Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Thunder make historic choice to trade star tandem, start over

4 Comments

The Thunder – despite having stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook – lost in the first round for the second straight year.

“This is a team that can go far,” George said at his exit interview. “We have pieces in place to have a long postseason run.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that, on what’s the next step, the next phase for this group going forward.”

George eventually found his answer – requesting a trade to the Clippers to play with Kawhi Leonard. Oklahoma City acquiesced and then worked with Westbrook to deal him, too. The Thunder are sending Westbrook to the Rockets, completing an unprecedented star teardown.

Oklahoma City is the first team in NBA history to trade two reigning All-NBA players in the same summer.

***

This is only the third time a team has lost multiple reigning All-NBA players through any mechanism in the same offseason. The other two:

1998/99 Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

Jordan retired after winning his third straight championship and sixth in eight years. As the 1998 offseason stretched into 1999 due to a lockout, the Bulls – ready to enter a new era – signed-and-traded Pippen to the Rockets. Chicago stunk for the next six years.

1951 Indianapolis Olympians: Alex Groza and Ralph Beard

Groza and Beard both got banned from the NBA for a point-shaving scandal during their time at Kentucky. The Olympians folded a couple years later.

***

Lowering the standard from All-NBA, a few more teams have lost multiple reigning All-Stars in the same offseason. Beyond this year’s Thunder, the other three:

1977 Indiana Pacers: Billy Knight and Don Buse

Forced to pay an entry fee with their merger from the NBA, the Pacers faced financial difficulties after their first NBA season. So, Indiana traded its best players – Knight to the Buffalo Braves for Adrian Dantley and Mike Bantom, Buse to the Suns for Ricky Sobers. Indiana clearly had seller’s remorse, later reacquiring both Knight and Buse.

1964 Detroit Pistons: Bailey Howell and Don Ohl

Following a miserable season, the Pistons traded Howell and Ohl to the Baltimore Bullets for Terry Dischinger, who won Rookie of the Year the season prior. But after one good season in Detroit, Dischinger went into the military and returned a couple years as a lesser player.

1957 New York Knicks: Nathaniel Clifton and Harry Gallatin

The Knicks missed the playoffs for the first time in their 11-year history then sent Clifton and Gallatin to the Pistons for Mel Hutchins. All three players lasted only one more season in the NBA.

***

It’s unsurprising teams have so rarely broken up both parts of a star duo. It’s hard enough to get multiple stars on the same team. Once that’s in place, few teams or players want to end the arrangement.

But the Thunder looked stuck. They were already deep into the tax and didn’t get out of the first round. They were too expensive to upgrade further, too good to tank.

George did Oklahoma City a favor by ushering in its next era. The Thunder got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari (who could be flipped) and a massive haul of draft picks from the Clippers. Westbrook netted even more draft considerations from Houston. Oklahoma City has a tremendous head start on its rebuild.

That’s the benefit of trading high-level players before they decline out of stardom.

But that’s also a scary plan. It’s difficult to disrupt a status quo that includes such good players and even moderate playoff success. Few teams or players have the guts for that.

George and Westbrook found even better team situations. They didn’t feel beholden to the Thunder and exercised their rights to push their way out.

Oklahoma City dove in headfirst into that plan in a way no other team ever has. It might be painful in the short term, but the Thunder will be better in the long run because of it.

Watch Kawhi Leonard’s 39 points spark Clippers rally past Pelicans 133-130

Leave a comment

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 133-130 on Saturday.

Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points during a dominant fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which outscored the Pelicans 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.

Williams’ 3 with 31.6 seconds left, after Patrick Beverley had rebounded Leonard’s miss, gave the Clippers a 133-127 lead and sent numerous fans toward the exits.

But JJ Redick hit a quick 3, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed a 3, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.

Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned a steal into two free throws and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to tie it at 110.

After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made just 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.

Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.

Derrick Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, while Brandon Ingram had 21 points and Redick scored 19.

The teams combined for 152 points in a fast-paced first half, during which New Orleans tied a franchise record with 80 points.

Favors made his first seven shots and had 15 of his points in the opening 24 minutes, when the Pelicans shot 63.6%, including 11-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

Ball hit three 3s in the first half, his last giving the Pelicans an 80-72 lead that stood at halftime.

Leonard has scored at least 30 points in each of his last five games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: NBA system wants you to flop, but ‘that’s not who I am’

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores inside unlike anyone since Shaq.

Like with Shaquille O’Neal, Antetokounmpo has sparked a conversation about how much contacts he absorbs.

Antetokounmpo, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“It’s kind of hard because in the NBA, the way it’s built, they want you to flop,” Antetokounmpo said of playing physically. “It wants you to be weak, kind of, because sometimes I think when you’re strong and you’re going through contact, they don’t call the foul. But when you’re flopping and kind of going into the contact and throwing the ball out, they’re just going to call foul, but that’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m gonna do.

