Westbrook had 49 points, hit a career-best eight threes in a game, and still lost to Harden’s 26 points and 12 assists because Harden’s got a little more help around him (especially help that fits the system). These are the top two guys in the race for the MVP as we near the halfway point in the season, and this game summed that race up — Westbrook had the better stat line, but Harden got his team the win (by giving up the rock to Nene with the game on the line).
Sit back and watch these two go at it again. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend your time today. That report can wait for a few more minutes.
Three things we learned on Thursday: Cavaliers land Korver, here’s how he makes them better
The biggest news in the NBA Thursday was off the court. Which on a night when Harden and Westbrook faced off is saying something. Time to break it all down.
1) Kyle Korver is headed to Cleveland, upping the arms race with Golden State. We’ve seen this in other sports — the 49ers and Cowboys back in the day, the Yankees and Red Sox more recently. Teams making moves that are mostly about one rival. In the NBA we saw it clearly in the 1980s — the Lakers and Celtics would make roster additions (Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, etc.) aimed at the other and NBA Finals matchups. Sure, those guys helped against the Chicago’s and Houston’s and whoever else, but the move was mostly thinking ahead to the NBA’s biggest stage.
That’s what Cleveland landing Kyle Korver in a trade from the Hawks was. Cleveland only gave up the lightly-used Mike Dunleavy, a 2019 first-round pick (that very likely is in the mid to high 20s), and maybe a dead-weight contract like Mo Williams. That’s a steal. And make no mistake, that was aimed right at the heart of the Warriors. Korver is an upgrade for the Cavaliers, and let’s break down what he brings to the team that is already the defending champs.
• More three point shooting. The Cavaliers are already second in the NBA in three-pointers made per game and three-point shooting percentage as a team. That said, you can never have too much shooting — and of late the Cavs have needed it. With J.R. Smith out until sometime after the All-Star break (thumb surgery) and Kyrie Irving injured the last few games, the depth on the wing has been exposed. Korver helps solve that problem in the short-term and gives the team more versatility and matchup options come the playoffs.
• Korver is an upgrade over J.R. Smith. The Cavaliers are going to be without Smith until after the All-Star break (and maybe into March) following surgery on his thumb. Enter Korver, who can bring the catch-and-shoot that Smith has become deadly at, plus Korver brings other skills to the table: Few are better using screens than he. Korver is an underrated passer. Close out too fast on him and Kover will put the ball on the floor and get into the lane (where he has a surprisingly good floater). He’s going to fit in beautifully, and even Korver acknowledged it.
• Korver has slowed a little the last couple of seasons, but he’s still very dangerous. The combination of some knee/ankle injuries and the fact he is 35 have slowed Korver a little the past couple seasons. It’s particularly noticeable on the defensive end — Korver is not quite the player he was just a couple of seasons ago. That said, he’s still solid team defender, still shooting 40 percent from three overall, still a very high IQ player, and is still a significant talent upgrade.
• Korver’s already impressive shooting numbers are going to go up. We have seen this with Kevin Durant this season: An already amazing shooter goes to a team with more weapons, he gets better looks, and his shooting efficiency improves. Korver is going to feel the same thing as he slides to open spaces on the arc while Kyrie Irving and LeBron James drive the lane. Korver already is shooting 60.8 percent eFG% on catch-and-shoots this season, that number will improve. Also, he has it hit 49 percent of his uncontested threes this season — he’s going to see a lot more of those looks.
• I see your small-ball “death lineup” and call. If he wants in the NBA Finals — and let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about with this move, a Warriors/Cavs rematch — Tyronn Lue can roll out a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Channing Frye. When they run a pick-and-roll with that group, Golden State can try to switch, but LeBron’s a matchup nightmare who can drive/post up somebody, and who you going to leave to help out? I don’t know if that lineup defends as well as the Warriors death lineup — that’s the advantage of Draymond Green — but it will be interesting.
• Cavaliers GM David Griffin deserves some credit. He’s been amazing at securing pieces to go around his big three core the past couple years. Other teams had called about Korver, he came through with the first round pick the Hawks wanted and got the deal done.
