Notes From Spurs-Warriors

Last night in San Antonio, the Spurs turned in a stifling defensive performance, holding the explosive Warriors to a mere seventy-nine points, over thirty-five below their season average.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a spectacular game, scoring twenty-six points while grabbing thirteen rebounds, and there was nothing Golden State could do to stop him. That’s what happens when Andrew Bogut is out. Draymond Green is a great player, but he never got a break from defending San Antonio’s big men. Furthermore, while Green’s low center of gravity allows him to capably guard much bigger players, it does nothing to stop them from shooting fadeaways over him, as Aldridge did repeatedly last night.

Still, that clearly wasn’t the problem last night, as the Spurs were able to score only eighty-seven points. The Warriors’ problem was that they were unable to score. More importantly, Stephen Curry was shut down and held to fourteen points on eighteen shots, an abysmal 34.7% true shooting percentage. For context, Curry’s TS% on the season is a league leading 67.5%, while players not noted for their sharpshooting, such as Rajon Rondo (49.8%), Kobe Bryant (46.3%), and Emmanuel Mudiay (42.7%, the worst mark in the league), have shot better over the course of the season than Curry did last night.

Now, the Warriors had lost six times before last night, but how repeatable are those losses? The Blazers beat the Warriors by shooting 17-30 from three and the Lakers beat them when they shot 4-30 from three. The Mavericks beat the Warriors when they were without Curry and Harrison Barnes and the Nuggets beat them by two when they were without Green. The Bucks beat the Warriors when they were coming off a double-overtime game the night before and the Pistons beat them by eighteen in the only game that there wasn’t a clear reason for why they lost.

None of these games, other than the one against Detroit, provide any valuable insight into how to beat Golden State. At first glance, last night’s game looks very similar to the Lakers game: the Warriors shot 25% from three, with Curry and Klay Thompson combining to go 2-19 from deep. Is that really something the Spurs can count on in the playoffs?

Here’s where the eye test comes in handy. Last night, Curry and Thompson weren’t missing wide-open shots; the Spurs didn’t give them any space. San Antonio hounded the Splash Brothers both on and off the ball, not giving them any room to operate. Helped by Kawhi Leonard and their league-best defense, the Spurs only allowed twenty-nine combined points from Thompson and Curry.

As always, the important question is whether or not this game provides a blueprint for how to beat the Warriors. To me, it’s somewhere in the middle.

On one hand, playing close and physical with Curry and Thompson is a recipe for success. However, not every team has the reigning DPOY on it.

I think it’s fair to say that last night’s game provided a way to beat the Warriors, but one that only the Spurs can follow. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not San Antonio will be able to maintain its defensive success in its next meeting with Golden State, on April 7th in Oracle Arena.

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

OKC’s Big Problem

Last month, the Thunder traveled to Oracle Arena to face the Warriors. After coming back from a huge deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Thunder ended up losing 116-108.

Oklahoma City’s starting lineup, consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, and Steven Adams, had a point differential of +4 over the 20.6 minutes it played together.

The lineup containing Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Cameron Payne, Kyle Singler, and Dion Waiters wasn’t able to convert a field goal across the 2.6 minutes it played together. Even when Durant was switched in for Waiters, the lineup was only able to make a single shot over the 2.2 minutes it played together. Across the 4.7 (due to rounding) minutes that the Kanter/Adams combo played, it managed to score only four points on eight shots, and had a point differential of -5.

Why is this combo so awful?

Adams is a center in the mold of Tyson Chandler. He has little offensive skill and often scores off of lobs. Kanter is a post-up behemoth, ranking in the top sixth of the NBA in post-up attempts (among qualified players) with 139 despite playing only 20.6 minutes per game off the bench.

Having a pair of centers who operate best close to the basket isn’t conducive to good spacing and without proper spacing, it’s nearly impossible to create an adequate offense. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at a couple of plays from their time together during the game.

Here, we see Dion Waiters drive down the middle of the floor, looking for a layup. He’s unable to get a shot off, so he passes it to Cameron Payne. The rookie point guard then drives down the right side of the court. In a properly functioning offense, Payne would have space to drive to the basket for a shot at the rim. However, in this muddled mess, Payne has to stop short and let loose an awful floater that hits the side of the backboard.

