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


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: BOSTON CELTICS

February 4, 2013

When the Celtics bowed out of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, some speculated it could be the end of the “Big 3” era. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, mulling retirement, were free agents, and Paul Pierce was rumored to potentially be on the trading block, due $16.8 million in 2012-13. Just like that, a Hall of Fame-studded trio that came together in 2007 to win championships — they won one, appeared in another Finals and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals twice — was saying goodbye.

But not so fast. GM Danny Ainge lured Garnett to return with a 3-year, $34 million deal, decided to hold on to Pierce, and, though Allen left in free agency for the rival Miami Heat, re-signed Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, as well as brought in veterans Courtney Lee and Jason Terry on deals paying more than $5 million annually. The Celtics, despite the loss of Allen, were far from punting away the “Big 3” and rebuilding toward the future, but rather retooling to win … now.

Well, the early returns are in, and it’s not working. Despite a four-game win streak heading into Monday’s action, the Celtics, 24-23, are holding on to the No. 8 seed in the East. Their presumed cornerstone, Rajon Rondo, is out for at least the rest of this season after suffering a torn ACL in late January. And virtually every player on their roster, Rondo included, has been included in trade rumors with the deadline 17 days away.

So what’s the problem with this team? On paper, Ainge has fielded a $76 million roster, far above the luxury tax, that’s as talented as any in the East, minus Miami’s. The Celtics’ run under the tutelage of Doc Rivers has been predicated on defense — it’s their efforts on this side of ball that landed former assistant (and since NBA Coach of the Year) Tom Thibodeau a head-coaching gig in Chicago — and they rank No. 8 in the NBA this year, though they’re only 29th in total rebounding.

Offensively, the Celtics’ 20th-ranked unit, 95.3 points per game (0.6 less than the 95.9 their defense allows), has struggled all year. Outside of Pierce, 18.6 points per game; Garnett, 14.9; and Rondo, 13.7, Boston only has one scorer in double figures — Jason Terry at 10-even. Not one player on the roster has a 3-point percentage exceeding 38% (Leandro Barbosa). And the highest PER among players who have appeared in at least 40 of the team’s 47 games, excluding the obvious 3, is rookie Jared Sullinger; his 13.64 rating is good for 179th in the NBA, a spot below John Lucas and Carlos Delfino. (It was announced Friday that Sullinger would miss the rest of the season after undergoing back surgery.)

The Celtics’ problem boils down to their reserves. Green, Lee, Terry and Avery Bradley have struggled all year, and the Boston’s backups rank 16th in the Association in scoring. Lee, 46%, is the only of the four with a field goal percentage higher than 44%. And Brandon Bass, well regarded for his mid-range jumper, is shooting 44% from the field, 5 points below his career pace; his 7.5 points per game is 5 points below last year’s mark.

Green, who missed all of last year following heart surgery but signed a 4-year, $36 million deal this summer, has struggled to fit in since leaving Oklahoma City in 2011; his 9.8 points per game is 5.4 below his 2010-11 mark with the Thunder and 6.7 behind his career high in 2008-09. Terry’s scoring is 5.1 points below his mark with last year’s Mavericks, though he’s up to 12.5 points a night since his role increased following Rondo’s injury. And Lee’s 7.4 points per game, a career low, is 4 points behind last year’s average in Houston, though he’s playing 7 less minutes.

The Celtics miss Ray Allen’s shooting and scoring ability, and replacement by committee, the strategy behind committing a combined $36 million to Lee (4 years) and Terry (3 years), is not working. Now, the best thing Boston can do to save face is cut their losses. Should they sneak into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed and draw Miami in the first round, they’ll only lose a lottery pick and let their season last 4 or 5 games longer.

RELATED: TIME TO BLOW IT UP IN BOSTON

Rumors circulated Sunday, with the Clippers in town, that L.A. could be interested in Kevin Garnett, offering up a package of Caron Butler, due $8 million this year and next, and the far-from-energy-deprived Eric Bledsoe in return. Boston could do worse for KG, but they could also do better — KG is, after all, an All Star starter, voted in by the fans, and, though slower than years past, still a more-than-capable defender, playing on a reasonable contract. (Whether he would waive his no-trade clause to likely come off the bench for the Clippers is another story.)

In short, Boston’s chock full of bad contracts — Jeff Green’s and Courtney Lee’s, most notably — but not young talent. Now that the Paul Pierce-for-Rudy Gay swap is off the table, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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