Detroit bucks prevailing wisdom and completes some deadline-week deals that may strengthen its future
POSTED: Mar 28, 2016 12:46 PM ET
Tobias Harris is one of several players Detroit added at the trade deadline to strengthen its 2016 playoff push.
In This Week's Morning Tip
The trade deadline neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed.
There are never as many trades as fans hope. They listen to all the nonsense in the weeks leading up to the deadline, as teams and agents leak info that is advantageous to them and their clients to their favorite reporters, who pass them along in the insipid internet race known as the Click Bait 500. Every year the deals that actually get done are the ones no one knew about; once a "rumor" reaches critical mass it almost never comes to fruition.
There were some trades that could help contending teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers getting Channing Frye, the Los Angeles Clippers getting Jeff Green) and push teams currently on the outside of the playoffs looking in (Markieff Morris to the Washington Wizards and the Memphis Grizzlies getting Lance Stephenson).
But this year was disappointing if only in comparison to 2015, when the last hour before the deadline produced a dozen trades, with big names, in every division.
2016 Trade Deadline Recap
NBA TV's Sekou Smith talks about the lack of movement at the trade deadline compared to last season.
This year, most teams kept their powder dry, for different reasons. First, most expect to be players in July, with the explosion of new TV dollars kicking in and pushing the cap up past $90 million for the 2016-17 season, even higher than the projected $89 million the league had previously established. More than 20 teams will have enough cap space to be able to make a run for at least one max-salaried free agent. So if Kevin Durant's universe of potential destinations is only a handful of teams, the second- and third-tier free agents, who have always had to wait their turn, will be at the front of the line this year.
Second, with so many teams jumbled up in the improved Eastern Conference, there are a lot more teams still in the playoff race. Only five games in the loss column separate the third-place team in the East, Boston, from the ninth-place teams, Detroit and Washington. Other than Philly and Brooklyn, no one is in full rebuild mode. So veterans who may have otherwise been sent packing for future picks stayed where they were.
Third, everyone remained a little uncertain of what will happen when the gates open in July, and all that money floods the system. Teams wanted more time to game plan their potential moves once the bell rings.
And fourth, frankly, was the league-wide fear of the Golden State Warriors.
Many teams didn't see the point of adding long-term salaries in a season where Golden State is so dominant, and the chance of beating the Warriors in the regular season or playoffs is so slim. Better to wait to make moves after the season.
"The Warriors have essentially turned off everyone's percolators," one general manager texted last week.
Inside The NBA: Trade Deadline Recap
TNT's David Aldridge recaps the happenings around the trade deadline, while Kenny and Charles weigh in.
It was surprising that the Atlanta Hawks didn't pull the trigger on any deal for point guard Jeff Teague. With Al Horford set to be an unrestricted free agent in July, they did the right thing and gauged his value around the league, asking for the moon -- multiple firsts and a young foundation player. No one bit, but Atlanta was right to ask. (The Hawks still have a very good chance of re-signing Horford this summer.)
Teague, though, was another matter, the Hawks' current front office seemingly more comfortable with the guy they picked, Dennis Schroeder, going forward.
An All-Star just a year ago, with a very reasonable contract (one year left at $8 million) going forward, Teague was the player that should have brought back something or someone of value for Atlanta. But the Bucks -- who signed Teague to the $32 million offer sheet in 2013 that the Hawks matched -- weren't interested in moving Khris Middleton to Atlanta for Teague, per league sources. Atlanta, though, still figures to be a player in free agency this summer.
Only one team bucked the prevailing wisdom.
Instead of saving cap space for the Summer of '16 and beyond, the Pistons went all in for right now, continuing a trend they began at this same time last year by getting Reggie Jackson from Oklahoma City as part of a three-team trade, and continued last summer by getting Marcus Morris from the Suns.
The Starters: Trade Deadline Losers
Who came out on behind on this important day? The Starters break it down as part of their hour-long Trade Deadline Special.
By adding Tobias Harris from Orlando and Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton from Houston last week, Detroit sopped up $20 million in 2016-17 cap space, for two players (Thornton is a free agent this summer) who may not start next season. (The deal is still pending the Pistons passing Motiejunas on a physical; there are concerns about his back, and Detroit received an extension from the league until Monday evening to decide whether it will keep him or void the trade.)
With Andre Drummond set to get a max extension before next season, the Pistons have made their bed. They'll roll with Jackson, whom the Pistons signed to an $80 million extension last summer, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Harris, rookie Stanley Johnson, Motiejunas and Aron Baynes, signed last summer, for the next two or three years.
It's a gamble. But it's not by accident.
Stan Van Gundy decided quickly that it would be easier to get a young base around Drummond through trades than through free agency. There would be no nine-figure deals for free agents like Rashard Lewis, as there were when Van Gundy was in Orlando and the Magic were building around a young Dwight Howard.
