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.

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Ghosts of Process Present

You may remember that about a month ago I wrote a piece titled The Ghosts of Process Past that highlighted the biggest mistakes throughout the history of the Sixers’ Process. Now, you may also remember that I mentioned it was the first article of a three part mini-series, and while it has taken much longer than I wished for me to get around to it, I present to you part two: The Ghosts of Process Present.

Now much like Ghosts of Process Past, I am going to avoid talking in retrospect as much as possible. What I mean by this is I am not going to be talking about why the Sixers can’t win a championship this year. With the way the league is currently constructed, it is incredibly difficult for really the 28 other teams outside of the Warriors and the new look Raptors to contend for a title this year when they are healthy. Will the journey to the Championship series be exciting? Probably, just as we saw last year’s Western and Eastern Conference Championship series each go to 7 games. But really, the Warriors and Cavaliers were both chalked up to compete in their fourth straight title series since before the season even started.

Rather, my desire is to discuss the biggest issues with how the Sixers are currently built, why these problems are taking away from them truly reaching their potential, and how it may affect them in the years to come. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 Ghosts of Process Present:

5. The Markelle Fultz Mystery

It should come to no basketball fan’s surprise that Markelle Fultz found his way onto this list. What may be a bit surprising is why I have it so low, so hear me out. Markelle Fultz’ rookie year was incredibly disappointing, and it makes it even more so because Bryan Colangelo traded up to select him with the first overall pick. With uncertainty surrounding him and the team concerning whether it was an injury or a mental issue, there have been questions circling whether or not Fultz will ever be the same since the first time he suited up for a preseason game. But the fact is the Sixers were a 52 win team without him. Sure, the Washington Markelle Fultz could have easily been the piece that turned a good team into a great team, but with the new addition of Jimmy Butler, Fultz does not need to be the guy to fill that role anymore. With all of this in mind, its fair to consider the Fultz issue as more of a “non-positive” rather than a negative.

However, there was a lot of anticipation that Fultz could have very well been ready to return in full form this year after working all summer with shot doctor Drew Hanlen. But as we all saw, Fultz clearly was not at 100% and his improved shot and mentality quickly deteriorated as the season went on. With Fultz currently out rehabbing what was officially declared as thoracic outlet syndrome, there is hope again that Fultz can come back ready to play like he did as a collegiate athlete, but it was also recently reported that Fultz may not be able to return this year at all.

Even if he never becomes the player he was supposed to be, he could very well play an important role off the bench as the team’s future sixth man if he is able to find any sort of footing in the NBA. With all of this to consider, it puts the Sixers in a very difficult situation: should they trade him or keep him? The benifits of trading him is freeing up $10 million in cap space they can use to strengthen their depth next offseason. But if they trade him for a pile of second rounders and an aging vet (which, lets be honest, is all they can get for him right now) and Fultz turns around his career, it could haunt the Sixers for upwards of a decade. It remains to be seen how the situation will turn out, but it will be incredibly interesting to see what happens.

4. Spacing

It has been about a month and a half since the Sixers traded Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and some change in return for All-Star Jimmy Butler. Since then, the Sixers are 13-4 in games Butler has played since making his debut in a Sixer’s uniform (0-2 when he sits). So there is no doubt that the trade has made the Sixers a much better basketball team. However, as much as Butler helps the Sixers, there has been one noticeable drawback from the trade: three point shooting.

Now, when you look at the team stats from three point range, there is not a glaring difference from before and after the trade. The Sixers struggled collectively from three early this season but last year they shot 29.8 3PA on 36.9% per game (29.8 3PA on 37.9% per game after the start of the New Year when the Sixers really started rolling). Since the trade, the team has been shooting 30.4 threes per game at 36.9%. While the team’s three point production has not exactly changed, it is hard to ignore trading away two of the team’s three best three point shooters for a guy who makes a living in the mid-range like Butler. Butler is currently shooting a career high 38.8% from three, but it remains to be seen if he can keep this pace up as he has only played 27 games this year. With Embiid not exactly a prolific three point shooter and Ben Simmons yet to attempt a legitamate three in his career, the Sixers lack of premier perimeter shooting could very well be exposed futher down the road like in last year’s playoff series against the Celtics.

3. The Phantom of the Process

While yes, this heading is an ode to Embiid’s self imposed nickname from last year’s playoff run, I do not mean this in a good way. Just like a phantom, or a ghost, can disappear into thin air, so can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons against the better teams in the league. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s take a look at the Sixer’s performance against the Celtics and the Raptors, the Sixers’ two biggest obstacles in the Eastern Conference, over the last two seasons. In the regular season alone, the Sixers are a combined 3-9 against these two teams (1-4 against Boston and 2-5 against Toronto). The Sixers might have won big the other night against Toronto, but the Raptors were without three of their best players in Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valencuinas. And then of course we all remember losing to the Celtics in 5 games in last years playoffs: a series in which the Celtics were without their two best players and a game where Ben Simmons could only manage one singular point.

