Andre Iguodala

NBA playoff race includes Grizzlies, Nets
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Barrier to entry for NBA playoff race is historically low

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As free agency neared last summer, Andre Iguodala told his wife he suspected he’d get traded. She asked, where?

“I’ll probably end up in Memphis or some s—,” Iguodala replied.

The tone seemed apt. The Grizzlies were in the initial stages of a rebuild. Hardly a fit for 35-year-old Iguodala. In fact, Memphis – which of course traded for Iguodala – has agreed to let Iguodala sit out since training camp began. The Grizzlies could search for a trade. Iguodala could stay fresh for a team ready to win now.

But a funny thing happened: Halfway through the NBA season, Memphis is in playoff position.

The Grizzlies are exceeding expectations, of course. Ja Morant and a young core are thriving far sooner than expected. That isn’t the whole story, though.

Memphis (19-22) has won just 46% of its games. That would have been good for 11th place last season. In the East.

The Grizzlies are fortunate to play in Western Conference with a weak middle class. Memphis on pace to become the first sub-.500 Western Conference playoff teams since the conference expanded to 15 teams.

And it’s not as if the Grizzlies are getting pushed hard from behind. The ninth-place Spurs (17-22) are on pace for the worst ninth-place finish in the West in this era (since 2004-05).

It’s a similar story in the East.

The Nets (18-22) are in playoff position with a winning percentage barely ahead of the 2003-04 Celtics, who went 36-46 and made the postseason. That Boston team set the low watermark since the Eastern Conference expanded to 15 teams (since 1995-96).

Like Memphis in the West, Brooklyn faces uninspiring competition. The ninth-place Bulls (15-27), 10th-place Pistons (15-27) AND 11th-place Hornets (15-29) are all on pace for the worst finish for their spot in the standings in this era.

Here’s how each team’s win percentage in each conference compares to teams in the same place in the standings in prior 15-team conferences. The 2019-20 teams are shown by their logo. Prior teams are marked with a dot. Columns are sorted by place within a conference, 1-15. After the graphics, 2018-19 teams are compared to the worst, average and best teams ever to finish in each place, 1-15.

Western Conference

NBA Western Conference standings

NBA Western Conference standings

Eastern Conference

NBA Eastern Conference standings

NBA Eastern Conference standings

At least several decent teams are lurking in the West. Even the 14th-place Kings would rank ninth in the East. Between the Grizzlies, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Suns, Pelicans, Timberwolves and Kings, one probably emerges with a winning record.

Both conferences feature relative strength in the 3-6 range. That could mean a high-quality first-round series or two in each conference.

So, why do the conferences look how they do? I wouldn’t rush to ascribe meaning.

The NBA implemented lottery reform last season, and that might have something to do with a lack of teams deeply bottoming out. But it’s too soon to say with certainty how the new lottery odds will affect things. After all, the shape of the standings looked quite different around this time last season.

The league getting further removed from the 2016 cap spike might also play a part in producing parity among good teams. Again, though, it’s too early to carve conclusions into stone.

Mostly, I think there’s just a randomness to it. Some years, the standings shake out a certain way. Other years, it’s a different way.

But now that we know how this year looks, we can see that only a few teams are out of the playoff race. Twelve teams ought to believe they have at least a fair chance of winning a postseason series. That could produce more buyers than usual before the trade deadline.

Sixers reportedly interested in trade for Pistons’ Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway

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Philadelphia is aggressive heading into the trade deadline, looking anywhere and everywhere for shooting and playmakers to spark their middle-of-the-pack offense. The Sixers have been linked to numerous players: Robert Covington, Malik Beasley, Davis Bertans, E’Twaun Moore, and Andre Iguodala.

Now add Detroit’s Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway, and free agent Jeff Green to the mix. From by Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer:

Add those names to the list of wing players the Sixers have expressed interest in acquiring in a trade and/or free agent signees, according to multiple league sources. One source confirmed that Green worked for the Sixers in Miami while the team was there to face the Heat a couple of weeks ago…

League sources believe any Sixers’ trade deal will almost certainly include the team parting ways with second-year guard Zhaire Smith.

It’s going to take more than Smith, an athletic two guard with some promise but who has been pedestrian for Delaware in the G-League this season — to get a deal done. He is a throw-in with a package for one of those players.