Here, Waiters drives down the middle of the court. He’s met with a wall of bodies, and wildly chucks the ball out to Payne. The rookie immediately drives towards the rim, but yet again, he has to release an ugly floater in traffic.

Kanter is an offensive rebounding monster (he’s tied for 17th in offensive rebounds per game among players who have played in at least twenty games with an average of 2.8, overcoming his disadvantage in minutes) and he manages to corral the ball after Payne’s miss. However, he’s swamped by four or five Warriors at once. At one point, seven of the ten players on the floor are all in that tangled jumble of arms and legs. Kanter tries a couple of times to get a shot off, but the ball is ripped away, and the Warriors immediately launch a fast-break.

You might be wondering why this combination is a problem worth worrying about. After all, it’s impactful for only a few minutes every game.

In the regular season, the Adams/Kanter combo +0.3 per 3.5 minutes per game over 19 games.. However, what happens when the Thunder make the playoffs and need to beat both the Spurs and the Warriors, two historically great teams, to make the Finals? How’s that gonna work out?

In the playoffs, defenses are amped up and specific players are game-planned for. If Adams and Kanter are still playing together for a few minutes a game, then that’s time that the Thunder’s opponent will have a big advantage. In the regular season, against average teams, it’s often not a problem. However, against the Spurs and Warriors the deficit might be insurmountable.

I wrote most of this article before February 27th, when the Warriors overcame the Thunder in overtime to win the most exciting game of the season. I paid close attention to when Kanter and Adams played together, but they didn’t share the court for a single second. Similarly, last week, when the two teams faced off again, Kanter and Adams were never on the court at the same time. Perhaps Billy Donovan hacked into my account and read my draft of this article, or, more probably, finally decided to use common sense.

Not only did Donovan scrap the Kanter-Adams pairing against the Warriors, but he’s also done well to excise them from the rotation. Since the All-Star break, Kanter and Adams have played a mere 6.4 minutes together over two games. Amusingly enough, over those minutes, the Thunder were -5 and made only two shots on eleven attempts.

Now that Kanter and Adams are no longer playing together, Oklahoma City is poised to pose a serious threat to San Antonio and Golden State in the playoffs.

Toronto’s in Trouble: Why the Raptors Should Have Gone All-In

The Raptors are doing great. Splendidly, in fact. Just over two-thirds of the way through the season, Toronto is second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 39-19, only two-and-a-half games behind conference-leading Cleveland.

Furthermore, the Raptors own the sixth-best point differential in the NBA. At +4.5, their point differential trails only the Clippers and the “big four” of title contenders: the Cavs, Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder. Although it’s not in the top tier of the NBA, Toronto is safely ensconced in the next group of teams.

All in all, the Raptors are in good shape, and Masai Ujiri felt no need to shake things up before last week’s trade deadline despite the team’s gaping holes at the forward positions. DeMarre Caroll’s eventual return from a knee injury will shore up the three, but Luis Scola is currently the starting four. The Argentinian means well, but at this point his career, he’s simply not a viable starting power forward on a team that fancies itself a contender.

Ujiri chose not to address that problem, and Scola remained the starter. His reasoning, presumably, was that the Raptors are clearly a cut below the NBA’s elite, and it would make little sense for them to go all-in for a season in which they don’t have a real shot at a championship.

However, was it really the right move to pass on acquiring a power forward like Ryan Anderson? Should the Raptors really be waiting until next year to make a serious push for a title?

I think not. Toronto is one of the best teams in the league right now, and they can’t pass up this opportunity. There’s no guarantee that the Raptors will have a shot like this one with their current team. Who knows what will happen in the future?

Next year, and for years to come, Cleveland will still have LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, Boston’s young core will continue to get better and better, and other teams, like Detroit, Orlando, Milwaukee, and more, will be far more competitive than they are today. In two years, this Raptors team won’t even have a guarantee of a home playoff series, let alone a top-2 seed in the conference.

That prediction assumes that Toronto continues to improve, or, at the very least, maintains their current level of play, but that’s no guarantee either.

