A Busy Night in the NBA, Broken Down

Yesterday had an unprecedented amount of noteworthy things occur, in a variety of ways. LeBron came back somewhat unexpectedly, the Sixers man-handled the Warriors on the low, and of course, the Knicks dealt the best player they’ve drafted in a generation for a low-tier point guard and cap space. Without any more introduction, here is each of those stories in more depth.

A King’s Return

LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career in last night’s game against the Clippers, an overtime game in which James played 40 minutes for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. One question, though: How irresponsible can the Lakers be? LeBron is coming off the most significant injury of his long career, at a point in his life where he’s up against Father Time now more than ever. LeBron is 34, and there’s more reason for precaution now than there has been so far.

Look around. Dwyane Wade is on his final year, and is a shell of himself. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even good enough for the Bulls to keep him. LeBron can’t be looking at the people around him from his own draft class and think that it’s no big deal. Nick Collison is having his jersey retired. Chris Paul, who was drafted two years later but is only a year younger, can barely stay on the court for more than a month at a time, and was injured for the most important game in his career. Sure, LeBron is superhuman, but he is human. For a team that has aspirations to trade for Anthony Davis, they can’t mess around like this.

What happens if they trade all of the young players for AD and LeBron pulls a hammy? All you’ve got left Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Javale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. That’s your supporting cast for Anthony Davis.

Maybe LeBron was further along in his recovery than previously thought, but even so, if you have to lose one game against the Clippers to ease him back in, then so be it. While the Lakers won this game, they could have probably still done it if LeBron played just over 30. And even if they did lose, what’s the matter with that? The Clippers are a fine loss compared to some of the teams the Lakers lost to while LeBron was out. Maybe they needed to stop the bleeding, ASAP, but LeBron is going to need to be healthy for the playoffs, and 40 minutes a night on his first game back from the most severe injury he’s ever had, at age 34, is simply not worth it. This ended up pretty preachy, but who the hell cares. The Lakers are a very poorly run team at the moment and they need to wise up or risk being mediocre again with an injured LeBron, AD, and a gang of nobodies around them.

Mr. Brown’s Wild Ride

In the Sixers’ 113-104 win against the Golden State Warriors, Ben Simmons played what HC Brett Brown referred to as his best game in the NBA thus far. While he had a game that was undoubtedly fantastic, it was a pretty uncharacteristic stat line. We tend to imagine good Simmons games as 20+/10+/10+ since he’s so proficient at the various responsibilities he has, but Simmons had a fantastic scoring game, himself, while still initiating for others as he went for 26/8/6. Simmons and Embiid had 26 points each, and Curry and Durant combined for 66.

One extremely noticeable aspect of this game was Jimmy Butler’s struggle offensively. Nevertheless, he had a huge impact on the game down the stretch, making strong defensive plays and exploiting the gravity he creates on the court to dime up others.

Another very palpable facet of this game, as an individual observer and Sixers fan/writer, was how hard Brett Brown out-coached Steve Kerr. The lineups, as well as the elevated play of the whole bench, made life consistently difficult for nearly everyone on the court besides Steph Curry, and even he struggled in the 4th quarter.

Playing through your center is hard late in the game, and Brown’s recognition of the mismatches down low and playing Klay Thompson’s absence allowed Embiid plenty more room to work than he normally is allowed. He was fed the ball, allowed to take Cousins to work, and continued to get fouled which helped the Sixers keep the Warriors at arms length.

As I said, the role players really stepped up tonight, but Brett Brown’s ability to put out lineups that gave Embiid and Simmons rest (keeping them fresh in the final 5 minutes), without sacrificing defense or scoring, was an integral part of this win for the Sixers. Brown got to ring the bell after the game, as even the players recognized the impact his decisions had last night.

The Knicks Fucked Up

I really don’t have a clever title for this one. The Knicks fucked up, plain and simple. They gave up the best player they’ve had since Patrick Ewing who was still young and capable of improving for Dennis Smith Jr., a mid-tier point guard even within his own draft class, and salary matching contracts who they don’t even intend on keeping. All of this in hopes of establishing enough cap room to potentially sign two max free agents this summer. There’s only one problem, and that’s the fact that no free agents probably want to touch that shit-show of an organization with a 10-foot pole.

Sure, maybe the Knicks draft Zion, and sure Kyrie Irving could change his mind about staying in Boston, and sure if Golden State somehow doesn’t win the title this year KD might leave, but I’m saying right now: none of that is worth it. First of all, the Knicks might not get the no.1 overall pick. Second of all, Kyrie isn’t good attractive enough to attract other FAs to follow him if he goes. Third, GSW is most likely going to win the title, meaning KD is most likely staying the fuck in place.