Kennard and Galloway would bring the kind of shooting the Sixers need.

Galloway is a very good catch-and-shoot guy from three – 5.1 a game this season, shooting 40.7 percent on them. Kennard is shooting 39.9 percent from three on 6.5 attempts a game this season. Both fit with the Sixers’ inside-out style of play and both would come off the bench and, along with Furkan Korkmaz, give Philly some floor spacing. Kennard would cost more to get in a trade.

Green is a fallback option. Utah released Green — to get more run for Georges Niang — but he averaged 7.8 points a game while shooting 32.7% on threes for them.

Detroit, with Blake Griffin likely out for the season, is open for business at the trade deadline. Andre Drummond is available and has multiple teams interested in acquiring his skills. Other players, including Derrick Rose, could draw interest.

Philadelphia has the 15th-ranked offense in the NBA. Joel Embiid is a beast around the basket, and Ben Simmons has taken just 17 shots outside the paint all season long (and two of those where end-of-quarter heaves from beyond halfcourt). That’s led to a clogged paint and some spacing issues. Philly heads into the trade deadline needing shooters and maybe a more traditional point guard to run the show at times. Whether they have the players and picks to make a trade happen is another question, but GM Elton Brand is being aggressive.

 

Sixers rumored to be looking for shooters to go around Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons

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The Philadelphia 76ers are a good team: 24-14 record, +4.1 net rating differential, which has them on pace to win 52 games (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time). On Christmas Day, we saw the potential of their long, defensive-minded roster in a win over Milwaukee.

Are the Sixers title contenders? Halfway through the season, it doesn’t feel like it, and the lack of floor spacing is a key reason. Joel Embiid can force defenders to respect him at the arc, but he’s a beast in the paint — he’s shooting 70.7 percent at the rim and taking nearly 30 percent of his shots there — and that’s where Philly wants him operating. Ben Simmons has taken only 17 shots outside the key all season (hitting six of them). While Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and others can hit some threes, this team did not exactly replace J.J. Redick.

This is why Philadelphia GM Elton Brand is looking for shooters at the trade deadline, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

The Sixers have expressed interest in a long list of wings, including Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Glenn Robinson III (Warriors), Davis Bertans (Wizards), E’Twaun Moore (Pelicans), and Andre Iguodala (Grizzlies), according to multiple league sources. Most interestingly, sources say the Sixers inquired about Robert Covington, whom they dealt to the Timberwolves in 2018 in the Jimmy Butler trade.

That all sounds great until one starts to break down what the Sixers have to offer in a trade.

The Sixers are loaded with picks, including their own first rounders after 2021, but matching salaries is hard unless Philly wants to give up quality parts of their rotation, such as Richardson or Mike Scott. Which they are not.

Other teams want rookie Matisse Thybulle, Philly is wisely rejecting those calls. Philly is trying to steer the conversation toward Zhaire Smith, but other teams look at his G-League play and reject that effort.

Brand will try to make another deadline move, but if the Sixers are going to be title contenders it will be more about internal improvement.

Ten biggest NBA trades of the decade

Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant
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Here are the most significant NBA trades – for better or worse – of the last decade:

10. Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony to Knicks in 2011

The Anthony trade saga loomed over the league for a while, which is partially why this trade – and the next one – rank ahead of a few higher-impact deals like Chris Paul to the Rockets, Celtics trading the No. 1 pick (Markelle Fultz) to 76ers for the No. 3  pick (Jayson Tatum) and the Clippers trading a first-rounder that became No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving to unload Baron Davis’ contract. Anthony was a very good player. But New York had to give up so much to acquire him then had to pay him such a large share of the salary cap, it made winning around him difficult. The Knicks mostly weren’t up to the task. Denver got several players and picks – Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, a first-rounder used to become Andre Iguodala and a first-rounder that became Jamal Murray – that helped the Nuggets in multiple eras of winning.

