Around the Rim 13
Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome to Around the Rim.
Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices heard and trendy issues.
We are proudly now on edition 12. You can find the previous edition here. As promised, the roundtable will run every Tuesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped on for the current edition.
This week we are fortunate to have four dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
Kevin Cottrell Jr.: NBA TV, sr. researcher
Harrison Faigen: Lakers SBNation, associate editor
Paul Garcia: Project Spurs, writer
Kyle Madson: The SF Journal, editor
The trade deadline has come and gone, which move will make the biggest impact in the grand scheme? Not necessarily the best trade, or biggest deadline winner, but which move will make the largest dent in the NBA landscape?
Cottrell: The move that will make the largest impact this season has to be Lou Williams to the Rockets. His addition gives Houston five of the NBA’s top 20 players in terms of three-pointers made. In Mike D’Antoni’s “let it fly” offense, Williams now provides the second unit with a ballhandler that can create offense for himself and others. This will afford James Harden extended rest periods in a game (whether it’s on or off the court) keeping The Beard fresh for fourth quarters. This move was very low risk/high reward and could be the reason they reach the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons.
Madson: While some trade deadline moves might make a larger dent in the long run, it feels like the Lou Williams to Houston trade is going to have the biggest immediate impact. The Rockets are already rocking a 115.0 ORTG, and since the addition of Lou Will have posted two of their 10 highest point totals of the season. Since Kevin Durant signed with Golden State, this season has become about whether anyone can knock the Warriors or Cavs off their track to a Finals rematch. With the Warriors cruising right along, it’s easy to write off the West. However, the Spurs are always lurking, and now with a scorer like Williams, the Rockets pose a greater, different threat than they did before the deadline.
Garcia: While I think the Toronto Raptors put themselves in prime position to challenge Cleveland this season by acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, I feel the move that could really make a dent in the NBA landscape going beyond this season is the DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans trade. While the Pelicans might miss the playoffs this season or get the eighth seed and then lose in the opening round, I’m eager to see what their front office does this summer. Can they try to shed the salaries of players like Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca? Will they re-sign Jrue Holiday or let him walk in free agency, which could open up about $18.3 million in cap space to fill positions around Anthony Davis and Cousins. Anytime you can get two top-10 big men on the same team for a season and a half, you have to see how far this tandem can take you as an organization.
Faigen: The biggest move, to me, is the one that didn’t get made: The Boston Celtics not trading for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Doing so would have been probably the closest we could’ve come to seeing a real challenger for the Cleveland Cavaliers (who Brian Windhorst said were “waiting on pins and needles” at the deadline to see if Boston made such a move) in the Eastern Conference this season.
Toronto’s moves make them better but don’t move the needle much for me personally, Washington is frisky but not a real threat, and without Boston dealing for one of those wing superstars it’s hard—even with their injuries—to not picture the Cavaliers waltzing to their third straight Finals appearance.
Ben Simmons has been ruled out for the year, Joel Embiid has out “indefinitely” as well and the Nerlens Noel trade was ripped rather heavily—there’s a tone of distrust between the fans and the franchise. What are your thoughts on their process a year removed from Sam Hinkie?
Madson: What if—and stay with me here—“the process” was actually not a process and a series of bad basketball followed by finger-crossing and lots and lots of prayer? Because that’s surely what it’s been and continues to be. Trading Noel for next to nothing seems like the opposite of “the process.” If “the process” was a real thing, the Noel trade would have been part of a long, calculated move where his trade value was skyrocketing and they could move him for pieces that fit in with guys like Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid. Only they didn’t do that. They moved him just to move him, and now they’re crossing their fingers and praying again, just hoping something good comes out of it. The 76ers are basically the Kings with makeup on. Neither franchise knows what direction they’re going, it’s just that the 76ers go out of their way to disguise their disfunction as some sort of larger vision for future success.
Cottrell: It’s flawed. The Sixers fan base sacrificed years of patience to be rewarded with exciting 25-minute doses of Joel Embiid. While his potential excites many, the fact remains that the 76ers seem to be 76 months away from contending…for the eighth seed. Since 2013, Philly has added six players from the lottery. Four of the six missed their true rookie season (three to injury). With Ben Simmons being shut down for the season, it will be at least eight months before we can see the Simmons/Embiid combination in a meaningful game. So questions arise. How impactful can Embiid be without restrictions? Can Simmons be their true Point Guard? With Okafor still a Sixer, should we question the seriousness of Embiid’s health? Conclusion, still processing.