This season, the Raptors are about $1.6 million over the salary cap, shelling out $71.6 million to field the team. Next season, however, Toronto already has $82.7 million committed to twelve players, and that’s with DeMar DeRozan’s $9.5 million player option. Barring a catastrophic injury, DeRozan will decline his option, and command a max deal on the open market, one that will start at $25 million. The Raptors are stuck in a bind: Resign DeRozan and lose flexibility, or let him go elsewhere and lose continuity?

Luckily for the Raptors, per Zach Lowe, the salary cap for the 2016-17 season is currently projected to be at $92 million, rather than the $89 million that the NBA originally projected, giving them extra flexibility. However, they’ll still be a few million dollars over the cap. hindering Ujiri in trades and free agency.

The salary cap for the 2017-18 season is expected to be $108 million, which will allow Toronto to resign Kyle Lowry, who will decline his player option, without going over the cap. However, Lowry will earn at least as much as DeRozan, if not more (the exact amount is uncertain due to the uncertainty about the exact salary cap, which dictates max salaries). Even if we conservatively project Lowry’s 2017-18 salary to be $25 million, the Raptors will still be bumping up against the cap.

If Toronto resigns both Lowry and DeRozan to max contracts, then by 2017-18, it will be spending $98.6 million on six players: Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, and Terrence Ross. That’s a lot of money to commit to six players who collectively are, at best, solidly above-average. Filling out that roster would be nine players making close to the minimum, but even those cheap players will push Toronto over the salary cap.

It’s fine to commit a ton of money to a few players and go over the salary cap in the process. Teams like the Cavaliers, the Thunder, and the Warriors do it, but those teams are giving their money to some of the best players in the league, not just good ones, like the Raptors.

Even worse, unlike the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the 2018-19 season won’t have a big salary cap jump, so there won’t be any cap relief for the Raptors in the near future.

There are still some bright sides to Toronto’s situation. The salary scale for draft picks is locked in regardless of what happens with the cap, and, in addition to owning all of their own first rounders, the Raptors also own the Clippers’ 2017 first round pick and the lowest of the Knicks’ and Nuggets’ 2016 first rounders.  Those picks will provide cheap and (hopefully) valuable players, allowing Toronto to spend elsewhere on its roster.

However, Toronto’s picks will be in the mid-to-late 20s, while Los Angeles’ choice will be in the early-to-mid 20s. Only the lesser of New York and Denver’s first rounders will be in the lottery, so Toronto will have to draft extremely well to nab productive players from those disadvantageous draft slots.

We haven’t even delved into the Lowry’s advancing age (he turns 30 in less than a month), or DeRozan’s limitations (he can’t shoot threes), or any other problems that might crop up over the coming years.

Now, at least, the Raptors know that they’re a top team, and, although the Cavaliers look unstoppable, they’re only one fortuitous injury away from being in the NBA Finals. And that’s just as things stand right now. Imagine if Toronto had added Anderson; it would have become a serious threat to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It’s always risky to make a big move, especially when there’s an uncertain reward, but it’s clear that there’s far more uncertainty a few years down the line than there will be in a few months.

There were definitely some good reasons for the Raptors to refrain from making a big trade before the deadline, but in a few years, they seem likely to regret their decision.

Who’s the Most Exciting Player on the Mets?

As we near spring training and inch closer to the beginning of the regular season, roles on every MLB team begin to crystallize. Teams identify their closers, determine how they’ll allocate playing time, and figure out the bottoms of their rotations.

While these roles are important to teams, as a Mets fan, at this point, I don’t really care if Lucas Duda hits fourth or fifth, or if Addison Reed or Antonio Bastardo enters the season as the setup man. What I care about is the player who gets me pumped for the game each night, the player who forces me to come to Citi Field simply to see him play, the player who gets me emotionally invested in the Mets.

What we’ll do today is figure out who that player is. Let’s get started.

Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is tremendously exciting. His immense power is fearsome to behold and he plays the game with a joy that’s easy to see.

His play in the outfield is what sets him apart from other sluggers. Not his good play, mind you, but the kind of riveting drama that comes with not knowing whether or not he’ll catch a routine fly ball.

To be fair, his mistakes aren’t at the level of Kyle Schwarber’s fielding gaffes, but they’re still pretty painful.

