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Isaiah Thomas calls Cleveland a “s***hole” then apologizes for it

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Isaiah Thomas‘ time in Cleveland did not go well. For anyone. After half a season they sent him to Los Angeles for young Lakers players who could better help the Cavs make one last push with LeBron James.

Thomas was barely on the court in Cleveland and a problem in the locker room off it, and when done he wasn’t saying great things about the city. That carried over to a live video on Instagram where he bashed Cleveland and said he understood why LeBron left.

Thomas, a guy trying to repair his reputation and get a payday next summer, quickly backtracked from that comment.

Thomas is in Denver now, where he will get run and touches off the bench, and a chance to show he is back closer to the fifth-in-the-MVP voting Thomas of just a couple of seasons ago. But when the Nuggets head to Cleveland on Nov. 1, Thomas can expect an expletive-laden welcome from Cleveland fans.

Isaiah Thomas after settling for minimum salary: ‘I’ve been through way tougher things … real-life stuff’

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Isaiah Thomas took a historic tumble – from fifth place in 2017 MVP voting to a minimum contract this year. Between, the Nuggets guard just had his Brinks-truck aspirations upended by a miserable, injury-riddled season with the Cavaliers and Nuggets.

Thomas, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“I’ve been through way tougher things than just this year of basketball, real-life stuff. This year can’t define me,” Thomas told Yahoo Sports. “This has been tough, but it was only a tough year because I wasn’t healthy. My job is to get as healthy as I possibly can and then show the world what I’m capable of doing.”

I love Thomas’ perspective and determination. It’s so easy to root for him.

But I’d also be concerned if I were Denver. Thomas putting everything that went wrong last season on just his health suggests he hasn’t learned to cope better with injury. There can be a middle ground if he’s again slowed.

In Cleveland, Thomas acted as if he were still producing like star. He took his usual role as a high-volume, ball-dominant guard. But he missed far too many shots and committed too many turnovers.  In the locker room and publicly, Thomas spoke like a team leader. But teammates and coaches don’t want to listen someone playing so poorly.

In short, Thomas was destructive.

The worst thing I can say about him was he didn’t know how to handle his tighter limitations. If he’s healthy and productive, those concerns go away.

But if his hip prevents him from flourishing as he’s accustomed, lackluster ability could easily spiral into bigger problems. The Nuggets could always waive him if it gets bad enough, but they’re counting on him as backup point guard.

To be clear: This is not an easy switch to flip. The confidence – maybe even cockiness – that undermines Thomas’ team when he’s hobbled is the same confidence/cockiness that propels him when he’s healthy.

Denver is getting great value with Thomas on a minimum contract. It’s absolutely worth signing him and hoping for the best. But the downside is also real.

Stat of interest: Half of 2017 NBA All-Stars have since changed teams

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Why does the NBA win the offseason every summer?

Because star players switch teams. A lot.

The combination of shorter contracts (something owners pushed for in recent CBAs to save themselves from themselves because they didn’t want to get locked into six-year deals they regretted) and elite players taking more control of their own destiny has led to a boom of player movement. That’s something fans find more interesting than the games themselves (just check any web site’s traffic numbers, and not just for basketball). In the end, the NBA wins.

How much player movement is there in the NBA: Marc Stein of the New York Times put out this stat in his must-read weekly newsletter, via the brilliant Tom Haberstroh:

In the 18 months since the 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans, 12 of the 24 players who participated in that game have switched teams.

He’s the full list:

DeMarcus Cousins. He was traded pretty much during that 2017 All-Star game from Sacramento to New Orleans. He signed this summer with Golden State.

LeBron James. He left Cleveland this summer as a free agent to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

Paul George. Traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City, where this summer he re-signed.

Kawhi Leonard. He forced a trade from San Antonio and ended up in Toronto.

DeMar DeRozan. Traded from Toronto to San Antonio as part of the Leonard deal.

• Carmelo Anthony. He was a Knick at the 2017 All-Star Game, was traded to Oklahoma City before last season. This season he was traded to Atlanta, which bought him out, and within hours of this story going up he will sign with the Houston Rockets.

Jimmy Butler. Traded from Chicago to Minnesota (and former coach Tom Thibodeau).