The Pistons have stuck to their guns in other ways, too. They wouldn't give up their 2015 first-round pick to Oklahoma City in order to get Jackson, and that pick became another asset in Johnson. Meanwhile, Miami gave the Suns two first-rounders for Goran Dragic, Boston sent a 2016 first to the Suns for Isaiah Thomas and Phoenix sent a Lottery pick to Philly as part of the three-team deal with the Sixers and Bucks that brought Brandon Knight to Phoenix and sent Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee.
"I think for us, quite honestly, you've got to know who you are and where you are," Van Gundy said Friday. "We knew when we came, or had a pretty good idea when we came, our chances were the Draft, which you only get one or two a year, and trades were going to be better for us. Especially in a summer where basically everybody is going to have money. We're not at the point yet -- we haven't won enough yet, established enough yet, quite honestly -- where we're going to be at the top of the (free agent) list. So we're going to end up overpaying for lesser players, is where we thought we'd be. And we got a chance to get really good players in trades. It fit exactly what we thought was the best path for us and the best strategy for us."
The Starters: Why Wasn't Dwight Dealt?
Dwight Howard was clearly on the block, so, why didn't anyone acquire the 8-time All-Star?
After Van Gundy unsuccessfully tried to build a base of talent on the fly through free agency when he arrived in Detroit in 2014 -- giving big bucks to Jodie Meeks ($19 million) and signing Aaron Gray, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin -- the organization shifted tactics.
"It's what we thought going in, but it was confirmed by two summers of free agency, too," Van Gundy said. "What we look for are guys that are under contract or that we can get under contract. Not the guys who are going to be restricted free agents and things like that. We want guys that we have a chance to lock up. I think that's our way to build. Particularly guys that fit the timeline of our core guys. I think we've got nine guys -- Reggie Jackson, Pope, Stanley Johnson, Marcus, Tobias, Motiejunas, Andre, Aron Baynes, Darrun Hilliard -- we've got guys that we'll have under contract that are, we think, good young guys, and a chance to really build it as a core. Those are the kind of guys we're looking for, locked into contracts and everything else. I just don't think, like on Tobias, that we could get a player of his caliber at that money this summer. I don't think we can get players like that. Those are good moves for us."
It's increasingly difficult for teams to operate this way. A lot of today's newer NBA owners are determined to win the press conference with sexy, splashy moves. No offense to any of the players the Pistons have acquired, but they aren't bigger names than guys Detroit could have gone after -- and overpaid -- to come to town.
The Starters: Markieff Morris Trade
Who won this deal? The Starters break it down as part of their hour-long Trade Deadline Special.
But Van Gundy has complete carte blanche from Pistons owner Tom Gores, and Van Gundy gives great latitude to GM Jeff Bower. Van Gundy says that while he's the public face of the team, "it's kind of (expletive), to be honest, because Jeff Bower does all the damn work. Jeff and the assistant and the scouts do all the damn work, and I just go 'really? That's a good deal.'"
Detroit is betting that the explosive rise in the salary cap will make seemingly big outlays now look miniscule in couple of years. Harris is in the first year of a $64 million deal, but in two years, $16 million annually for a starting forward will probably be viewed as a bargain. And Marcus Morris is a steal at a $5 million average through 2019. Jackson didn't come cheap, but the Pistons note that they're paying him $2 million less per season than Miami is paying Dragic through the same contract length, through 2020.
What we look for are guys that are under contract or that we can get under contract. Not the guys who are going to be restricted free agents and things like that. We want guys that we have a chance to lock up.
– Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy
Drummond will cost plenty, but that's been part of the calculus. Once he is taken care of this summer, Detroit will be set. And that, of course, is the biggest gamble of all.
While other teams will add pieces through the Draft, with other teams bringing in the splashy free agents, Detroit will be locked in with this group for a while, counting on them to grow together into a contending team in the east. Jackson and Drummond are the lynchpins, and they have to not only improve individually, but figure out how to click together. That's been an issue at times this season. Caldwell-Pope, shooting just 41.6 percent (30 percent on threes) in his third season, has to become more consistent.
And if the Pistons don't pick things up, they'll miss out on the playoffs for a seventh straight year.
If that happens, we'll see if Gores continues to be as sanguine as he is now with the plan. Owners don't like missing the playoffs as many years in a row as Detroit has; it makes it hard to sell season tickets and denies them that valuable postseason gate.
Van Gundy insists they'll stick with the plan.
"We're trying to get better," Van Gundy said. "We're trying to win. We're not selling off assets, tanking games, trying to build through the Draft. But we're also not sacrificing the future to get it done now. I don't think Tom and I, either one, are very patient ... there may be some growing pains here. I hope not. But if so, we're in it for the long haul."
(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Golden State  (1-1): One hundred -- 100! -- consecutive wins in which the Dubs have led a game by 15 or more points after holding on Saturday to beat the Clippers.
