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Kawhi Leonard, Paul George (Clippers), Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) form pop-up super teams

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Five years ago…

The Clippers were embroiled in Donald Sterling’s scandal. There was talk of players boycotting. The whole franchise seemed toxic.

The Nets were entering years of pain. They’d traded several future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who promptly declined and left the team in the basement. Brooklyn looked hopeless.

Suddenly, the Clippers and Nets are the NBA’s freshest powers after major offseason coups. Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers and convinced Paul George to request a trade to accompany him. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined Brooklyn through free agency.

This level of star grouping in a single summer is unprecedented.

A team has added two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason just three times:

  • 2019 Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
  • 2019 Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
  • 2014 Cavaliers: LeBron James and Kevin Love

In 2014, LeBron returned home to Cleveland and pitched Love on joining him. The Cavs traded for Love with assurances he’d re-sign the following year.

The stories look similar in L.A. and Brooklyn this year.

Leonard wanted to return to his native Southern California, and he got George – another California native – to come along. Durant might resent the notion he was recruited, but playing near New Jersey is a homecoming for Irving. It seems Durant prioritized playing somewhere with Irving.

The big difference between this year’s situation and the Cavaliers in 2014: No incumbent star attracted Leonard, George, Durant and Irving to their new teams. Cleveland had Irving as a draw for LeBron and eventually Love.

The Clippers were starless. The Nets had no All-Star until D'Angelo Russell was named an injury replacement, and they weren’t keepinh him if landing Durant and Irving. (Russell got sent to the Warriors in a double sign-and-trade.)

That’s another way these situations are unprecedented.

Just eight teams have added multiple reigning All-Stars in the same offseason since the NBA-ABA merger. The preceding six already had an incumbent star who helped build the appeal:

Year Team Stars added Incumbent star
2019 LAC Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
2019 BRK Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving
2017 OKC Paul George, Carmelo Anthony Russell Westbrook
2017 BOS Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward Isaiah Thomas*
2014 CLE LeBron James, Kevin Love Kyrie Irving
2012 LAL Dwight Howard, Steve Nash Kobe Bryant
2010 MIA LeBron James, Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade
2007 BOS Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen Paul Pierce**

*The Celtics traded Thomas for Irving, but Thomas was integral in recruiting Hayward in the first place.

**Pierce wasn’t an All-Star in 2007 due to an early injury, but he was an All-Star the five preceding and five following seasons and played like one while healthy later in 2006-07. Not counting him as a star in 2007 would be true only as a technicality.

Yet, Leonard and George chose to be the stars on the Clippers. Durant and Irving chose to be the stars on the Nets. They didn’t follow anyone already in place.

This is an unintended consequence of the shorter contracts owners pushed for. They give players more opportunities to change teams and value new situations like this. This is also a continuation of LeBron exercising his power, first by joining Wade and Bosh on the Heat then by closing up shop in Miami and forming a new super team in small-market Cleveland.

Maybe it can’t happen anywhere. It’s no coincidence the Clippers and Nets play in the two largest markets.

But the Lakers and Knicks are still the most prestigious franchises in Los Angeles and New York. The Clippers an Nets didn’t even win a playoff series or get one star first to lure others.

It’s a new era in the NBA – one where top talent is ready to come together and assert itself.

Wherever that may be.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should retire my number

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Carmelo Anthony said he hopes the Knicks will retire his number.

With his Trail Blazers playing the Nuggets last night, Anthony had a stronger statement for Denver.

Jena Garcia of The CHICK n Nuggets Podcast:

Anthony:

This is where it should be retired, to be honest with you. Just my opinion.

The history is here. This is where it all started. But maybe not. The Joker’s got 15 now. We’ll see. We’ve still got time for that.

There’s a better case for the Nuggets than the Knicks to retire his jersey. Though he peaked in New York, Anthony spent more time and had more success in Denver. The Nuggets also don’t have the Knicks’ storied history, which lowers the bar for number retirement.

Nikola Jokic wearing No. 15 shouldn’t be an impediment. Though Jokic is on his way to having his number retired in Denver, there’s no good reason two No. 15s can’t hang in the rafters.

The biggest issue is Anthony’s bitter exit from the Nuggets. For a player who never even advanced to the NBA Finals, let alone won a championship, that still lingers. There just isn’t that cherished memory with Anthony to fall back on.

Time heals most wounds, and Anthony is becoming less and less of a villain in Denver. But will he eventually become cherished enough to have his number retired there? That could take a while.

Luka Doncic greets Mexico City fans in Spanish, a tough act for Blake Griffin to follow (video)

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The Pistons had a rough time in Mexico.

Andre Drummond suffered an allergic reaction to avocado. Detroit lost to the Mavericks. And Blake Griffin had to follow Luka Doncic in addressing Mexico City fans.

A Slovenian, Doncic spent several years playing for Real Madrid in Spain. We knew that prepared him for the NBA. We didn’t know it prepared him this well.

‘Seinfeld’ predicted last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game 28 years ago (video)

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On a 1991 episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry woke up in the middle of the night with a joke idea for his stand-up routine. He scribbled it down on paper by his bed. But when he woke the next morning, he couldn’t read what he had written.

George suffered what he thought was a heart attack. On Kramer’s advice, George visited a holistic healer.

The storylines converged when Jerry, accompanying his friend to mock alternative medicine, asked the healer to read his note. The healer read it, laughed and said:

“Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109”

The score of last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game?

Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109

Bucks easing into life after Malcolm Brogdon

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George Hill has become a trusted voice within the Bucks. The savvy veteran is in his 12th season. He began his career with the Spurs when they were still the gold-standard franchise, started for the championship-contending Pacers, helped the Jazz become a breakout team, played for the Kings, joined the Cavaliers as they made a run to the NBA Finals, stayed in Cleveland for the Cavs’ post-LeBron James freefall then came to Milwaukee. In other words, Hill has been (basketball) hell and back. He knows the game, knows the league.