Gordon Hayward. Left Utah as a free agent and signed with Boston (and his college coach Brad Stevens).

Kyrie Irving. Forced a trade out of Cleveland, was sent to the Boston Celtics.

Isaiah Thomas. Traded from Boston to Cleveland in the Irving deal, then traded again at the deadline from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers. This summer he signed with Denver as a free agent.

DeAndre Jordan. Left the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent, signing with Dallas.

Paul Millsap. Left Atlanta as a free agent, signed with Denver.

If you thought this summer was wild, wait until next summer when two-thirds of the league’s teams will have more than $20 million in cap space and nearly half the players in the league will be free agents.

Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan could be NBA’s first immediately clear and enduring star-for-star trade in nearly two decades

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In 2011 – well before DeMar DeRozan earned even serious All-Star or All-NBA consideration – Kawhi Leonard called him a “great player.”

In 2014 – before Leonard became Finals MVP and arguably the NBA’s best two-way player – DeRozan said, “If Kawhi gets his hands on you, you’re not going anywhere.”

Leonard and DeRozan were ahead of the curve on assessing each other, but the rest of us have caught up. Both players are universally recognized as stars. Traded for each other this week, they could fulfill the Raptors-Spurs deal as a rare trade that was recognized immediately and in hindsight as star-for-star.

Sometimes, we don’t realize when a star-for-star trade is made. Paul George for Victor Oladipo was a star-for-star trade, but we didn’t yet grasp Oladipo’s abilities.

Sometimes, we think a star-for-star trade was made and it wasn’t. Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas looked like a star-for-star trade, but Thomas hasn’t been healthy since and the odds are strongly against him regaining star status.

I’m looking for trades immediately recognized as star-for-star and then stood the test of time. To set a parameter, both players were All-Stars before and after the trade. There have been just nine such trades in NBA history:

2008: Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson (Denver Nuggets-Detroit Pistons)

I needed some way to define star-for-star trades, and this deal technically fits. But it completely violates the spirit of the exercise and is included here for only posterity. Allen Iverson deteriorated rapidly in Detroit. He made a couple more All-Star games from the fan vote, nothing to do with his remaining ability.

2001: Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury (New Jersey Nets-Phoenix Suns)

Kidd pleaded guilty to spousal abuse earlier that year, perhaps opening the door for his exit from Phoenix. He was clearly the better player and only continued to prove it after the trade, leading the Nets to consecutive Eastern Conference titles.

Marbury was at least intriguing – four years younger and a flashy scorer. He was legitimately good during the two All-Star seasons of his career, his last in New Jersey and second in Phoenix. But he mostly confirmed he was a big-stats-on-a-bad-team player.

1997: Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker (Cleveland Cavaliers-Seattle SuperSonics-Milwaukee Bucks)

This actually looked like a star-for-star-for-star trade with Kemp (Seattle to Cleveland), Baker (Milwaukee to Seattle) and Terrell Brandon (Cleveland to Milwaukee). Brandon was coming off consecutive All-Star seasons with the Cavs, but he never regained that level. Kemp and Baker didn’t maintain it for long. Each remained an All-Star the season following the trade then never made it again.

Kemp was unhappy with the Sonics because he got paid less than Jim McIlvaine, who signed a seven-year, $33 million deal. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed no feasible way for Seattle to renegotiate Kemp’s contract, so he rebelled by arriving late to practices and flights. His weight ballooned in Cleveland, and cocaine and alcohol issues steadily derailed his career over the next several years.

Baker appeared disenchanted with the Bucks after they posted losing records his first four seasons, and Milwaukee feared him leaving in 1999 free agency. The result for the Sonics was far worse than the one the Bucks feared for themselves. Baker began drinking heavily in Seattle. Before, after and even during games. But the Sonics still re-signed him to a seven-year, $86 million deal in 1999 that proved to be highly toxic. Baker hung around longer than Kemp, but both trended sharply downward after this trade.

1982: Bernard King for Micheal Ray Richardson (New York Knicks-Golden State Warriors)

Coming off an All-Star year with the Warriors, King signed an offer sheet with the Knicks. Golden State matched and King planned to return. But just before the season, the Warriors traded him to the Knicks for Richardson.