Faigen: As weird as this is going to sound, I still think it’s too early to totally judge “The Process,” but it doesn’t look good right now. The Noel trade was bad, and the way it was peddled by the Sixers as getting a first-rounder they’ll never actually receive for him was worse. The optics of how the team has misled the media and their fans about the injuries to their players hasn’t been a great look either.
Wasn’t the whole point of installing Bryan Colangelo to have better relationships with agents and other teams, as well as to have them be more front facing with the public? He certainly hasn’t done the latter, and I wonder how much other teams loved the weirdness that was sitting Okafor with the implication they had a trade for him, and how much Simmons and Embiid’s representatives love the way their clients injuries have been handled.
Garcia: Any fan base would be frustrated from the constant losing season after season, and though the Sixers have already reached 22 wins this season, their fan base has seen a glimpse of hope for the future in where Embiid can take them when he’s healthy. And that’s just the problem for Philly: health. It’s uncertain if Embiid can play a full season or how Simmons will return from his injury. While the Sixers are once again in position to get a top-5 lottery pick should they lose a majority of their games down the stretch of the season, eventually drafting potential stars and having to wait for the players to develop plus having to deal with the uncertainty of health will get old for the fan base. The glimmer of hope for Philly this summer—the Sixers will have a lot of cap space to start building a team whether with marquee free agents or better role players around their young core of Simmons and Embiid for next season. While his trade value still has to be down based on the Sixers’ inability to trade him at the deadline, there’s still a chance Philly can flip Okafor to a team in need of a scoring center in the summer.
Danny Ainge didn’t make the expected big move for the Celtics at the trade deadline. Was it the right or wrong call?
Garcia: While we don’t know all the factors of exactly which players and picks were discussed between Boston and Indiana/Chicago last week, whether it was the right or wrong call comes down to how far Boston thought they could go in adding either a Paul George or Jimmy Butler to their team. Could they get past Cleveland, and if they could, what about someone from the West like Golden State, San Antonio or Houston? If it came down to trading their high Nets pick (right now, the best chance for No. 1) plus two of their core players like Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown or Avery Bradley, then maybe Boston would have been just a smidgen better than their current team, but not good enough to win the title this June. In waiting, they can still try to challenge Cleveland/Toronto with the team they have this April and May, see how far they get with this squad, then in the summer, they’ll still have a large chunk of cap space to try to sign a marquee free agent like Gordon Hayward. Or, with Paul George making it known he’d be willing to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018 reportedly, Boston could get into a bidding war with Los Angeles to try to acquire George as well this summer or at the next trade deadline. While the Celtics might have missed their opportunity this season to have their best chance at dethroning Cleveland, they’re still in a good position to go in all sorts of directions this summer with their flexibility.
Madson: I’ve alluded to this phenomenon already, but it feels a little bit like Ainge avoided the big move because the Cavs are going to win the East regardless of what the Celtics did. So instead of shipping out prime assets to be bit players in what he deemed to be a foregone conclusion, Ainge is sitting on his group of young talent and gaggle of high draft picks. This seems like the right play here. He’d rather play the long game than futilely try to contend for the next couple years. After all, LeBron has to start aging at some point, right? Maybe?
Cottrell: If Danny Ainge believes Isaiah Thomas’ incredible season and fourth quarter takeovers is enough to challenge the Cavs in the East, then sure it’s the right move. However, I couldn’t disagree with Ainge more. Windows of opportunity to compete for a title are slim. Especially when you’re in the same conference as one LeBron James. The Celtics rely heavily on Thomas’ explosive fourth quarters but when a team has seven instances to game plan against what you do best, chances are you’ll need to adjust. Therefore, Danny should have done everything in his power to make a major move to complement Thomas offensively. Whether it was Paul George or Jimmy Butler both players have showed they would be worth the Celtics handing over their rights to the Nets top pick in this upcoming draft. Adding Al Horford was a cool story in July, but if you want to play in June you have to add a top tier scoring threat to form a true 1-2 punch alongside Thomas.
Faigen: Even with what I wrote about the Celtics’ non-movement above, I can see their reasoning. Sending out the farm for Butler and George wouldn’t have guaranteed them a trip to the Finals, and I can see the logic in waiting out LeBron, or at least attempting to. Long answer short, I don’t know, but it will be interesting to see.
It looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadline winners via the buyout market. Do their probable additions help you believe they are an even match for the Warriors come June or do they still seem like the lesser team on paper?