Among his biggest talking points: role acceptance.

“I think that’s the difference between good teams and bad teams,” Hill said. “Good teams have guys that accept that role and excel in that role. That’s what good organizations do. And the bad teams have the ones that are just trying to chase their own stats.”

That sounds nice for someone where Hill is in his career. But what about young players still trying to establish themselves?

“You can make a lot of money being a great role guy,” Hill said. “You can last a lot longer in this league being a great role guy, a great teammate, a guy that everyone wants to play with and a guy that teams want you because they know you know how to win and you can fit with any type of style of play.”

A shining example of Hill’s worldview? Malcolm Brogdon.

Brogdon was mere months removed from winning Rookie of the Year when Milwaukee supplanted him at point guard – his preferred position – by trading for Eric Bledsoe. So, Brogdon shifted to shooting guard. He learned to keep the ball moving quickly rather than stunting the offense for his own looks. He sharpened his defense. He kept working hard.

The Pacers rewarded Brogdon with a four-year, $85 million contract and a leading role. Brogdon is flourishing in Indiana, building a case as an All-Star.

Meanwhile, the Bucks are trying to move on without him.

Milwaukee letting Brogdon leave in restricted free agency was the most consequential choice an NBA team made last summer. The Bucks are competing for a championship. They’re one season from Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s super-max decision. And they let a player as good as Brogdon depart?

There are reasons good (getting a first-rounder and second-rounder in a sign-and-trade with Indiana, maintaining flexibility without being tied to a long-term contract for someone with concerning injury issues, opening the door for cost-efficient replacements) and bad (avoiding the luxury tax) for the move. But it’s dangerous to willingly take a step back at such a critical juncture.

Except Milwaukee looks like it has hardly missed a beat.

The Bucks are 22-3. Their overall net rating season (+12.9) is higher than their net rating with Brogdon – who spent considerable time with other starters – on the floor last season (+10.7).

Maybe Milwaukee knew the guards – Wesley Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown – that could be added/empowered without Brogdon justified letting Brogdon walk. After all, the Bucks also have Bledsoe, Hill, Khris Middleton and Kyle Korver to bolster the lineup.

“That collection of wings,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said with a chuckle, “it’s really good. I don’t know how I can play them all.”

Matthews has replaced Brogdon in the starting lineup. Matthews brings a ruggedness that perfectly fits the Bucks’ NBA-best defense. Shooting 39% on 3-pointers, he also provides essential floor spacing.

It seems clear Brogdon’s exit ushered in Matthews’ entrance. Matthews signed a 1+1 minimum-salary contract last offseason, returning to the state where he grew up and played collegiately at Marquette.

“I’ve been eying Milwaukee for a couple years now,” Mathews said, “and it was just the timing was right, the fit, the style of play.”

Did Brogdon leaving and vacating a role factor?

“That’s part of saying the timing is right,” Matthews said. “They probably wouldn’t have called if Malcolm didn’t leave.”

What if they kept Brogdon and still called, wanting Matthews for depth?

“Fit was the key part,” Matthews said. “So, it probably would have been a different situation.”

The Bucks’ other notable minimum salary signing last summer, Kyle Korver, said Brogdon leaving a role open didn’t really factor into his decision.

Ditto for Hill, who re-signed for three years, $28,771,806 with $20 million guaranteed

“It was pretty much a no-brainer,” Hill said. “The camaraderie we have, from the top guy in Giannis all the way down to the bottom teammates, were amazing. The time that we had here, the success that we had, made it fun to be here.”

Brogdon’s departure also opened the door for a few incumbent players – DiVincenzo, Connaughton and Brown – to step up.

DiVincenzo has especially taken advantage. Though he was happy for Brogdon, DiVincenzo also recognized opportunity for himself after barely playing as a rookie.

“The Bucks drafted me for a reason,” said DiVincenzo, last year’s No. 17 pick. “I don’t think they drafted me just to sit on the bench. I think they drafted me to develop and put trust in me.”

DiVincenzo has already played more this season than last season, and he should be a Most Improved Player-ballot candidate. His defense has been tenacious. He’s growing into his role offensively as someone who can shoot, dribble and pass.

In the shuffle, Brown and Connaughton are actually receiving fewer minutes per game than last season. That can’t be easy in contract years. But they appear to be following Hill’s lead.

“It’s great!” Brown said of Milwaukee’s guard depth. “I love it. It’s competition all-around. Practices are great.”

For his part, Connaughton said he prides himself on always being ready regardless of his role. When he gave up professional baseball to play in the NBA, he made a conscious decision to enjoy every aspect of the process. So, sitting doesn’t bother him – especially with the Bucks winning. On all teams, it’s more difficult for anyone to gripe about playing time when winning.

Of course, it always comes back to Antetokounmpo. Without Brogdon’s playmaking, Antetokounmpo has taken on an even larger burden. Antetokounmpo is creating more of his own and his teammates’ shots, combining the differing skill sets he employed in previous years. That’s why he’s favored to win Most Valuable Player again.

Everything the Bucks are doing now is encouraging. The real tests will come in the playoffs and, relatedly, when Antetokounmpo has that super-max offer in front of him.

Antetokounmpo said he wanted Brogdon to remain Milwaukee. Kind words about a friend or a message to management? The answer will become clearer in the offseason.

First, the Bucks will look to build on last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. They’ll do it, for better or worse, without Brogdon.

“Yes, we wish we could have kept Malcolm,” Hill said. “It would have been great. But we know it’s a business, and we still thought that we have enough pieces to take a shot at it.”