John Kundla is the 15th Best Coach in NBA History

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA history. 

Total Seasons: 11

Total Championships: 5

Regular Season Record: 423-302

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .583

Playoff Record: 60-35

Playoff Winning Percentage: .632

 

Why he’s great: To most basketball fans, the NBA began with Russell and Auerbach, with 11 championships in 13 years, with Celtic green and only Celtic green. But before the NBA’s first dynasty was… the NBA’s first dynasty. Kundla led the Minneapolis Lakers to the NBA’s first championship and four of it’s first five. Toss in a BAA championship in 1949 and Kundla has as many rings as any coach besides Phil Jackson and Auerbach.

Those Laker teams are known for George Mikan, but Kundla’s development of other players like Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Clyde Lovellette was largely what made the dynasty possible. Kundla not only managed to turn those players into stars, but also kept them engaged and focused on winning. He was beloved by his players and his teams were unselfish nearly to a fault.

Were it not for Kundla and Mikan’s dynasty the NBA may never have made it as a professional sports league. Basketball had never had a true marquee team, and the Lakers gave it one. Kundla may not be known to the masses, but without him professional basketball as we know it likely wouldn’t exist.

 

Why he isn’t higher: George Mikan was so far ahead of every other player at the time that it’s fair to wonder if he would’ve won those championships no matter who was coaching him. Though small by today’s standards, the 6’10’’ Mikan towered over every other player in the NBA and unlike Wilt Chamberlain, he had no Bill Russell to oppose him.

Kundla also brings to question what exactly this list measures. By raw accomplishment, he may be a top-five coach of all time. But stick him in the modern NBA and he’d like be lost. So No. 13 feels like splitting the difference. He probably isn’t 13th on a list of coaches you’d want for your team, but it would be unfair to leave him off entirely considering how greatly he lapped the field in his day.

Sadly, we could have more information on Kundla adjusting to a changed league had he stuck around, but he left the NBA permanently at only 43-years-old. Had he stayed in the league as long as most coaches, he might have eight or nine championships and be much higher on this list.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 7/7/16: Vucevic to the Lakers

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Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. 

 

Lakers Logo

Los Angeles Lakers Receive: 

Nikola Vucevic

 

 

 

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Orlando Magic Receive:

Nick Young

Lou Williams

 

Why Orlando would make this trade: Orlando doesn’t have shooters. Orlando needs shooters. See where I’m going with this?

Why Dallas would make this trade: The Lakers messed up on the Timofey Mozgov contract. We can all acknowledge that. Here’s their chance to solve that by getting Vucevic on a good contract. Combined, the duo at $29 million or so per year is fine.

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

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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.

 

 

LeBron Can Leave Cleveland Now

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There are going to be a lot of stories today about LeBron James bringing Cleveland the championship he so often promised, about what a local hero he is to a city that hadn’t won much of anything for five decades, about how his legacy as a Cavalier is officially cemented and how no one will ever be able to question his commitment to winning or to Ohio for the rest of his career.

It’s easy to feel that way today because LeBron just won the championship. We saw him hug Kevin Love, we saw Dan Gilbert on the podium and Kyrie Irving make that game-winning three. Emotions run high in the heat of the moment. As overjoyed as he must be right now and as much as we all might think this is his happy ending, sooner or later that emotion is going to die down and he’s going to be faced with all of the same problems he had 24 hours ago. After all, he more or less said those exact words to his detractors four years ago.

Several months ago, I imagine sometime in the winter, after a loss in which Irving took too many shots and Love allowed too many to go in, James probably drove home in the snow and brooded in his living room (or lounge, or, dare I say, study) for a few hours. Maybe there was a deer’s head on the wall and a few logs roasting in the fireplace. For a split second he must’ve thought, “man, it’s not fun playing for Cleveland right now.” And then he probably thought, “I wish I could play with players who just get it.” And for just the briefest of moments, I have to imagine he realized something along the lines of “you know, I don’t have to stay in Cleveland once I win them a championship.”

So I’m going to present a very different type of story. What if this isn’t about LeBron coming home to win one for “the land.” What if this was about LeBron winning one so he could get out and never look back?

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The social contract LeBron signed with Cleveland was very specific. He promised to revive the city and he did it. He regretted leaving the team in embarrassing fashion and with a bare cupboard and now he can do so with neither. It was never about winning “not five, not six, not seven,” it was, in his own words, about “bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Note the use of the word one. 