9. Magic trade Dwight Howard trade to Lakers in 2012

This trade set all four involved teams in motion. After a lengthy drama, Orlando moved its big star and settled into mediocrity. The Lakers got a hobbled Howard for a year, showed cracks in their foundation, watched Howard leave for the Rockets in unrestricted free agency then stunk a while. The 76ers got Andrew Bynum, who turned out to be damaged goods and was mostly finished. That failure made The Process look appealing. Andre Iguodala helped the Nuggets win 57 games, though Denver lost in the first

8. Hawks trade Luka Doncic to Mavericks for Trae Young in 2018

This draft-night trade will shape these teams for a long time. Dallas will probably come out ahead. Doncic and Young are both already stars. Doncic might already be a superstar. The extra pick the Hawks got for moving down from No. 3 to No. 5 turned into Cam Reddish, whose early returns haven’t been encouraging. But Young is good enough to at least pose a challenge as this trade gets re-analyzed and re-re-analyzed over the next decade.

7. Celtics trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Nets in 2013

Of all Brooklyn’s ill-fated moves of this era (Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson) this was the coup de grace. With pick swaps, the Nets pushed the limits of the Stepien rule – and paid for it. Brooklyn wound up sending Boston the No. 17 pick in 2014, No. 3 pick in 2016, No. 1 pick in 2017 and No. 8 pick in 2018. Garnett and Pierce were over the hill, and their big contracts left the Nets stuck. The Celtics meanwhile gained assets essential to acquiring Kyrie Irving and Jason Tatum. Ironically, Boston built a winner far quicker than Brooklyn.

6. Pelicans trade Anthony Davis to Lakers in 2019

Davis’ trade request sabotaged the Pelicans’ season and created a stir that hovered over the whole league. Davis got his wish, joining Los Angeles. New Orleans got major return. And the Lakers got a second superstar to pair with LeBron. It’s a little risky with Davis approaching unrestricted free agency. But if he leaves, it changes only the winners of the trade. It’d still be a big deal.

5. New Orleans Hornets trade Chris Paul to Clippers in 2011

This trade is most infamous for the trade it wasn’t. Ostensibly acting as governor for the league-owned Hornets, NBA commissioner David Stern nixed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Lakers fans still haven’t forgiven Stern, and theories run rampant about what he truly meant by “basketball reasons.” Paul led the Clippers to their best era in franchise history, throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Though the Clippers never advanced past the second round, Paul helped the beleaguered franchise gain credibility, paving the way for L.A. to get Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

4. Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors in 2018

This trade won Toronto a championship. It’s hard to beat that. Though some have downplayed the risk – especially in hindsight – the Raptors took a real chance by disrupting their very-good status quo to raise their ceiling. They stayed only one season, but Leonard and Danny Greenan underrated accompaniment – delivered immediately. By getting so little (DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick that became Keldon Johnson) for its superstar, San Antonio might have sealed the end of its empire.

3. Pacers trade Kawhi Leonard to Spurs in 2011

The Spurs didn’t want to move Hill, a nice example of their developmental system. Leonard became the crown jewel of San Antonio’s culture. He grew into the Spurs’ best player, winning 2014 NBA Finals MVP as they lengthened their dynasty. San Antonio and Indiana were right about Hill’s potential. He became a quality starter on the championship-contending Pacers that fought the Heat hard, but twice came up short. For a while, this trade seemed like a win-win. But Leonard was so good, the Spurs came out way ahead, even considering his unpleasant departure from San Antonio.

2. Clippers trade for Paul George in 2019

L.A. surrendered an unprecedented package –  five first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Worth it for just George? No. But this trade cinched the Clippers getting Kawhi Leonard, too. There’s no guarantee this works out for L.A. Leonard and George are each locked up only two seasons. But this trade created an instant championship contender. That’s worth the potentially massive cost. Oklahoma City got a huge jump on its rebuild, gaining a threatening bunch of picks for a team that once drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in quick succession.

1. Thunder trade James Harden to Rockets

This trade undermined a budding dynasty in Oklahoma City and established Houston as a force for years to come. We’ll never know how Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden would have developed together. But considering the Thunder never won a title with any of them, it’s natural to wonder, “What if?” Questions about why Oklahoma City made this trade, particularly centered on the luxury tax, continue to this day. Even Rockets general manager Daryl Morey admits he didn’t foresee Harden becoming this good. But Houston targeted Harden and gets all the credit for landing a superstar just before everyone realized he should be valued like one.

