NBA

In Memoriam: The Teams Eliminated From The NBA Playoffs, Part 2

For a look at the questions asked about the six Western Conference teams already eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, just go ahead and click here.

Indiana Pacers: Should the Pacers trade Paul George this summer? 

One word, one syllable, starts with the letter Y … Yes. Yes the Pacers should absolutely try to trade Paul George this summer. It’s not a secret that George is keen on making a move to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 if the Pacers don’t surround him with a supporting cast that can compete for an NBA Title. “Keen” might not be strong enough. USA Today’s Sam Amick used the phrase “hell-bent” two weeks ago after Larry Bird resigned as the Pacers President of Basketball Operations. If that’s the case, and if George could opt out of his contract 14 months from now, the Pacers need to move quickly.

The Pacers need to move quickly because George’s value is higher now than it will be next February, and because next year at this time it will be too late to get anything for him. George will take his talents to LA if the Pacers didn’t contend for a championship in 2017-18, and given Indiana’s cap situation and free agent track record, it’s not likely that the Pacers could make the moves over the summer to be in that position one year from now.

One could make a perfectly fine argument that because it’s no longer a secret that George is itching to play in Los Angeles that his trade value will be diminished. Here would be my counter-argument: Remember three Summer’s ago when the Timberwolves put Kevin Love on the trading block, but there was the sneaking suspicion that since Love was only one year away from being a free agent and likely fleeing to Los Angeles, it might not be worth it to make a drastic, roster-gutting move to acquire him? Remember what happened when Love got a taste of being on a team that was playing in high stakes Playoff games? This is what he said when he re-signed with the Cavaliers:

“After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, that’s when it really struck me. Sitting on the sidelines, I never wanted to play in a game more than that one. I had dreamed of playing in the NBA Finals and I just wanted to help my guys win. I couldn’t have been prouder of them as they poured their blood, sweat and tears onto the court.” 

So let me pose this question: If you were Danny Ainge, and you knew that by making a trade for Paul George you basically assure yourself a spot in at least the Eastern Conference Finals next year, wouldn’t you make that call to Kevin Pritchard and let him know that you would be willing to part ways with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and that coveted 2018 1st Round Pick from the Nets and one of those 2019 1st rounders that they have stashed away if you could get George back, trusting that the appeal of playing deep into the postseason right away and in the future would outweigh the appeal of playing in Los Angeles? Aren’t the odds of George re-signing with Boston in the summer of 2018 greater than the odds of whoever the Celtics draft this year with that Nets pick turning into a full-blown superstar?

And looking at it from Indiana’s perspective: aren’t their odds of remaining competitive beyond the 2017-18 season greater if they pull the trigger on a Paul George trade ASAP instead of waiting around and hoping he will re-sign with a team that isn’t likely to advance beyond Round 1 of the Playoffs? Hasn’t George made it clear he wants to either play for a title contender or to play in LA? If Indy can’t be either of those things, they’re better off cutting ties now.

Chicago Bulls: Should the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler this summer? 

The Bulls supposedly sniffed around about a trade for Butler at the trade deadline in February, but nothing came of it. Butler is under contract for at least another two seasons and Chicago is in better position than Indiana is to turn themselves into a contender by the time Butler’s deal expires than the Pacers are when George hits the market next summer. I’m never opposed to being receptive of Godfather offers, nor should the Chicago’s front office, but the Bulls shouldn’t actively seek a trade partner on a deal centered around Butler.

Butler is one of the best two-way players alive, sitting on the same level as Paul George, which is one notch below the tier where Kawhi Leonard resides in San Antonio. It’s unlikely that Butler alone is capable of carrying an otherwise average roster to title contention, even in the Eastern Conference title contention, but things change quickly in the NBA and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a Top 15 player in the league on your roster. The Bulls need this Summer to go well, and then spend the next twelve months continuing to build their relationship with their star.

Chicago is a more attractive free agency destination than Indianapolis is, and if Dwyane Wade decides he wants to join one of his Banana Boat buddies next season the Bulls would have a Banana Boatload of cap space. That’s not to say that another makeshift Bulls roster could contend overnight, but at least Gar Forman and John Paxson could start to put something together that would entice Butler to re-sign in 2019. If Wade, Rajon Rondo, Nikola Mirotic and others aren’t retained, the Bulls would have enough space to be a major player in the offseason.

Toronto Raptors: Is there actually an avenue for the Raptors to be a more legitimate contender next year than they were the last two years? 

I asked Toronto Raptors fan/Game Eight founder Mike Hallihan this question. Here was his response:

That’s a valid question, but I think the more urgent question is about their free agency. Lowry, Ibaka, Patterson, Tucker are all free agents. This team could look quite different next year. I actually think they’ll be worse. I think Lowry is gone. Then I think the other guys leave too. I think they could end up overpaying someone like Tucker to stay, but they also then won’t have the firepower to attract any other free agents. I think the Raps will be a much worse team next year struggling to make the playoffs. 

My outlook, both pre-season and in-season, is annually lukewarm in regards to Canada’s sole NBA team, so I needed a second opinion, the opinion of someone closer to the situation. I’m glad Mike and I are on the same page. I doubt that he’s as thrilled.

Washington Wizards: What percentage of the Wizards belong to Bradley Beal

This question could also be read as “Are the Wizards still 100 percent John Wall‘s team?” The literal answer to either question is zero percent … no percentage of the Washington Wizards actually belongs to either Wall or Beal. Ted Leonsis and other members of Lincoln Holdings own all of the Washington Wizards in the basic, monetary definition of ownership. However, if you were to ask an everyday, plugged in basketball fan “Whose team is the Washington Wizards?” they would likely answer “John Wall.”