However, there’s still plenty of good along with the bad.

In addition to those magnificent throws, one of Cespedes’ more entertaining quirks is his penchant for, after making a catch, throwing the ball back to the infield underhand.

Cespedes is very exciting, of course, but a lot of his excitement stems from his mistakes, removing the favorite from contention early on.

Jeurys Familia 

Familia too is a riveting player. The 26-year old took over the closer job last season and kept it for the rest of the year, racking up 48 saves.

He wields a variety of wicked pitches. The movement on this pitch is absolutely ridiculous:

Familia was good enough that he was able to come into games and easily shut the door on any potential threat. Just take a look at what he did to the Nationals at the end of one game last year:

Simply evil. That second strikeout, the one that came against 2015’s NL MVP, Bryce Harper, came on a filthy 96 mph splitter.

Most important, however, are his entertaining post-save celebrations.

You can’t be a good closer without being able to celebrate effusively after a successful save.

Familia’s case for being the Mets’ most exciting player has a serious flaw: Wouldn’t anyone put in his position be exciting? I mean, he’s a closer on a contending team, one that has provided him with plenty of opportunities for saves. In the pivotal ninth inning situations in which Familia most often appeared, Mets fans would have been glued to the TV regardless of who the closer was.

To be clear, Familia’s certainly not a run-of-the-mill pitcher, but I don’t think he’s quite worthy of the title of being the Mets’ most exciting player.

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard, put simply, is electric. Last year, as a rookie, no other starter averaged a faster pitch than Thor’s 97.3 mph four-seam fastball.

I love watching Syndergaard’s smooth delivery and unfair pitches. While writing this section, I went down a forty-minute wormhole of watching GIFs of Syndergaard. Here are the four best I found:

That pitch looked like it decided, about halfway to the plate, to slow down of its own volition. The best part of that pitch? The batter, Justin Turner, turning to the umpire afterwards, probably saying something like: “We need a rule change. That can’t happen again. That’s completely unfair.” The scary thing is that he might be right.

Ho-hum, just another nasty pitch to strike out the 2015 NL MVP.

Perhaps hitters should start wearing chin straps on their helmets when they’re facing Syndergaard. After all, it’s kind of embarrassing when you completely whiff on a pitch, spin around completely, and then, adding insult to injury, lose your helmet in the process.

That’s dastardly. That’s a 98 mph pitch that changes direction right as it hits the plate, curving in as a strike, even though it had looked to be a ball. You’ve gotta feel for Yangervis Solarte; there wasn’t anything he could have done about that.

So yeah, Thor is ridiculous. But is he the most exciting Met?

He’s definitely close. He’s got some of the best pitches in the game, and, at 23-years old, he’s only getting better. The problem is that his starts, while spectacular, aren’t quite events. To me, the most exciting player on the team is the guy who forces me to come to Citi Field, simply to bask in his glow, joining the revelry surrounding the game. Syndergaard isn’t quite there yet.

Matt Harvey

I’ve got the same opinion of Harvey as just about every other Mets fan: I like him, but he fell considerably in my eyes after the innings-limit debacle of last season.

However, there’s absolutely no question that Harvey is the Mets’ most exciting player. No one else on the Mets inspires quite the same mix of emotions as him, that unusual combination of mild disgust and disdain coupled with effusive admiration and love.

And, remember the criterion I just mentioned? Harvey’s starts are true events. On Harvey Day, fans come in droves to watch him pitch, sporting Batman masks and cheering on their homegrown star.

Just remember what happened last season in his return to Citi Field after his long absence due to Tommy John surgery? In case you forgot, here’s his first pitch back on the mound:

That chanting, those cheers, that excitement that Harvey produces? That’s what makes him the Mets’ most exciting player.

Trade Grade: Morris to Washington

Yesterday, news broke that Phoenix had traded Markieff Morris to Washington for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair, and a top-9 protected 2016 first round pick.