Richardson was a perennial All-Star in New York, but the Knicks had tired of his attitude and contract demands. Unfortunately, this trade contributed to his spiral. While his agent negotiated terms with the Warriors, Richardson remained in New York and abused drugs. He didn’t kick the habit in Golden State and lasted less than a season there, getting flipped to the Nets. He got clean in 1985, winning Comeback Player of the Year and regaining his All-Star status. But it didn’t last, and Richardson was banned from the league in 1986 for his third positive test for cocaine.

King was no stranger to off-court problems himself. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 1981 after issues with alcohol and pleading guilty to misdemeanor attempted sexual assault (and facing more serious related charges). He starred for the Knicks a couple seasons, hurt his knee then was never the same player again.

1980: Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal (Phoenix Suns-Seattle SuperSonics)

This is another trade that fits by technicality, not spirit. Westphal got hurt, crossed the wrong side of 30 and underwhelmed in his lone season in Seattle. He was never the same player again. But fans voted the popular guard an All-Star starter that year with the Sonics, anyway.

1978: Bobby Jones for George McGinnis (Philadelphia 76ers-Denver Nuggets)

George McGinnis possessed so much size, athleticism and natural talent, people always wanted more from him. So, every problem involving him in Philadelphia felt huge. He fit poorly with Julius Erving. McGinnis had some bad moments in the playoffs on a team with championship expectations. His practice habits were poor even when he wasn’t sneaking cigarettes.

Eventually, the 76ers had enough and shipped him to Denver for Bobby Jones.

Jones, still a star in his own right, was much more adept at fitting in. He made six All-Defensive first teams in Philadelphia. After consecutive All-Star appearances with the 76ers, Jones won Sixth Man of the Year on their 1983 title team.

McGinnis remained an All-Star his first year with the Nuggets, but his experience in Denver largely made everyone there miserable. Nuggets coach Larry Brown endorsed trading for McGinnis, loathed the forward’s practice habits then wanted McGinnis traded. Larry Brown changing his mind – who ever heard of such a thing? When Denver kept McGinnis, Brown resigned. But McGinnis got hurt and lost his confidence, and the Nuggets traded him back to Indiana, where he played in the ABA before signing with Philadelphia and finished his career.

1972: Elvin Hayes for Jack Marin (Baltimore Bullets-Houston Rockets)

Drafted No. 1 by the Rockets, Elvin Hayes led the entire NBA in scoring as a rookie. But four losing seasons later, Hayes and the Rockets were losing patience with each other. Houston blamed him for posting stats – 27 points and 16 rebounds per game – that were more gaudy than actually helpful. He blamed the team for putting so much pressure on him, it caused health problems.

Despite already having Wes Unseld – who actually won Rookie of the Year over Hayes – as a big and sharing widespread concern over Hayes’ mindset, the Bullets rolled the dice on Hayes anyway. Asked whether the trade was a one-for-one, Bullets coach Gene Shue quipped, “No. We get Elvin’s psychiatrist, too.”

The Bullets eventually realized what a steal they got. Hayes was an all-time great. In nine years together, Hayes and Unseld led the Bullets to three conference titles and the 1978 NBA championship.

Marin had just two All-Star seasons – the year before this trade and the year after. The Bullets just wisely traded him at age 27, in the middle of his short prime.

1968: Wilt Chamberlain for Archie Clark (Los Angeles Lakers-Philadelphia 76ers)

This trade is often listed as one of the most lopsided in NBA history – for good reason. The Lakers got Wilt Chamberlain, arguably a top-five-ever player coming off an MVP season. Philadelphia got the unmemorable trio of Archie Clark, Darrall Imhoff and Jerry Chambers.

But Clark was an All-Star, both the season prior to this trade and a few years later after the 76ers flipped him to the Baltimore Bullets.

Chamberlain declined from peak form in Los Angeles, but he remained excellent during his five years there and helped the Lakers win a title.

1964: Bailey Howell and Don Ohl for Terry Dischinger (Baltimore Bullets-Detroit Pistons)

The first star-for-star trade was actually a star-and-star-for-star deal. And Baltimore got the two best pieces in the deal.

