There has a been whirlwind of NBA news since the NBA Finals, so let’s catch up with a transactions/quickthoughts segment.
1. Draft Preview: Our good buddy Ed Weiland will not be presenting his usual excellent draft preview. We are happy to announce that Ed has been hired by the pros this year and wish him the best of luck. I’m no draft guru but I have my sleepers…watch that Slavko Vranes!
2. David Griffin Dissed and Dismissed: It’s been a strange run for Griffin. How do you possibly assess Griffin’s record? He was hired basically when LeBron James came to town and has run with the mandate to amass as much current talent as possible to allow the Cavs to compete. In that respect, Griffin has been fine grabbing all the available assets he can.
The only really controversial move made during his tenure was firing David Blatt for Tyronn Lue. Yes, the move worked because the Cavs won a title but it is not even clear that the move was made by Griffin or ownership. So, Griffin has been perfectly adequate which makes it a little confusing why he resigned.
Without a clear problem with Griffin’s performance, the most likely answers are: (a) Dan Gilbert is a pain to work for, (b) Griffin may suspect that the Cavs have peaked and/or LeBron is considering leaving town, or (c) all of the above. There is ample evidence that Gilbert is a bit off. Forgetting his ridiculous letter to Cavs fans after LBJ left Cleveland the first time, Gilbert has made rash decisions in the past (he forced Danny Ferry out as GM right before LBJ’s 2010 free agency). As for James, it is fair to assume he has paid any debt he may feel that he owed the city of Cleveland and he will leave town if a better situation presents itself after next season. It isn’t definite that LeBron will leave but Griffin’s resignation is not a good sign for the future.
3. Sixers/Celtics Trade: An unused draft pick is an interesting asset. The possibility of having the number one pick is more valuable in theory than it is in fact. Boston was thrilled to get the top pick and Both Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball project as nice players but Boston’s needs are different. They are a good team and they are built around Isiah Thomas’ ball dominance at the point. Danny Ainge rightfully concluded that the Celts are better off maximizing value than slotting in a young guard to a win-now core with Thomas.
For the Sixers, the trade boils down to really wanting a point guard (probably Fultz) and they were willing to give up a very high pick to do that. Unless the Sixers are convinced that Fultz (or Ball) is going to be really good, this was an over pay (especially with Dennis Smith and De’Aaron Fox available at three anyway). The Lakers pick next year (or more likely the 2018 Kings pick) should be very good and should only be dealt if Philly is convinced that Fultz or Ball is a huge difference maker. It wasn’t a terrible over pay but they are definitely leaving some value on the table.
4. Brook Lopez/D’Angelo Russell Trade: This trade is rational for all parties. The Nets need young talent and Lopez will be free agent after next season. Russell is only 20 and still a bit of a wild card. His advanced stats have been solid enough (offensively) and some projection systems (notably Fivethirtyeight.com) have him pegged as future All-Star. But there is also bust potential for a young guard who has been good at times and ugly other times. The Nets can live with this kind of risk just to replenish those missing draft picks but they did not get a sure thing. Still, it is nice to see some actual young talent in Brooklyn.
The Lakers have a lot going on too. The new management has a bunch of goals. It wants desperately to have a competitive team quickly, to dump the ill-advised contracts from last season, and to make room for whomever they draft with the second pick (presumably Ball if they keep the pick). Russell has shown promise but certainly would overlap with Ball. It is logical then that the Lakers would use Russell as an enticement to move a bad contract (in this case Timofey Mozgov). In addition, bringing in Lopez will definitely help the goal of being respectable next season.
The problem here is that the Lakers have no reason to rush the rebuild. A team with Lopez at center and some other good veteran (Paul George or someone else), isn’t that good anyway. I hate giving up on Russell to compete for the eight spot next season. Nor is it clear that Ball (or whomever else they might draft) will be better than Russell. The trade is not crazy from the Lakers’ perspective but something is bothersome about giving away young talent for low-ceiling short term gain.
5. Dwight Howard Trade: At this point, Howard is underrated. It is true that he has a bad offensive game and is not quite the defensive player he was at his monster peak but he can be quite effective at times. The Hawks got virtually nothing for Howard (Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee). Why trade Howard for filler? We can conclude that the Hawks did not like Howard on a personal level and/or they plan on a hard rebuild (and Paul Millsap will not be re-signed). Finally, after years of restocking the Hawks run of respectability is probably coming to an end in 2017-18.
On the Hornets side, they get a solid center for nothing. How Howard will fit in will be an interesting question. Cody Zeller has a similar skill set and playing them together would kill the team’s offensive spacing. The Hornets will have to figure out how to balance those two players but, no matter which player gets more time, it will be a better situation than using Roy Hibbert.
Seeing Howard and Lopez get traded definitely gives us a moment of reflection. Only a few years ago, the Nets were prepared to trade Lopez and build the franchise around Howard, only to have the trade squelched by Howard’s back surgery. Things didn’t really work out for Howard or the Nets since then but now is a nice time to compare how well Lopez did versus Howard in the intervening five years:
-Howard from 2012-2017: 333 games, 32.5 mpg, 15.7 ppg, .601 FG%, 12.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.7 bpg, 20.0 PER, 34.0 WS, 1.2 BPM, 8.8 VORP
-Lopez from 2012-2017: 311 games, 30.8 mpg, 19.5 ppg, .507 FG%, 6.8 rpg, 1.5, 1.8 bpg, 22.5 PER, 29.3 WS, 1.1 BPM, 7.5 VORP
In retrospect, Lopez has been pretty much as good as Howard. Howard’s perceived value has plummeted and left disappointed front offices in Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta. Even seemingly sure things are not sure.