2) Cleveland  (2-0): But they beat OKC in OKC on Sunday, little dude. THEY BEAT THE THUNDER! IN OKC! WITHOUT KYRIE AND SHUMP AND MO! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?
Cavaliers vs. Thunder
Kevin Love scores 29 points to help the streaking Cavaliers roll past the Thunder 115-92.
3) San Antonio  (2-1): Now 4-1 on Rodeo Trip with games remaining at Sacramento, Utah and Houston.
4) Toronto  (1-1): The Nets' GM search may have hindered talks with the Raptors before the trade deadline, but it surprised that the Raptors didn't figure out a way to secure Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn.
5) Oklahoma City  (0-2): No reason to panic, but two duds at home to begin the stretch drive.
6) L.A. Clippers  (1-1): That fist bump between Blake Griffin and Mathias Testi Thursday...let's just say TwitterWorld didn't view it quite as positively.
7) Memphis  (1-1): Shorthanded Grizz hanging in there, but the attrition has to take a toll at some point.
8) Boston  (1-1): Celtics won their 16th road game this season in Denver Sunday. They had 19 road wins all of last season.
9) Dallas  (1-1): With the style the Mavs play, David Lee could help.
Wizards vs. Heat
Hassan Whiteside scores 25 points with 23 rebounds, Luol Deng adds 27 with Goran Dragic putting in 24, and the Heat win 114-94.
11) Indiana  (2-0): Monta Ellis was 15 of 38 from the floor (39.5 percent) and averaged 9.3 points in his last four games before the break. In his first two games out of the break, he's 18 of 33 (54.5 percent) from the floor and averages 24 points.
12) Atlanta  (0-2): With Tiago Splitter out for the season with a hip injury, the Hawks suddenly look again like the undersized team that couldn't keep the Cavs off the boards in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals.
13) Charlotte [NR] (2-0): Five straight wins overlapping the All-Star break and eight of their last nine have the Bugs back in the top eight in the East, with Al Jefferson back in the lineup and pain-free.
14) Chicago  (2-1): The Bulls have never been more dependent on Derrick Rose.
15) Portland [NR] (2-0): With that backcourt, Blazers are suddenly a Draymond Green away from being ... intriguing.
Dropped out: Houston , Detroit 
Cleveland (2-0): Small sample size to be sure, but in his first two games out of the break, Kevin Love is shooting 50 percent (14 of 28) from the floor, averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds, and looks much more comfortable.
Jeb! 2016 (fourth place in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary Saturday): For the $116 million his campaign spent for just four delegates nationwide before dropping out of the race, Bush could have given somebody a max deal this summer.
How do you learn a new team, and its playbook, after you've been traded?
There is no time for Shelvin Mack to feel nostalgia. There's a playoff race going on, and his team -- his new team -- is on the outside looking in.
"It's different, kind of a challenge," he said from the Utah Jazz team bus early Monday morning, after battling Portland's Damian Lillard for 24 minutes in his first action since being sent from Atlanta to Utah for a second-round pick just before the trade deadline.
Jazz vs. Trail Blazers
C.J. McCollum scores 31 points and Damian Lillard adds 30 as the Trail Blazers beat the Jazz, 115-111.
"But I'm kind of used to it, being with the D-League, being called for a 10-day, going back," Mack said. "You're just told to stay ready. That's what comes with it. It feels great when my family supports me. It makes it easier to handle it. And also, it helps if you go to a team that welcomes you with open arms."
If nothing else, at least some of the arms in the Wasatch are familiar to Mack. His coach, Quin Snyder, was the top assistant in Atlanta in 2013, when Mack came to the Hawks after stops in Washington (which took him in the second round in 2011) and Philadelphia earlier that season. And Mack's old Butler teammate, Gordon Hayward, is one of the Jazz's young stars now.
Mack made the adjustment look easy Sunday night against the Blazers, making 7 of 11 shots from the floor for 16 points, along with six assists, and playing down the stretch instead of starter Raul Neto. But it isn't that easy.
Losing continuity cuts both ways; a new team has to get used to a new player as well. It's why some teams, like San Antonio, are extremely reluctant to make in-season moves. The Spurs' offense, every player who's been there says, takes at least a year to figure out completely.
In other places, learning a new team on the fly is equally difficult, much more mental than physical.
When coaches talk about players with a high basketball IQ, they mean someone who's adaptable, who can pick things up quickly because they've played enough basketball to know what they're supposed to do when they're on the floor, even if they don't know specific calls.
Most NBA teams run some versions of similar sets, known around the league as "floppy" or "horns" or "UCLA." So a power forward in Minnesota running floppy for the Wolves would do the same thing in a floppy action in, say, Memphis. From that standpoint, learning a new team's offense isn't that hard. But the names for those sets are different depending on the team -- what's called "floppy" on one team might be called "thumb down," on another. It takes more than a minute to get the local nomenclature.