It might be arbitrary, but by now we should’ve learned to take LeBron at his word. He spent his entire Miami tenure croning about how badly he wanted to come back to Cleveland at some point to win them a title. Nobody bought it until it happened. He didn’t mention Andrew Wiggins in his letter returning to Cleveland, and then Wiggins was traded.

So what has LeBron said? Well, in that same famous letter he stated that his goal was still “to win as many trophies as possible,” and it’s fair to wonder if Cleveland is the best place to do that. Remember, had Draymond Green played in Game 5, it’s possible that the Cavs lose the series then and there and we aren’t having this conversation. Cleveland still has to reconfigure their roster to fit better against Golden State next year, when a suspension is unlikely and the Warriors will likely be healthier.

It’s also fair to wonder if his best shot at grabbing a few more rings might come through something else he said. I’ll present this quote from Howard Beck’s Brotherhood story earlier this season without comment: “‘I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,’ James said. ‘At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.'”

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He and Wade are both slated to be free agents next month, and both spent last year—and will likely spend most future years—playing with the flexibility of one-year contracts. Carmelo Anthony is eminently acquirable considering his age and the likely direction of the Knicks’ franchise. And Chris Paul is going to be a free agent one year from now.

We looked it over in April and deemed Houston the likeliest team to unite the super friends. But realistically, LeBron could hop right on his banana boat back down to South Beach this summer along with Wade and get Pat Riley to trade Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic for Anthony. From there it would be a simple matter of waiting for Paul next summer and a few pay cuts to make it all possible. The same could be said of the Lakers, and the Knicks already have Anthony and could easily create the cap space to fit James and Wade in.

These are all cities that athletes would much rather live in than Cleveland. These are all cities that can accommodate James’ other interests—be they film, business or who knows what else—far more than Cleveland can. And most importantly, these scenarios all involve players that LeBron actually seems like he wants to play with. James never subtweeted Dwyane Wade in Miami. He never called out Anthony’s defense during the Olympics.

And frankly, there’s something much more interesting for LeBron to do with his buddies somewhere else anyway. Robert Horry and John Salley are the only players ever to win championships with three different teams. If James feels that he can’t catch Michael Jordan’s total of six, then the next best thing might creating an entirely unique resume of his own to change the conversation.

Who knows, he might even just retire. Maybe he wants to try football for a year, he hasn’t exactly been shy about his interest in doing so in the past. His beloved Dallas Cowboys could use another pass-catcher. There’s an argument to be made that he’s done everything he can do in basketball anyway. Why not try something new? He may be too far away from Jordan to become the greatest basketball player ever (though I don’t subscribe to that theory), but winning a Super Bowl could make him the greatest athlete ever. That’s not a bad distinction.

None of this is to say that LeBron is headed elsewhere right now. But rather, the terms of LeBron’s unspoken deal with the city of Cleveland have been met. He is free to do as he pleases from this point on, and there are more than a few signs that suggest playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers isn’t on top of that list.

Why Bismack Biyombo Will Sign With the Lakers

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Under normal circumstances, you’d expect the Lakers to just sign the biggest name available and be done with it. But besides Kevin Durant, there isn’t a name big enough to be worth their time, and besides, they hired Luke Walton, they’re going young. The Lakers seem like they actually have a sensible plan and are going to stick to it.

Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram at forward. What are we missing? A center, one who plays defense and gets out of the way, and one who’s young enough to grow with this core.

The first choice is obviously going to be Hassan Whiteside, but Portland and Miami are just more alluring situations for a variety of reasons. It’s a possibility, just don’t bet on it.

Bismack makes perfect sense as a backup plan. He does exactly what the Lakers need out of their center. He’s an excellent defender and rebounder. His hands are improving enough offensively that they might be able to start throwing him in pick-and-rolls. And he’s only 23! Ok, he’s listed at 23 and could be a few years older, but he’s still on the younger end of free agents.

Bismack isn’t going to do any better than the Lakers either. Few teams have the young offensive firepower to hide his deficiencies on that end, and even fewer are in a position to overpay him as drastically as the Lakers are. They’re have the cap space to chase two max players but have nobody else to spend that money on.

This is the smart move. Just sign a player that fits your roster and your timeline. It seems like what Luke Walton would want to do.

But that being said, these are still the Lakers. They are still going to sit down with DeMar DeRozan and make him a stupid offer. They’re going to have a seat at the Kevin Durant table and probably make themselves look bad. I’m not even ready to rule out a Dwight Howard reunion because hey, the Lakers do dumb stuff like that all of the damn time.

