Holy Crap Grit and Grind is Back!

Parsons Grizzlies

Well… sure as hell didn’t see this coming. After busting out an Ozymandias quote to write a Grizzlies retrospective and predicting Mike Conley would sign with Chicago, this publication was absolutely certain that the Grit and Grind era was over and that Memphis would be in the lottery. Nope. Next year’s group might be better than ever.

If you could build the perfect player for the Grit and Grind Grizzlies from scratch you’d come up with Chandler Parsons. He’s exactly what they need, a small forward who can shoot three’s, act as a secondary ball-handler, move without the ball and play at least neutral defense. Now that they have that guy, the Grizzlies can suddenly contend again.

Their offense actually has something of an identity now, and it’s one built around actual ball movement. Marc Gasol is one of the best passing centers in basketball, and when he has the ball in the high post he now has a cutter in Parsons who can then flip the ball to the corner for an open three, make the layup himself or deliver it back to one of the bigs for a layup of their own. They can run devastating 1-3 pick-and-pops between him and Mike Conley, as both shoot well enough that they have to be guarded, but Parsons also spaces the more traditional Conley-Gasol pick-and-roll more than any Grizzly has since this group has been together. Parsons shot almost 44% on catch-and-shoot three’s last year. That’s one of the best marks in basketball.

It gives Memphis someone who can actually lead their bench unit. For years the offense died when Conley sat, and last year was no exception. Without Conley on the floor their offensive rating dropped from over 105 to 100.6. But Parsons is an actual ball-handler who can lead secondary units while Conley sits and handle the scoring load for short stretches. Heck, he can even play some power forward in a pinch if the Grizzlies wanted to experiment more with small-ball lineups.

And it makes Tony Allen playable! The last time the Grizzlies were relevant was in their series against Golden State in 2015, where the Warriors chose to defend Allen with Andrew Bogut effectively neutering the Memphis offense. But that rover strategy doesn’t work nearly as well when the other four players are legitimate offensive threats. Now they are. Parsons provides enough spacing to keep Allen’s defense on the floor, bad news for Klay Thompson, who still has nightmares about the things Allen did to him early in that series.

There are inherent risks involved in signing Parsons. His history of knee injuries is particularly troubling especially when you consider the injury problems Gasol and Conley are currently going through and how old Zach Randolph is getting. Memphis staying healthy is a long shot, but if it happens, this is suddenly one of the four best teams in the Western Conference and a team that can beat just about anyone in a short series. Remember, this core has been to a Western Conference Finals. They’ve given Oklahoma City and Golden State all they could handle. And now they’ve added the biggest free agent in franchise history, the one player tailor made to fit their specific team.

Grit and Grind is officially back. Or maybe it just never left. Either way, the Parsons addition was one of the biggest of the offseason.

Solomon Hill Was the Best Signing of the Offseason

Pelicans Solomon

 

I’m not convinced Harrison Barnes is better than Solomon Hill.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but the two have quite a bit in common. Hill is a developing three-point threat. He’s still only hanging around the league average as a 33.8% catch-and-shoot player, but that’s not much worse than Barnes at 39.6% when you consider their team situations. Hill played for the stagnant Pacers, Barnes was a part of the beautiful Warriors machine. Put them on the same caliber of team and I don’t think there’s a marked difference.

Hill is a shade better on defense. Both are known for their ability to hold up against bigger power forwards in the post while switching onto small forwards and even guards when necessary. The numbers support Hill as the better player. He held opponents to a field goal percentage 2.6% lower than the average defender whereas opponent’s shot 2% better than usual against Barnes. Indiana’s defense was nearly identical when Hill played versus when he sat, but remember, the player he most often subbed in for was Paul George. Holding down the fort at George’s level is a major achievement.

Hill has even added a bit of a low-post game. He made almost 65% of his shots within three feet of the basket last season. Barnes wasn’t far behind at 62.5%, so it’s just another area where they’re comparable.