Phoenix Suns

Morris had to go. After his twin, Marcus, was traded to the Pistons before the season, Markieff turned into a malcontent. Just last week, he and Archie Goodwin got into a fight on Phoenix’s bench during a game against the Warriors:

Well, actually, that’s not quite accurate. Morris was already awful with regards to discipline. Last season, even with his brother on the team, he was second in the NBA with fifteen technical fouls. He had so many that some YouTuber was inspired to make this video:

For obvious reasons, that’s not the sort of player that the Suns, or really any NBA team, would want to have in their locker room. However, Morris is a solid stretch four, the kind of player than any team would be happy to have on their team. That duality, of both being a desirable player and an undesirable locker room presence, is a big factor in the confusion over Morris’ value around the league.

Nabbing a first round pick for Morris is great. They get rid of a locker-room cancer who, at twenty-six years old, is unlikely to become much more than he currently is. Kudos to Ryan McDonough for a very good trade.

Grade: A-

Washington Wizards

It’s a big commitment to take on Morris, who, as we just discussed, isn’t exactly a positive locker room influence. Morris is under contract for three more seasons after this one, so if he turns out to be a mistake, the Wizards will have a hard time extricating themselves from him.

However, those three years are part of what makes Morris so valuable. He’s signed through his age-29 season at a dirt-cheap contract that averages $8 million per season. Yeah, that’s a lot of money, but under the rising cap, $8 million for a solid starter is nothing.

The Wizards are gambling that Morris manages to put his immaturity behind him so that his talent can shine through unhindered. However, it remains to be seen if he’s capable of doing so.

Morris could potentially be a useful player for the Wizards, but he’s risky and at the price of a first round pick, it’s not a risk I would have taken. This trade will turn out poorly if Morris bombs in Washington, but if he can turn his career around, this trade could very well lead to a…

Grade: C+

Trade Grade: Motiejunas to Detroit

Earlier today, news broke that Houston had traded Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to Detroit for Joel Anthony and a top-8 protected 2016 first round pick. Houston then sent Anthony along with Denver’s 2017 second round pick to Philadelphia for the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons should have just stopped while they were ahead. After ripping Orlando off in Tuesday’s trade for Tobias Harris, Detroit had long-term starters at all five positions and adding in Motiejunas only creates a logjam in the frontcourt.

Furthermore, Motiejunas is coming off a serious back injury and is a restricted free agent after this season. At that point, after only two months of playing for them, the Pistons will have to decide whether or not to shell out a significant amount of cash to keep Motiejunas around for years to come.

It’s not like Motiejunas is a bad player. The seven-footer is capable of shooting threes, having shot nearly 37% from downtown last season on 1.9 attempts per game. He’s a useful player to have around as he provides flexibility as a stretch big man.

The problem isn’t Motiejunas; it’s the price the Pistons had to pay for him (and also Thornton, who was a throw-in, even though he had some nice moments early in the season).

That first rounder would have been another cheap player to add to their core, but instead, they’ll likely be forced to pay a ton of money to keep Motiejunas in restricted free agency after the season.

It wasn’t an awful idea for Detroit to acquire someone like Motiejunas, but there were certainly cheaper ways to do so.

Grade: C-

Philadelphia 76ers

Sam Hinkie has done it again. Hinkie managed to insert himself into yet another trade, allowing him to acquire his one-hundredth second round pick, an important milestone for him.

Maduabum isn’t an NBA prospect, so the trade is really just Philadelphia taking on Anthony’s salary in return for that second round pick. Even better, the Sixers save about $1.5 million because they’re now over the salary floor thanks to Anthony.

The best thing of all is that Anthony’s $2.5 million salary in 2016-17 is fully unguaranteed, giving Hinkie flexibility that will allow him to make advantageous trades in the offseason.

This deal isn’t important enough to warrant effusive praise for Philadelphia, but it did a good job in using its excess cap space to scoop up extra assets.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets

This trade was a coup from Daryl Morey. He managed to turn a couple of unused players he was unwilling to pay into a first round pick. Sure, it’s not going to be a high pick, but even a pick in the teens is plenty valuable, especially since the draftee will be on a dirt cheap rookie contract.

The Rockets also managed to escape paying the luxury tax by giving the Sixers a second rounder, saving them millions of dollars.

Foisting a couple of unwanted players onto Detroit and receiving a first round pick and millions of dollars in savings in return is a job well done by Houston.