"In the NBA, everybody pretty much kind of runs the same plays," Mack said. "You've just got to try to use your brain. Like, a 1-5 pick and roll (the point guard and the center) might be called '1-5 pick,' or just '1-5.' It's a different name, but you're kind of able to figure it out."
But there are other special plays (called, naturally, "specials") that coaches save for specific situations, like the ends of halves or games, when they have to have a bucket. Coaches have other pet plays they run out of timeouts ("ATOs," for 'after time outs'); some, like Rick Carlisle and Doug Collins and Doc Rivers, are renowned in the coaching fraternity for the quality of their ATOs.
Coaches, knowing how well-scouted the game is today, change play calls and names all the time, putting in new plays (Larry Brown was notorious for adding new plays almost every week). A tug on the tie might send a play action one way when it used to go the other way. There is always tinkering, changing, adapting. But if you've been through a training camp, with the same teammates and coaches, it's easy to absorb such changes.
You're just told to stay ready. That's what comes with it. It feels great when my family supports me. It makes it easier to handle it. And also, it helps if you go to a team that welcomes you with open arms.
– Utah Jazz point guard Shelvin Mack, on being traded midseason
The traded player doesn't have that luxury.
"My motto always was, 'have game, will travel,'" said former NBA player Tony Massenburg, who spent most of his 14 NBA seasons on the move, playing for 13 different teams -- which is believed to be the record for most teams played for in a career, a mark Massenburg shares with forward Chucky Brown.
The cliché is that a trade is a chance at a fresh start for the traded player. It can also be a dead-end.
"It affords you the opposed to get exposed, moreso than to improve yourself," Massenburg said. "One of the reasons why guys like us got traded is because we had something to offer. And when you come into those situations, you have to adjust to the difficulties."
The traded player has to get used to 12 to 14 different personalities, on and off the court, figuring out who wants the ball and who doesn't in the clutch, where they want it, and when. He has to find out quickly what the coaches want him to do.
"Am I going to be a rebounder here, or am I going to be a guy who's counted on to able to score a little bit?," Massenburg said. "Or do I have to get out on the floor and defend guys and rebound and run, do the dirty work, to get minutes? It's about adjusting to what role you have to play. That's where the exposure part comes in. If you have flaws in your game, every time you get traded, there's an opportunity for those flaws to be exposed, because nine times out of 10, you're going to be asked to do something that you weren't asked to do on that team you were on before."
It's a lesson newly traded players have to learn quickly.
Two years ago, Markieff Morris was part of the Suns' future, along with his twin, Marcus. They took less than they were likely to get as free agents to stay together in Phoenix, agreeing to split the $52 million total the Suns offered in 2014, with Markieff getting $32 million over four years, with Marcus taking $20 million over four. But the Suns traded Marcus Morris to Detroit last summer; coming after the Morrises agreed to take less to stay in Phoenix, Markieff Morris said, he felt betrayed by the organization.
Markieff Morris made it known he wanted out, but it took several months to pull it off. He was at practice with the Suns on Thursday, 10 minutes before the trade deadline, when he was called up to the front office and told he was going to Washington. He wasn't shocked.
"Being in Phoenix the last couple of years, they done pulled the trigger before with a couple of minutes to go," he said.
But in Washington, though the Wizards believe he can be part of their core going forward with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and rookie Kelly Oubre, Morris will have to get in where he can fit in. There won't be a lot of isolations and post-ups like he got in Phoenix. He will have to become a catch-and-shoot stretch four, and do better than the career 32.2 percent he's shot so far in his career behind the arc.
He had trouble with fans and teammates in Phoenix, and threw a towel at Coach Jeff Hornacek in frustration. But when the Wizards asked if he'd be worth the trouble, one of his biggest proponents, according to sources, was Hornacek, who was fired Feb. 1 by the Suns.
The Wizards started Morris' crash course by giving him a sheet with four or five plays, ones he could memorize quickly so that when he's on the court with his new teammates, he won't be quite as lost as he was in his first couple of games.
"Once we practice, I'll have a couple of guys stick around with me to go over the plays," Morris said. "Mostly just watch a bunch of film on the past couple of games. Basically, they're a pick-and-roll team just like every other team in the NBA. You pick your spots the right way and let John create for us."
At 26, Morris' has seen every pro set there is.
"Whether he's defended every set or he's played offensively in Phoenix, he's seen a lot," Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. "It's just getting the terminology. That's the hardest thing. That's the main thing. We're getting him a sheet, we'll keep it simple, three or four things as we go into (Saturday), that hopefully he can get from a name and terminology standpoint to know what it is to help him through it."
Massenburg thinks fans misunderstand why players are frequently dealt. Those constantly on the move, he says, aren't locker room cancers, or start fights in the locker room. They're guys who can handle the abrupt shift in their lives and still be productive on the court.
"I call them professionals," Massenburg said.
Despite all the movement, Massenburg was actually only traded three times during his career. But like most guys, he remembers the first one vividly.
