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

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Semi-delayed thoughts on KG, Pierce deal

June 30, 2013

The biggest news in the NBA world Thursday was not connected to the Draft. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bomb that afternoon — the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics were in serious talks regarding a trade that would send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in exchange for three first-round draft picks and cap fillers.

As early as Thursday evening, Woj reported an agreement was reached in principle after Garnett agreed to waive his no-trade clause. The trade, Woj said, could not be finalized by the league office until July 10.

Per Woj, the Nets will receive Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in exchange for first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 (and the right to swap in 2017), Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Reggie Evans, and a signed-and-traded Keith Bogans. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported Saturday MarShon Brooks would be included in the deal, and not Evans and Joseph.

One of the most lopsided trades in recent NBA history.

That’s how I’d describe this trade two days after the fact, should it be league-approved. Boston loses a 15-time All Star in Garnett, 37, and a 10-time All Star in Pierce, 35; both of whom are closer to retirement than their primes, sure, but I’d insist both are still top 25 talents in this league, without debate.

Boston gets 3 good things in this deal: a) Brooks, 24, who averaged 12.6 points per game in less than 30 minutes in his rookie season, before seeing his PT more than halved this year; b) 3 (likely very late) first-round draft picks, including one next year, which is already considered to likely be one of the elite classes in NBA history; and c) the good fortune to wave goodbye to Terry’s contract, which pays him close to $11 million over the next 2 seasons.

But Boston also gets cast-offs in Humphries, Bogans and Wallace, all unlikely to make a major difference on a likely non-playoff team. Oh, and the right to pay Gerald Wallace $10.1 million per over the next 3 seasons. Wallace’s scoring has dropped every season since 2009-10, and he averaged only 7.7 points on sub-40% shooting last year, his lowest totals since 2003-04 in Sacramento.

To Boston’s benefit, Humphries is a $12 million expiring and Brooks is still earning a rookie wage. But Pierce was, assuming GM Danny Ainge picked up his option, a $15.3 million expiring this year, and Garnett, considering his value, is owed a very reasonable $11.5 and $12 million over the next 2 seasons, before his deal expires.

It’s clear the Celtics are blowing the whole thing up. Rumors circulated Saturday of a potential Celtics-Mavericks Rajon Rondo deal. If he’s not dealt this summer, I’d expect Rondo on the block by February’s trade deadline, pending a healthy return from a torn ACL suffered in January.

Can the Nets compete in the East?

Assume this trade goes through and head coach Jason Kidd boasts an opening day starting lineup of Pierce, Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. That’s 35 All Star appearances among 5 guys. If Brooklyn can round out their bench with quality ring-chasing veterans to surround Terry, you have to think they’re right there with Chicago, Indiana and New York, behind Miami.

But lots of questions remain. Can Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony both stay healthy … and co-exist? How does Derrick Rose return after missing an entire season due to ACL surgery? Are Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer still Bulls, and who does GM Gar Forman find to replace likely free agent departures Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton? Does Danny Granger return healthy as instant offense off Frank Vogel’s bench, or does Indiana ship him elsewhere for assets? Can Indiana re-sign David West?

Oh, and how does a starting lineup of 5 former All Stars — all of whom, minus Lopez, have previously been the star of a playoff team — co-exist?

Only time will tell.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Mavs lurking by No. 8 playoff seed.

March 27, 2013

In not-so-good news for any team chasing the Western Conference’s No. 8 playoff seed, namely the L.A. Lakers and Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks refuse to surrender their season. Even after falling at home to the playoff-bound Clippers on Tuesday, Dallas sits only one game behind the Lakers, even with No. 9 seed Utah. Less than 2 years after winning an NBA championship, head coach Rick Carlisle’s team has fought its way back, winning 10 of their last 14.

In fact, Dallas, 35-36, is only 3 consecutive wins away from shaving some of their ridiculous beards, as part of a pledge many of them made in February to not trim their facial hair until the team reached .500. (Well, their next 4 and 6 of their last 11 are against likely playoff teams, including 2 vs. the streaking Denver Nuggets, so maybe Dirk & Co. should expected to keep the ‘Duck Dynasty’ look.)