Grade: A+

The Blockbuster Trade That Needs to Happen

As fans, blockbusters are fun to think about. It’s great to imagine stars flying around willy-nilly, the landscape of the league changing every other minute.

The problem with blockbusters is that they almost never occur. The reason why blockbusters so rarely happen can be easily explained by Newton’s first law: An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force (thanks 8th grade science!). GMs are unwilling to gamble their jobs on one big move, so rather than taking a chance, they’re content to just sit back and do nothing.

There are a couple of stars rumored to be available: Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. However, it’s unlikely that a team overcomes its inertia to pull off a blockbuster trade for either of them, because Doc Rivers’ asking price for Griffin is sky-high and teams have little interest in trading for Howard, who’s on an expiring contract, is declining, has dealt with nagging injuries, and will expect a max contract in free agency, one that starts at $30 million per season. In addition, the team that has the most assets available in a trade and is looking for a star, the Celtics, “have recoiled at paying a price Houston would find acceptable,” according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Speaking of those Celtics, although they won’t be going after Howard, there are still plenty of other options. And that’s the impetus for the blockbuster trade that absolutely needs to happen:

New York trades Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland 

Cleveland trades Kevin Love to Boston

Boston trades David Lee, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, James Young, unprotected Brooklyn 2016 1st round pick, top-7 protected Dallas 2016 first round pick to New York

I absolutely love this trade. It works for every single team involved.

As we were just saying, the Celtics are in the hunt for a star, and Danny Ainge has long been an admirer of Love’s game. The two make a perfect fit.

Personally, I’m not so high on Love, as to me, he’s just a more famous version of Olynyk, but if Ainge wants him, this is a reasonable price to pay. Even better, unlike Howard, Love is signed long-term; he won’t reach free agency until 2020.

Losing five good young players will hurt, but as we discussed a few days ago, the Celtics might have too many good players (if that’s possible) and are therefore unable to play them all. The same logic in trading three good players for a very good player like Al Horford applies here as well.

This trade would make Anthony happy. Melo said last Friday: “I think everybody always kind of dreams and hopes that they can play with another great player, another star player,” adding “It’s a star players’ league. I think that’s what we all talk about every time we get together.”

We can infer from that quote that Anthony is hoping to play with a star and doesn’t want to wait for Kristaps Porzingis to blossom into one. And what better a way to do it than to join his friend LeBron in Cleveland for a title run?

Every couple of years, we see Melo on Team USA, enjoying himself, just swishing three-pointers whenever someone passes to him. On the Knicks, he can’t be a complimentary player; on the Cavaliers, he can. Even better, if Tyronn Lue decided to stagger his three stars’ minutes, two of LeBron James, Melo, and Kyrie Irving would be out on the floor at the same time. All three of those guys can create shots for themselves and others, meaning that Cleveland’s offense wouldn’t miss a beat when LeBron takes a breather.

Speaking of LeBron, this trade would make him happy too. James has historically wanted to play with his friends, and Melo would make basketball sense for the Cavs as well.

Love is shooting 36.8% from three-point range, while Anthony is shooting 32.7%. However, Anthony is attempting far more challenging shots than Love; 61% of his three point attempts have come on catch-and-shoots, compared to 91% of Love’s. As you can see, unlike Love, Anthony is capable of creating his own shot. And, as more of a complimentary player, Anthony will be playing off the ball more, leading to more catch-and-shoot attempts. That’ll raise his 3FG% much closer to Love’s.

Defensively, Anthony is far superior to Love. A good way to measure defensive prowess is by defensive field goal percentage. Comparing the player’s defensive FG% to the usual FG% of the player being defended allows us to find out how the defender is playing when compared to an average defender. To illustrate this point, holding Stephen Curry to 45% shooting is considered a success, while allowing Lance Stephenson to shoot 45%, well, isn’t.

Anyways, in this regard, Anthony is a big winner. He ranks sixth in the NBA among the players who have played in at least forty games, holding his opponents to a FG% 6.3 percentage points lower than their norm, while Love ranks 229th out of the 250 players, with a mark of +4.3.