He had been with the Clippers when they left him unprotected in the 1995 expansion draft, and he was selected by the Raptors. After breaking his foot at the end of the preseason, he returned to the starting lineup, and settled in for a long career in Toronto. The first-year team was bad, but they played hard, and he was a starting power forward in the NBA. Life was pretty good.
And then he was traded, "me and Ed Pinckney," Massenburg said, "to Philadelphia for Sharone Wright."
The Raptors were bad, but the 76ers were worse.
"That was the year before they drafted AI," Massenburg said. "Jerry Stackhouse was a rookie. Vernon Maxwell was the starting point. Derrick Coleman, this wasn't the New Jersey D.C.; this was the Philadelphia D.C., the 300-pound D.C. The 300-pound D.C. can't play on the perimeter no more. So John Lucas made the decision...he said 'to hell with it; I'm putting the best five basketball players on the floor. Because that's the only way I can win.' So I wound up playing small forward."
Of course, he had never played the three before. But that's what happens with traded guys.
"I came from Toronto, where it was kind of an international scene," Massenburg said. "I had a nice place downtown. And now I go from that to living in a temporary kind of suite arrangement. It wasn't a bad place, but it was a corporate kind of house. I had that feeling of having to uproot myself in the middle of my season. I had a dog, and I had to send the dog to my girlfriend at the time. I had got used to having my dog with me."
Mack will have to settle for Jazz assistant Mike Wells, who's giving him a crash course on Utah's playbook. It will be required reading on the plane and bus for the foreseeable future.
Knowing Hayward's tendencies will help with the transition too.
"It's someone who can come talk to me about certain situations," Mack said, "someone that I'm comfortable with. As one of the best players, I can give him what I think can help the team win. It's not like I'm a place where it might be uncomfortable for someone like that."
Steve Kerr often says that NBA players get paid the amount of money they do because they can be traded at the drop of a hat. It's the business they've chosen. And they can't stop playing just because their zip code has changed.
"It's all about what you do between those lines," Massenberg said. "Everybody there has to deal with getting traded. If you got the opportunity to play in the NBA, you have to run the risk that somebody might give you a phone call and say you have to move to another city. But if you do a poll across America, and ask them, hey, would you take that deal, the opportunity to make millions of dollars? I'm going to say most people are going to sign up for that, with no questions asked."
Attention: Adam Silver. From Chuck Reisdorf:
I am an avid NBA fan. I am 73 and watch 2 to 3 games a night. I don't get to attend many games as I live in north Wis. but love the Timberwolves. But to the subject at hand, I have a possible solution to the hack a player problem. First of all I agree it slows down the game but I also cannot see rewarding a bad free throw player. So, get rid of the last two-minute break and do the following:
Any time a player is fouled deliberately give free throws if applicable depending where he is on the court. If he is behind the 3-point line give him three free throws, if in the two point area, two free throws. This would be a minor penalty to the fouling team but would still require the player to make free throws. The fouling team would need to think first about fouling because it might or should be a good possibility they can make two out of three free throws. The offensive team could then keep their poor free throw shooter behind the line. Just a thought and am passing it on to you because you have a pretty sharp mind and if you think it makes any sense you would pass it on to someone who might listen.
That's not a good idea, Chuck. That's a great idea. You bet I'll pass it along. It gets rid of the fouling to get a team into the penalty, as we saw Houston do with Andre Drummond earlier this season, and it indeed would make it, potentially, less valuable for the fouling team to foul a guy 80 feet from the basket. You could still do it, but it could cost you three points instead of two. And that's exactly what I've been advocating: increase the risk for the fouling team to hack. Thank you for writing.
Commissioner Silver: Hack-a-Player Rule
Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the "Hack-a-Player" rule and says changes might be forthcoming.
Can't We All Just Get Along? From Kelly Slattery:
Phil Jackson has made his priorities clear in his search for a new coach. Firstly, he wants someone he (and the rest of the staff) can have an open, collaborative working relationship with. Secondly, he wants someone with a familiarity with and willingness to work with the Triangle offense. Now as far as the Triangle goes, the best candidates would be Luke Walton, Brian Shaw or the incumbent Kurt Rambis. However although the Knicks have improved on defense this year, they have been regressing recently. So I'd think defense is also a priority, and for that you can't go past Tom Thibodeau.
One solution could be to hire Thibs and then have either Walton (probably a reach), Shaw or Rambis play a lead role as an offensive coach. Obviously this could be challenging as far as egos and relationships are concerned, which as Jackson has made clear, must be open and collaborative. Considering how things ended in Chicago for Thibs, do you think Phil, Thibs and either Walton, Shaw or Rambis could work together in this way?