Think about the kind of stuff that has to happen for the Knicks to have justified this trade. Golden State has to lose in the post-season (LOL), Kyrie has to decide he wants to leave a franchise that gave him so much free reign, AND the Knicks have to win the lottery. And even if KD does decide to leave (again, extremely unlikely if GSW wins) what makes NY think that KD would be interested in playing there? They’re such a mismanaged team it’s unbelievable. He wants to go somewhere he can keep contending for titles, and while the East is weaker, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Kyrie, KD, and a bunch of goons is any more prepared to win a title than Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, or Philly.

Long story short, the Knicks need to get rid of that entire front office if this doesn’t work out. If your name isn’t Zion Williamson, David Fizdale, or whatever free agent ends up going there (if any) you should be on the chopping block. There is absolutely no reason for this team to keep the daydream of cap space alive just because they’re New York. Brooklyn is a team that can capitalize off of a big market. The Knicks are so shitty that being in New York basically doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just think about that.

Anyways, this became a longer, more rant-y piece than I originally intended. But hey, when a lot of stupid teams do stupid things while the Sixers are turning up, I guess I have a lot to talk about.

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Anthony Davis Requested a Trade. What’s Next?

It didn’t take long for NBA Twitter to catch fire when news came that Anthony Davis was not intending to re-sign with the Pelicans, and was requesting a trade out of New Orleans. As the internet exploded with memes and speculation about his destination, one aspect of the story stood out to me. The Brow wants to win titles. This makes the trade speculation a lot more interesting, as it puts an unusual constraint on his potential landing spots.

This is not to say, of course, that this isn’t typical of stars that demand trades, but rather it’s abnormal in the sense that AD has made clear that winning championships is what matters, not money.

With that in mind, I began to wonder what other teams might be interested in taking a gamble on AD, specifically teams that haven’t already received a lot of attention as potential trade partners for New Orleans. For one thing, the Lakers could get outbid pretty easily, despite their more agressive interest in the trade. Another problem with the usual suspects is Boston, who can’t make a trade until Kyrie Irving is on a new contract (or is involved in the deal, which is also unlikely).

So unless the Lakers clear house, or the Celtics turn this into a waiting game, there are definitely other teams worth exploring as landing spots for AD. There are some important things to keep in mind when thinking this through, however. First, the path to a title, both now and in the immediate future, is easier in the East. Second, teams must be in need of AD’s services, both positionally and skill-wise, to really be interested in making a move here. Third and finally, do these teams have the resources to get this trade done? I can think of a few, but some are far more likely than others.

The Toronto Case

The first team that came to mind as a dark-horse trade destination for AD was the Toronto Raptors. First of all, the team has depth at center, but no absolute killer out there. Unlike Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and some others that fit the bill, Toronto could certainly benefit from having Anthony Davis both short and long-term. Would Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, and a pick get the deal done? Would Toronto be comfortable with that? Serge Ibaka is an interesting candidate, but his salary makes him harder to move and/or balance with New Orleans, and as a home-grown guy, I’d rather keep JV if I could.

If I were New Orleans, I would certainly be trying to get Pascal Siakam in the deal, but he has proven so valuable as a role player this year that I doubt Toronto would be super interested in moving him. With that said, a starting 5 of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam, and AD would be one hell of a team on both ends of the court. Not to mention having such strong presences off the bench like Fred Van Vleet, Ibaka or Valanciunas assuming one doesn’t end up in the trade, and other competent role players to back them up, this sounds like a title team to me.

Not only would they be instantly a defensive bastion, but the on-court fit is better than you would probably expect as well. Kawhi and Danny Green are both efficient floor-spacers, Kyle Lowry is an assist machine, and Pascal Siakam can do more or less whatever you need at the 4. If I were AD, I’d be thrilled at this. No player on this team has an ego, it would be very easy to come in and be instantly embraced by the city and team, and that team could win a title this year and down the line as well.

The one downside to this for the Raptors is potentially disrupting the home-grown talent and culture guys that they have. But with a player like AD, I think that’s a chance you take.

The Portland Case

Another team that interested me in this thought process was Portland. They’ve been overdue to shake things up for a while, and they are a team that really is just one player away from being a contender, even in the West. The Trailblazers could try to move CJ McCollum, who for all of his struggles this year is definitely a player of value. He’s not enough to get the deal done straight up though, despite their near identical salaries.

Nurkic is also an interesting asset, and trading a center for a center would make the position fit easier, as well. It would be tough for Portland to get this deal done without digging into their depth a bit, but their depth isn’t going to push them above the 4th seed at best this year.

It’s been time for this team to try and push their ceiling up, and this would certainly be a good way to do it. AD is a top 5 player on both ends of the court, and with floor spacing that Damian Lillard and the other powerhouse shooters like Seth Curry and Meyers Leonard provide, AD would have all the room in the world to work down low. A starting 5 involving Dame, Aminu, AD, and players to fill in the gaps off the bench like Curry, Turner, Leonard, and Collins, I could see this rotation of guys making a strong run this post-season. The problem would be filling in the gaps at SG and SF, depending on who is involved in the trade, and what Portland gets back. Regardless, this team is well-suited to take in AD and instantly become a contender.