As we can see, Anthony is a clear upgrade over Love. Naturally, that leads to the question: Why wouldn’t the Celtics just trade for Melo instead? Well, Anthony has a no-trade clause, and although he’ll likely waive it if he’s sent to Cleveland to play with LeBron, he’s unlikely to allow the Knicks to trade him to Boston. On top of that, Love is 27, four years younger than the 31-year old Melo, which makes him a better fit for the up-and-coming Celtics team.

Now that we’ve established why both the Cavaliers and the Celtics would make this trade, it’s time to figure out why the Knicks would too.

Well, it’s really not that hard to figure out. Anthony is nearly twelve years older than Porzingis, and by the time the latter enters his prime, the former will be way past his. Accordingly, the Knicks would be wise to build around Porzingis and this trade would allow them to do so.

Porzingis is 20, Rozier is 21, Olynyk is 24, and Young is 20. The two 2016 first rounders will be similarly aged. Add in the 23-year old Jerian Grant and the 24-year old Langston Galloway, and that’s the start of a damn good roster.

The Knicks will also have control of all of those players for years to come, allowing them to develop chemistry through continuity.

The last guy New York would acquire is Lee. He’s an unimportant part of this deal, as he’s on an expiring contract and would be included just to make the salaries work.

Again, I’m doubtful that this blockbuster will ever occur, but if ever there were a time for NBA teams to overcome their inertia to actually make a trade, this is definitely the trade with which to do it.

Trade Grade: Harris to Detroit

Earlier today, news broke that Orlando had traded Tobias Harris to Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.

Detroit Pistons

This trade immediately turns the Pistons into long-term Eastern Conference contenders. No, they’re nowhere near even an NBA Finals run, but this trade gives them a great shot at a playoff series victory or two if they can vault up past the eighth seed to avoid Cleveland in the first round.

It’s not like what happens this season matters that much. If Detroit wins a playoff series, great! If it wins two, even better! The best thing about this trade is that it’s not some insane win-now move for a team that won’t win anything; it’ll help the Pistons a ton in the future.

Ilyasova and Jennings, 28 and 26 respectively, are veterans. Ilyasova is signed for the rest of this year and has an unguaranteed salary in 2016-17 while Jennings is on an expiring contract. Neither of those two guys will be around for very long.

Harris, on the other hand, is in the first season of a four year, sixty-four million dollar contract. It seems like a lot of money, and it is, but thanks to the rapidly rising salary cap, sixteen million dollars a year isn’t much to spend on a player like Harris.

Best of all, Harris is 23 years old. The other players worth keeping the Pistons have are all at similar ages: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 22, Stanley Johnson is 19, Andre Drummond is 22, and at 25, Reggie Jackson is the elder statesman of the bunch. Together, these five players form a rapidly improving core and will be in their primes at roughly the same time.

Harris is a tweener, and toggles between each forward position. When he plays power forward, the other four members of the core are able to play as well; when he plays small forward, Marcus Morris can play at the four. Either way, there should be plenty of minutes freed up for him, especially with Ilyasova’s 27.6 minutes at power forward now gone.

Detroit has acquired a 23-year old player who’s already a solid starter and is locked into a cap-friendly deal for the next three seasons. All it had to give up to get him were a couple of veterans who didn’t fit the team’s timeline for contention. Overall, this was a coup for the Pistons.

Grade: A

Orlando Magic

It’s tough to see what Rob Hennigan was thinking here.

As we discussed above, Ilyasova and Jennings are veterans without upside and with no guaranteed money beyond this season. Harris, on the other hand, is a twenty-three year old oozing with upside, and is signed for three more seasons.

Remember what we said earlier about Harris fitting in with Detroit’s core age-wise? Yeah, he fits even better with Orlando’s: Victor Oladipo is 23, Elfrid Payton turns 22 next week, Mario Hezonja is 20, Evan Fournier is 23, Nikola Vucevic is 25, and Aaron Gordon is 20.

Harris could have grown and matured alongside a core that is under Orlando’s control for at least another season and a half. In the NBA, continuity is priceless, as we’ve seen with elite teams like the Warriors and Spurs. In the present day climate, with increasingly short contracts, continuity is elusive, and the Magic, for some strange reason, decided to give up a big part of theirs.

