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Summer Mailbag Part 1: NBA Finals & Free Agency

Posted on July 1, 2016 at 8:25 AM

What changed the momentum of The Finals?
- Mohammed U.

Many would answer Draymond Green’s suspension, but it’s pretty clear that Andrew Bogut’s Game 5 injury was the turning point. Tristan Thompson shot 18/33 from the field in the Finals before Bogut’s injury, but he only missed one attempt after Bogut went down, shooting 10/11 (in addition to posting back-to-back 15-rebound games). Additionally, the Warriors badly missed Bogut’s jersey-tugging, bear-hugging, opponent-bugging screens; their picks in Games 6 and 7 failed to produce quality looks from the perimeter… (probably because they were actually legal).

Had Green played Game 5, Golden State’s chances would have improved, but, considering that they lost Games 6 and 7 even with Green and that LeBron and Kyrie went off, Game 5 wouldn’t have been the guaranteed win that many are making it out to be. On the other hand, considering that Game 7 came down to the final seconds despite Anderson Varejao flopping all over the place and Festus Ezeli having an out of body experience (not in the good way), it’s pretty safe to say that the Warriors take care of business if Bogut gets those guys’ minutes.

Is one championship in Cleveland more meaningful than six in another city?
- Brandon P.

It meant more to LeBron, and that’s great… good for him! It’s an awesome story for Cleveland. (I’m also pretty sure LeBron is a genius and went to Miami to allow Cleveland to bottom out and rebuild, with full intent of returning once they had done so.) But I’m not on board with it meaning more when judging his career against other players. Sure, Michael Jordan didn’t deliver a championship to a losing city, but LeBron shouldn’t get bonus points for Cleveland sucking at sports for half a century.

I’m also not on board with the notion that coming back from down 3-1 made this championship more meaningful. LeBron shouldn’t get bonus points for almost losing.

Beating the defending championships, who had the best regular-season in NBA history, two of league’s best defenders in Green and Iguodala, and a player who challenged LeBron’s alpha-dog status by winning back-to-back MVPs – that makes it more meaningful. For once since his freshman year of high school, LeBron was the underdog, and I think he embraced it, but also took it a little personally that his dominance was in question.

His surreal performance in three consecutive elimination games (36 points, 9 assists, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks per contest over those games), considering his history of being called not clutch, also makes it more meaningful. Let’s not pretend like LeBron’s poor performances in high-pressure games earlier in his career never happened, but, since 2012, he’s gone to another level in elimination games in a way that we haven’t seen since Jordan.

I’m saving the in-depth LeBron-Jordan comparison for it’s own part of the mailbag, but one quick point: Michael Jordan’s six championships in seven seasons (he skipped 1994) is so underrated. I think winning six in a 30-team league is more impressive than Bill Russell winning 11 in an 10-team league, and the only other team to come close was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson’s Lakers, who “only” won five in nine years despite having two of the ten best players ever. Six is a ridiculous number of championships, and Michael was definitively the best player on all of them. To put that in perspective, Jordan had more Finals MVPs in one decade than any franchise (besides the Celtics and Lakers) has championships in its entire history.

Rose Trade... and where are the Knicks going with it – if it’s to try Holiday at 2, burn a year developing Porzingis, let Rose go after the one year left, then try to get a good young point, I approve.
- Seth A.

First, the trade (Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant for Derrick Rose and Justin Holiday) is relatively low risk. The Knicks (for possibly the first time ever) aren’t giving up draft picks who could come back to haunt them, nor parting with any real impact players (although non-impact players have a way of becoming impact as soon as they leave town). Grant was a promising potential backup point guard, but Holiday is an equally promising potential backup shooting guard. If Rose can’t stay healthy, then we don’t re-sign him at the end of next year, and we have cap space to work with (I tried writing this entire post without referring to the Knicks in the first person, and it wasn’t happening).

Second, Rose could still be good. He played more games last year than he has in any season since 2011, and, although his stats appear underwhelming, after Christmas he averaged a solid 18 points on 46% shooting from the field and 34% from three. Granted, his assist numbers are down and his free-throw attempts have plummeted, but somewhere in there is an effective offensive weapon. We also had a next-to-zero chance of attracting free agents before this trade, and now we’re a legitimate player, so, if nothing else, Rose can essentially be Daniel Day-Lewis’s son in There Will Be Blood.

I’m not sure the Knicks agree with your plan, though…

Will the Rose trade hurt the Knicks long term?
- David R.

Unfortunately, it indicates the organization’s hesitance to build around Kristaps Porzingis. I appreciate that dumping Lopez will allow him to play center, his position in the modern NBA (he’s 7’3’’ for goodness sakes!), but The Zinger’s touches will be limited by Rose and Melo: willing passers, but primarily score-first players.