Faigen: They still seem like the lesser team on paper, even though Deron Williams will certainly get them a little bit closer to having another playmaker to ease his load off of the bench. I just don’t see any team beating Golden State in a seven-game series, they simply have too much talent. Although to be fair, I said the same thing last year up and until they took a 3-1 lead and… well, you know the rest.
Garcia: The Cavaliers are reportedly going to add Deron Williams (official) and Andrew Bogut (undecided) to their roster, should Bogut receive a buyout from Philadelphia. Those two players should help Cleveland in their final 20 games of the season by providing more depth to the team, and in the initial playoff rounds, they’ll help the Cavaliers stay as fresh as possible during the first three rounds of the playoffs. When it comes to the Finals against the Warriors, I don’t think Williams or Bogut will play huge minutes, especially in the fourth quarter. Those fourth quarters will come down to how close are the games during that time frame and whether Cleveland is as healthy as they can be across the board in June. There’s two ways to look at this Warriors team so far: 1) they still haven’t shown their full potential and what they can look like when locked in for a full playoff series, or 2) since they haven’t been challenged much this season, they don’t have many reps in crunch time, so when that time does come in the playoffs, how will they react?
Madson: Unless you’re rolling the Eastern Conference All-Stars out there, the Warriors are still the best team in the League on paper by a pretty wide margin. That being said, the Cavs still have LeBron James. We have a large enough sample size now to say definitively that he’s pretty good at basketball. If we do get a third consecutive year of Warriors-Cavs in the Finals and both teams are healthy, it’ll be another tight, six or seven game series.
Cottrell: On paper the Cavs are the favorites. The defending champs are two deep at every position. Featuring the game’s best player in LeBron James, the most clutch player in Kyrie Irving and shooters at every level. In reality, the play (and health) of James, Irving and Love will be what determines a Finals outcome. But the addition of Deron Williams, possibly Andrew Bogut and earlier pickup of Kyle Korver will allow the Cavs to moonwalk through the regular season. LeBron wanted another playmaker and Williams checks that box, but what they needed most was a big. Bogut is an underrated passer that has the size to crash the boards, set screens and protect the basket unlike any other Cavs big.
Of all current NBA players in their first to fourth seasons playing less than 20 MPG, who do you think has the brightest future?
Cottrell: I’ve had full belief in Kris Dunn since he starred at Providence. At some point, the Timberwolves will have to exercise the same belief and place the keys to the team squarely in his hands. With his confidence and swagger, he can effectively steer this team in the right direction. Karl-Anthony Towns is their vocal leader, while Andrew Wiggins prefers to let his game speak but Dunn has shown flashes of accepting the challenge to become the floor general. At 6-4, Dunn uses his length to disrupt opposing guards and has the explosiveness to get to the basket at will. His versatility is what I like most about this kid. Tom Thibodeau has endured great success with a young PG in his previous stint in Chicago, given time with Dunn that success should be duplicated.
Faigen: I believe in Jaylen Brown. He’s a versatile defender who I think projects to be a plus on that end for years, and he seems to be figuring out ways to be at least somewhat effective even without a jumpshot on offense. If he ever does get a competent jumper, I think he’s a lock to be really good.
Garcia: To me, I’m eager to see what Nerlens Noel can become after being coached by Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks for a few seasons. He’s still just 22 years old, and he has all the capabilities to become a DeAndre Jordan/Rudy Gobert/Tyson Chandler type center in the League, just as long as he continues to work at his craft. He’s got the blocking ability to help out in the paint, he can try to work on his lateral quickness to try to switch on screens from time to time, and on offense, he can set picks and roll to the rim for lob dunks, but can he develop the pass off the roll? That will be the real test. If he can learn to make decisions quicker on the roll and figure out how to space the floor better despite not really being a shooter, can he can carve a role and long career out in this league.
Madson: When I initially saw this question, Willie Cauley-Stein had just gotten done coming off the bench to hang up 29 in a blowout of the Nuggets. I was primed to say Cauley-Stein, but then in Sacramento’s next game against Charlotte he got worked by Frank Kaminsky and my opinion changed drastically. I settled on Montrezl Harrell. Harrell has an ORTG of 128, and is averaging 17.9 points, 7.2 boards and 2.3 assists on 64.7 percent shooting per 36 minutes. He’s a fine defender and still only 23. He really just needs to play more—he’s only playing 18.7 minutes per game this season. Harrell isn’t destined to be a Hall of Famer, but with increased minutes, he could be a big part of the rotation on a good Houston squad over the next several seasons.