Look, Solomon Hill probably isn’t better than Harrison Barnes. But he’s going to make half as much to do the same job for New Orleans. In this offseason climate of everyone getting vastly overpaid, that’s a major win, and it helps settle down the Pelicans’ rotation and playing style going forward.

Few teams have even one big who can capably switch onto guards. But if Hill is at the 4, both he and Anthony Davis theoretically could. That opens up all sorts of defensive opportunities for the Pellies, especially since their point guard Jrue Holliday is huge at 6’4”. They’ll certainly play more like the Warriors, aggressively switching screens, but with Holliday’s size they might even have the freedom to switch 1-5 (as opposed to Golden State, who tends to go 2-4). It’s obviously not something to do on every possession, but that flexibility is key.

Their crunch time offense suddenly makes quite a bit more sense as well. Now it’s easy: Davis plays center, Hill the 4, and Holliday, Buddy Hield and Tyreke Evans make up the final three slots. The combination of shooting and ball-handling with those five is among the best any lineup in all of basketball could throw out, but the switching potential keeps their defense afloat.

Hill isn’t the guy who makes any of this go on his own, just as Barnes isn’t in Golden State, but lineups have five players and all five need to be effective in their own ways. Hill can be for New Orleans what Barnes is for Golden State, an effective role player who excels on both sides of the ball and has positional versatility. He can play small forward in the starting lineup (when Omer Asik presumably is at center) and then shift to power forward in crunch time. He can make shots on the block or the perimeter. He fills blanks for a team that could barely field an NBA team last year. Considering he’s doing in for only $12 million per year or so, that’s an excellent contract.

I Guess the Blazers Are Dumb Now?

hi-res-5eb85122b53bec63430296d9a863c5e0_crop_north

We had such high hopes for the Blazers. They had max cap space coming off of a surprising trip to the second round. They had their two stars in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Hassan Whiteside was a realistic possibility, but even if they missed on his, surely they’d find their rim-protector and maybe another defensive wing, right?

Nope. The Blazers went the other way. They blew their wad on Evan Turner.

Evan Turner is a fine basketball player with several useful traits. Secondary creation and ball-handling is useful. Isolation scoring is useful. The ability to play multiple positions is useful. They are just not things that the Blazers needed.

They already have Lillard and McCollum. Ball-handling is the one thing they absolutely do not need. One is on the floor at all times, so I’m not sure when Turner gets to be the ball-handler he’s used to being. Positional versatility is nice, but the Blazers are locked in at point guard, shooting guard and power forward. They didn’t need someone who could do Al Farouq Aminu’s job, they needed someone who could complement Aminu.

But Turner doesn’t do that. He’s not big enough to guard power forwards, allowing Aminu to be the stopper he’s paid to be and forcing him to take on the burlier low-post threats Portland will see plenty of in the West.

Ok, so Turner was a misstep. At least the Blazers got their rim-protector, right?

Nope. They chased Pau Gasol for… some reason. They let Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahinmi and every other meaningful defensive center slip away while they waited for the one big man on the market who did absolutely nothing to help them. They were already the seventh best offense in basketball last season. Maybe Gasol gets them to 5th. Neat. That won’t make a difference if they can’t defend anyone.

This is a classic case of a team feeling the need to spend on something rather than waiting to spend correctly. Even if Portland had just sat out free agency altogether they could’ve brought money into next summer’s frenzy and chased someone like Blake Griffin. But the contract they gave Turner isn’t going away. McCollum needs to be paid. Even if these were smarter deals, it’s not as though there was any reason to go all in on this season. Lillard and McCollum are still young. There’s plenty of good will from last season, they could’ve taken a step back and no one would bat an eyelash.

But now the Blazers have spent their future flexibility building a team that doesn’t make any sense. They might make the playoffs again, but they certainly won’t advance any further than they did last season.

