse can use to great effect. Gasol is versatile and gives Toronto more ways to matchup in the postseason.

All of those teams got better, and the team we haven’t mentioned Boson — they have won 9-of-10 and have looked like the East favorite we expected of late. (And they got what they wanted at the deadline with Davis not getting traded.) Boston could still come out of the East.

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough.

3) The Clippers, Knicks, and Mavericks set themselves up to be big-time players this July. While a few teams went all in on right now, a few teams made some shrewd moves thinking about July.

The Clippers are at the top of that list. Los Angeles made the calculation that they could fight for the eight seed in the West, win it, lose their first-round pick this year (to Boston, lottery protected) and get smacked around by the Warriors in the first round. Or, they could trade Tobias Harris, takes some steps back out of the playoffs, keep their pick, get a haul of draft picks from Philadelphia in the deal — including a much coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder — and clear out one max cap slot, plus set themselves up to have two (if they can trade Danilo Gallinari after the season). The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and are in the mix for him this summer, Los Angeles has the assets to tempt teams with a big trade (Davis?), and they can chase a second free agent. This is a team poised to make a move.

The Knicks are right there with the Clippers in bold free agent planning — and what they did created a lot of buzz around the NBA. By trading Kristaps Porzingins and the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks now have two max cap slots open next July (plus the Knicks picked up picks in the trade). Do they know something about Kevin Durant? KD hates that speculation, but it is all over the NBA (not the media, I mean front office types), as is the idea Kyrie Irving will follow him. The playoffs can change a lot of plans, but the Knicks seem confident.

Dallas did more than just add Kristaps Porzingis to Luka Doncic this deadline — although that in-and-of-itself was a bold move that could give the franchise two cornerstone pieces for a decade (if Porzingis can come back from his ACL injury to full unicorn status). However, moving Harrison Barnes to Sacramento also freed up cap space, and the Mavericks could have nearly $30 million of it next summer. Want to come play with Porzingis and Doncic? Dallas is setting itself up to be very good soon, if things break their way.

4) The race for the eight seed in the West is going to be fun. As of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed in the West and with that own the final playoff spot. (The Spurs and Jazz hold down the six and seven seeds, but neither of them looks like they are going to fade away.)

As noted above, the Clippers traded their best player and have made a conscious effort not to chase the eight seed hard (not that they will admit that). It opens the door.

The Sacramento Kings are trying to barge through it. The team with the longest playoff drought in the NBA (12 years) is a surprising 28-26, just 1.5 games back of the Clippers. They traded for Harrison Barnes to give them the big wing/four they have needed in the rotation, a guy who can be a shot creator (mostly for himself) and get buckets in addition to De’Aaron Fox. While it’s fair to question the long-term ramifications of this move for the Kings, but in the short term Sacramento got better and they want that spot.

Just behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers. They were a playoff team in the East before LeBron James injured his groin, the conventional wisdom has been they would return to that form and own the spot. But Lonzo Ball is injured, and the Anthony Davis drama took its toll on the Lakers’ psyche, and it showed when they got blown out by 42 in Indiana. The Lakers are on the road (the Grammys forced them out of Staples Center) and are in the toughest stretch of their season. If the Lakers stumble a little, can they still catch the Kings?

This race got fun.

5) Markelle Fultz is getting a fresh start. Could Carmelo Anthony get one, too? The trade deadline saw a few players who wanted or needed a change of scenery getting one. Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, now he gets a chance to come off the bench in Detroit. Stanley Johnson is out of Detroit and is now in New Orleans getting a chance, and Marquese Chriss will get some run and opportunity in Cleveland.

Nobody needed a fresh start more than Markelle Fultz, however. And he got it, the former No. 1 pick is now a member of the Orlando Magic.

Fultz was drafted with a lot of fanfare and a lot of pressure to be the third part of a “big three” in Philly with Embiid and Simmons, but after a short but decent Summer League, Fultz showed up at training camp with a new shooting form that was a disaster. Whether it was due to injury or trainers or alien abduction, it was a mess. Fultz missed most of the season getting injury treatment, spent the off-season working with a shot doctor, and by the end his confidence was clearly shot. He was in his own head. Then Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and spent most of this season in rehab.

Orlando traded Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a top-20 protected first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick (via Cleveland). The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league because it was more than most thought they would get.

Orlando is a perfect spot for Fultz — not a big market, not as bright a spotlight, less pressure, and some other young stars he can grow with. Orlando has a lot of player development to do, but they have potential on that roster. We’ll find out what Fultz really has.

One other guy to watch: Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers made a two-for-one trade sending Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac down the hall at Staples Center to the Clippers for Mike Muscala — who can help the Lakers as a pick-and-pop big who will stretch the floor. But that’s not why everyone is talking.

That move opened up a roster spot on the Lakers, LeBron has said he wants Anthony on his team, and the Lakers have said the thing holding them back was a lack of a roster spot. Now they have one. Word is the Lakers are going to check out the full buyout market and see if they can land someone who can help them get to the playoffs, but don’t be shocked if that slot ends up going to Anthony. Which would send Lakers’ nation into a frenzy.

