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Dennis Schroder, Maxi Kleber save Germany from defeat with 0.4 lob pass

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Germany is headed to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China next summer, and one pass from Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schroder to Dallas’ Maxi Kleber put them there.

Germany’s perfect record in qualifying for next summer’s World Cup was in danger, down two points to Israel with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. Schroder inbounded the ball and threw a perfect alley-oop pass, Kleber curled off a high pick and went to the rim, and the result was a game-tying bucket that forced overtime (where Germany went on to win 110-98).

Give some credit to Germany’s Lucca Staiger in the key — he body-blocked/held and cleared out the Israeli defender in the paint who was there to prevent that specific play.

Schroder finished the game with 30 points and 13 assists, and because of the win we will overlook the seven turnovers and 1-of-9 shooting from three. Kleber finished with 10 points.

Germany is now 8-0 in qualifying and with this win punched its ticket to China.

Israel, at 3-5, is still alive but needs some wins and some help now.

Thunder secured Paul George, surprisingly kept spending

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Thunder clearly made headway with Paul George throughout last season.

But then signs of disaster struck internally and externally.

The Jazz ran through Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoff, exposing all the Thunder’s liabilities. It also became increasingly apparent LeBron James would choose the Lakers.

The Lakers with George would have been better than the Thunder with him, and he could have fulfilled his longstanding desire to play for his hometown team. Even if his Los Angeles interest was overstated or he wasn’t fond of joining LeBron, George had numerous other options. The 76ers and Jazz were already better than Oklahoma City. George would have vaulted either team even further ahead.

On the other hand, the Thunder looked like they might take a step back even if they re-signed George. Though Andre Roberson getting healthy would help, Oklahoma City’s payroll was getting quite high. Most small-market teams would shed salary, either by trading helpful contributors or attaching draft picks as sweeteners to unload overpaid players.

Yet, just when the walls of Thunder’s yearlong recruitment of George appeared to be caving in, George re-signed – even locking in for three years (with a fourth-year player option on his max contract). Keeping George – who likely never would have even considered Oklahoma City in free agency if he spent last season elsewhere – is a coup.

We might never know why George agreed so quickly to re-sign, not even meeting with the Lakers. Maybe he just became so attached to Russell Westbrook, George wasn’t leaving under any circumstances. But perhaps the Thunder sold him on their ambitiously expensive plan to upgrade the roster.

Oklahoma City is on pace to pay more than $93 million in luxury tax next season, which would be a record. Perhaps, the Thunder will stretch Kyle Singler. That could drop them below the $90 million-plus the Nets paid in luxury tax in 2014. But Oklahoma City is in the same range despite not nearing Brooklyn in market size.

This is the same Thunder franchise still reeling from the perception it traded James Harden over luxury-tax concerns. What a way to change a narrative.

Oklahoma City re-signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27,346,153 deal. That’s an expensive outlay, especially considering the Thunder are just entering the repeater luxury tax and have multiple veterans on expensive long-term deals. They’re facing a big tax bill for years to come.

Smaller moves also prove quite costly in this environment. Oklahoma City picked three players in the second round – Hamidou Diallo (No. 45), Devon Hall (No. 53) and Kevin Hervey (No. 57) – but signed only Diallo. Rostering second-round picks can save teams in luxury tax, as players signed as draft picks for less than the second-year minimum count less toward the tax than minimum free agents. But Hall will play overseas next season, and Hervey remains unsigned. Instead, Oklahoma City signed Raymond Felton and Nerlens Noel for the minimum (Noel’s cost landing even higher because he received a player option). If they signed Hall and Hervey instead of Felton and Noel, the Thunder would have saved nearly $9 million next season.

Even moves described as cost-cutting weren’t. Once the Thunder decided to part with Carmelo Anthony, stretching him became the baseline. That would have cost $9,309,380 (minus potential set-offs) each of the next three seasons. Instead, Oklahoma City traded him for Dennis Schroder, who has a $15.5 million salary for each of the next three seasons. Unlike the cap hit for a waived Anthony, the Thunder could always move Schroder later to save money. But this trade was not a salary dump.

In the Anthony trade, the Thunder also landed Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, a worthwhile wing flier. But Oklahoma City surrendered a lottery-protected 2022 first-rounder that becomes two second-rounders if the Thunder make the playoffs that year. That’s surprisingly high price for Schroder, who many viewed as negative salary.

The only creative penny-pinching Oklahoma City did was trading for Abdel Nader, who’ll count less toward the luxury tax than a free agent because he signed as a drafted player with the Celtics.