• Is Korver a rental for Cleveland? Does it matter? They didn’t give up much, and this was a move about a ring this season. He’s a free agent this summer. But the question of Korver’s future in Cleveland is going to have to wait until July, because they need to see how he helps them in June before making a decision.
2) Korver is just the first domino to fall in Atlanta. Coach/GM Mike Budenholzer has clearly realized that with Al Horford bolting this summer his Hawks are a third-tier team in the East at best — they may have won five in a row right now, but they certainly don’t match up with Cleveland (before the trade) and weren’t going to beat Toronto or Boston either in the playoffs. Horford already scarred this team when he left last summer, and they decided not to get burned in free agency again.
Korver is gone. Thabo Sefolosha will be gone. But the big one — the All-Star player bringing real returns — is Paul Millsap and all reports are now out of Atlanta that he will be on the move as well. It’s going to take a big package to get him, and the Hawks can play different teams off each other — just some of the teams mentioned are Sacramento, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland, New Orleans, but the big gun is Toronto — and get a quality package in return. But those dominos are going to start to fall.
3) Russell Westbrook and James Harden put on a show. Oklahoma City tried their best to take James Harden away — he was 6-of-16 shooting, although he did get to the line enough for 26 points — but the key to the Rockets win is that Harden has some real help and trusts those guys. You saw it on the final play: OKC is not going to let Harden beat them, Steven Adams doubled him, so Hard found Nene wide open, and he was fouled by Jerami Grant and Nene iced the game at the line.
(Was he fouled by Grant? Thunder fans will tell you no. Grant certainly got some ball, and I don’t see a lot of contact, but I’m curious what the Two-Minute Report will say, those guys have all the camera angles.)
The bottom line is this: Westbrook had 49, and he is all the OKC offense — you may not love all his pull-up three choices, but he hits those plenty (think Celtics game) and he’s their best option. Harden has more help 12 dimes and more help — Eric Gordon had 22, Nene 18, and the Rockets had five players not named Harden in double figures. The Rockets know how to play off each other and get shots — for example, notice that sometimes Gordon/Ryan Anderson/Trevor Ariza spot up about three feet (a full step) behind the arc, because they know Harden will find them and it makes the close-out by the defender harder. The Rockets have figured out how to make this all work.
But man, what a show. I would love this as a playoff matchup.
Report: Hawks trading sharpshooter Kyle Korver to Cavaliers
We’ve seen Kevin Durant‘s efficiency spike this season with more open looks available because of such dangerous teammates: His shooting percentage jumped from an already good 50.5 percent to a crazy (considering his shots and load) 53.8 percent. His true shooting percentage is up to 65.0.
The arms race between the Cavaliers and Warriors is on.
This deal has a lot of moving parts and everything is not yet finalized. To make the salaries match, it is expected the Cavaliers will send the dead money in Mo Williams contract to Atlanta, but then the Hawks also will get a pick (likely protected in some fashion). The Cavaliers don’t have a first-round pick they can trade until 2020 because their 2018 pick belongs to Portland, but the Cavs are trying to remedy that.
Cavs are making a separate deal with Blazers. They will trade their 2017 1st to get their 2018 first back, sources said.
If in the end the Cavs give up Dunleavy, Williams and a protected 2019 first rounder (which likely is deep in the draft anyway), they got a quality piece at a very good price. The Hawks were going to struggle to get equal value for Kover because he can be a free agent this summer — team’s don’t often overpay for rentals.
Korver can step right in and get minutes that J.R. Smith had gotten (he remains out after thumb surgery until close to the start of the playoffs).
Korver is shooting 40.9 percent from three this season, and nobody is going to be able to help off him while defending some of the best penetrators in the league in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Korver is in the final year of his contract at age 35, and is making a very reasonable $5.3 million.
Korver had spent the last four seasons in Atlanta, where he blossomed into one of the best shooters in the game. Leaving is not easy for him.
Kyle Korver was on the court warming up for Atlanta when he was told he had been traded to Cleveland. He reportedly broke down crying.