Before we go further, a quick look at the West’s fight for the No. 8 seed:

LAL: 36-35, 1-2 vs. Utah (0 left, head-to-head), 2-1 vs. Dallas (1)

UTA: 35-36, 2-1 vs. LAL (0), 2-1 vs. Dallas (0)

DAL: 35-36, 1-2 vs. LAL (1), 1-2 vs. Utah (0)

And remaining schedules

LAL: at MIN, at MIL, at SAC, vs. DAL, vs. MEM, at LAC, vs. NO, at POR, vs. GS, vs. SA, vs. HOU

UTA: vs. PHO, at POR, vs. BK, vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. NO, at GS, vs. OKC, vs. MIN, at MIN, at MEM

DAL: vs. IND, vs. CHI, at LAL, at DEN, at SAC, at POR, vs. PHO, vs. DEN, at NO, vs. MEM, vs. NO

Of those schedules, the Lakers’ scares me least. Utah sees the fewest likely playoff teams (5), compared to L.A. and Dallas (both 6), but L.A. catches the breaks in timing. Milwaukee’s lost 3 straight and 6 of 8, so that one doesn’t scare me, nor does playing a San Antonio or Houston team (in the last 2 games of the season) that may be locked into its playoff seeding by then. Utah has 3 games remaining — Brooklyn, Denver and Memphis — against team’s fighting for home-court in the 1st round, and Dallas has 5. (The Lakers have 2 — Memphis and the Clippers — but both games are in their friendly, Staples Center confines.)

But given all that’s happened to Dallas this season, I find it amazing they’re even still alive. Their best player, future-Hall-of-Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki, missed the season’s first 27 games due to knee surgery — in which the Mavs started the year 12-15 — and has been limited just about ever since. Chris Kaman’s missed 14 games, Brandan Wright 18 and Shawn Marion 15. A remarkable 15 guys have started at least a game for Dallas, and 21 have logged regular season minutes.

Poor health aside, the team’s 2 most consistent players have been O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter. The hole Tyson Chandler’s departure left last season has yet to be filled, and only been exacerbated by the hole the departure of point guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry created. Darren Collison — 12.2 points, 5.2 assists and 47 starts — has been pushed out of the starting lineup for Mike James — yep that 37-year-old Mike James.

Think about it this way. According to 82games, their best 5-man unit, at least in terms of scoring differential, is James, 37; Carter, 36; Jae Crowder, 22; Nowitzki, 34; and Brand, 34. That unit’s scores 1.24 points per possession, the best of any Mavericks’ 5-man combination to log at least 30 minutes together, and yields only 0.97 points per possession to opponents, the best of any 5-man combination to play at least 40 minutes together. They’ve outscored opponents by 25 points in 49.2 minutes — again, a lack of shared time largely due to injuries. (Average age? 32.6.)

Of course this team’s not a threat to do anything in the postseason. Last year, OKC swept the defending champs in the 1st round, and that team drew core contributions from Kidd, Terry and Delonte West. So, unless Dirk were to go bonkers one night, Dallas would probably be swept again.

In the NBA, though, a stubborn lurker with a superstar is never someone to take lightly. And the fact they’re still hanging around, when everyone, myself included, wrote them off months ago, is really a testament to the guys in the locker room, starting with Carlisle.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: NEW YORK KNICKS

February 22, 2013

New York’s in a bit of a funk right now, having lost 3 straight and suffering a brutal 34-point defeat Wednesday in Indiana. At 32-19, Mike Woodson’s club has cooled off since its hot start, now 5.5 games behind the first-place Heat and only a half-game up on the 3-seed Pacers. The Knicks, 5-5, have struggled against division opponents and only lead Brooklyn by 1 game in the Atlantic.

A team that lives and dies by the 3 — against the Pacers, they shot 5-28 — New York’s stretch success may depend on the evolution of Amar’e Stoudemire’s role, who returned from knee surgery almost 2 months ago but is still playing limited minutes. Stoudemire’s averaging 13.3 points in his 22.7 minutes, but has not yet started in 21 appearances. From an efficiency perspective, Stoudemire’s been better than expected, even after many talking heads feared his ego would conflict with Carmelo’s upon return — he’s averaging the best shooting numbers, 55% from the field and 81.4% from the foul line, of his Knicks’ tenure, and his 21.38 PER is 2nd-best on the team and 17th in the NBA.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

With Anthony, the NBA’s 2nd-leading scorer at 28.3 points per game; Stoudemire; and Chandler, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, New York has as impressive a frontcourt as anyone, at least on paper. Carmelo’s taking the most 3’s of his career at 6.8 per game, which normally would not be a good sign, but he’s connecting on 40%, the second-best mark of his 10-year career, and making 45% of his total shots. At 37.9, he’s playing his most minutes since 2009-10 in Denver. As a pure scorer, the only player on Anthony’s level is Kevin Durant.

