Brooklyn: The East’s No. 2 Team?

July 13, 2013

Who needs long-term flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets are all in for 2013-14, with a collection of future Hall of Famers and a projected starting lineup that boasts a combined 35 All Star appearances. All 5 of those guys are poised to earn more than $11.5 million next season, and Brooklyn’s payroll will exceed $100 million, almost double the cap.

Look at this roster.

This summer, Brooklyn’s traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, all NBA champions; re-signed Andray Blatche, who rocked a 21.98 PER last season, for close to minimum dollars; signed 6-foot-7 backup point guard and former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston for about the same; wooed Andrei Kirilenko, who declined a $10-million player option in Minnesota, for $3.1 million a year; and dumped one of the league’s worst contracts, one that pays Gerald Wallace $30.3 million over the next 3 years, on Boston.

That’s a haul.

Here’s your rotation, assuming full health.

  • PG: Deron Williams | Shaun Livingston
  • SG: Joe Johnson | Jason Terry
  • SF: Paul Pierce | Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF: Kevin Garnett | Reggie Evans
  • C: Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche

Now, add Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.

Some fortunate circumstances.

The Nets got lucky 4 times this offseason.

* The Celtics were anxious to rebuild and eager to dump Pierce’s $15.33 million this year and Garnett’s $23.5 the next 2 years. Danny Ainge had just traded his $7-million-per-year coach to Los Angeles for a first-round draft pick. For a few extra picks, take 2 of the league’s top 30 players.

* The Wizards infamously amnestied Andray Blatche not too long after signing him to a 3-year extension. So Blatche is collecting $7.8 million this season and $8.5 next, even if only $1.4 million of that’s coming from Brooklyn. Blatche has previously made clear his desire to not let Washington off cheap — the more he signed for with Brooklyn, the less of that $7.8 million the Wizards would have to pay.

Blatche is, from a straight numbers angle, at least a $5-million-a-year guy. Per 36 minutes last season, Blatche averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on a team where he was, on a lucky night, the 4th option. His PER ranked No. 14 in the NBA and 2nd on his team behind Brook Lopez.

* Brooklyn also gets great value in Shaun Livingston, who will replace C.J. Watson as the team’s backup PG. Signed on Christmas Day by the Cavs, Livingston tallied 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes over 49 appearances. Not helped by Jarrett Jack’s deal with Cleveland, the market collapsed on Livingston, who’s stayed healthy and productive whenever he’s received an opportunity since 2008-09.

That horrific knee injury is well behind him, and Shaun’s still only 27. He’s not an elite defender, but he has enough length to disrupt passing lanes. On the other end, he’s a solid facilitator and very underrated back-to-the-basket scorer, particularly against smaller guards.

* And, the most mysterious of all, Andrei Kirilenko, who’s making $6.9 million less (plus cost-of-living increases in New York!) than had he accepted his player option in Minnesota. Perhaps the incentive was his relationship with Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, as owner of CSKA Moscow, employed AK-47 from 1998-01.

This deal seems so fishy, Yahoo! Sports ace Adrian Wojnarowski even reported some team executives are asking the NBA to investigate, wary of potential side deals between the two Russians. Unless something materializes, Brooklyn scored big-time, grabbing a former teammate of Deron’s in Utah and one of the league’s best perimeter defenders to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Prokhorov may have said it best in a statement after the Pierce-KG trade became official. “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”

How do they stack up?

There’s 5 frontrunners in the Eastern Conference: Miami, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn. Miami, 2-time defending champs, return the same team and are atop the throne. But, then, all hell breaks loose.

Chicago adds Mike Dunleavy and returns a healthy Derrick Rose, but drops Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and, most likely, Nate Robinson. Indiana returns David West and a healthy Danny Granger, adds C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and drops Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. New York adds Andrea Bargnani and returns J.R. Smith and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, but loses Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd … to Brooklyn!

Those are not bad offseason, by any measure, but not on par with Brooklyn’s. With the Ak-47 move, the Nets boast the deepest bench in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the NBA. Of course 2 big questions remain: How will Kidd fare as a rookie head coach, and how will these guys mesh?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Related: Semi-delayed thoughts on the KG, Pierce deal


Stock up: Utah’s bigs; stock down: Minnesota’s future

March 6, 2013

In light of the Dow apparently breaking all-time records today, I thought it would be cool (and at most moderately cliche) to do a quick NBA stock up, stock down report. If you like these posts, let me know in the comments or via Twitter, and I’ll try to work them more frequently into the rotation.