Small picture:

  • I’m not sure Grant is worth his cost. He’s a quality defender in a switching scheme, and using him at center provides a style Oklahoma City lacks otherwise. If nothing else, he’s active offensively. But his subpar shooting lowers his ceiling and becomes especially costly in the playoffs.
  • I’m not sure Felton is worth his cost. He was a bargain as a steadying backup point guard, but downgrading him to third string, maybe Oklahoma City would have been better off with a cheaper developmental piece.
  • I’m not sure Noel is worth his cost. He still has plenty of untapped potential, but there are major questions about his work ethic. How much will he play with Adams, Grant and Patrick Patterson all capable at center?
  • I’m not sure Schroder is worth his cost. Even beyond his potential felony charge, basketball questions emerge. He might hit enough spot-up 3s to thrive with Westbrook. He might not. His ability to attack after Westbrook tilts the defense is intriguing. At minimum, he’ll liven up the offense when Westbrook sits. But the idea that his cost is only the difference between his salary and Anthony’s stretch amount ($6,190,620) is limited. Potential trade partners will value Schroder at his full $15.5 million salary.

Big picture:

  • Who cares?

It’s not my money. If Thunder owner Clay Bennett is willing to spend big, that’s great for the team. Kudos to him.

With Westbrook, Anthony and Adams guaranteed huge salaries, Oklahoma City wasn’t going to clear cap room this summer. Re-signing George long-term ensured the Thunder would be capped out as long they kept their core players. So, additional spending doesn’t hinder flexibility in an significant way. It just helps the on-court product.

My only concern is Oklahoma City fails to meet internal expectations and becomes more reluctant to spend in future seasons. I consider the Thunder more likely to lose in the first round than reach the conference finals, more likely to miss the playoffs than reach the NBA Finals.

But those expectations are higher than they would have been if Oklahoma City dodged the luxury tax. Westbrook is a 29-year-old superstar reliant on his athleticism. There is no tomorrow. Every playoff game is its own reward.

If Bennett is demanding a championship for his massive expenditure, he’ll likely be disappointed. Personally, I’m just impressed with a team that’s much better than it could have been on a tight budget.

Offseason grade: A

With Dennis Schroder trade, Trae Young knows Hawks have bet big on him

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The Atlanta Hawks bet big on Trae Young — they traded away the rights to EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic to land Young on draft night.

But that’s not the time it really sunk in on Young how much the club was banking on him. Instead, it came a month later, when the Hawks traded former starting point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Here is what Young told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy (Lin) in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Young showed some of the potential Atlanta is betting on at Summer League. Certainly not in his first couple of games in Salt Lake City, where he struggled, but in how he grew and adapted. By the time the Hawks were playing in Las Vegas Young was putting up numbers, looking more comfortable with the athleticism and what he needed to do at the Summer League level.

For new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, those summer games were just a benchmark, and the fact Young improved fast was promising, but only a start.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included,” Pierce told NBC Sports. “And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for (the rookies) to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

It’s also what he’ll do this fall and winter. The Hawks are rebuilding, it’s not going to be about wins this season as much as steps forward. Particularly for Young, who will face a lot of scrutiny and comparisons because of the draft-night trade.

Young at least understands everything expected of him.

Hawks progressing nicely in rebuild

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

It seems as if the Hawks have been rebuilding for ages.

Really, they’re only one season removed from a decade-long playoff streak, the NBA’s second-longest at the time.

General manager Travis Schlenk has swiftly done what his predecessors didn’t – dismantle a team that won 60 games and commit to rebuilding. In fact, Schlenk has advanced far enough that he’s already well into building Atlanta back up.

Only Kent Bazemore remains the playoff-series-winning team in 2016, let alone the 60-win squad in 2015. Heck, only Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry and Bazemore remain from the team Schlenk inherited just last year.

The Hawks aren’t done dismantling. They’re poised to tank another season. But their rebuild has already seen a defining move.

On draft night, Atlanta traded the rights to No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for the rights to No. 5 pick Trae Young and a future first-round pick. That decision will take year to evaluate and will linger over both franchises far longer.

For now, it seems about fair. I rated Doncic ahead of Young and both above their draft slots. The Dallas pick – top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected the following two years and unprotected in 2023 – roughly bridges the gap between the players.

If the Hawks preferred Young anyway, they did a great job leveraging an extra first-rounder and still getting their man.

Atlanta’s other first-round picks – Kevin Huerter (No. 19) and Omari Spellman (No. 30) – were also sound. Squint hard enough, and Young and Huerter comprise a backcourt that somewhat resembles Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That’s the easy comparison considering Schlenk came from the Warriors’ front office, though that’d probably make Spellman the next Marreese Speights.

And that’s make Dennis Schroder the next Monta Ellis, a talented player it was time to move. Though Schroder is just 24, he’s too combustible with and away from the team. Young is the Hawks’ future at point guard.

