The continued detonation of the Philadelphia 76ers
The most important person during the trade deadline wasn’t Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love or even Danny Granger. It was first-year 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, who traded two starters and a useful reserve and wound up with Granger, a couple of fringe players and six second-round picks. That says a lot about where the league is in its third season under the new collective bargaining agreement, and not all of it is as dour as some would lead you to believe.
The short version of a longer story is that the GMs have taken over. Where once player movement may have been dictated by needy coaches or delusional owners, it seems that most teams have someone smart and capable handling the roster construction side of things. If the old-school GMs saw the CBA as an annoyance and spent their time dreaming up ways to get around the rules, the new school actually took the time to read the thing and are content to operate within its rigid structure.
Hinkie’s haul would have been considered laughable under the old way of doing business. Legit starters should bring back much more than second-rounders and warm bodies for the roster, but this is the way of the world now. Shorter contracts have devalued the expiring deal as a trade asset and GMs are hanging on to their first rounders like stock options for a hot tech startup.
Nobody wants to be the sucker who traded Kyrie Irving by accident, or the guy who gave up a pick that became Damian Lillard for a few months of Gerald Wallace. Even the Knicks appear to have gotten religion on draft picks. A little late for that, but they’ve always operated on their own learning curve.
It’s not as if nothing happened. There were 23 players traded at the deadline, including a half-dozen starting-caliber players. The market, such as it was, seemed more centered on fourth guards and backup bigs than anything resembling a franchise player.
Not that there weren’t a handful of interesting basketball trades. The Wizards plugged their backcourt hole with the exiled Andre Miller and the Warriors did the same getting Steve Blake. The Nets got younger with Marcus Thornton, the Cavs got a shooter in Spencer Hawes and the Bobcats made one of the finer under-the-radar moves of the day getting Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Bucks.
All in all, that’s not a bad bit of movement by trade deadline standards. Perhaps we all got seduced into a false sense of what the deadline is all about by 2011 when Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams were involved in blockbusters, or by 2012 when Nene and Andrew Bogut were involved in shakeup deals. Like most years, the real transactional work was done in the summer and just before the start of the season when everyone is drunk with the possibility of being tied for first.
That’s when Danny Ainge traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for a good chunk of the Nets’ future and when Ryan McDonough loaded up on first rounders and players on rookie contracts. That neither Ainge nor his protegé could make that bounty work for them at the deadline is part of the new reality, but that doesn’t mean those picks won’t be in play again this summer.
The name of the front office game is acquiring assets and flexibility. Don’t get locked into a quick fix that requires years to unwind. Keep your options open and be ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself. That front offices are being led more and more by analytic minds who seek even the thinnest value margins in every transaction makes impulse buying a relic of another age. It may not be as much fun, but few things are these days in the era of big data and market-driven analysis.
Which brings us back to Hinkie, who has taken the blow-it-up-and-start-over rebuilding process to its logical extreme. So much so that various parties tried to make a thing out of the Sixers operating below the minimum salary cap floor even though the ramifications aren’t really that important. In a way it’s a shame that he plugged that gap by acquiring Granger because the poor bastards who have put on the Sixers uniform this season deserve some kind of battle pay for getting their heads handed to them on a nightly basis.
Since taking over in Philly, Hinkie has traded Jrue Holiday, Lavoy Allen, Evan Turner and Hawes while banishing Kwame Brown and letting Andrew Bynum, Nick Young and Dorell Wright all walk in free agency with nary an objection.
It’s not as if Hinkie broke up the ‘93 Bulls. Those Sixer teams had a short run of competitive basketball before crashing and burning last season, but there wasn’t much to save and starting over from scratch was the obvious strategy. The only players left from the previous regime are Thaddeus Young, Arnett Moultrie and Jason Richardson, who hasn’t played a minute this season. (Take a moment to acknowledge poor Thad, who deserves a better fate.)
The only tangible part of Hinkie’s rebuilding effort who has actually seen the court in an NBA game is point guard Michael-Carter Williams, the presumptive frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. MCW looks like a keeper even with his sub-40 percent field goal shooting and high turnover rate, but in terms of tangible results, that’s it. Fellow lottery pick Nerlens Noel underwent knee surgery in March and is not expected to suit up until next season.
At the moment, the 76ers don’t really exist as a basketball entity. Hinkie has filled the roster with a bunch of failed former first rounders (Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Elliott Williams) and undrafted rookies (there are no less than four of them). There is no requisite veteran sage on hand to keep things real, and with Turner and Hawes gone there is no real veteran presence at all.