Stock up: Utah’s frontcourt depth

Al Jefferson, Utah’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, has not played since last Wednesday with an ankle injury, meaning more playing time for reserves Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, who would presumably assume most of his 33 minutes. Last Friday against Charlotte, Kanter, 20, recorded 23 points and 22 rebounds in 44 minutes, then added another double-double, 18 points and 10 rebounds, in 32 minutes in Utah’s loss to Milwaukee. Also Monday, Favors chipped in 23 points and 15 rebounds in only 30 minutes (he did not play in the 4th quarter).

Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the Jazz’s 2 leading scorers, combining for 32.9 points and 16.8 rebounds per game on what I would say is the Western Conference’s 2nd-most daunting frontcourt, to Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. But Jefferson and Millsap are both unrestricted free agents this summer in a weak class, meaning both are in line for easy 8-figure-per-year paydays. And even though Utah will have at least $30 million in cap space, it’s because of their depth, I only expect one of Millsap or ‘Big Al’ to return.

On the season, Favors, 9.7 points in 22.3 minutes, and Kanter, 6.9 minutes in 15.2 minutes, are Utah’s 6th- and 9th-highest scorers, respectively, and they rarely demand isolation touches in the post to do so. And they both rebound at above-average rates, too — Favors at 6.6 and Kanter at 4.4. And both are essentially on the wraps until at least the summer of 2015, which is the earliest either can hit unrestricted free agency.

Utah’s lineup of Favors, Kanter, Gordon Hayward, DeMarre Carroll and Earl Watson is head coach Tyrone Corbin’s, statistically speaking, best lineup to play at least 100 minutes together, according to Basketball Reference. Those 5 are outscoring opponents by 3.8 points per 100 possessions in 102:59 together.

All of a sudden, that Deron Williams dump on Brooklyn, for Favors, Devin Harris (since dealt to Atlanta for starting SF Marvin Williams, himself a contract burden through 2014), a 2011 lottery pick that turned into Kanter and another 1st-round pick still to come, is looking pretty, pretty good (Larry David voice).

Stock down: The Minnesota Timberwolves are free-falling

In fairness to Minnesota, I’m not sure there’s a team in the NBA that’s been more decimated by injuries in 2012-13. As of March 5, Kevin Love has missed 39 games and counting, Ricky Rubio 25, Nikola Pekovic 9, Andrei Kirilenko 12, Chase Budinger 51, Brandon Roy 52 and J.J. Barea 8. And the Wolves, preseason playoff contenders according to many, are 20-37, losers of 6 straight, all but out of the playoff race and only a game up on the conference-worst Sacramento Kings.

But this team’s long-term future is even murkier. Many question whether Kevin Love, long considered the franchise’s face of the present and future, will be in Minnesota much longer — team owner Glen Taylor has questioned whether he’s a star, and Love is obviously ticked GM David Kahn refused him a long-term, max contract. (Unless Dwight Howard or Chris Paul surprise everyone and change cities, Love may very well be the biggest name on the market.)

Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, has not seen his talents translate to the NBA game, and his name has seemingly been the subject of trade rumors since he entered the league 21 months ago. Pekovic is a restricted free agent this summer in line for an 8-figure payday. And Kahn has bad contracts galore in Kirilenko, due a $10.2 million player option in 2013-14 (which is not too bad of a deal, given his level of play), and Roy, due $5.3 million next season.

For a franchise that has not made the playoffs in the post-Kevin Garnett era, or since 2003-04 for that matter (7 head coaches ago), I wish I could say the future was brighter.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


February 20, 2013

Coming into the season, I was really high on Minnesota. Here’s a team that, despite a mediocre 26-40 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, was growing together with 3 really solid young pieces: a bruiser in Nikola Pekovic, a crafty young PG in Ricky Rubio and arguably the league’s best stretch 4 in Kevin Love. Add guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved and Brandon Roy, and this had all the makings of a fringe playoff team.

But that has not been the case. Far from it, actually. Headed into Tuesday’s games, the Wolves are 19-31, 12th in the Western Conference, dead last in the Northwest Division and 7.5 games out of the No. 8 seed. Minnesota’s 2-8 in their last 10 and a conference-worst 3-7 against division opponents.


The reason, or at least a major part of it: injuries, injuries, injuries. Love has missed 32 games with a broken hand and is out for the foreseeable future; he missed 9 games to start the season with the same injury, caused by knuckle pushups, but did not elect to undergo surgery until January. Rubio’s missed 25 games after starting the season on the sideline recovering from a torn ACL.