The somewhat delusional Phil Jackson seemingly still wants to win with Anthony as the centerpiece, which is foolish. I never thought Melo was capable of being the best player on a championship team, and, at age 32, he’s not getting any more capable. We’re far from competing with the Cavs, and we’d need to pick up some good role players to hang with Toronto, Boston, Miami, or Indiana. But a team with Carmelo, Porzingis, and Rose isn’t drawing a high lottery pick either. If we don’t acquire another superstar, we’ll likely end up in the 7-9 seed range (a.k.a. the black hole of NBA franchise development).

We shouldn’t have re-signed Carmelo for over $120 million (much less with a no-trade clause!), and, unless we somehow land Kevin Durant and become a title contender, our future shouldn’t involve him. I would have…

1) tried to trade Melo - either for Blake Griffin by leveraging Griffin’s potential to leave the Clippers as a free agent next summer, or in a three-team deal that would send Melo to Cleveland, Kevin Love to either Minnesota or Boston, and a 2016 first-round pick to us.
2) traded Lopez for a 2016 first-round pick (he’s an average starter at a relatively weak center position, in his prime, and on a somewhat reasonable contract).
3) tanked for a year to get a good 2017 first-round pick.
4) turned into the East’s version of the Timberwolves.

Do you think the Bulls know how bad Calderon is?
- Tal A.

I mean, he’s only 34. He’s got time to develop.

In all seriousness, the Bulls were smart to hit the restart button. Three of their best five players were bigs, and their starting guards combined to shoot 30% from three last year. They weren’t built for today’s NBA.

Side note: Other than Calderon and Grant, their only point guard is a guy named Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s an amazing human being, mostly because his last name is Dinwiddie, but also because he’s a career 13/75 on threes and has a full-fledged Young Eddie Murphy mustache.

His Twitter account also reveals a number of endearing qualities:

1) He makes absurdly forced movie references, primarily using memes. He seems like the kind of guy who regularly breaks into a Bane impression in the locker room. I like those kind of guys. I may or may not one of those guys.

2) He makes deep observations about life. 

3) He understands what makes a good Uber driver…

4) … and then shuts down people who try to make a big deal out his appreciation for water.


What gets you more excited, the fact that the Knicks (when, not if, they sign and overpay Dwight) will have a starting lineup built for 2011, or the fact that Knicks fans will inevitably be disappointed when they realize three has-beens who consider themselves All-Stars can't win more than 45 games?
- Chanan H.

Both get me about this excited: 

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Would you rather the Knicks overpay Dwight or Harrison Barnes?
- Chanan H.

Barnes because he’s 24 and isn’t hated by everyone he’s ever played with, for, or against, but choosing between those two would basically be like this:

Who should the Knicks go after in free agency, and who will come here?
- David R.

As long as the Knicks are targeting players who peaked five years ago, seeing David Lee end his career with a few seasons in the Garden would be awesome. He showed during his Dallas stint last year that he has something left in the tank, averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds on 64% shooting in just 17 minutes per game after the All-Star break.

We’ve desperately needed a versatile swingman for about a decade, and Holiday is literally the only wing player under contract right now. Unfortunately, the free agency market is loaded with bigs and veterans, with few shooting guards or small forwards who have upside. Evan Turner is only 27, but several teams are interested, which could drive up his price. Kent Bazemore, a young athlete with a decent three-point shot, would be a good fit, but, with the new salary cap, even he might be an expensive investment. If we decide to shoot for the stars, Nicolas Batum just had an impressive bounce-back year, but that would mean no Durant.

Speaking of the elephant in the room...

KD to NY?! Does that happen?
- Emani F.

There are problems with nearly all of Durant’s potential suitors: Warriors (looks like he’s chasing rings), Spurs (ditto), Clippers (would have to trade Blake), Celtics (not enough star power), and Heat (too much in limbo with Bosh’s health and Wade/Whiteside being free agents). The Knicks are a strong choice on paper. He’d get out of the Western Conference, and give himself a chance to win immediately without taking the “easy way out.”


But he gave six other teams a meeting before us!


The Knicks thinking they can still get Durant when he won’t give them a meeting is like Bernie thinking he can still win the Democratic nomination even though he didn’t win the vote.

Do you think the blockbuster draft-day trade between Oklahoma City and Orlando (Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis) will result in Durant being more or less likely to re-sign with OKC in the offseason?
- Mike G.

I don’t see how any potential destination even comes close to OKC. The trade gives Durant more flexibility to play both the 3 and the 4, finally gives them a second backcourt scorer, gets a good return for someone whose career had plateaued, and will allow them to further develop and give big minutes to Steven Adams, Steven Adams’ Salvador Dali mustache, and Enes Kanter. What a huge move for them.

Not often do two top-five players in the NBA end up on the same team, but multiple championships has been the result almost every time. LeBron/Wade, Shaq/Kobe, and Kareem/Magic won almost instantly, but the Thunder were close in 2012, they were ridiculously close last year, and now they’re even closer. Squandering this golden opportunity to be remembered as both loyal to his franchise and an NBA champion would be a mistake for Durant.



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