His best move was dealing Holiday in last year’s draft to New Orleans, a deal that got him the rights to Noel and top-5 protected pick from the Pelicans in this year’s draft. The Pels aren’t looking like a playoff team and unless they get a lucky ping pong ball, Hinkie should have two lottery picks in the loaded 2014 draft. There are no long-term commitments to worry about and the promise of millions in cap space is in their future. Hinkie cut his team to the bone and has given it an opportunity to transform itself.
That’s the easy part, relatively speaking. It just requires backing from ownership and the ability to withstand the losing. But the Sixers need players and lots of them if they are going to escape the gulag and there’s only so much you can get through the draft.
To put it another way: There’s a reason the Oklahoma City "model" is so unique. It’s really tough to nail every pick and have those players fall to you at just the right moment. We take it as an article of faith that Sam Presti owns the draft, but somebody had to decide that Hasheem Thabeet was worth the second overall pick the year James Harden was available. That’s the luck element.
At the moment, the 76ers don’t really exist as a basketball entity.
The second-round picks are valuable in a sense. If you hit on one or two of them it gives you a nice low-cost option for a few years, but there’s a reason why players like Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas are such anomalies.
By and large, second rounders are useful as trade pieces. You can’t actually trade cap space for players, there has to be something tangible on the other end of the transaction. Having a few extra picks lying around is a prerequisite for doing business. Having none is a disaster. Having eight like the Sixers is a little extreme, but it beats the alternative.
Hinkie’s greatest assets are his lottery picks and his cap space, which should allow Philly to get into the mix if and when a franchise player becomes available. It should also be noted that first-year coach Brett Brown has earned high marks for dealing with the ragtag roster and implementing an uptempo style that has given the Sixers some semblance of an identity. That’s the essence of the pitch: Come sign with us because we’re smart, young and play a fun style.
What Hinkie won’t do is what’s doomed teams like the Sixers for generations. Loading up on mid-level or even B-list free agents is a sucker’s play and puts you right back into the middling churn of mediocrity. That’s the mistake that rebuilding teams make over and over again during the warm summer months when everything is possible and nothing is real.
Hinkie used the deadline to finish the first part of the job. Now comes the hard part.
OvertimeMore thoughts from the week that was
If there was one thing the basketball media agreed on over the All-Star break -- other than the general awesomeness of Cochon Butcher -- it’s that the Indiana Pacers are going to beat the Miami Heat in the conference finals. Now, it must be said that any time a majority of sportswriters agree on anything it’s a good idea to take the opposite side, but the reasons were as follows: Dwyane Wade’s health, Miami’s aging role players, plus the Pacers’ overall improvement and the likelihood of getting home court advantage.
Wade’s health is the giant X-factor of all X-factors this postseason. No one truly knows how his knee will respond, but as Chris Bosh noted when someone asked if they could win a championship without Wade at full strength, "We did last year."
As for the Heat’s supporting cast, don’t forget that Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Shane Battier took turns saving the day and making threes in between LeBron James’ bouts of brilliance. Miller’s gone, Battier’s showing signs of wearing down and Allen’s struggling through his worst season as a pro. You still wouldn’t want to bet against either of those guys with an open look, but things seem more precarious than last season when the Heat were pushed to a pair of Game 7s en route to their repeat.
All of that supposes that Indiana will be ready come playoff time and while their record is gaudy, their play of late has been suspect. Heading into the break they dropped a game in Orlando and looked miserable in a home defeat against Dallas. A double-digit loss in Minnesota earlier this week did little to shake the feeling that a mid-season malaise has gripped the team that has gone out of its way to avoid such funks.
Going into the weekend, the Pacers’ lead in the East was down to a single game in the loss column and with a road-heavy schedule on tap through March and April, Indiana would do well to get itself back on track and quickly. To that end, Larry Bird and his front office swung for the fences with the trade that sent Danny Granger to Philly for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
This is an obvious upgrade from a talent perspective. For all his faults as a primary option -- Turner is an inefficient scorer and not much of a defender -- he’s still younger, healthier and a better player than Granger is at this stage of the game.
Turner offers another ball-handler and the promise of an offensive upgrade over Granger, along with the possibility that Vogel can use him in a couple of different lineup combinations. He can use Turner to matchup with Wade, or be part of a smaller lineup with Lance Stephenson and Paul George. Turner also provides needed depth and some insurance in case the mercurial Stephenson goes off the rails or simply goes elsewhere after this season.