The Clippers Case

This final one is easily one of the least likely, as the Clippers have made clear their interest in Kawhi Leonard this off-season. However, they are easily capable of making moves that would open up two max slots in their cap room, and part of that could be made possible through an AD trade. Although Davis has stated money isn’t important, I can’t imagine playing in LA isn’t at least slightly alluring. Plus, he gets to do it without all of the drama and sacrifice that involves playing with LeBron and for the Lakers in general.

That is all an aside, though. The real question is, how much depth does LA have to cough up in order to get this deal done? The easy part is matching salary. They have plenty of players of varying skill levels on various size deals, all or most of whom are perfectly fair value. Would NOP be interested in Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari, and some picks? As cruel as it would be to make Tobias Harris move again, he is also an undoubtedly valuable piece on a very solid contract. Getting Gallinari off the books makes more sense, however, as it alleviates more cap room as well as providing a very convenient opening at small forward for one, say, Kawhi Leonard.

As young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continue to improve, this starting 5 would only increase their ceiling even after adding two top 5 players in their prime. SGA, Lou Williams, Kawhi, Harris, and AD would be one heck of a lineup with plenty of upside and room for improvement. The best part of the Clippers is they have so many functional and valuable players, but none that are irreplaceable. This is a well-coached, consistent, and professional team that would be a prime landing spot for any marquis talent, but it would specifically would be a great spot for AD given LAC’s future plans and current situation.

The Conclusion

While I think it’s fun to imagine AD in green or yellow (actually now that I think about it, that’s the least fun thing I could do) there are certainly other interesting options that not only fit the bill for AD to go there, but also have interesting options as a return for New Orleans. If I were the Pelicans, there are certainly players I’d value on the teams I mentioned above more than I’d value any combination of Kuzma, Ball, Hart, and Ingram. So cheers, we’ve begun the next great NBA trade saga, so now all we have to do is wait.

Simmons, Embiid Shine as Sixers Win an Absolute Thriller

In a late game surge that involved two 4-point plays, multiple defensive stops, and clutch time management, the Sixers slid in a W against San Antonio tonight.

Embiid posted a 33 point and 19 rebound double-double, and Simmons put up 21 with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for the triple-double. Notable was the team’s strong shooting tonight, making a collective 17 3-point shots from 7 different players, including 10-day player Corey Brewer, who started for Butler who sat tonight. Simmons made a couple cute turnaround jumpers and hooks, which helped him tack points on from further out.

The young fellows came up big tonight to pick up the slack left from missing Butler.

The team as a whole, but specifically Embiid and Simmons, came up strong defensively late in the game against one of the most efficient shooting teams in the league, and kept turnovers to an absolute minimum for the night.

The Sixers are now 3-1 in their hell stretch against teams with winning records, now winning 2 in a row at home before they take on a 4-game West Coast swing.

Coming out with a win tonight was huge, as the Spurs are one of the most well-coached teams in the league, and they play a very unique type of basketball in the current NBA. For all of their flaws on defense, one of the Sixers’ strengths in that regard is their ability to force their opponents into taking mid-range shots. The only problem is, the Spurs make those shots. Up and down the entire roster are players who not only survive but thrive in the mid-range, specifically Aldridge and DeRozan, with some deadeye 3-point shooters like Bryn Forbes, to boot.

Additionally, leaving with a win despite not having star forward Jimmy Butler in the rotations was big for the team. Not only were they short a man, as they almost always are, but they were simultaneously working Corey Brewer into the lineup and into a starting spot during a 10-day contract. Thankfully, Brewer and the rest of the bench have stepped up so far, which has made the occasional night off or bad day for the Big 3 easier to work through.

VLOG: CourtSide Goes to the Duke Game

University of Pittsburgh hosted #2 Duke today (1/22/19) at the Petersen Events Center. So many students bought tickets that nearly 700 (!) did not get a student section ticket to the game. Here’s the vlog with highlights of CourtSide editors CoolGuy and the VP heading to the Oakland Zoo for the game, including topics such as Zion et al‘s Draft stock, NBA fit, Pitt HC Jeff Capel hosting the Master, and of course, our gambling picks for the game!

Apologies for the shaky camera work. It was cold!

The final score was 79-64 Duke. Prior to this game, Zion Williamson is averaging almost 22 points per game on 66% field goal shooting, and 26% from 3-point range. Duke as a whole averages north of 89 points per game, contrasting to Pitt averaging 76 points per game. Duke is 15-2 (4-1 ACC), and Pitt is 12-6 (2-3 ACC) in the first meeting between these two schools since former Duke assistant coach and recruiting specialist Jeff Capel left to pursue a Head Coach position at Pitt. Whether or not Capel has any special intel on Coach K or the team, we cannot know, but watch the vlog to hear our takes on it!