On top of all that, with the Sixers recent win against a depleted Raptors team, they improved to a mere 4-7 against teams with a winning record this year and face 16 more teams with a +.500 winning percentage through February 12th. It will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge of the season for the team, and will show us truly what this team is all about.

Nevertheless, the Sixers are still a young team learning to grow with eachother, and I have faith they will get this issue sorted out, especially with the talent they have at the top of their roster.

2. Brett Brown Being Just… Ok

While the “Fire Brett Brown” crowd has not been as loud this year, they still exist, and they have a tad bit of a valid argument. Before I get into it, I just want to preface this by saying Brett Brown is not a bad coach, by any means. But that being said, he is not a great coach either. Now, I love Brett Brown. He has been here since the beginning of the Process and deserves every chance in the world to be able to win a title with this team. He is an excellent X’s and O’s guy, as he’s been able to develop very effective offensive and defensive systems. The Sixers were even one of the best defensive teams in the league in the middle of the Process Era led by a rookie Nerlens Noel. On top of that, the organization loves him and his players believe in him.

However, in the heat of the game, Brown is prone to some questionable rotations and even more questionable time management. Time in and time out, he fails to stop the clock, give his guys a rest, and draw up a play to get the team rolling when they are on the wrong end of long scoring runs. I would not place him in my top 10 coaches in the league and I’m not convinced he is in the top half either. With a young, inexperienced team, it is incredibly important for the team to have a coach that can guide them through close games and the playoff grind, and judging by the collapse against the Celtics in last years playoffs and their inexplicable habit of losing 20 point leads in the 4th quarter, I am not convinced Brown is that guy.

My stance? The Sixers should not fire Brett Brown, yet. While the Sixers could do a whole lot worse at the Head Coach position, I don’t think they could do a whole lot better at the moment, as there are not exactly any desireable coaches available on the market. Brett Brown is still figuring things out just like his players, so only time will tell if good ole BB can coach his guys to a long playoff run.

1. The Bench

Any Sixers fan who’s watched their fair share of games this year knows that the Sixers’ depth, or lack there of, has been a major issue. This also ties in with Markelle Fultz’ disappearing jumpshot, as his ability to create shots off the dribble is exactly what the Sixers need off the pine. Currently, the Sixers rotation includes TJ McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and more recently Jonah Bolden. Shake Melton, Demetrius Jackson, and Amir Johnson round out the reserves. While most of these players are solid rotational guys and could very well earn minutes on a majority of teams around the league, there are two glaring holes in the rotation: shot creating and rim protection.

As far as the guards go, Shamet and McConnell are the first two guys off the bench. Shake Melton and Demetrius Jackson have been getting more looks as of late, but their youth and inexperience show when they find themselves on the hardwood. Shamet has been one of the most surprising rookies in the league, going head to head with Luka Doncic for the rookie leader in three pointers made. McConnell has been a fan favorite for years with his gritty defense and incredible moments over the years, like his game winner against the Knicks two seasons ago.

But both of them come with significant draw backs. McConnell is not exactly an offensive force. He is a game manager that is great in his role, but he cannot be called upon to come off the bench and give the team a bucket. Additionally, after posting a career high in three point efficiency last season, he has taken a significant step back in that department. Shamet on the other hand is used as essentially JJ Redick lite, which is perfect on the offensive side of the ball. However, much like JJ, Shamet struggles on the defensive side, especially against more athletic players.

Furkan Korkmaz is currently the only wing coming off the bench for the Sixers, and he poses the same advantages and disadvantages as Shamet. However, he has proven that he could earn an important role off the bench come playoff time, as he has been playing more than Shamet lately.

Perhaps the biggest issue is the backups to All-Star Center Joel Embiid. Jonah Bolden, Mike Muscala, and Amir Johnson are not bad players, but none of them can effectively guard the rack. Bolden has shown some defensive upside, but much like Amir, he just does not have the athleticism to keep the other team outside of the paint. While Muscala plays an excellent stretch role at the five and four, he is a giant hole on the defensive end.

The season is far from over, and the Sixers’ roster is far from complete. I expect them to address this issue with a trade and free agency after the Buy Out Deadline, but as of now the Sixers’ bench greatly hinders the team from reaching their fullest.