Where the Pacers will feel Granger’s absence the most is at the backup small forward spot. When he came back, coach Frank Vogel noted that Granger’s size and strength would help against James in the playoffs. Granger may have been beyond that point, but that still puts an awful lot of pressure on George to carry the load both offensively and defensively. George has been struggling, making barely over 40 percent of his shots since early January.
Don’t overlook Allen. He provides more backup big man depth behind David West and Roy Hibbert and seems like a stronger bet for the postseason rotation than Andrew Bynum. Allen may also spell Luis Scola, who has been underwhelming as the first big off the bench.
There is some risk in upsetting the locker room chemistry that the Pacer players believe sets them apart from other teams. Make no mistake, the veterans loved Granger and wanted him to be a part of this season. But the bet is that West won’t let them deviate from their goals and they will move forward once things fall into place. Chemistry is often as good as the latest winning streak and if things click quickly, most of those concerns will be gone by March.
This deal had to be made. The starting five plays a ton of minutes and the most-used reserve lineup featuring Stephenson with Watson, Granger, Scola and Ian Mahinmi struggled to score points. Granger didn’t really work defensively with the starters either. They gave up more than 105 points per 100 possessions (albeit in limited minutes) when he replaced Stephenson.
The Pacers have gone all out to revamp their bench and there have been some missteps, from the questionable deal that sent Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first round pick to Phoenix for Scola to the free agent signing of Chris Copeland, who rarely plays. They got it right with C.J. Watson and are banking on a similar return from Turner and Allen.
Of all the contenders, the Pacers were the only team to make a significant move at the deadline. This is the year to make their move and even a bunch of stupid sportswriters know that.
Viewers GuideWhat we'll be watching this week
MONDAY Mavericks at Knicks
Okay, confession time. This week’s slate of games is exceptionally meh. There’s maybe one marquee matchup on the entire docket and that’s the Rockets-Clippers game on Wednesday. The rest is just a hodgepodge of have nots and wannabes. If the post All-Star game, post-trade deadline malaise had a schedule it would look like this week’s docket. Anyway, Mark Cuban will be in New York and that’s always fun.
TUESDAY Rockets at Kings
Since taking over as GM, Pete D’Alessandro has dumped Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Thornton from the team he inherited and also moved Greivis Vasquez and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute after acquiring their services. With Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams and Ben McLemore on board, the Kings are more dynamic, but they are still not ready to seriously compete in the rugged Western Conference. Rather than go the full Hinkie on his club, D’Alessandro is attempting to retool on the fly. That’s a messier process, but an obvious approach with DeMarcus Cousins already on board.
WEDNESDAY Raptors at Cavaliers
Exhibit A in the dossier against deposed Cavs GM Chris Grant was his decision to take Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas in 2011. You may remember that whoever took the Lithuanian big man would have to wait a whole year for him to come over to the states, so Grant took Thompson, who’s been fine but hardly exceptional. In hindsight, there’s not that much to distinguish between the two. Their per-36 numbers are practically identical, as are their more advanced numbers. Grant made a number of mistakes, but this decision -- at least right now -- doesn’t look like one of his worst.
THURSDAY Bucks at Pacers
It’s another New York-based TNT doubleheader featuring both the Nets (at Denver) and Knicks (at Miami), leaving us with the alternate game. The national schedule this season has been sleep-inducing thanks to injuries to Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant, as well as the relative failures of our friends from New York. If the NFL can figure out how to do flex scheduling for their Sunday night showcase, there’s no reason the NBA can’t build in extra games on Thursday night and give it a try.
FRIDAY Grizzlies at Thunder
The Grizzlies did their trade deadline work early, grabbing Courtney Lee off Danny Ainge’s discard pile back in January. Lee has been a key role player for Memphis, which continues an odd trend for him. Just six years into his career, Lee has already been on four teams and traded three times. He’s just good enough to be helpful in the right situation, but not important enough to be a core player. Lee has been very good for the Grizz, however. Since the trade, Memphis has gone 16-5 and Lee has averaged better than 13 points a game.
SATURDAY Pacers at Celtics
Danny Ainge didn’t make a big move at the deadline, which isn’t really shocking. Talks involving Rajon Rondo never got that far despite the league-wide whisper campaign that Ainge had to move him, and players like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green have longer-term contracts that make them tough to trade. Watch out this summer when Ainge will go to work with a ton of draft picks and developing players to craft the kind of blockbuster deal that could bring the Celtics back from the brink.