Chandler (20.5 PER), 11.5 points and 11.1 rebounds a night, is a strong defensive anchor, able to make up for the slower lateral speed of guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. In all, New York’s defense has improved leaps and bounds from the Mike D’Antoni ‘seven seconds or less’ era in Mike Woodson’s first full year as head coach, though it’s tapered off as of late. For a reasonably fast-paced team like New York — 100.2 points per game — to be 10th in scoring defense, at 96.3 points allowed, and even ahead of Miami is worth noting. (But, on a downside, New York’s 17th in rebounding differential, -1.0, even with the services of Chandler.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Health has been a concern, as New York’s started 10 different guys — Anthony, Felton, Chandler, Kidd, Chris Copeland, Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer (since traded to Oklahoma City to make room for Kenyon Martin), Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and James White — this season, and that does not even include the team’s 2nd- and 3rd-best scorers, Stoudemire and J.R. Smith. Stoudemire’s missed 30 games, Anthony 7, Felton 12, Wallace 31, Camby 37 and Shumpert 37. Wallace and Camby, both with foot injuries, are expected to return to the lineup soon, making the Knicks fully healthy.

As Stoudemire continues to work himself back into the lineup, or at least we assume, Woodson’s starting ‘Melo at the 4, leaving Shumpert, who returned from a torn ACL in January, Kidd and Felton, 3 traditional 1-guards, in the backcourt. The spread-shooters-around ‘Melo lineup has the ability to match a similar set from Miami, when Erik Spoelstra pushes LeBron to the 4, then has Dwayne Wade, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen spacing the floor. (And New York’s been successful against Miami this year, winning their 2 matchups by 20 points, each, one of which coming without Carmelo’s services.) But even adding Smith and subtracting Kidd or Shumpert, whether such a lineup can work against Brooklyn, with the 6’7″ Joe Johnson at the 2, or Indiana, with the 6’8″ Paul George or Danny Granger at the 2, is another story entirely.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Speaking off those backcourt guys, Felton and Kidd, both offseason acquisitions, have blended into Woodson’s system nicely. At 14.8 points and 6.2 assists per game, Felton ranks 3rd and 1st on the team, respectively; as a unit, New York’s 29th in total assists, at only 19.6 per game, less than double Rajon Rondo’s pre-injury numbers. Kidd’s really remodeled his career, developing his outside shooting touch as his lateral quickness withers; at 39, he’s putting up some of the best shooting numbers — 39% from the field and 37.4% from 3 — of his 19-year career. Novak, 45% from 3, is the league’s 3rd-most accurate long-range shooter. (New York’s tops in the league in makes per game, 10, and attempts, 29, shooting a 6th-best 37.7%.)

Smith, who some say should have joined Anthony and Chandler on the Eastern Conference’s All Star team, is a Sixth Man of the Year contender; he’s averaging career-highs in points, 15.9; rebounds, 4.9; assists, 2.8; and even blocks, 0.4, all while shooting a respectable 40% from the field in his 9th year. That said, his 39.7% FG percentage is his lowest since 2005-06, and he’s taking far too many 3’s, 5.1 per game, only to convert 34%, also his lowest since 2005-06; in 33.1 minutes, he’s only attempting 3.2 free throws a night.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MIAMI HEAT

But with Smith, Stoudemire, the 28-year-old rookie Copeland, who’s averaging 6.5 points in less than 12 minutes, Novak and Wallace, a 7.2-points-a-night scorer when he’s healthy, New York’s bench is 5th-best in scoring, at 39 points per game.

Holding on to the East’s No. 2 seed, and therefore avoiding Miami in the conference semifinals, is key. Of course, New York’s a combined 1-5 against Chicago and Indiana this season, both slower-pace, defense-centric clubs capable of grinding opponents down with their size. New York, a 19-8 team at Madison Square Garden, would be a different animal at that arena in the postseason, though.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Looking ahead to next year, New York’s essentially bringing back the same team, with Smith, Wallace (nearing retirement, again) and Copeland the only notable guys not locked up through 2013-14. Smith has a modest $2.9 million player option that he’s outplayed, and very well could look for a raise in a weaker market. The Knicks are a luxury tax team through 2014-15, unless Carmelo opts out and leaves in 2014; it’s very likely ‘Melo will opt out for a longer-term deal, but given his stated desire to play in New York, it’s hard to imagine him playing elsewhere.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES LAKERS

But for now, the focus is on winning a playoff series, something a New York basketball team has not done since 2000.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL COVERAGE: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


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