Well, there you have it: The Ghosts of Process Present. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Keep an eye out for the final edition of this three part docu-series: The Ghosts of Process Future.

Early NBA Coach of The Year Candidates

Coach of the Year is always one of my absolute favorite awards, in any sport. It is a testament not only to one’s knowledge but personality, practical skills and communication as well; all of that goes in to building a winning culture. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is the variety of ways in which coaches can make a case for the award.

Many awards in the NBA are a specific recognition of excellence within very specific circumstances, such as Sixth Man or Most Improved Player, both of which essentially require you to be some area below the highest echelon of skill in the league.

Coach of the Year isn’t quite like that. It can be won through stellar management of tough circumstances, or rapid adaptation to a changing basketball landscape, or even something as simple as delivering a team their winning-est season ever. With that in mind, here are a few coaches who, thus far into the season, are making a statement to put themselves in contention for this award.

Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets:

The Denver Nuggets have been the product of one of the most dramatic culture shifts this year, and are by far the most surprising team among expected contenders. Last season, the Nuggets were among the worst in the league in defending field goals and 3-point attempts, having one of the highest opponent completion percentage for both metrics. This year, they are in the 5 lowest opponent percentage for field goals and 3-pointers. Coach Malone made a huge statement about the team’s commitment to improving on defense during the off-season, and this drastic shift proves he was dead serious. In addition to Denver’s rapid improvement on defense, the Nuggets have maintained one of the best and most stable records in the league, despite injuries to notable depth players such as Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and Isaiah Thomas, who still has yet to suit up for the Nuggets. Being able to take injuries in important role players who fulfill a variety of needs for the team, and still holding on to an elite record of 21-9, is the direct result of a team-centric culture within the roster and even better player management on behalf of Mike Malone. Taking the Nuggets from an inconsistent playoff snub, to being rock solid and potentially making a conference final appearance, is nothing short of noteworthy when discussing the best coaches this year.

David Joerger, Sacramento Kings:

The Sacramento Kings were widely expected to be the absolute worst team in the league this year. With the earlier caveat that the Nuggets were the most surprising contender, the Kings are far and away the most surprising team, period. The expectations being so low came from the talent vacuum, lack of a veteran presence, and there was really no reason for them to be in a rush to make the playoffs this year, so they should have had their sights set on developing young players anyways. They don’t have their first round pick this year if it ends up in the lottery, so they lack incentive to tank. The most important facet of the team catching people off guard is the rapid improvement of Sophomore De’Aaron Fox. The lineup lacks any tried and true stars, but in the absence of one, the Kings young back-court has been enabled to succeed. Credit where it’s due, there’s no way I’d look at that Kings roster and say, “Let’s go to the playoffs.” While an attitude adjustment from the tank to the hunt isn’t astounding, it also isn’t easy to balance making a push for a winning season with the development of young players (like 2nd overall pick Marvin Bagley III, who is injured for the moment but has made a notable impact off the bench during some of Sac-town’s surprising wins). Joerger has been controversial within his own franchise, as he’s gotten into problems with the front office structure, but I personally don’t blame Joerger for wanting delivering wins to the badly-mistreated Kings fan-base. For what it’s worth, he’s giving the current core solid run and is still doing what he needs to by Bagley, so I think the front office should back off and let the man work.

Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors:

To the best of my knowledge, no coach has won Coach of the Year in their first year as an NBA head coach (the only person would be Johnny Kerr, who won the award as the coach of an expansion team in their first year, the 33-win Chicago Bulls). Regardless, no Coach has done it in the modern era after taking the reigns on an already existing and constructed franchise. Nurse’s job would have been a lot easier without the off-season move of trading Demar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, as he would have only needed to continue doing what he did in the prior years as the team’s offensive brains. But adding a new star player, and one with extremely different skills than DeRozan, is a very difficult task. In addition to seamlessly integrating Kawhi, he’s unlocked the dormant potential in players like Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam, both of whom are integral to the depth and defensive prowess of Toronto this year. Being able to find significant production in players already on your roster, and converting them into systemic role players can change the destiny of a team for a whole season. It hurts a lot less when Kyle Lowry isn’t shooting well if Siakam is shooting 60% from the field on nearly 10 attempts per game. 538 projects the Raptors to win 59 games this year, which is the second highest projected win total in the league, and would match their record last year-which earned his predecessor Dwane Casey the award. I would say having a top 3 record and matching your team’s best record in franchise history in your first year would be grounds for some Coach of the Year votes.