And what did they give him up for? Almost nothing! At best, Jennings and Ilyasova are “veteran mentors” who can “show the youngsters how to win”. The only problem with that explanation is that Jennings and Ilyasova have been on winning teams only once apiece, on the 2009-10 Bucks team that won a grand total of forty-six games.

Speaking of that team, interestingly enough, it was coached by none other than Scott Skiles, who also happens to currently coach the Magic.

Anyways, if Ilyasova and Jennings aren’t particularly good, and if they don’t have much experience winning, and if they won’t be around long-term, then why in the world would Orlando trade for them?

This deal seems a lot like a win-now move, except that Orlando is worsening its future while worsening its current team too. One other problem with this win-now move? The Magic currently sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 23-29. To make the playoffs, they’d have to vault over three teams, including the Pistons, just to get the eighth seed, where they’ll promptly be slaughtered by Cleveland in the first round.

The single possible benefit for the Magic in this trade is acquiring Ilyasova’s unguaranteed contract for 2016-17. In the offseason, they’ll be able to trade Ilyasova to a cap-starved team and pick up an asset for their help as a cap-declogger. However, the asset that they receive in return for Ilyasova is unlikely to be anywhere near as valuable as Harris is.

Again, there’s little upside to this deal, and a ton of downside. The Magic aren’t winning now, but this trade hurts their chances at winning in the future.

Unless there’s something about Harris that the public doesn’t know, this trade was a grave mistake for the Magic.

Grade: D

Should Boston Trade for Horford?

Lately, rumors have been rampant that the Hawks intend to blow up their team. I don’t really understand why they would, as they’re currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and eighth in the NBA in point differential at +2.7.

Yeah, three of their five starters are hitting free agency this offseason, and yeah, they don’t have a chance at winning the championship, but as of right now, they’re locks to win between six and ten playoff games.

Perhaps the Hawks are done settling for mediocrity and have decided that they either want a really good team or a really bad team. It makes sense, but it’s too bad that the NBA’s rules make being a run-of-the-mill good team something undesirable.

Anyways, what’s more interesting is that the Celtics have been rumored to be interested in trading for Al Horford. Does it make sense for them to do so?

Horford isn’t a superstar, but he’s definitely an elite player, and besides, unlike many players, his skill set allows him to fit into almost any team. Horford is something of a stretch-center, in that he’s capable of defending centers while being able to shoot threes on offense.

Naturally, that malleability is appealing to the Celtics, but what would they have to give up to get him?

Despite reports of Atlanta’s asking price for Horford being “borderline ridiculous,” as the trade deadline nears, it will likely drop to more reasonable levels. For Boston, that’ll mean an offer along the lines of the Dallas top-7 protected first rounder and a couple of rotation players.

Giving up two rotation players, such as Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, along with the Dallas pick will hurt, but a three-for-one will benefit the Celtics in another way. With all their picks and their current roster, the Celtics will soon have so many good players that they won’t be able to play them all. In fact, that’s a problem they face now, as solid players such as Jerebko and David Lee play less than sixteen minutes a game.

Trading for Horford means trading away three solid players for one very good one. For many teams, that wouldn’t be a good idea, but for the Celtics, it’s another bonus to the deal.

Some may say that it makes no sense for Boston to trade for Horford because it’s foolish to go all-in when they don’t have a chance at the championship. However, would it really be all-in?

If the deal we discussed earlier comes to fruition, the Celtics won’t come close to being “all-in”. They’ll keep their best long-term asset in the unprotected Nets first rounder, and their core of Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder will remain untouched.

The main roadblock to a Horford-to-Boston trade is Horford’s impending free agency. Still, that’s not a deal-breaker. The Celtics may trade for Horford anyways if they’re confident in that their team and culture will appeal to him and entice him to resign. Alternatively, similarly to the Goran Dragic trade last season, the Celtics can extract an unspoken promise from Horford that he’ll return in free agency.

Overall, it would make sense for Boston to trade for Horford, assuming that they don’t have to give up the Nets pick or part of their core, and if they know they’ll be able to keep him long-term. Otherwise, it’s too high a price to pay for three months of a very good center and a better shot at a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.