And then it continues: Budinger’s only played in 6 games this season and is out indefinitely due to left knee surgery, as is Roy, Minnesota’s $10.4 million investment this offseason, who’s appeared in 5 due to right knee surgery. Malcolm Lee underwent season-ending right knee and hip surgery after playing in only 16 games. Kirilenko’s missed 9 games, Pekovic 7, J.J. Barea 8, and Josh Howard, who played in 11 games, was waived in December after suffering an ACL injury. Even head coach Rick Adelman missed 11 games spending time with his ailing wife.


So that the Timberwolves have somehow accumulated 19 wins might actually be impressive. Hell, Adelman’s now starting a SF in Mickael Gelabale who played his way onto the team via 10-day contracts. Hybrid guard Luke Ridnour is the only Wolves’ player to appear in all 50 games this season.

Minnesota’s struggled to fill the hoop, especially in the absence of leading scorer Kevin Love, tallying a 21st-ranked 95.1 points per game. Without Love, their only consistent interior scoring presence is Pekovic, contributing to their 25th-ranked 43.7% FG percentage. And the Wolves lack shooters from the outside, easily coming in dead last, at 30.1%, in 3-point percentage. The Wolves remarkably have 8 guys averaging at least 9.9 points per game — Love (18.3), Pekovic (15.9), Kirilenko (13.3), Ridnour (12.3), Budinger (11.8), Barea (11.1), Shved (10.5) and Derrick Williams (9.9) — but those players have missed a combined 109 games.


The long-term future of this organization is in flux. Love has a fractured relationship with both owner Glen Taylor and GM David Kahn, neither of whom, at least according to reports, have been the most pleasant hosts. Love is still reportedly bitter over the organization not offering him a max-level 5-year, $60 million deal, instead opting for a 4-year extension last January. Love’s still paid handsomely and on the books through at least 2014-15, as is most of the team’s young core (minus Pekovic), but his name’s even been circulated in trade rumors.

Pekovic, and his interior force, is a schoolyard bully, in the best ways imaginable, with a team-high 19.2 player-efficiency rating to go along with his 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds in 31.9 minutes. Pekovic, 27 and a restricted free agent this summer, has improved leaps and bounds each of his 3 years in Minnesota and is on pace to make some serious coin this offseason, should he sign a long-term offer sheet. Also in Minnesota’s frontcourt, Dante Cunningham, 8.2 points per game, is a reliable mid-range threat, and Greg Stiemsma, who emerged as a reliable bench guy in Boston’s run last year, is strong defensively, averaging a team-best 1.2 blocks in only 12.7 minutes.


Williams, last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, has struggled to catch on in the NBA, with numbers barely better than last year’s in less minutes. Experts lauded Williams’ athleticism coming out of Arizona, but his versatility, also supposedly a strong suit, has yet to translate, with a poor 41.2% field goal percentage and even worse 32.7% 3-point mark (2.3 attempts per game). Williams, occasionally a liability defensively, also averages more turnovers (1.0) than assists (0.4). Williams, at this point merely a very poor man’s Josh Smith, needs to be more aggressive driving to the cup with his 6’8″, 241-pound frame, which should cause matchup problems either at the 3 (height) or the 4 (speed).

Aside from newcomer Gelabale, who’s limited offensively (and intelligently plays as such), Ridnour’s the only member of Minnesota’s backcourt with any form of consistent outside game. Rubio, who’s also struggling with turnovers (2.7 per game), is only a 34.3% shooter, and Shved, though with an explosiveness Rubio lacks, is not much better at 37.7%. Barea’s a 41% shooter with a limited perimeter game, other than using his speed and niftiness to access the lane. Minnesota was relying on from Budinger and Roy’s wing scoring, but obviously injuries have hampered those expectations.


With the playoffs likely out of the picture, Kahn should starting looking toward the offseason. Love will hopefully return fully healthy at his $14.7 million salary, and Kirilenko has a $10.2 million player option he would be crazy not to extend (though he’s been effective on the floor this year, with an 18.2 PER). Unless traded, Minnesota’s stuck with Roy’s $5.3 million cap hit, the same for Williams, a player with whom I still think Kahn should exercise patience. In total, Kahn has about $50 million already dedicated in 2013-14, which is $8 million short of this year’s cap, meaning very little wiggle room to fill out his roster (and re-sign Pekovic, who, by all appearances, seems happy in Minnesota and ready to ink long-term).


For a team that has not made the postseason since 2003-04, this may be tough to hear, but this team is still a few years away from contending. A lot depends on whether Love’s a part of their future; if not, the Wolves should cut their losses, build up some assets and start over.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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