One unwritten though absolutely true rule of putting a coaching staff together is never hire a guy with whom management could easily replace you. So I doubt Thibs would be okay with Walton or Shaw, former head coaches, on his bench. (I would assume that Rambis wouldn't go back to being an assistant after finishing this season as interim head coach, but I could be wrong.) This is going to come down to how hard Jim Dolan pushes Phil to expand his universe of potential long-term replacements, and look at people he doesn't know personally or that have worked for him in the past.
One Giant Leap for Mankind. From Stefano Lago:
I'll keep it very straight and short: is there any metrics or anything to compare the jumping performances of Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon versus the guys that compete in the Athletics disciplines in the Olympic Games?
I was just wondering! Because to be honest (ok I'll get some hate here), after having watched the 'Nique/Jordan VS LaVine/Gordon comparisons, to me it is clear that times have changed and that great, historic dunk contest can finally be put to rest and now the bar has been set way higher for the decades to come.
Dunk Contest Duel
Re-live the historic showdown between high-fliers Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon from the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest from All-Star Saturday.
I'm sure you're referring to the ESPN Sports Science report that claimed Gordon's leap would have won the gold medal in the high jump in the London Games. I have no idea if he could do so if he changed disciplines, but certainly his and LaVine's athletic abilities would be transferrable to other sports at a high level. As for whether their dunk contest was better than MJ/'Nique...well, I suspect that will fall along generational lines. I'll roll with Michael and Dominique.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and proof that this is, indeed, a fake dinosaur to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(last week's averages in parentheses)
1) Stephen Curry (27 ppg, 3 rpg, 7 apg, .447 FG, .833 FT): Any chance he can fill in at center for a few games?
2) Kawhi Leonard (DNP: missed the Spurs' first three games out of the All-Star break with a sore calf).
3) Kevin Durant (28.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3 apg, .489 FG, .833 FT): Says he had to think about his own game a little more while rehabbing following foot surgeries last year, and it's paid off: 41 consecutive games scoring 20 or more points after dropping 26 in the loss to Cleveland Sunday.
4) Russell Westbrook (21.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 14.5 apg, .531 FG, .875 FT): Just goes to show you: this brought the Thunder within 66-62 of the Cavs in the third quarter Sunday. Cleveland followed it up with a 29-7 run. Basketball.
5) LeBron James (25 ppg, 8 rpg, 10 apg, .537 FG, 1,000 FT): Per the NBA, if James finishes the season at his current average of 25 points per game, he'll become the first player in league history to average that many points per game in 12 consecutive seasons. James has averaged 25 or more since his rookie season, 2003-04, when he averaged 20.9 points per game for the Cavs.
51 -- Career high in points by Portland's Damian Lillard in the Trail Blazers' rout of the Warriors Friday. Lillard was not named to the All-Star team by fans or coaches this year; one senses Dame will not be forgetting that any time soon. After dropping 30 on Utah Sunday, he's scored 30 or more in four straight games -- the first Blazer to do that since Clyde Drexler.
Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard scores a career-high 51 points with seven assists and six steals to beat the Warriors on Friday night.
6,999 -- Career rebounds for Kobe Bryant, who is now one short of the 7K mark after grabbing four boards during Sunday's loss to the Bulls. (Good to see the Chicago love for the Mamba in his final appearance in the Windy City.)
233 -- Career NBA games for Jimmer Fredette, the former Lottery pick who will be brought up by the Knicks on Monday from their NBA D-League affiliate in Westchester.
1) Are you not entertained? Rumble, Young Brow, Rumble! New Orleans is five and a half games out of the last playoff spot in the west; isn't there something we can do, someone we can call, to figure out a way to get Davis in the postseason?
Nightly Notable: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis pours in 59 points and hauls down 20 rebounds in the Pelicans 111-106 win over the Pistons.
2) Good on ya, NBA refs, for having a sense of humor reading Mean Tweets a la Jimmy Kimmel on the @OfficialNBARefs account.
3) One last thing from All-Star weekend: got to give dude some love for the rim-rocker in jeans!
4) I know absolutely nothing about NASCAR (though my kids, somehow, know a lot). But that was some finish at Daytona Sunday for Denny Hamlin to win his first 500 by four inches over Martin Truex, Jr. It always amazes me that there isn't a 17-car collision on every lap of every race. Those drivers really are great athletes.
5) If there is a God, this will lead to a whole live show.