Raptors rookie Terence Davis arrives to game with hole in mask

Raptors rookie Terence Davis
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The NBA – with threat of fine and suspension – reminded everyone inside the bubble to wear their masks.

Why issue that warning now?

Maybe because of Raptors rookie Terence Davis.

Davis arrived to Toronto’s win over the Lakers on Saturday with a hole in his mask.

Perhaps, it was inadvertent. Accidental rips happen. But it’s hard to give Davis the benefit of the doubt after his social-media activity:

Undrafted, Davis has a lot of confidence in himself. He earned that in basketball. If the cut were deliberate, he ought to give more credence to actual coronavirus experts.

Masks are highly important for the general population. We often don’t know whether we have coronavirus. Testing is insufficient, especially of asymptomatic cases. So, everyone in the outside world should wear a mask to reduce the spread.

On the other hand, NBA players – like Davis – can reasonably know they don’t have coronavirus. The NBA’s program of daily testing and no close contact with anyone outside the bubble is designed to ensure a coronavirus-free bubble. That’s why five-on-five basketball games – an otherwise dangerous activity – can be played safely.

However, masks between games are an extra layer of protection. What if a player – intentionally or not – comes into too close of contact with someone outside the bubble who has coronavirus? Masks would limit the spread of coronavirus within the bubble.

All coronavirus precautions should be measured through a cost-benefit lens. Wearing an intact mask can be unpleasant, and it’s somewhat superfluous for NBA players inside the bubble. But the health of everyone inside the bubble plus all the money at stake makes it an easy call.

Wear the mask, and wear it correctly.

NBA’s bubble works so far, allows “great stage” for dramatic games

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — So far, so good.

The NBA’s bubble remains intact. The extraordinary health protocols put into place to try and save this season seem to be working. The mission shared by coaches and players to use their platform and continue the conversation about racial injustice is off to a strong start.

Through four days, here’s just some of what has happened at Walt Disney World: LeBron James had a game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers, T.J. Warren put his name all over the Indiana record book with a 53-point outburst, Houston and Dallas combined for more than 300 points in a game, the defending champion Toronto Raptors came out flying and Joel Embiid had a 41-point, 21-rebound night — in a loss.

And don’t forget the symmetry: Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive for coronavirus, so naturally, it made sense that the Utah center was the first player to score when the pandemic shutdown was officially over.

If that wasn’t enough, the quality of play is so good that it’s almost like the NBA hadn’t stopped playing for 4-1/2 months. Shooting percentages and scoring averages, through the first four days anyway, are basically right where they were when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. And there has been a ton of down-to-the-wire drama, with eight of the 19 games played through Sunday decided by five points or less.

“In all honestly, it’s better than I was expecting … talking about all the teams in general,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Everybody is much crisper. They look more in rhythm than I ever expected teams would be. Whether it’s the best team with the highest seed or other people like us who are just trying to get into the playoffs, everybody’s a lot sharper than I would have expected.”

If the season ended Sunday night, Popovich and the Spurs — whose playoff chances were in serious trouble when the season was stopped — would be in a play-in series for a chance at the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. And in the Eastern Conference, there would be a first-round rematch from a year ago with the Raptors taking on the Orlando Magic; they’re both on five-game winning streaks, and the Magic are on the best scoring roll in the history of their franchise.

For as much as has been made about the difficulties of being in a bubble and away from families, friends and freedom of movement, turns out, there might be some advantages to this thing.

“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night, so you get your shooting depth perception and all of that. It’s pure basketball. So, you see some of the talents these guys have are coming out.”

The numbers inside the bubble are ridiculous.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP and probable winner of the award again this year, had 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Milwaukee in the Bucks’ first real game in the bubble. How did he follow that up? Try 36 points again, 18 rebounds and eight assists in the Bucks’ loss to Houston on Sunday night.

Portland’s Damian Lillard had 30 points and 16 assists in a loss to Boston on Sunday. Kyle Lowry had 33 points and 14 rebounds in Toronto’s win over the Lakers. Dallas’ Luka Doncic is averaging a triple-double in his two bubble games. The Rockets beat the Mavs 153-149 in overtime Friday and then tried 61 3-pointers to tie an NBA regulation-game record Sunday.

On top of all that, there’s the messaging — “Black Lives Matter” on the court, “Black Lives Matter” on the shirts that most players and coaches have worn as teams kneel together for the national anthems pregame, the way coaches like Popovich turn ordinary pregame questions into opportunities to educate about racism. He was asked Sunday if Marco Belinelli was playing; Popovich spent the next 3 minutes and 21 seconds to speak about how Black people in North Carolina were required to pass a literacy test to vote but white people were not.

And then he answered the question: “Marco Belinelli is out tonight,” Popovich said.

So far, so good.

On every level, pretty much, other than the news that arrived early Monday about Jonathan Isaac and how the Orlando forward tore the ACL in his left knee — an injury that would likely put all of next season, if it happens, into question for a big part of the Magic future.