SUNDAY 76ers at Magic
Proving there’s more than one way to tank, the Magic have employed a slow and steady approach to their rebuilding efforts under GM Rob Hennigan. They’ve added through the draft and resisted trading their veterans for pennies on the dollar. Almost two years in, Hennigan has assembled an interesting collection of young talent. But there’s no single player he can focus the effort around. That may change this spring when the Magic should have two lottery picks: their own, plus one from either New York or Denver.
The ListNBA players in some made up category
Every year the list of buyout candidates spawns a million blog posts and breathless Twitter updates, and every year the results are lacking. Nonetheless, here’s a list of possible veterans who could hit the open market.
1. Glen Davis: Since leaving Boston, Big Baby has proven that as a starter he’d make a good bench player. He can still score a bit and grab some boards, but Davis is better in small doses and while he resisted the role in Boston, it seems oddly fitting that he’d return to it with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles. The two clashed at times, especially at the end of Baby’s tenure in Boston but he would be a huge upgrade over what Doc has behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
2. Danny Granger: Would Granger really join the hated Heat in Miami? It would make that likely Eastern Conference final matchup all the more intriguing, but it’s hard not to get a Troy Murphy vibe from a player who wasn’t even shooting 36 percent.
3. Jason Collins: Not technically a buyout candidate since he hasn’t played this season, but Collins is exactly the kind of veteran big man who often finds a home at this point in the season. His skillset may be diminished, but Collins can still set a good pick and rack up fouls with the best of them. Brooklyn and the Clippers look like the two most likely destinations.
4. Ben Gordon: Since leaving the Bulls after the 2009 season, Gordon has been an absolute disaster. His numbers have declined dramatically and he was essentially banished to Charlotte where he’s rarely played. (It cost the Pistons a first round pick to unload Gordon’s contract, which is exactly the kind of deal that doesn’t get made anymore.) Still, he’d be worth taking a flyer on since shooting is always in demand.
5. Roger Mason: How u
ICYMIor In Case You Missed It
The trade deadline is fun, but what happens to players after they get dealt? Holly MacKenzie talked to several who have had to take not only their talents, but also their lives to another location on short notice.
The machine that is Mark Deeks broke down the deadline deals from the convoluted Steve Blake trade to the big one involving the Pacers and 76ers. But the one that inspired the most head-scratching was Denver’s downgrade.
David Roth found the guys who wrote a rap about Joe Johnson. It goes like this: "Joe Johnson is an All-Star."
Also, Ziller really likes emojis.
The Drive & Kick podcast skipped the deadline and talked to Jake Appleman about his book, Brooklyn Bounce, that focused on the first year of the Nets in Brooklyn.
Say WhatRamblings of NBA players, coaches and GMs
"We’ll see how he grows. Has Kyle proven that he’s a starting point guard in the NBA? I would say yes. Has he proven that he’s a top-15 starting point guard in the NBA? I would say yes." -- Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, talking about Kyle Lowry.
Reaction: I’ll take that one step further. Lowry has been a top-10 point guard this year and the biggest reason why the Raptors are where they are.
"It gets annoying at times. It’s been like that the last eight years, though." -- Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, on trade rumors.
Reaction: It’s going to be like this again this summer, or until Rondo agrees to an extension.
"No one was really talking. We were looking around and the captain said (the delay was caused by) bad weather and we're like, 'Yeah, bullshit, we're waiting for that trade deadline.' I'm just glad it's over." -- Clippers forward Matt Barnes.
Reaction: Who scheduled the plane for that time? Seems a bit shortsighted.
"I don’t think anybody’s ever been happier to be fined than P.J. Tucker was when I told him, ‘The good news is you’re not being traded, the bad news is that you are getting fined.’ And I think he was glad to pay the fine if he could stay here in Phoenix." -- Suns GM Ryan McDonough.
Reaction: At least Tucker wasn’t on the Clippers plane.
"The MVP race is a long, long way from over." -- Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
Reaction: We interrupt this trade deadline to bring you actual events from the basketball court where LeBron James went for 33 points and one ridiculous blood-spewing dunk over Serge Ibaka in Miami’s 22-point win over the Thunder. Yay basketball.
This Week in GIFsfurther explanation unnecessary
Happy Neck Tattoo Day!
"Come on, let me help you Barea. GOT 'EM."
Serge Ibaka broke LeBron's nose on this play. James still finished the dunk. Incredible.