As for Atlanta, this is a sign that they are serious about moving the guys who are free agents this summer, after feeling burned by Al Horford last summer. That means Thabo Sefolosha and Paul Millsap may well be on the move as well.
Are Bulls shopping Jimmy Butler? Despite report, don’t bet on it.
Highkin said only if an offer absolutely blew them away. And even then they’d pause. The day after the Bulls move Derrick Rose over the summer they considered trading Butler and stripping the team down for what would be a total rebuild, Highkin said. However, the organization was not sold on that direction, then the Dwyane Wade situation started to get real, so they returned to more of a win-now mode focused around Butler (for example, getting Rajon Rondo). There’s clearly some work to do, but the idea was to keep Butler as a core piece.
A Bulls source told The Athletic that, despite a Thursday report from Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, the team is not currently shopping Butler or fielding offers for the two-time All-Star.
I like Bucher, and no doubt a reliable source told him this, but I tend to believe the Highkin side of the story here (and not just because he used to work for me). Rather, it is more logical. For one, Butler is under contract for a couple more years before he can opt out, what is the advantage of moving him now?
Butler is a top 15 or 20 player in the NBA, at age 27 and having the best year of his career – the Bulls are not going to be able to get equal value back. So again, why do it?
Trading Butler means a rebuild, which means Wade is gone because he’s not sticking around to play babysitter to young pups on a bad team for a few years. Even if he is a Chicago guy. Also, exactly what young pieces are on the Bulls that make you think “this guy is right for a rebuild?” Doug McDermott? Bobby Portis? Nikola Mirotic? Denzel Valentine? Those guys have roles in the NBA, but if that becomes the go-to, it’s going to some rough years ahead. Also, looking at those guys, you want Gar Forman and company drafting for a rebuild?
The Bulls may be making trade deadline moves. Taj Gibson could be had. Rondo will be shopped (then, when that likely fails, bought out).
But Butler? Don’t bet on it.
Chris Bosh talks about getting a ‘taste of retirement’
Chris Bosh still is unclear about what his future holds, and while mentioning how he’s getting a “taste of retirement” stopped short of saying he will no longer pursue an NBA career.
Bosh has been sidelined since last February because of complications related to blood clots. He’s still technically a member of the Miami Heat, though has not been around the team in any official capacity since he failed a physical in September and was not permitted to resume on-court activities.
Bosh, speaking at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, was asked how he’s spent time away from the court.
“For me, I kind of just follow my passions and follow what I love to do and use my free time to kind of answer those questions and go through my bad moods and maybe a little light case of depression,” Bosh said. “Really, to search for what I’m looking for. And I’ve come to some interesting conclusions. It’s all about following my heart and what made me happy.”
Bosh did not specifically mention whether he will or will not try to play again, nor did he mention his health status. It’s expected that the Heat will waive him sometime after February, after the 1-year anniversary of his last game appearance passes. The $76 million that Bosh is owed for this and the next two seasons remains guaranteed, but he would no longer be taking up a massive amount of Miami’s salary-cap space.
Bosh was speaking on a panel alongside St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler and Golden State Warriors guard Draymond Green. The panel, titled “Life Off The Court,” was moderated by Maverick Carter, the CEO of SpringHill Entertainment and the business partner of Bosh’s former Miami teammate LeBron James.
Bosh said he went to the CES event to meet with people and leverage some business relationships.
“I don’t know what’s going to come out of it,” Bosh said. “But we’re here.”
Bosh had his 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons cut short at the All-Star break after the discovery of blood clots. He missed the last 30 games of the 2014-15 season because of the first known occurrence of the clot issue, and the last 43 games – including playoffs – last season after a second separate situation.
Bosh said “there’s still a lot of things” that he has to figure out.
“I’m still learning more about myself and my situation, and really off the court how to function there because I’m kind of getting the taste of retirement now,” Bosh said. “Just trying to navigate those waters because it gets a little complicated sometimes. … Hoping one day that the stars align and I figure some things out and things kind of just go my way and I’ll be able to do what I want to do. I don’t know what that is yet.”