Ten biggest NBA signings of the decade

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The amnesty clause, stretch provision and rapidly rising salary cap made toxic contracts less burdensome in the last decade than other times. On the highest levels, it was more about attracting top talent. Here are the most significant NBA signings – for better or worse – of the last decade (sign-and-trades that occurred after a player chose his destination count here):

10. Chris Bosh signs with Heat in 2010

He wasn’t the biggest star to sign with Miami that summer. Maybe the Heat still would have won big with their two superstars (more on them later) and Bosh’s big money divided among role players. But Miami signing three stars – not two stars and a few helpful role players – transfixed everyone. Considering how well he morphed into a supporting style, it’s easy to forget how good Bosh was with the Raptors. He was a go-to scorer, a perennial All-Star, a bona fide franchise player. And he played third fiddle for the Heat this summer.

9. Kyrie Irving signs with Nets in 2019

8. Kevin Durant signs with Nets in 2019

These signings go together, and obviously Brooklyn hasn’t accomplished anything notable yet. But Durant is an all-time great, and Irving is a true star. Them joining forces is notable – especially how they did it. Durant made waves by leaving the mighty Warriors. Irving caused an uproar by leaving the Celtics after pledging to re-sign. This was a wake-up call: Super teams can pop up anywhere.

7. Dwyane Wade signs with Heat in 2010

He also wasn’t the biggest star to sign with Miami that summer, and re-signing didn’t carry the same fanfare as switching teams. But Wade was an elite player who explored the market, especially the Bulls. Wade staying with the Heat keyed one of the biggest stories in NBA history and led to Miami winning two more titles.

6. Kawhi Leonard signs with Clippers in 2019

By leaving the Raptors, Leonard became the first consensus star to leave a defending champion for another team. That’s the Clippers’ gain, though we’ll see how far Leonard lifts L.A., especially considering his health concerns. Still, Leonard deserves the benefit of the doubt that he’ll manage his load through the long regular season and be ready for the playoffs. At his best, Leonard is arguably the NBA’s best player.

5. Stephen Curry signs four-year, $44 million extension with Warriors in 2012

When Curry was up for his rookie-scale contract extension, the Warriors reportedly told him they’d pay the max if he waited for free agency and got healthy. Instead, Curry — who’d been plagued by ankle injuries — took the security of this extension. That set the stage for a dynasty. Curry blossomed into an all-time great, and his bargain salary allowed Golden State to add Andre Iguodala then Kevin Durant. By not complaining about being underpaid, Curry helped set a team-first tone of sacrifice on the star-studded Warriors.

4. LeBron James signs with Lakers in 2018

LeBron immediately put the Lakers on another level. He didn’t immediately lift them from the lottery, but he changed how people viewed the once-great, but more-recently down-and-out franchise. With LeBron, the Lakers became an even bigger attention magnet. They lured Anthony Davis. Now, LeBron and Davis have Los Angeles back in title contention.

3. LeBron James signs with Cavaliers in 2014

LeBron does whatever he wants. Returning to Cleveland, where he was vilified? To a lousy team? Owned by Dan Gilbert, who wrote that heinous letter? That didn’t even have max cap room? LeBron demanded the Cavs do their part then made it all work. He forced the Cavaliers to clear more cap space, orchestrated a trade of No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, got Gilbert to spend huge, put the team on his back and – in the signature moment of his career –a ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. Then, he left again.

2. Kevin Durant signs with Warriors in 2016

Durant both shook the rest of the league and torpedoed his own reputation by leaving the Thunder for the Warriors. Golden State won two straight titles and built a credible case as best team ever. But, despite his individual dominance, Durant couldn’t shake criticism for leaving the Thunder for the team that just beat them in the playoffs. Still, Durant led the Warriors to multiple championships. That’ll get remembered longer after heat-of-the-moment criticism fades.

1. LeBron James signs with Heat in 2010

This wasn’t just the biggest signing of the decade. It was the NBA’s biggest story of the decade. LeBron transformed the league’s power structure, tilting balance toward players. The NBA hasn’t been the same since. The Decision was pompous, and we still couldn’t look away. The Heat became the major story and generated massive attention. They delivered with four straight conference titles and two championships.