The Pistons had just suffered through a miserable year – losing a lot while playing for a tyrant coach. Charlie Wolf imposed strict rules that alienated his players. Howell and Ohl were happy to leave town, and each remained very good with the Bullets.

Dischinger, 1963 Rookie of the Year, certainly seemed to be worth acquiring. And he continued to produce like a star his first season in Detroit. But he went into active military service, missed the following two seasons and returned a far lesser player.

Who could have predicted the escalating conflict in Vietnam would swing the Pistons’ fortunes so significantly?

That uncertainty is why we don’t know whether the Leonard-DeRozan trade will join this club.

Each player must make an another All-Star team. Leonard is a lock if healthy, but his quad issues are a huge uncertainty. DeRozan will turn 29, and he’s heading to the better conference. But he’s joining a well-coached team built to win now, and success will boost his chances. The NBA, with captain-picked All-Star teams, might even pick All-Stars regardless of conference. The league should also increase All-Star rosters to 13 players each, matching the regular-season active-roster size, but that idea has less traction.

There are so many variables.

But this trade has a better chance than any recently to fit my star-for-star criteria.

NBA players bothered by Raptors trading DeMar DeRozan

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DeMar DeRozan is clearly upset with the Raptors for trading him (for Kawhi Leonard).

Is DeRozan’s frustration justified?

To a certain extent, he’s entitled to feel however he wants. I would never tell him his reaction is “wrong.”

But that’s not the same as endorsing his outlook. Should we rally behind him and hold Toronto accountable for mistreating him? Answering that question relies on so much hearsay, I’m not sure it’s possible to answer fairly.

In what I find a telling illustration of the situation, ESPN has updated its story on the trade multiple times today. In an early version:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto brass in Las Vegas during summer league and was told he would not be traded.

That got changed to:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto officials in Las Vegas during summer league and believed that he would not be traded.

That’s a subtle, but meaningful, distinction.

Did the Raptors tell DeRozan he wouldn’t be traded? Different people involved in the conversation would probably give different answers.

Did DeRozan take away that Toronto wouldn’t trade him? It seems so, and maybe it’s because team officials told him that directly. But it’s also possible he misinterpreted team officials. Not that he’s willing to grant that possibility.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Without being privy to the exact wording, I don’t know where to side.

Unsurprisingly, other players are backing DeRozan – some publicly and quite strongly, others anonymously.

Lou Williams:

Isaiah Thomas:

Damian Lillard:

Anthony Morrow:

Enes Kanter:

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

DeRozan meant a lot to the Raptors, and he deserves a proper sendoff. But some of this strikes me as an overreaction.

The Spurs didn’t thank Leonard in their press release, either. Both teams posted cursory messages of gratitude on social media to their outgoing players. Gregg Popovich held a press conference today and said many kind things about Leonard, though. The main difference appears to be Masai Ujiri just hasn’t happened to hold his press conference yet. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t effusively praise DeRozan in it.

And to Kanter’s claim the Raptors gave away DeRozan for nothing? They got Kawhi freaking Leonard.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the spotlight-seeking Kanter just saying something outlandish to draw attention.

Even if that were Kanter’s intent, that just feeds into this spiraling into a bigger deal than it probably should be.

If the Raptors told DeRozan they wouldn’t trade him, they shouldn’t have done that. If they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him while they were secretly putting the final touches on this deal, they shouldn’t have done that.

But if they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him and truly didn’t at that moment, I wouldn’t blame them. Plans can change, and it would have done them no good to warn DeRozan of that possibility. If he expected more loyalty, that’s on him.

Ujiri will get a chance to explain himself. So will DeRozan – though his narrative is already gaining significant traction, especially among his peers. Maybe we’ll actually become positioned to make an outside judgment.

Most likely, this will remain a he-said, he-said situation that wanes in significance. DeRozan will probably play hard in San Antonio and grow to enjoy it there. Players – even, I bet, including DeRozan – will forgive the Raptors in time. As much furor as these things evoke in the moment, players rarely hold a grudge to the point of avoiding franchises.

But for now, Toronto is dealing with a perception hit right as it begins its courtship of one of the NBA’s top players, Leonard.