Winners and losers from massive four-team, 12-player, Clint Capela trade

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NBA Fans wanted fireworks this trade deadline, well here you go:

The largest NBA trade in two decades.

The Rockets, Timberwolves, Hawks, and Nuggets have agreed to a four-team, 12-player trade — the largest NBA trade since the one that sent Patrick Ewing to Seattle in 2000. That was a pre-Twitter trade, one where everyone had to pull out their Nokia 5190 to call their friend to talk about Ewing getting moved (it was next to impossible to text on those things).

Here’s how the 2020 four-team trade ultimately breaks out:

• Houston gets: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell
• Atlanta gets: Clint Capela, Nene
• Denver gets: Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Houston’s 2020 first-round pick
• Minnesota gets: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangómez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Evan Turner, the Nets’ 2020 first-round pick

Who won and who lost? A lot more winners than losers — and a few things still up in the air — out of this trade, but let’s break it all down.

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta has been searching for a center since last summer — but not just any center. What they needed was a quality pick-and-roll center to pair with Trae Young.

They land one in Capela. For years the James Harden/Capela pick-and-roll was one of the most-run plays in the NBA because it worked, scoring above a point per possession (well above the league average, this was one of the more effective P&R combos in the league). Houston ultimately went away from it because Harden in isolation turns out to be even more efficient, but Capela is still a strong pick-setting roll man, plus he’s a quality shot-blocker in the paint on the other end. The bottom line, this is a much better fit for Atlanta than bringing in Andre Drummond.

Plus, the Hawks got their man without having to give up John Collins or this their first-round pick this year.

Winner: Robert Covington

Covington just went from being stuck in the NBA’s coldest city on a team that has lost 12 in a row to being in warm-weather Houston playing a key role on a playoff team. That’s a win.

Covington puts up nice raw numbers — 12.8 points and six rebounds a game this season, shooting 34.6 percent from three — but the advanced value stats (such as the different types of adjusted plus/minus numbers) love Covington. When he’s on the floor, teams simply perform better. On both ends of the court. Use whatever coach’s cliche you want — “he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” or “he just plays winning basketball” — but the Rockets will be better when Covington plays, and that is the definition of an upgrade.

Winner: Fans of small ball… that means you, Mike D’Antoni

Mike D’Antoni may be on his way out in Houston, but if so he’s walking out that door on his own terms — the Rockets have gone all-in on small ball. P.J. Tucker as a 6’5″ center is no longer a gimmick, Houston is going to run with this (and the team is 3-0 in the past couple of weeks with Tucker starting at the five).

On offense, the Rockets have Harden — and sometimes Westbrook — working in isolation and surrounded by shooters. They will remain elite on that end. Defensively, the Rockets will switch everything and be physical, and Long Beach Poly’s own Jordan Bell fits in with that. (Side note to Rockets fans, please don’t bring up the Golden State “death lineup” as a defensive comparison — those teams had peak DPOY Draymond Green at the five making it work, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are quality perimeter defenders, and the last three years they had a strong shot blocker in Kevin Durant on the floor.)

It is going to be entertaining and a fascinating experiment, although Rockets fans may want to run to a local church and light a candle for Tucker’s knees at 35 minutes a night.

Mike D’Antoni gets to be the full Mike D’Antoni. As it should be.

Here’s why I don’t have Houston as a flat-out winner: Small ball is not going to be a successful playoff strategy in the West. I’m not convinced the Rockets get out of the first round with this roster. Maybe they weren’t going to anyway in the Harden/Westbrook era, but the West is loaded with good size — the Lakers are just huge, Denver has Nikola Jokic, Utah has Rudy Gobert, the Clippers can be big and athletic across the front — I’m not sold on Tucker as center working in the postseason. It’s fun in the regular season, I get that Caplela is not as useful as a pick-and-roll partner for the Rockets in a world of Harden isolations, but I don’t think this trade made the Rockets a better playoff team. It just committed them to a style.

Loser: John Collins as a center.

