[Image via Fernando Via / Getty Images]
Armchair Point Guard: Thoughts On An NBA Summer
by Trevor Johnson
- LeBron James’ first-person essay in Sports Illustrated was everything we want to hear from professional athletes and rarely get. Savor it and root for him in one way or another but more than anything, move past The Decision. It seems a large swath of America has — thankfully.
- Anthony Bennett will end up a much better player than he was as a rookie and playing with LeBron James will only help solidify that. But it’s difficult not to think about just how scary this Cavaliers team could be had they taken Nerlens Noel. Now the Cavs were trying to win last year, so maybe Noel would have made his debut at some point late last winter, but without altering the course of history, this team could have taken Noel, stashed him as Philly did, aimed for another top four pick in 2014 and saved cap space for LeBron. Again, scary.
- The NBA Summer League means pretty much nothing. Unless guys just look flat out bad, in which case they are not long for this league. So please take Summer League performances with a year’s supply of Morton in mind. THAT BEING SAID, defense travels, and Nerlens Noel has looked phenomenal. He has a chance to be quite the rim protector/clean up guy at the least. You know, the exact kind of guy Miami could never come up with. No one is happier about this than the Sixers. New Orleans and Cleveland are tied for saddest about it.
- I’m so glad I’m not a Lakers fan. It looks like their next legitimate chance at a top 15 player is Russell Westbrook returning home to LA in 2017. We’ll see if homecomings are still en vogue for NBA players three years from now but the cache that used to surround playing for the Purple and Gold appears to be more or less gone. Also, they still don’t have a coach. It will most likely be Byron Scott, according to the LA media. Not sure anyone should take comfort in that…
- I was about to malign the Clippers signing Spencer Hawes as their third big. Did you know Spencer Hawes has averaged 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career and he’s only 26!? Is he about to redefine the Scal role in Doc’s offense? This is a sneaky good signing.
- Paul Pierce signing with Washington also makes me sad. I wanted him to reunite with Doc – and his hometown – very badly. Signing a big was far more important but The Truth would have provided a huge upgrade over the Matt Barnes/Jared Dudley platoon, even at 37. It is, however, a great signing for the Washington Professional Basketball Team. He will own that locker room from day one, help bring along whatever talent Otto Porter has and hopefully just improve the culture of a young team that needs to keep improving. (This is all contingent on him getting no more than 20 minutes a night and sitting out most, if not all, of Washington’s back-to-backs)
- Speaking of DC and homecomings, don’t be surprised if the former Bullets are a BIG player for Beltway-born Kevin Durant in 2016, especially if OKC keeps up its cheap, underperforming ways (no fault of KD or Russ). Durant has proven fiercely loyal and sentimental, is a huge fan of the Washington Professional Football Team (go fuck yourself, Dan Snyder), and would look pretty damn good on the same floor as John Wall and Bradley Beal. Also, it’s the Eastern Conference. Durant, Wall and Beal right now would be the third best roster in the East (Sorry, Miami and New York). By then, Beal will be by far the best shooter Durant could ever play with and Wall will have hopefully settled into a top five slot amongst point guards (all depending on how Tony Parker ages and who plays alongside Steph Curry in the Bay). I’d still rather have Westbrook, Lillard, and Irving as far as guys 25 and under go, but Wall is right next to Derek Rose on that board currently.
- In regards to OKC, it’s a huge bummer that they were unable to sign Pau Gasol. Ditto for the Spurs. While Pau would have made Boris Diaw a bit redundant, especially at Diaw’s new $8 mil/year salary, it would have been fun as hell to watch him work his passing mastery with that team. As far as OKC goes, it would have taken an offensive burden off of Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, while also opening up everyone else on the team and being roughly a 10000000000% upgrade over Kendrick Perkins on offense. Maybe, finally, the Thunder could have amnestied Perk, brought in a shooter (in addition to Anthony Morrow, that is; maybe someone you feel a bit more comfortable starting, even if Reggie Jackson ends up with a majority of the crunch time minutes) and become a productive offensive team 1-5.
- However, any such aspirations rely on Scott Brooks, who has proven to be a mediocre offensive mind at best. The time to fire Brooks was after the Thunder bowed out pathetically to Memphis in 2013. I know Westbrook was hurt and I know Memphis was a great defensive team at the time but Kevin Durant is and was the best scorer alive. If you can’t get him open, you don’t deserve your job. It would have been a perfect opportunity to take a run at one of Popovich’s protégées who have all been snapped up since. I can’t keep talking about OKC; it just makes me sad.
- Am I insane or do the Knicks have some fun pieces? Tim Hardaway Jr., Jose Calderon (quietly one of the best 3-point shooters in the league), Iman Shumpert’s defense, projects like Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early and a member of the Antetokounmpo blood line. They still have Amare’s knees (one more year) and Andrea Bargniani’s cadaver (also one more year) to deal with, but all that cap space, Phil Jackson’s mind games and a year of experience for Derek Fisher could make them a very interesting player in free agency next summer… if anyone of note is available (right now it’s Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic).
- The draft is the ultimate crapshoot (as documented last month by the almighty Sports Guy) but I can’t help but feel strongly that teams will deeply regret passing on Gary Harris and Rodney Hood. Two guys with prototypical NBA bodies that are known to D up and hit the three ball. They will be valuable pieces down the road. Of course, what do I know?
- Okay Celtics fans, it’s time to get real. Kevin Love is not an option. We are better off trying to cash in on Rondo (Ainge has proven himself capable in this arena before) and investing in the Marcus Smart regime than hoping a smattering of guys that have never accomplished anything on their own (Rondo, Love, Green, etc.) can make a run at the Eastern Conference Finals. This team doesn’t even have a knockdown shooter amongst them. Better to retool, pile up assets in exchange for a year of Rondo (and hopefully Jeff Green, no offense Uncle Jeff; I honestly like you as a player and a human being but you deserve to be the 4th best guy on a contender, not the second best guy on a lottery team. Godspeed) and plan for a time when Philly and a weaker LeBron are your main competition in an improving East. I believe in Marcus Smart and to a lesser extent, James Young (though I don’t see what he offers that the 6’8” Rodney Hood doesn’t…). I love you, Rajon Rondo, you have given Celtics fans countless good memories and you deserve to play for a winner. But that team wont be wearing kelly green anytime soon. Vaya con Dios and happy trails. I hope you and Dwight Howard can put together something beautiful. You deserve it.
- The NBA is fantastic.