This is the time of the year when teams calmly rearrange their players and make prudent transactions that improve teams and earn the faith of their fans.
Just kidding! This is when the NBA gets to go absolutely bananas! You know who needs Boogie Cousins? The best team in NBA history! You know which locker room needs Dwight Howard? The diva Wizards! You know which team needs ANOTHER player with an injury history? The Bulls! You know who needs Bismack Biyombo again? The team that drafted him and let him walk, the Charlotte Hornets! You know who needs a generational European talent? The Mavs!
Oh man, get real, NBA. You’re so cray! It’s adorable. Did you seriously sign Lance Stephenson to LeBron’s team, Lakers? Did you really do that?! It’s like watching a toddler have more fun with the wrapping paper than the actual present. What, was Delonte West not available, Lakers? I don’t get that signing, at all. It’s positively insane, isn’t it? Like, why are Rondo and Lance and, sweet Jesus, JaVale McGee on a team that needs to cultivate its young players? Is JaVale seriously the starting center for the Lakers? Why didn’t they just resign Brook Lopez??? (I love BroLo on the Bucks.)
Speaking of out-their-damn-minds: the Wizards signed Jeff Green. I can’t wait to watch this team play. They’re either going to be mucho better than anyone thinks they will be, or they are going to explode into a basketball supernova of predictable fire-saleing. The Washington Wizards have the fourth highest payroll in the entire NBA. Can you believe that? I still find that hard to believe. (Charlotte’s 10th highest. Biyombo to the rescue, Hornets fans!)
Here are some thoughts on some of the other trades and transactions:
Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeChozan
Listen, let’s just get this out of the way. Pro tip: when you can acquire one of the 10 best, perhaps 5 best if 100% healthy, players in the NBA, you do it. I mean, I love Demar DeChozan, and he will be SPECTACULAR in San Antonio, but I would’ve traded both him AND Kyle Lowry if I thought I could sign Kawhi Leonard long term. There’s risk in Toronto’s trade, but not really: if the North goes south (ahem) and Kawhi walks, then you’re left with your good young players, plenty of cap room, and draft pick(s). Plus, you probably flip Lowry’s expiring contract, or hell’s bells, you keep him and let him finish his contract in TDot colors. If Kawhi stays, you made one of the best trades in NBA history. It’s as simple as that. Fully healthy Kawhi will get the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. Believe.
The Raptors will be one of the best defensive teams in the league. OG Anunoby, Danny Green, and Kawhi is a DAMN good defensive trio when the Raps play smaller, and Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam can guard multiple positions, too. This team will be tough and switchy, and they’ll have the best defender on the planet (again, if Kawhi’s healthy; we still don’t know, which is kinda crazy). I think the Celtics are better on paper, but the Raptors ain’t far behind. Could they make another move? I really, really like them as they are, but anything’s possible in a league where Kenneth Faried is no longer a Denver Nugget. Plus, they’ve replaced a poor perimeter shooter with two good ones. This is what we call “Good GMing.”
As for the Spurs, they’re acquiring a top 20 player, and now he has a chip on his shoulder. You know what DeChozan is? A tough, hard working, smart guy who happens to be able to get his points better than, hmmm, all but 13 other players in the entire NBA last year. DeMar scored more than Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns (user error: Minnesota is the absolute worst and they’re ruining Big KAT), Klay Thompson (!), and Dr. John Wall. To quote the Bible, DeMar DeChozan is good as hell. (He’s a, ahem, Revelation!)
Anyway, Popovich is going to fall in love with him, HARD. You know which team likes shooting guards who are elite mid-range shooters, and who can drive to the bucket and get fouls, and play smart? That’s right, the San Antonio Spurs. The idea that DeMar won’t do well playing for MANU GINOBILI’S coach is patently absurd. I think DeMar does great with LaMarcus Aldridge, I think Dejounte Murray will help mask some of DeMar’s defensive shortcomings, and I think the Spurs win 50 games (I think the Raptors will, too!). There’s also a possibility that the Spurs aren’t done dealing. Could Patty Mills be on the move? Oh, and DeChozan has improved his game every season of his career. Why stop believing in him now? If his three point shot gets even a little bit better, then he’s a superb offensive force.
Kawhi wasn’t going to play for the Spurs, so technically, both teams got better with this trade. Usually, when you lose a superstar, you get questionable returns. Draft picks, yeah, but also a collection of meh players who don’t really move the needle. They’re basically there as salary filler. The Spurs got a better return for Kawhi than Cleveland got for Kyrie, no? DeChozan is one of the 20 best players in the NBA. That’s never a bad player to acquire, even if, hell, ESPECIALLY if you have a top 5 player who demands a trade. Also, this trade fulfills an unspoken pledge to Aldridge: we will compete if you stay. Forget Pop, did Lamarcus really want to play through a rebuild? Probably not. If the Spurs had traded for only assets and prospects, then they might have had to move Aldridge, too. This is a good return for Kawhi. It may not feel that way, but it keeps the Spurs together and it keeps them good.
As for loyalty and DeMar’s naive belief in his employer’s word? Yeah: no duh, DeMar. Never trust a boss.
Brook Lopez to the Bucks
The most important thing in Milwaukee is putting scoring around Giannis. He IS the new LeBron: he needs room to zoom down the runway, he needs shooters on the perimeter and a clean path to the basket. If you can’t give that to him, then you’re doing it wrong. BroLo is one of the best big man shooters in the league and Mike Budenholzer is probably the best coach that Giannis will have had, so things are looking up in Wisco. Losing Jabari is whatever. You didn’t want Giannis’s fate tied to Parker’s brittle knees, and now you don’t. Seems good to me!
Isaiah Thomas to the Nuggets
The Nuggets have themselves some shooting, and now they’re adding one of the best 4th quarter players in history. Remember when we were all rooting for I.T. and considered him an MVP contender? Remember when he was scoring 28 points a game? I adore this signing. Similar to Boogie’s situation in Golden State, Isaiah Thomas won’t be rushed back from his injury for the simple reason that Denver doesn’t need him. I.T. is puuuure gravy. If he comes off the bench (uh, he will), he’ll probably light the scoreboard up. Leading the second unit means he gets to call, and take, all the shots. He’s in charge. If Denver goes super duper small, then he can also play off the ball. I can’t wait to watch I.T. and Jokic play together!
Denver’s defense is still a theoretical possibility at this point, like quantum computing, or a satisfying conclusion to WestWorld. But, watching Western Conference basketball is all about 140-126 scores. Screw defense. I want scoring!
Miami Heat resign Wayne Ellington
Ellington was quietly an elite 3-point shooter last season. He was seventh in attempts per game, and shot close to 40%. He’s a good player, and Miami was smart to bring him back. Miami’s a solid team, with well-coached and well-prepared players, but they’re still a player away from being dangerous rather than feisty. I don’t know what the deal is with Hassan Whiteside, but maybe the Heat should work out Jah Okafor? They need something.
All three of these players have upside, in my opinion, and I really liked these pickups. GRIII is coming home (Go Blue!), and may even end up being a better wing than Stanley Johnson. I’ve always loved Tyreke, and I think that he, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Victor Oladipo make an interesting trio. The league is moving more and more towards two-way players who can defend the perimeter and shoot from the perimeter. Super Mario Hezonja hasn’t proved that he can do either of those things, yet, but this was a low risk move by the Knicks. If he gets better, he’s only 23, then maybe you found yourself another cog in the new Knicks regime, Fort Knox. (Kristaps who?)
What do you think? Any under the radar moves you think will work out beautifully?