This season, John Collins has split his time evenly between the four and the five, and he’s been a little better as a center offensively. Collins has a 102.9 offensive rating as a center and a 101.6 rating as a power forward this season (stats via Cleaning the Glass). He can hit the three, but 61 percent of his shots come within 10 feet of the basket, and as a center he averaged 23.3 points and 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Both Capela and Collins are at their best when they set a pick then dive to the rim, but there’s only one spot for that on the roster and Caplela has the job now. Collins must become more of a floor spacer — he’s shooting 35.6 percent from three this season — but that’s not his natural game. With Capela in house, one wonders if the Hawks might look to trade Collins rather than pay him what he’s worth in an extension to his rookie deal (he’s eligible for an extension this summer).

Winner: Rockets’ owner Tillman Fertitta’s pocketbook

This trade means that for the second straight year the Rockets will slip just under the luxury tax line. Of course, Fertitta says he’s willing to pay the tax for a winning team — literally every owner says that — but actions speak louder than words and two straight seasons just under the tax line is not a coincidence.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves bench

In general, this trade feels like the first move of many for Gersson Rosas – the man with the hammer in Minnesota — as he works to build a team around Karl-Anthony Towns. If I were grading this trade for the Timberwolves, I would give it an “incomplete” because this feels more like the first step than anything else.

However, picking up Beasley and Hernangomez gives the Timberwolves two solid rotation players that they can re-sign (or not) this summer, giving the team solid bench depth. That’s not a big, sexy move, but it’s the kind of thing smart teams do in rounding our a roster.

Loser: A Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell pairing… for now

The Timberwolves wanted desperately to pair good friends Towns and D’Angelo Russell last summer, and part of the construction of this trade (especially in earlier iterations) was the team lining up picks and assets to send to Golden State to entice the Warriors into this trade.

It was never going to happen at the deadline. Sources have been clear to NBC Sports from the start, Russell was going to spend the entire season as a Warrior (unless a Godfather offer blew the Warriors away). Part of that is what the Warriors have said publicly: They really do want to see what Russell and Stephen Curry look like together on the court (something not happening until Curry’s likely return next month). As the USA Today’s Mark Medina notes in our latest PBT Podcast, if the pairing does work it only ups Russell’s trade value.

The other part of this is the Warriors are up against the hard cap because Russell came in a sign-and-trade. That limits the moves the Warriors can make now. From Golden State’s perspective, if it waits until this summer — when a slow free-agent market has some teams more desperate for answers — then it can find a better, more creative Russell trade that works for them. Or, they can keep him. But there was no pressure to make a move yet.

Expect the Russell to Minneota talk to heat up again next summer.

Winners: NBA Fans

You wanted fireworks, you wanted a big trade — it’s not going to get bigger than a 12-player deal. Enjoy it.

Are plans for a play-in tournament just to get Zion Williamson in the bubble?

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The cleanest, most straightforward, fewest extra people in the “bubble” way for the NBA to return to play is to invite the 16 teams already in the playoffs — eight from each conference — and skip right to the postseason.

However, there is a lot of momentum around the league for a play-in tournament with 20 teams (or more). Specifically, one that brings in the four teams in the West clumped three-and-a-half to four games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio).

Why those teams? Because they had a real chance to catch the Grizzlies if play had not stopped?

Or, is it because the league wants Zion Williamson — its bright young star who spiked ratings and interest when he returned from injury mid-season — in the bubble? On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst said some other teams seem to think the play-in plan is all about Williamson.

“Let me just say how do you get to 20 [teams in the bubble] though? Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble…

“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in.”

Windhorst is very well connected and I don’t know who his sources were for this, but if you’re with the Wizards or Hornets (or maybe even Bulls and Knicks), you would push for the nine and 10 seed in each conference to be in the bubble, not the next four best records (which are all in the West).

The NBA is a star-based league, of course getting its hottest new property into more televised games is a discussion taking place. You’d be naive to think otherwise. Whether Zion and the Pelicans end up in Orlando ultimately is another question.