Why Kevin Durant Will Sign With the Los Angeles Clippers

Kevin Durant Clippers 1

There seems to be a lot of optimism about Kevin Durant re-signing with the Thunder because of how well they played against the Warriors.

Well, what if it’s the opposite? What if Kevin Durant is sitting around right now thinking, “if we couldn’t beat them under those circumstances, with a 3-1 lead, with Curry potentially hurt, how can we ever beat them?” The Thunder aren’t going to get a better opportunity to beat the Warriors than the one they just had. And they didn’t do it.

The question then becomes, if Oklahoma City can’t beat the Warriors, who can? There are plenty of fitting answers but no objectively correct ones.

Durant could go to Miami, Boston or some other Eastern Conference team with the hope that someone else knocks the Warriors off before he ever has to. That’s not exactly a bad plan. Stephen Curry’s ankles and now knee at least open the door for chronic problems that knock him out early in the playoffs. Only eight teams have made the Finals three years in a row since the merger, a big number, but not an overwhelming one. Plenty of great teams never did it, and if we expand this to the length of Durant’s next contract, it’s highly unlikely that the Warriors make the Finals six times in a row. There’s going to be at least one season where he has a chance to win the title without ever playing the Warriors.

Durant go to the Spurs hoping that joining a 67-win team would push them over the top. Golden State really doesn’t have the pieces to defend Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge at the same time (but then, no team does), especially as Andre Iguodala ages. But the Spurs have plenty of the same problems Oklahoma City just had as far as ball movement goes, and it’s likely impossible to defend the Warriors any better than the Thunder just did so betting on that end of the floor seems unwise. Plus, Durant just beat the Spurs. How many players have ever signed with a team they just beat under the premise of getting closer to a championship?

120415-nba-Kawhi-Leonard-pi-mp.vadapt.664.high.20

If it’s really about getting a ring at all costs, Durant could even sign with a young team like the Lakers or Wolves and just try to wait the Warriors out. He wouldn’t be the MVP-caliber player he is now when he gets that ring, but the odds suggest that if he stuck around long enough, the young players on a team like that would eventually surpass Golden State as they age. But no team in the history of basketball has ever waited their way into a championship. It just never happens. By the time one super team dies, two more take its place. We don’t know who they’ll be yet, but by the time any young team Durant chooses is ready to contend there’s going to be another 65-win juggernaut standing in their way.

So these other teams all have merits, but they’re all only really here because they’re 5% rule teams. With Durant, every team mentioned would have a 5% chance at winning the title in the near future. That’s not a bad place to be, it’s the bare minimum for teams to actively seek contention. But Durant isn’t going to leave Oklahoma City for a 5% rule team because with Durant invoked every team is a 5% rule team. It has to be a team that would automatically become favored in a seven-game series against the Warriors right now.

Really think about the Clippers’ roster as it compares to Oklahoma City’s right now, without Durant involved for either.

Chris Paul is better than Russell Westbrook. He might not be forever, but he is right now. He’s not going to gamble away the season on defense the way Westbrook does. He’s not going to shoot 8-for-31 in big games like Westbrook does. He’s not going to monopolize crunch time possessions the way Westbrook does. Maybe there are some teams Westbrook makes more sense for, but Paul is the ideal Kevin Durant point guard. He hounds Stephen Curry on defense. He makes sure everyone else stays involved and works their butt off. And he’d make sure Kevin Durant always got the ball in the right spots.

DeAndre Jordan is better than Steven Adams. He’s one of the five or 10 best defensive players in basketball. He’s an even better rebounder. He serves a much more defined offensive function as a designated roller. Adams obviously has room to grow, but his best case scenario is becoming DeAndre Jordan. DeAndre Jordan is already DeAndre Jordan, and if the hacking rules change as we expect, he’s about to become much more valuable.