So we’ll know relatively quickly what version of the Lakers we’re getting. If they reach out to Biyombo early in free agency, they’re thinking long term and making the smart play. If they hold everything to wait to hear from Durant, or aggressively pursue DeRozan, then these are just the same old Lakers. I’m betting on the former. I’m terrified of the latter.

Why Jordan Clarkson Will Return to the Los Angeles Lakers

Jordan Clarkson Lakers 1

Once upon a time, there was a player named Gilbert Arenas. He played for the Golden State Warriors, but as he was a second-round pick they were only allowed to offer him a small raise in salary once he became a free agent. Another team, the Washington Wizards, were not bound by such restrictions and signed him to a deal so large the Warriors could not legally match it as they were above the salary cap. And thus, the Gilbert Arenas rule was born.

How does this relate to Jordan Clarkson? Because he was a second-round pick, and likely the most significant to ever be bound by the Arenas rule. Why is he subject to that rule? Because he is a restricted free agent who has only been in the NBA for two seasons, meaning the Lakers only have his early Bird Rights as opposed to his full Bird Rights. Players can only be re-signed with early Bird Rights to contracts worth 175% of their previous year’s salary in the first season of the new deal. Teams not bound by Bird Rights (the rest of the league) can offer no more than the Mid-Level Exception, but assuming the player is restricted, the player’s original team has matching rights.

This rule was created to protect teams like Golden State when they lost Arenas for nothing. As the Warriors were above the salary cap, they could not match an offer to Arenas because his offer from the Wizards was greater than the mid-level exception and his Bird Rights did not extend that far. Obviously the Lakers are not above the salary cap, but the rule itself still prevents Clarkson from being paid more than the mid-level exception in the first year of his new contract.

Here’s where things get interesting, that rule applies only to the first two years of the contract. The third and fourth year of a potential deal have no financial restrictions. In the third season, his salary could conceivably rise all the way up to the max. So we could see Clarkson sign a four-year deal somewhere around $60 million, but nearly all of the money would be paid out in the final two years.

Now as Clarkson is extremely valuable and the overall value of the contract would be worthwhile no matter what, the Lakers will match any offer and retain him. However, there is a wrinkle other teams could use to make the deal less attractive to Los Angeles. Opposing teams are able to average the salary cap hit of the total contract over the entire four years, so if Clarkson got $40 million, they could average it out to $10 million per year on their cap sheet if they wished. But the Lakers would have no such option, they’d have to live with his max cap number on the books for those last two seasons. This is how the Rockets stole Jeremy Lin from the Knicks and Omer Asik from the Bulls.

Again, they’d accept it, but it’s going to be an interesting subplot to watch play out over the summer. Who’s going try to poison pill the Lakers out of Clarkson? Will Clarkson seek a shorter-term two-year deal to reach unrestricted free agency faster? We know Clarkson is going to return. The overall dollars on his contract are just going to be too small for the Lakers not to match any offer he gets thanks to the Arenas provision. But the specifics could get very interesting.

Likely Contract: Four Years, $58 Million

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 6/7/16: Blake to the Lakers

Blaker Lakers

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Blake Griffin Week. 

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Los Angeles Clippers Receive:          Los Angeles Lakers Receive:             Boston Celtics Receive:

Jae Crowder                                            Blake Griffin                                           No. 2 Overall Pick

Julius Randle                                           No. 15 Overall Pick                               Larry Nance Jr.

No. 3 Overall Pick                                                                                                           

 

Why Los Angeles (Clippers) would make this trade: Crowder is arguably the best three-and-D player in the league and Randle can give them a lot of playmaking and scoring Griffin does. The No. 3 overall pick is less valuable to them than a younger team, but if they wanted a two-way forward who can shoot three’s, Dragan Bender seems like a natural fit as a forward next to Crowder.

Why Los Angeles (Lakers) would make this trade: The Lakers would be willing to pay top dollar for Blake as they are likely the only team Griffin would sign an extension with sight unseen. Though the No. 2 pick may have more overall value than Griffin in a vacuum, the Lakers seem to want to contend right away and maintain their franchise’s reputation. That makes Blake more valuable to them specifically, and in basketball terms he does fill a major need in the front court.

Why Boston would make this trade: Giving up Crowder is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s worth it to move up to No. 2 and grab a potential franchise player in Brandon Ingram. In fact, Ingram could honestly fill most of Crowder’s role from day one, with the All Star upside being the eventual endgame. It’s a high-price, but worth it as it would give the Celtics a player they can finally build around.