1) Nothing against Sean Marks, who is smart and earnest and capable, and comes from the Spurs Family Tree. I get that he'd be an attractive candidate for anyone and that the Nets would like some of that Spurs structure in their organization. But there are so many veteran executives around the league who have toiled for much longer than Marks -- who joined San Antonio's front office just three years ago -- and who have been involved with winning organizations as well, who never get as much as an interview. And this starts with men of color. After Billy King's ouster in Brooklyn there are only three African-American men in charge of NBA teams in a management capacity -- Doc Rivers, who has final say with the Clippers; Dell Demps, the General Manager in New Orleans, and Milt Newton, the GM in Minnesota -- along with Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri, the Raptors' GM. Why can't Troy Weaver, the assistant general manager for the Thunder since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, get an audience with more teams? Why isn't Scott Perry -- the assistant GM in Detroit during much of the Pistons' dominant run (six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances, one title, two Finals) last decade, and now assistant GM in Orlando -- on more teams' short lists? Ed Tapscott was directly responsible for getting Time Warner Cable Arena, the Hornets' building and the site of next year's All-Star Game in Charlotte, constructed while COO of the franchise then known as the Bobcats. He created the team's regional sports network. He's been an executive with the Knicks, and was the Wizards' interim head coach for most of the 2008-09 season. He's now Washington's Director of Player Programs. Is there someone else out there with as deep and diverse a resume? The NBA can, rightly, be proud of its record over the years with regard to diversity and giving opportunities to minorities -- the league has consistently received the top grades of all the major sports from Richard Lapchick's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. But there's been some slippage in front office searches over the past few years. There haven't been many people of color getting interviews. The emphasis on analytics-based front office evaluators is a given and won't end any time soon. But the reality is most African-American executives don't come from that wing of the basketball community. Their backgrounds primarily come as former players and coaches. And those skill sets, relationships and experiences should not continue to be ignored the way they're increasingly ignored by owners.
2) I pray that none of us have to give a speech of remembrance and love that Monty Williams had to give last week at the service for his wife, Ingrid. But if we do, I hope we can come close to delivering words of such simplicity, power, forgiveness and hope. May God continue to bless the Williams family during this tragic time.
3) Don't watch "Survivor," though I hope that former Kings big man Scot Pollard, one of the best quotes ever, does well on the show. But I hope more that he takes care of himself.
4) Probably not a good time to mention to the Knicks that Andrea Bargnani -- the player they acquired from Toronto in 2013 for a package including their 2016 first-round pick -- got waived by the 15-41 Nets over the weekend, right?
It was five or six years ago when Tony Parker first said the Spurs' championship window was closing. And he wasn't lying. Tim Duncan was 33, well into the back nine of his career. And while Parker was only 27 himself at the time, San Antonio's title chances, we all knew, began and ended with Duncan, the future Hall of Famer -- even though, at the time, the team had begun to gradually transfer its strengths from Duncan's post-up game to Parker's brilliant scoring and playmaking.
Now 33, the six-time All-Star and 2007 Finals MVP ceded the unofficial title of the team's best player to Kawhi Leonard last year, without rancor. It's the way of the Spurs, who constantly shift the team's alchemy, with one player after another adding to the collective skill of the group on the floor at any given moment. It's why Parker is still a vital part of San Antonio's attack, and why the Spurs suffered so much while he was slowed by a bad hamstring for much of last season. Much healthier this season, Parker is averaging fewer points -- no surprise given the emergence of Leonard and newly-signed LaMarcus Aldridge -- but is shooting a higher percentage from the floor than he has in three years.
He's planning to play one final Olympics for France, which has yet to qualify for the Summer Games in Rio. Parker has led his home country to unparalleled heights since becoming team captain in 2003: a bronze medal in the 2005 FIBA EuroBasket, the silver in 2011 -- during which Parker led the tournament in scoring -- and,finally, the gold in 2013, when France beat Lithuania. (Parker is also the all-time leading scorer in FIBA EuroBasket history.) And the Spurs aren't holding back this season, trying to chase down the Warriors; at 47-9, San Antonio is just three games behind Golden State for the best record in the league.
Another ring would be Parker's fifth in the NBA, putting him in very rare company, tying Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and other stars. The Warriors get all the attention, but the Spurs keep coming, like the undead, or a Terminator. The window is still stuck open.
Me: If you could crystalize why or how everything has come together for you guys so far, what would be the biggest thing?
Tony Parker: Well, I think we're always self-motivated. I think as a team, and especially with Coach Pop, every year we want to win the championship. There's never been a year that we were like, 'oh, we took the year off,' or we didn't work as hard. Everybody is working hard. But I think the fact that we changed half the team, you've got LaMarcus and David West coming in, it gives you that extra motivation to try and win the championship for them. They chose the Spurs to try and win a championship, a little bit like Michael Finley when he came in '06, and those examples. It's always nice when you have those guys putting their trust in you to come with you and try to do it again.
We have no problems in San Antonio. The ego problem has never been an issue, since the David Robinson days ... It's never been an issue. We don't care about that. We want to win a championship. We look at the big picture, and that's what's important.
– Spurs guard Tony Parker
Me: But you've paced yourselves in previous years. If you lost regular season games, you didn't really care. This year it appears you're going all-out during the regular season.
TP: It changed a little bit this year. I think what happened to us last year, we were in second place, and one game put us back to sixth. I think it changed a little bit of our mentality. In the west it's tough to win three series, or four series, and get to the Finals on the road. I think this year, we decided to start very fast. We're not taking as many games off. We're playing the back to backs. I think we realize that our window is closing and so we want to make sure we don't waste an opportunity. So this year we've been very focused against everybody, even the small teams. We want to try to beat them by 20 and 30 and rest the starters. We've been very focused every game.