JJ-Redick-011916

J.J. Redick is better than Victor Oladipo. As a fit next to Durant, it’s not close. Lost in Stephen Curry’s greatness is the fact that Redick just had one of the greatest three-point shooting season in league history. He became just the second player ever to make at least 200 three-pointers and shooting 47.5% or better from long range. Only Kyle Korver has ever done that, and Redick is a significantly better rebounder and defender. Oladipo is a useful offensive player and a great defender, but his value is mitigated on a team with two high-volume ball-handlers. Redick is extremely effective even as a decoy.

Doc Rivers is better than Billy Donovan. Donovan may have improved significantly in the playoffs, but he’s still only coached one NBA season. He still needed most of the regular season to figure out that he should stagger Westbrook and Durant. He never solved Oklahoma City’s isolation problems. Doc Rivers has won a championship. Even if he’s overrated (which I believe he is), he’s been one of the league’s better coaches for a decade. He’s a known quantity. Donovan is not.

Forget about the advantages of living in Los Angeles versus Oklahoma City. Forget about the financial windfall of playing in such a major market (and yes, even with the money he’d leave on the table by signing this year instead of next, the endorsement dollars he’d get in L.A. would make him more overall money). Forget about the overall frustration of coming so close so many times and never actually reaching the top of the mountain.

In pure basketball terms, the Clippers just look like a better version of the team that almost beat Golden State. Maybe if Chris Paul had been his point guard, Durant would have made it to the Finals this season. Maybe if J.J. Redick were shooting for him he’d have a championship ring right now.

That’s going to be the deciding factor in all of this. Durant is going to go to the team that gives him the best chance to beat Golden State. Unless someone makes an unforeseen move, that’s going to be the Clippers.

If anything would hold Durant back from leaving, it’d be a desire not to screw over Oklahoma City and its fans. But if he chose the Clippers the Thunder would get Blake Griffin (and Oklahoma native) back in a sign-and-trade. That eases the pain. They’d have one more chance to win a championship before their best players all leave for greener pastures next year.

That’s the clincher. No other eases Durant’s guilt over leaving the Thunder. No other team allows him to better take advantage of his celebrity status and earning potential. And most importantly, no team gives him a better chance to win the championship right now.

Likely Contract: Four Years, Max

 

The Nets Are Proving You Can Tank Without Picks

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Newly hired Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks answers questions during a press conference before the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on February 19, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

There was never a right way for Sean Marks to rebuild the Nets. He took over a team with worse current players than just about anyone else, but without his own draft picks until 2019 traditional rebuilding flew out of the window as well. A lesser GM would’ve made a bunch of high-risk moves trying to win now. And yes, Derrick Rose was available and there are attainable potential stars on the free agent market like Dwight Howard who might have made the Nets a .500 team and improved the optics of trading away their first round picks.

But those picks are a sunk cost, it makes no sense to try to screw over the Celtics and build hype around a team that has no chance to win a championship. So Marks went the other way and tanked, even without his own draft picks in the lottery.

There are benefits to tanking beyond high draft picks, and that’s how Marks is rebuilding his team. Actively trying not to win games usually creates an extraordinarily clean cap sheet. With Thaddeus Young off of the books and Brook Lopez likely to follow the Nets will be devoid of any long-term salary commitments. Forget about using that money in free agency, the real benefit is acting as a facilitator in big trades. Need someone to take on some salary for your blockbuster? Sure, the Nets will do it, but only if a draft pick is attached.

Those picks have real value. The 23rd overall pick Boston just made came from a salary dump by Cleveland two years ago. The Lakers stole the pick that became Larry Nance Jr. from the Rockets as part of the Jeremy Lin traded when Houston thought they were getting Chris Bosh. Picks add up, and a team as desperate as the Nets need as many bites at the apple as possible.

There are also the lineup implications of having a bad team. Normally, a player like Caris LeVert would be drafted in the 20’s and join a playoff team that didn’t really need him. He wouldn’t get minutes, he wouldn’t develop and he would eventually be unfairly labeled a bust. But on a bad team like the Nets he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.