Rather than pay Schroder $46.5 million over the next three years, Atlanta is better off sinking $25,534,253 into a waived Carmelo Anthony this season. And the Hawks got a potential first-rounder in the deal!

The Thunder pick is lottery-protected in 2022. Otherwise, it converts into two second-rounders. So, there’s a decent chance Atlanta never receives a first-rounder. But unloading Schroder, who had negative value to many teams around the league, was enough. Getting a pick or two – who knows how good Oklahoma City will be in four years? – is gravy.

The Hawks also swapped Mike Muscala for Justin Anderson in the three-way trade with the Thunder and 76ers. For this team in this league, going from the 27-year-old center to a 24-year-old small forward  is an upgrade. Anderson must gain traction in his career, but it’s worth the bet he does so in Atlanta.

Alex Len makes sense as another flier. The former No. 5 pick had moments in five years with the Suns, and he took major strides forward last season. Perhaps, the 25-year-old is on the verge of emerging as capable of being in a good team’s rotation. I’m surprised the price (guaranteed $8.51 million over two years) was so high, but the Hawks had cap space to burn. Better to get their preferred project center.

To that end, Atlanta splurged a lot of its cap room on Jeremy Lin, getting the point guard with just a smattering of second-round considerations going between Atlanta and Brooklyn. Could that cap space have been put to better use, like a salary dump or even just saving ownership money? Did the Hawks acquire Lin as a fan draw? Will Lin generate more revenue than his $13,768,421 salary? He could work well as a veteran mentor, but that’s a lot to pay a veteran mentor.

With Young, John Collins and Taurean Prince at the forefront and Spellman, Anderson and Len diversifying the portfolio, the Hawks have a nice core to build around. They’ll add to it with their own first-rounder, the extra first-rounder from Dallas and a potential first-rounder from Cleveland (top-10 protected the next two years or else it becomes two second-rounders).

Atlanta lost a good coach in Mike Budenholzer, but he didn’t seem eager to oversee a rebuild. Lloyd Pierce, known for player development and teaching defense, takes over. Like practically every first-time NBA head coach, Pierce is a roll of a dice. Maybe the Hawks could have leveraged Budenholzer into securing compensation from another team for letting him leave or even just paying off less of contract. Instead, they just sent him packing.

Sometimes, it’s best to make a clean break and move on.

Offseason grade: B-

Rumor: Rockets, Pelicans interested in Kent Bazemore trade

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The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding. Rookie Trae Young will be handed the keys to the point guard position (with Jeremy Lin in the interim), which meant Dennis Schroder was out (traded to Oklahoma City). Young men such as John Collins, Omari Spellman, and (at least for a year) Alex Len will populate the frontcourt.

It also means any veterans of value on the roster could be traded.

Enter Kent Bazemore. Which makes this note from Kelly Iko of the USA Today’s Rocketswire worth passing along:

Houston is still active on trade fronts, perusing the market for a wing defender, and remains interested in Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks—according to a person with knowledge of the situation….

The Pelicans are also a team interested in acquiring Bazemore, but Atlanta is not interested in taking on Solomon Hill. New Orleans also has its 2019 first-round pick.

Both teams could use Bazemore, as both want some help on the wing. Bazemore is a quality “3&D” player on the perimeter, probably the best player on a bad Hawks teams last season. He scored 12.9 points per game last season but more importantly bounced back from a down year with good three-point shooting (39.4 percent), using his drives to draw fouls, and providing leadership on a team that needed it. He will make $18 million this season with a player option for $19.3 million next season.

In Houston, Bazemore would play the two/three mixed in with James Ennis, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green (I think it’s a safe bet to say the Rockets will continue to start James Harden in there, too). The challenge is structuring the trade — Atlanta isn’t going to just take on Ryan Anderson‘s remaining two-years, $41.6 million without a lot of young players/sweeteners (and the Rockets’ own late first-round picks aren’t going to cut it). Built to win now, the Rockets aren’t flush with the kind of young talent that would interest Atlanta in a deal.

In New Orleans, Bazemore could start at the two next to Jrue Holiday and the fit would be smooth and an upgrade. Again, the challenge is how to structure a trade: E'Twaun Moore plus some young prospects and picks could work, but the Pelicans aren’t loaded in the young player/picks department, either.

Atlanta is in no rush. Bring Bazemore back, start the season with him, and wait for a good trade option to emerge either at the deadline or next summer. The Hawks don’t need to make a bad trade just to do it, they can ride this out. No pressure. If Houston or New Orleans or anyone else wants to make a trade, the pressure is on them to put together a better deal.