Me: There seems to be some urgency, and I wonder if that's the Warriors putting pressure on everybody to make sure they get their guys as much rest as possible.
TP: Definitely. We've been very focused on it. We don't mess around. We've been improving. We've been very focused.
Me: When LA came, you all said that he would have to adjust to the way you play as much as you needed to adjust to him. How has that come along?
Spurs vs. Suns
Tony Parker scores 22 points and dishes four assists as the Spurs beat the Suns, 118-111.
TP: He's doing great. He's been great, coming in and respecting Coach Pop and the Big Three and the things we've established, almost to a default, I think. Because he was a little bit too unselfish. I feel like the last month, we understand that if we were going to go anywhere, he needs to be dominating and he needs to play very well. He's been playing great lately. I think it's just going to get better and better, and we need him like that.
Me: Did it take you any particular period of time to figure out where he wants the ball and where he likes to shoot?
TP: A little bit. But he's a great player. He'll adapt; I'll adapt. I feel like our pick and rolls together are becoming really, really good, and we can still improve. We're going in the right direction offensively.
Me: Watching him and Kawhi become the guys on this team ... well, everybody's got an ego. How does that transfer from the guys who've been the leaders over all these years to them?
Spurs vs. Lakers
Tony Parker scores 25 points as the Spurs defeat the Lakers 119-113.
TP: We have no problems in San Antonio. The ego problem has never been an issue, since the David Robinson days, David to Timmy, Timmy to Manu, Manu to me and now to Kawhi and LA. It's never been an issue. We don't care about that. We want to win a championship. We look at the big picture, and that's what's important.
Me: You're going to play for France this summer?
I think we realize that our window is closing and so we want to make sure we don't waste an opportunity. So this year we've been very focused against everybody, even the small teams. We want to try to beat them by 20 and 30 and rest the starters. We've been very focused every game.
– San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker
Me: What was the process of making that decision, with your wife due to give birth during the qualifying tournament?
TP: Because we had a great discussion, with my wife. I've been playing for the national team for 15 years, and it was kind of weird to tell myself my last game was last year. It would be weird if I decided not to play this summer. So we both came to an agreement, like let's finish on a good note, so I can really enjoy my last summer, really enjoy the last time playing in France for the national team. As long as I don't miss the birth, I'll be fine. It'll be a lot of travelling back from Asia, because we're playing in the European qualification, the U.S. and France and Brazil. So it'll be a lot of flying. But it's worth it. And it's my last summer. I've been saying for the last three years that my last one will be Brazil, the Olympics. I just want to finish on a good note. So I'm good now, and she's good.
TP: I think the national team is in great hands. I think we've got talent. Rudy Gobert is improving, and Fournier is improving. I think Nicolas Batum is going to become the leader now of that group, and I think it's in great hands. We did a lot of improvement with the national team in the last 10 years. When we won our first medal in '05 it was 50 years that a French national team had never won a medal. And in my 10 years we've won the gold medal. It was the first time in the history of French basketball. And now I've got four medals. I think we've brought France to somewhere that people can be really proud, and now they can get inspired and want to try to do better than us.
-- Warriors center Andrew Bogut (@andrewbogut), Wednesday, 4:50 p.m. Having flown Virgin America many times, I can say that Bogut's reaction to VA's energetic recitation of its safety message is not a surprise. (Check it out for yourself.)
"I was never the most confident man in the world. When I first got here, I was shy, I couldn't speak [the language], didn't know if I was going to succeed. Now you watch some of these young guys, and they come in this league thinking they belong here, they're meant for this. That wasn't me at all."
"We were close to pulling off what I would classify a big deal. But it just didn't happen. You've got to have two [teams] that want to do it. These deals are tough. They're not easy. It was not a no-brainer for us. A lot of deliberation went on over the last couple of days and we felt it something we should do. But ultimately, the other team we were dealing with just did not want to do it, and I certainly understand why. It's a tough call."
-- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, during an interview with Boston radio station WEEI on Friday, discussing a potential blockbuster trade that fell apart just before Thursday's trade deadline. Of course, only Ainge knows (for now) exactly who the player involved was, though speculation over the weekend centered on Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor.
"I'm a competitor. Obviously, that team fired me. They didn't think I was good enough to lead them going forward. That's their loss. I'm in a better place, I'm working with better people. So I don't go in there with any animosity at all. They gave me a great opportunity, and as an owner you have the right to get rid of people whenever you want. And that's the decision they made. Ever since I got fired, what's happened in that time speaks for itself."
--Nuggets Coach Mike Malone, to the Denver Post, before his team played in Sacramento, where Malone was coach for a little more than one season before getting fired in 2014 after 11 games.
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