The same goes for every young player on the Nets roster, from first round picks like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to whatever undrafted free agents they bring into camp. They’ll be able to give minutes and opportunities to players other teams simply can’t, a chance to uncover hidden gems available exclusively to them.

Are they going to be superstars? No, but rotation players on cheap contracts are only going to get more valuable as the cap explodes. Golden State found Anthony Morrow and Anthony Tolliver in the same season from the D-league. If the Nets could unearth two similar players they’d suddenly have two very valuable contracts that costed them nothing to obtain.

That’s going to be the path for Brooklyn. Slow gains like Tollivers and Nances. It will involve a lot of losing over the next few years, but it will prepare the Nets for 2019, when they have their own pick back and can take advantage of their bad team for the first time. By then, they’ll have a stockpile of young role players who can support the foundational pieces the Nets look for in the lottery. They’ll be ready to bring in a star youngster because they’ll have spent three years preparing a roster around it.

It’s going to be ugly, and will require a lot of patience. But it’s the only viable way to build a team under such horrible conditions.

If Dwyane Wade Is Really Considering Leaving Miami, Here’s Where He Might Sign

sfl-miami-heat-dwyane-wade-s121715

Brian Windhorst is reporting that Dwyane Wade will field offers from outside teams when free agency begins on Friday. Obviously this publication predicted that he’d stay, but if he really is exploring other options, here are the teams he’s likely to consider:

Cleveland Cavaliers:

If money really is a sticking point then it would have to be a sign and trade, but if Wade wants to become a Cavalier there’s a very simple trade to be made:

Kevin Love to Miami, Wade to Cleveland.

Pat Riley would accept it in a heartbeat. Love fills in for Chris Bosh, but the pair could play together or even in rotation with Hassan Whiteside. Ultimately Love is just a younger star player than Wade, someone Riley would have an easier time building around. LeBron would move to power forward and either Richard Jefferson or J.R. Smith would play small forward. It’s very simple, and if Wade has his pick of any team, Cleveland is likely the choice. It’s just a matter of convincing Cleveland (i.e. convincing LeBron) to make the trade.

Dallas Mavericks:

One of the few conceivable teams for Wade that has both the cap space to sign him outright at this very moment and has enough of a reputation for winning to make it viable. Wade would hang out with Dirk and do old man things, and the Mavs would use the rest of their cap space on a center. Assuming Wesley Matthews is willing to play small forward (or Chandler Parsons returns) the roster makes a fair bit of sense.

Mark Cuban will make the call, it’s just a matter of what priority they assign to Wade. Getting a center is simply more important, so if they max out Hassan Whiteside Wade would have a slot of around $18 million left to take (again, assuming Parsons returns, there’s even more calculus involved here if he doesn’t). That’s obviously a lot of money, but Wade bristled over $20 million last season. If he wants a payday, Dallas isn’t the team.

Los Angeles Lakers:

HERE’S The payday team, and it actually isn’t a horrible basketball move. The Lakers would presumably trade Jordan Clarkson (or simply let him walk) and try to win now while developing D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram. It’s not the worst idea, giving up Clarkson might be worth it for a team that can realistically sign almost any free agent it wants. Those early playoff reps might be very beneficial for the youngsters down the line.

But they’re going to be first round reps and nothing more. Will Wade accept that? Or does he want to win another championship? He likely can’t have his cake and eat it too, if he wants a max salary the Lakers are the one of the only realistic teams that can give it to him.

Boston Celtics:

And here’s another one, and it’s a perfect fit on a one-year deal. Wade gives Boston their end-of-game scorer, but they’re deep enough that he can sit plenty of games and never play more than 30 minutes. The Celtics get to give themselves more credibility with stars next summer without sacrificing flexibility, Wade gets his payday now. The fit is nearly perfect, the only potential downside is any lingering organizational animosity over the rivalry back in the LeBron days. Otherwise, there’s no reason Boston wouldn’t chase Wade as a major piece of their offseason.