Again, Wall isn’t actually in possession of the team. It’s more so a distinction he has earned over the years as their best and most marketable. He is their alpha dog. He is the face of the franchise. The Wizards are his team. But the Wizards aren’t solely Wall’s team. Still confused? Here’s what I mean:

Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the San Antonio Spurs, but he’s not the sole face of the franchise. The Spurs are 60 percent Gregg Popovich’s team, 35 percent Kawhi Leonard’s team, 4 percent Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker‘s team, 1 percent Tim Duncan‘s team (so long as Pop or a Pop disciple is coaching in San Antonio, Duncan will keep a one percent ownership of the team).

The Golden State Warriors are 55 percent Stephen Curry‘s team, 22 percent Kevin Durant‘s team, 18 percent Draymond Green‘s team and 5 percent Steve Kerr‘s team. Kevin Durant can gain a sizeable chunk of Steph Curry’s ownership stake if he wins the Finals MVP.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are 111 percent LeBron James‘s team. That extra 11 percent is a reflection of the 11 percent chance that LeBron is also the unnamed Head Coach and General Manager of the Cavaliers.

So here’s how I see it … The Wizards are 67 percent John Wall’s team, 33 percent Bradley Beal’s team. Scott Brooks doesn’t get any ownership of the team until he figures out how to more effectively stagger his starters minutes.

Ignoring the short-armed potential Game winner against Boston in Game 2, Beal was just about as good this postseason as the Wizards could have expected their 23 year old second-banana to be. He carried Washington’s offense for long stretches and was at least 90 percent as good as Wall was during the Playoffs.

Wall was a delight all postseason, putting up huge numbers and drilling a tremendously ballsy game winning three pointer in a do or die Game 6 against the Celtics, but by the end of that 2nd Round series Wall was dog tired and it showed in his play. He missed his final 11 shots in Game 7 at Boston, and while we can throw decent amount of the blame at Scott Brooks for playing Wall the entire 2nd half, Wall can’t go on without receiving at least a portion of the blame.

Beal’s increased ownership doesn’t have anything to do with Wall’s shortcomings, which are minimal in comparison to everything he brought to the table. This has everything to do with Beal continuing to evolve into a legitimate number one scoring option, a development I did not see coming three years ago.

Atlanta Hawks: Will the Hawks Playoff streak stop next year? 

Unless Indiana changes their mind (as they should) on a proposed deal from the Hawks that would have sent four effing 1st Round Picks to the Pacers for Paul George, the answer is probably yes.

Milwaukee Bucks: Does Milwaukee have a higher ceiling next year than any other team not still in the postseason? 

That mostly depends on how high you think Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ceiling is. I personally feel like the Greek Freak is only a consistent jump shot away from needing a nickname upgrade to “Greek God,” and when that day comes the Bucks will officially snatch the title of heir apparent to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference from anyone else who thought it belonged to them. And yes, I’m fully aware of how poorly this will read if the Celtics beat the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Anyway, Giannis knows where his bread is buttered … a whopping 50 percent of his field goal attempts come within three feet of the basket, and he converts at a 70 percent rate there, a better mark than Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or Jimmy Butler did during the regular season. Those three all shot 37 percent or better from beyond the arc (Giannis shot 27 percent from downtown last year) and are far better mid-range shooters than Giannis is. Even though Giannis scored 23 points per game last season, smart defenses cut off his driving lanes, sent extra defenders at him on his post-up touches, and dared him to shoot from the perimeter. It’s the one singular fly in Antetokounmpo’s ointment.

With that said, Giannis has a standing offer from Dirk Nowitzki’s famed shooting coach, Holger Geschwindner, to join him and Nowitzki in Germany over the Summer, and Giannis would be foolish not to partake. He’s got just about every other tool you would want an under-25 star to have: the playmaking gene, a sense of the moment, a high defensive ceiling, profoundly freakish athleticism, a nasty competitive streak … it’s all there. Again, he’s just a jumper away from having the entire basketball world in his massive set of hands.

Even if you don’t project Giannis’ ceiling to be as high as I do — if you think he may have already come close to reaching his peak as a modern-day average man’s Dr. J — there’s still good reason to believe Milwaukee is close to existing as more than just a trendy Round 1 upset selection. Milwaukee’s second and third best players, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton, played exactly one half of basketball together all year in 2016-17. Middleton missed the first fifty game of the year after pre-season surgery on an injured hamstring, and on the night Middleton returned Jabari Parker tore his ACL. Parker won’t return until mid-season in 2017-18, but once he does, if he’s healthy, the Bucks have a formidable Big Three in place.

This doesn’t even factor in Thon Maker, the young and raw Sudanese project the Bucks used a lottery pick on in last year’s Draft. Maker played limited minutes throughout the regular season but ended up Milwaukee’s starting Center by the time the Playoffs rolled around. Maker has unlimited and untapped potential, all of which can be read about in a brilliantly penned Howard Beck piece that was coincidentally published the same day as Middleton’s return and Parker’s second ACL tear. Perhaps it’s a sign that Maker will eventually emerge as the Robin to Antetokounmpo’s Greek Batman.

 

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  1. Pingback: What Teams Could Prevent Another Cavs/Warriors NBA Finals? - Hardwood and Hollywood

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