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Three Things to Know: Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Popovich, Spurs

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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) Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This has been the season of “Kawhi Leonard, all-world playmaker.” Coming into Halloween night, Leonard was averaging 7.5 assists per game (his previous career high was 3.5), and he had assisted on (an estimated) 47.6 percent of teammates buckets when on the floor, well above his previous high of 19 percent.

Not against his old friend Gregg Popovich.

Leonard had just one assist but dominated the second half with 25 points, finishing with 38 on the night — plus 12 rebounds and four steals — leading the Clippers to a 103-97 win. Leonard got his buckets his way, going 6-of-11 from the midrange and 2-of-4 on above-the-break threes.

Leonard is being asked to do more playmaking with the Clippers, at least until Paul George’s return. The roster demands it. Leonard’s previous teams had Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry on them — All-Star level playmaking point guards who could run the offense, set guys up, and get buckets. Leonard could work off the ball more and pick his spots. The Clippers have Patrick Beverley, who brings an important skill set (and mindset) to the game but is not a playmaker of the Parker/Lowry level.

Leonard’s dominance against the Spurs followed a pattern — he has taken charge of second halves all season. His usage rate jumps to 40.9 in second halves this season. He’s just done more of that with assists, at least up until Halloween night.

Against the team he left under bitter circumstances (and rested after a load management night off in Utah), Leonard just did it getting buckets for himself rather than setting up teammates. Either way, it worked.

2) Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns each get two-game suspensions for their brawl. Early in the season, sometimes the league likes to send a message — if there’s a fight or a situation where suspensions are warranted, they come in heavy-handed. The goal is to send a message to the rest of the league — this behavior will not be tolerated.

Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns certainly earned suspensions for their fight Wednesday night.

However, the league did not come down all that hard. Both Embiid and Towns got two games (without pay) for the fight and ensuing social media war of words. A lot, but they could have gotten more.

That was it, no other fines or suspensions. Minnesota had wanted to see Ben Simmons fined/suspended for his role a “peacemaker” — one where he eventually ended up on top of Towns and holding the Timberwolves star in a headlock — but there was nothing. The league sided with Simmons, who said he was just trying to separate the big men.

“While we are disappointed with the league’s decision, we understand the magnitude of this unfortunate incident,” Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “The NBA is highly competitive and last night was a reflection of that. We support Karl and will move forward together as a group.”

Philly will be without Embiid against Portland and at Phoenix. It’s a blow, Philly has been 14.2 points per 100 possessions better this season with Embiid on the court this young season, but they will slide Al Horford into the center spot and not take a huge step backward.

Minnesota will miss Towns more against the Wizards and Bucks He’s been playing at an MVP discussion level to start the season — 27.3 points a game, 11.5 rebounds, a couple of blocks, and he’s shooting 52.9 percent on more than eight three-point attempts per game. Plus he’s been put in more of a playmaker role. Minnesota has nobody who can come close to stepping in for him.

3) Rookie Kendrick Nunn setting records, drops 28 on Hawks in Miami win. How good has Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn been? Check out the numbers:

• He has scored more points in his first five games in Miami — 112 — than any Heat player in history, including Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and all the rest. (LeBron was second at 102.)

• That 112 points through five games is more than the last 26 No. 1 picks have scored through five.

• The last rookie to score more than Nunn through five games was Kevin Durant (113) back in 2007. KD was a heralded No. 2 pick, Nunn went undrafted and spent last season in the G-League.

Nunn has thrived as a starter for Miami, often working off the ball for the now 4-1 Heat. That allows Eric Spoelstra to bring Goran Dragic off the bench in a Lou Williams kind of way. Nunn showed again why he should start next to Jimmy Butler dropping 28 on the Hawks in a 106-97 Heat win.

It’s far, far too early in the season to have a Rookie of the Year conversation, but if one were going to — as we did on the latest PBT Podcast — Nunn has to be the early leader. He’s a great story about perseverance and finding a role in the right organization.

And Miami is 4-1 to start the season, in part because of him.

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.