All the lobbying and leaking of restart plans to the media — and even the pronouncements of Damian Lillard saying he will play if there’s no shot at the postseason — are spin. This is teams lobbying for what is best for them and their chances. Elite teams like the Lakers and Bucks want no part of a soccer-style group stage that is more likely to produce upsets, they want something more traditional. The Bucks are no fans of 1-16 seedings because then they would have to go through both the Clippers and Lakers to win it all (while the Lakers should love that plan, it sets up perfectly for LeBron James and company). Teams back different play-in plans that better lineup for them. It’s all politicking.

This Friday, in a conference call with owners, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to lay out a series of return-to-play options. A week or two after that, the owners will get on a conference call again and vote. Until then, everyone is going to lobby for their own self-interest.

That restart likely has teams reporting to Orlando for training camps in mid-July with games starting in late July or early August. How long the season runs depends on the format chosen. Next season almost certainly will start around Christmas (or maybe a week or two earlier, at most).

When a retired Michael Jordan showed up, dominated a Warriors practice

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It was the winter of 1995, major league baseball was on strike and Michael Jordan — at that time still a member of the Chicago White Sox organization — refused to be a scab and cross the picket lines.

“Mike was thinking about coming back (to the NBA), he was getting that itch again, it was a lockout in baseball, and he just wanted to play some basketball,” NBA legend Tim Hardaway told NBC Sports.

The Last Dance documentary covered how Jordan was secretly taking part in Bulls’ practices at that time. What it didn’t cover was the time Jordan flew out to California to see his friend, Rod Higgins (a Warriors assistant coach), and absolutely dominated a Warriors practice.

“It was kind of embarrassing for a guy to take that many months off then to come into our practice and dominate the way he did,” Hardaway said. “But of course, he’s MJ.”

Warriors players tell the story on The Sports Uncovered podcast, which launched today by NBC and takes a unique look at some of the most significant moments in sports. Like Jordan saying, “I’m back.” You can listen to the podcast below or download it at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your pods.

Jordan was always looking for a test, and the Warriors at the time provided one: Hardaway was one of the game’s great scorers (but was still coming off a torn ACL) and trash talkers, and Golden State had the game’s “it” up-and-coming player in Latrell Sprewell.

Hardaway takes the story from there.

“[Jordan] and [then Warriors assistant coach] Rod Higgins are really good friends, he just came to visit Rod and said, ‘Hey, Rod, you think [Don Nelson] would let me just come to practice and with y’all?’ And Rod asked him and coach was like, ‘s ***, why not, of course.’

“He just wanted to see where he was at, where his skills was at — and of course they was still there. The same skills, without much rust, that he left with. He was practicing with us, and I came up and was egging him on, ‘Let’s see what you got, s***, let’s see it.’ He said, ‘Alright, now, I’m still MJ.’ And I was like, ‘You had guys throwing balls at you, you been out two years, I heard you been shooting around but this here, this is the real deal now, you got to come and lace your s*** up.”

“It was him, Rony Seikaly, Chris Mullin, some other point guard, against me, Sprewell, some other guys, and man, we was playing for like two hours, and I wanted to go some more because he was bustin’ our a**. He wouldn’t let Sprewell dribble the ball at all — he kinda knew exactly what Sprewell could do, what he couldn’t do, his weaknesses and his strengths.

“It was like he never missed a beat, man. He was out there shooting fadeaways, dunking, playing defense, getting through screens, denying, jumping through passing lanes. It was a little rust, of course, but once he got going each game he got stronger and stronger, his timing got better, you could just tell. He was kinda tired at the end, but it was something to see.”

Hardaway, always the competitor, didn’t want to stop.

“I was kinda upset because I think his team took it more seriously than our team,” Hardaway said. “But he came in and put on a show in practice…

“He said ‘I can play all night, but you all have a game tomorrow and I don’t want to wear you out.’ I was not playing that much anyway so I wanted to get as much run as I can.”

Find out more about that legendary practice, and Jordan’s return, on The Sports Uncovered podcast.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.