The rust, whatever there was for most players, seems gone. Playoffs are just two weeks away, and momentum already seems to be building.

“I think it’s only going to get better,” D’Antoni said. “I think the playoffs are going to be terrific. And it’s a great setting.”

Three Things to Know: Haven’t we learned by now not to bet against the Spurs?

San Antonio playoffs
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) As Pelicans and Trail Blazers stumble, shorthanded Spurs win again to become nine seed in West.

You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the San Antonio Spurs?

The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, a legendary run that was coming to an end this year (with Tim Duncan coaching from the bench rather than draining wing bank shots). The Spurs entered the bubble shorthanded and undersized. San Antonio was four games back of eighth-seed Memphis and having to leap both New Orleans and Portland, plus the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge, their best big man.

Count them out at your own risk.

After beating Memphis Sunday behind 21 and 10 from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs are currently the ninth seed in the West — if the season ended today, San Antonio is in the playoffs and would face Memphis in a play-in series.

The Spurs have gone to a four-guard starting lineup — Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, with Jakob Poeltl as the big — and that lineup is messing with teams. On defense, they switch everything 1-4 and bank on Poeltl to protect the rim. On offense they run and play at pace — they have moved away from leading scorer DeRozan for a more balanced, egalitarian offense.

“We need to play with pace. We don’t have one-on-one players,” coach Gregg Popovich said after a recent win. “We don’t give the ball to a player and say, ‘beat your guy and go score.’ That’s not the kind of players we have on the team. We’ve got to do it as a group. We’ve got to have movement and pace goes along with that.”

The bench behind that starting five — Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and Drew Eubanks — follows the same premise.

It works — and it’s fun to watch.

The teams that were the favorites to earn the ninth seed are stumbling. New Orleans is 0-2 and has been a mess — Zion Williamson is playing 15 minutes a night, they struggle to defend the paint, and in the bubble their offense has been atrocious. Portland’s offense has been impressive with Jusuf Nurkic — even if Damian Lillard is passing up game-tying threes — but their defense has been as bad as the offense is good, and the result is a 1-1 record with a tough schedule ahead. (The Kings are 0-2 and shorthanded, and while the Suns are 2-0 they were so far back to start they were never in this race.)

Like every year, here come the Spurs, putting a makeshift lineup out there and looking like a team that has a shot at making the postseason. Again.

You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the Spurs…

2) Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac tears ACL

This sucks.

Jonathan Isaac had been having a breakout season — and looking like an All-Defensive Team player — until a left knee bone bruise sidelined him in January. The break in play caused by the coronavirus let him return for the restart, and now this?

Driving to the basket Sunday — late in a blowout game where he was still in to help build up his conditioning — Isaac tried to plant on that left knee and it buckled under him. It was a non-contact injury that looked bad when it happened. He was taken off the court in a wheelchair.

Later the word came from the Magic, Isaac had a torn left ACL. He’s obviously done for this restart and likely will miss all of next season as well.

Isaac had made more news in Orlando for his decision to stand for the national anthem, explaining his decision was based on religious grounds. On the court, he was seen as a cornerstone of what Orlando wants to build.

This is a punch to the gut for Orlando.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like MVP with 36 points, but Rockets’ former MVPs take the win

This game was the ultimate clash of styles: The big and long Milwaukee Bucks who dare teams to take above-the-break threes, against the small-ball Houston Rockets.

This game was a reminder why Houston is going to be so much trouble in a playoff series — teams have yet figured out how to play against them. For the first couple of games of a playoff series the Rockets could surprise teams, and that may be enough.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points, had 18 rebounds and eight assists on the night, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets took 61 threes (hitting 21, 34.4%), Russell Westbrook scored 31, and Houston got the win 120-116.

Milwaukee led by six in the final minutes and by one with 16.5 seconds left, but in the clutch all night Westbrook was able to drive and draw fouls. James Harden had 24 points, but it was Westbrook’s play at the end that was the difference. Well, that and some defense by Harden and P.J. Tucker that led to Danuel House stealing an Antetokounmpo and sealing the win with free throws.

The Rockets are rested and fresh, and the small-ball game is still finding teams not exactly sure how to deal with them. Will that work in a seven-game series remains to be seen, but this is such a fun experiment to watch.

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac suffers torn ACL in left knee

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Jonathan Isaac, who returned from a left knee injury to play for Orlando in the bubble, has torn his left ACL and is out for the remainder of this season. And likely the next one.

It was a non-contact injury that occurred when Isaac drove into the paint Sunday, tried to plant on his left leg, and felt his knee buckle under him.

Isaac had been in the news in Orlando for his decision to stand for the national anthem, explaining his decision was based on religious grounds.

It’s a blow to the Magic, who believe Isaac is one of the cornerstones of their future. He was having a breakout season until he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a bone bruise back in January. Now comes this. Teammate Aaron Gordon said he was in tears when the injury happened.

All those injuries came in a season Isaac was making a leap on the court. On offense, he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. However, his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He might have made the All-Defensive team if healthy.

Now, it will be a couple of years before we get to see Isaac on the court again.