Honorable Mention | Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder began this year as down in the dumps as a contender could be. The most pressing question after the team became a first-round exit last year was “What is the next step for Russell Westbrook?” For once, this question wasn’t posed with free agency in mind. At this point, the team was unlikely to keep Paul George, and still had the Melo virus to deal with. With Melo gone and George staying, Billy Donovan finally had the blueprint for a defensively strong team. While they were good on defense last year, Carmelo Anthony got hunted out. Hard. And with George staying, it became 100% clear that Westbrook would have to become a better player off-ball. While his own efficiency and production has taken a hit, relieving themselves of the stat-padding has enabled the other strong and consistent players like Paul George and Steven Adams to keep the offense moving and put more energy towards defense, as well. The Thunder, despite a losing-streak out of the gate, have a chance to win mid-50 games or so, and their play even without Westbrook has convinced me that it’s not a far cry for this team.

It’s still early yet, but Coach of the Year isn’t the kind of award you win with a long win-streak in March; it’s the kind of award you make a case for night-in and night-out through 82 games. So with that in mind, those are 4 coaches worth keeping an eye on this year.

The Other 29: 12/10/18

The last few weeks have been a stratifying force in the NBA, and while the rankings in the West are still quite complicated, there is a much greater sense of who’s fake and who’s for real across the board. So without any further ado, here is a sneak peak into the upcoming week’s notable matches in the NBA:

Grizzlies @ Nuggets: This game taking place in the Mile High city Monday night will be a battle of two teams who have exceeded expectations in the season thus far. Not only have they both made surprise appearances at the top of the Western Conference leader board, but both teams continue to make a statement on defense in ways that they failed to last year. Both teams are in the top 4 of opponent points allowed (per teamrankings.com), so you can probably bet this game will get dragged into the mud. Impact players for Memphis include the renewed Marc Gasol and early ROTY contender Jaren Jackson Jr. who have both been dynamic scorers and capable defenders down low. Mike Conley continues to show strength as a veteran 1-guard, and it makes you wonder how you forgot that this team was good when they weren’t injured. Nikola Jokic continues to be a triple-double threat every night, and the depth of scoring potential with guys like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris proves to make Denver one of the most well-rounded teams in the hunt right now. Both Denver (17-9) and Memphis (15-10) are in the playoff bubble right now but nobody in the West can spare even a single win, although it matters more for the Grizz specifically.

Trail Blazers @ Rockets: This game, which will be one of 3 games played Tuesday night, is probably the most entertaining on the docket. Both teams need to keep any and all momentum they can build, as Houston is at the 2nd lowest spot in the West (but also have the highest potential to improve out of any West team, I’d argue) and Portland is hanging on to a playoff seed by a thread. Both teams are lethal on offense, but struggle on defense, so hitting the over wouldn’t be an awful bet. Chris Paul hasn’t looked like himself much this year, making the 1-2 punch that usually is Harden and Paul more like a 1-punch, 2-open-handed slap. Nevertheless, the Rockets are back on track on offense. Dame Lillard, meanwhile, has been beasting lately putting on some performances that make me thankful I wasn’t playing against him in fantasy that week. In the past 2 weeks, Dame has averaged just under 30 PPG, which would put him 4th in the league for that time frame. Whether or not either of these teams can sustain into the post-season I can’t say, but a nice little midseason shootout would be fun.

Raptors @ Warriors: I mean, you all knew this was coming, right? The early projection for a finals preview, the last meetup between these two saw a Raps’ win at home despite Kevin Durant joining the 50+ club that night, although this time it will take place at Oracle, which is probably the most hostile arena to play in at the moment, Toronto being a close runner-up. Toronto has looked absolutely pristine on defense, as they have many well-sized, switchable disruptors and a lineup of bigs that can protect the rim. They also have that Kawhi Leonard fellow, who I’d argue plays the most disruptive, aggressive style of defense in the league that won’t get you a foul. Golden State, however, has just gotten Steph Curry back into the rotation, and when he was out, it was painfully clear how much he matters for them on the court. Klay’s efficiency plummeted, Durant was tired and taking more contact, and there was that drama with Draymond Green which came from the fact that there wasn’t a clear option to take the ball down court for the game-winner. Which, I mean, Kevin Durant is a pretty obvious choice, but I suppose without your point guard it’s a little less straightforward. This game has little implication total-wise, but it matters in team’s abilities to test out lineups and start making long-term adjustments for the post-season. Plus, the last game was a thriller.

Alright guys, that’s gonna do it for The Other 29 for this week. I’m hoping to get the finale of my Sixers’ Big 3 piece up soon this week, once finals are all sorted out and it gets a bit less hectic, so be on the lookout for that! Thanks for reading and TTP!