“I’m just gonna try to power through contact. It’s going to be … where if a guy grabs me or pushes me, I’ve got to show it more, but I think I’ve done a better job of showing it more so the refs can see that the guys are holding me, pushing me and just being physical.”

James Harden and Antetokounmpo have traded barbs since last year’s MVP vote, which Antetokounmpo won over Harden. Was this another shot across Harden’s bow?

Harden isn’t the only player who flops. But Harden has earned a reputation as the NBA’s foremost flopper.

Antetokounmpo could do a better job of selling contact. But his tenaciousness sets a tone for the Bucks. His teammates see his determination and follow his lead. There’s a real positive effect to Antetokounmpo’s style.

Also, Antetokounmpo already averages 10.4 free throws per game. How many more fouls would he draw by flopping? Officials could be reluctant to give him even more whistles. Though each call should be evaluated independently, there can be a tendency not to call too many fouls.

Report: LeBron James views Jason Kidd as only living peer for basketball intelligence

LeBron James and Jason Kidd
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LeBron James is a basketball genius.

That somewhat explains why, since becoming a superstar, he has clashed with all previous his coaches – Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton. Traditional roles make coaches the brains behind the operation. But what happens when LeBron is the smartest person in the room? At best, it creates complications.

So, of course there were questions about how LeBron would take to new Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Vogel is a coach. That’s enough.

But LeBron also previously spread word of his desire to be coached by a former player. Vogel never played professionally. However, one of his assistants was a Hall of Fame player with previous head-coaching experience – Jason Kidd.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

One of those primary assistants would be Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, whom two sources have independently said James regards as the only person alive who sees the game of basketball with his level of clarity.

This is probably hyperbolic. But Kidd was an incredibly smart player. His court vision, defensive recognition and ability to find ways to contribute all over the floor were elite. I can see why LeBron would enjoy talking basketball with Kidd.

But that alone doesn’t make Kidd a good coach. Playing ability doesn’t always translate to coaching ability. His record with the Bucks and Nets leaves a lot to be desired. Interpersonal issues were glaring. Dated thinking became even more apparent when Mike Budenholzer succeeded Kidd and immediately guided Milwaukee to the next level. Kidd’s record of player development is mixed.

Still, that level of endorsement from LeBron carries major weight.

Kidd has been trying to become an NBA head coach again. He lobbied for the Lakers job while Luke Walton held it and interviewed for it before Vogel got it.

Vogel said he wasn’t worried about Kidd undermining him and acted as if he truly isn’t. The Lakers are 33-8, and Vogel is endearing himself in Los Angeles. To better understand how he’s doing it, I highly recommend reading Arnovitz’s article.

Report: In money-saving trade, Trail Blazers swapping Kent Bazemore for Kings’ Trevor Ariza

Trail Blazers trade Kent Bazemore to Kings for Trevor Ariza
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA team with the highest payroll each of the last five years (record):

  • 2015-16: Cavaliers (57-25)
  • 2016-17: Cavaliers (51-31)
  • 2017-18: Cavaliers (50-32)
  • 2018-19: Thunder (49-33)
  • 2019-20: Trail Blazers (18-25)

Sitting 10th in the Western Conference, Portland is no longer content to spend so much on a losing team. So, the Trail Blazers will send Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round picks to the Kings for Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Assuming this trade becomes official Tuesday (the first day Gabriel can be traded), Portland is in line to save $12,657,456 (salary: $2,532,078, luxury tax: $10,125,379).

The Trail Blazers are now $6,129,275 over the luxury-tax line. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to dodge the tax entirely. Hassan Whiteside, Rodney Hood, Mario Hezonja, Ariza, Swanigan and Gabriel are all candidates to get dealt in cost-cutting moves.

Portland is also still trying to make the playoffs. Ariza should help. He fills a clear need as a bigger wing who can defend and hit open 3-pointers. He has shown clear signs of decline at age 34, but he has outplayed Bazemore this season.

Ariza has $1.8 of his $12.8 million salary guaranteed next season, the only money due beyond this year to a player in this trade. That and the second-rounders are the cost of the Trail Blazers getting an immediate upgrade while saving major money now. Looks like excellent value.

Ostensibly, the Kings are also still trying to compete this season. They remain the fringe of the underwhelming playoff race. Ariza is not a big loss.

Still, he is a loss nonetheless. Bazemore doesn’t have a clear role. Sacramento is full at shooting guard with Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

This trade was seemingly primarily about the picks for the Kings.

Bazemore and Tolliver could also help in the locker room. There’s plenty of frustration in Sacramento. Better chemistry could go a long way.

Interestingly, Tolliver and Swanigan return to their former teams. The King gave Tolliver his biggest payday in 2016. The Trail Blazers drafted Swanigan No. 26 in 2017 then traded him to Sacramento last year. Both Tolliver (age 34) and Swanigan (limited interior big) appear in danger of washing out of the league.