The NBA Offseason Rundown: Part 1

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this thing, let’s take a live look in at the collective fanbase of the NBA, reacting to the last few days of online rumors and speculation:

We’re still a day away from the NBA Draft and Free Agency is over a week out … this sort of offseason hoopla is typically reserved for the opening weeks of July. Didn’t the Golden State Warriors just win an NBA Title? I’m still hearing “Humble” and “DNA” running on loop in my head … I wasn’t mentally prepared for the sensory overload I’ve undergone in the previous 36 hours. Like Matt Kennedy Gould of Joe Schmo Show fame wondered, “What is going on?!”

I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, Paul George? Jimmy Butler? Kristaps Porzingis? I can’t possibly touch on every story or piece of breaking news I’ve read about since Sunday afternoon, mainly because there have been way too many and the NBA rumor mill is ever-changing and in no way definite. I’m also choosing not to comment on Dan Gilbert not re-signing yet ANOTHER Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager mainly because it will just upset me a great deal that my favorite NBA teams owner is not-so-low-key an idiot who would be mentioned in the same breath as James Dolan if it weren’t for LeBron Raymone James.

Ultimately, what we’re looking at for the next month is an insane period of actual player movement and rumored player movement … the kind which is nearly impossible to speak coherently or with any confidence about until something actually happens. At this point in time, all anybody can do is simply speculate.

So since I’m the self-proclaimed “Master of Asking Questions and Immediately Answering Them Myself,” and because, as my girlfriend would happily tell you, I spend far too much time refreshing my Twitter feed, I thought that creating an NBA Offseason Rundown would be a fantastic idea. Every couple of days I’ll create a new edition of the NBA Offseason Rundown (as you have probably already noticed, this is Part 1), where I’ll ask questions related to the hottest stories and rumors of the day and then briefly speculate on answers to those questions.

So these Kristaps Porzingis trade talks came out of nowhere, huh? 

It most certainly did. What’s funny is, when the news started coming out on Twitter Tuesday morning that the Knicks would listen to offers for Porzingis, I had been writing about how I felt like we were days away from the Knicks dangling Porzingis in trade talks just because of how rocky the relationship seemed to be between he and the franchise at the end of the season.

Even though multiple sources have suggested that the Knicks asking price is outrageously high, I have to assume Knicks fans are on the verge of ending up in a full-blown panic attack at the moment. The sickening feeling that James Dolan and Phil Jackson are far too inept — and maybe far too invested in Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen and Kansas swingman Josh Jackson — to end up getting a good deal for the the 7’3″ 21 year-old Latvian star-in-the-making has to be sinking in.

The Suns, 76ers and Spurs reportedly all contacted the Knicks on Tuesday afternoon about a deal for Porzingis, but nothing all that solid has come from discussions thus far. John Gambadoro, a Phoenix-area radio host tweeted Tuesday that the Knicks asked for Devin Booker and the 4th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft in exchange for Porzingis. It’s a hefty price, one that the Suns likely wouldn’t be willing to pay.

The one team that has enough assets to pull off a trade for the Zinger is the Boston Celtics. The Celtics own ten half a dozen 1st Round picks in the next three NBA Drafts, plus they haven young assets on the roster that could sweeten the pot in a deal for Porzingis. Celtics fans are clamoring for Danny Ainge to cash in some of these future picks and assets for somebody who actually moves the needle and pushes the Celtics to a level beyond “runner-up to LeBron.” Well, here’s Danny’s chance to do just that. Boston could offer Jae Crowder, the 3rd pick in the 2017 Draft and a 2019 1st Round pick from Memphis just to open up a conversation between the two sides. There is plenty more Ainge could add to entice the Knicks further.

Do Celtics fans have a right to be upset with Danny Ainge? 

Right now, no. As someone who has had a vested interest in the Celtics stumbling, Ainge has made all the right moves ever since he fleeced the Nets into giving the Celtics 117 draft picks in exchange for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. You could say that Ainge could have done more to help the Celtics immediately contend. My counterargument would be that Ainge was more invested in the long-term competency of the Boston Celtics; a version that exists in the post-LeBron NBA.

Even though Ainge has been making moves that are geared more towards the 2020’s than the 2010’s, the Celtics still won 53 and 48 games the last two seasons and made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance just a month ago. It doesn’t usually work that way. By basically any measure, Ainge has been one of the best executives in the league for quite some time.

Should the Los Angeles Lakers trade for Paul George right now? 

That’s all dependent on the price the Lakers would have to pay to get him. Based on what I perceive to be George’s trade value — which has inevitably taken a hit just because George let Indiana, and 29 other teams know that he has no intentions of being a Pacer beyond the conclusion of the 2017-18 season — I don’t think the Lakers should trade for Paul George now. If I were running the Lakers (and I’m very available to do so), I’m not going to make the same kind of mistake that the New York Knicks made in 2011 when they gutted their roster in a trade for Carmelo Anthony even though Anthony didn’t ever make major efforts to hide the fact that he wanted to eventually play in New York. And look at how that all turned out. The Knicks will likely have to trade Carmelo Anthony this summer, and they’ll have one single Playoff series victory to remember him by.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the allure of playing for a title contender could prevent George from opting to make another move in 2018. Let’s assume the Boston Celtics jumped back into the Paul George Sweepstakes and eventually made the deal. Let’s also assume that the internal turmoil in Cleveland led to a toxic season that fell short of a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. If the Celtics made the Finals and lost to Golden State in 5 games, would Paul George still be in a hurry to get to Los Angeles? And if LeBron James were really intent on leaving Cleveland for Los Angeles in 2018, wouldn’t PG have to think long and hard about how he and the Celtics could own the Eastern Conference for the next half of a decade?

Let me re-address the original question: should the Los Angeles Lakers trade for Paul George right now? After the Lakers turned D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov‘s terrible contract into Brook Lopez expiring contract and an additional 1st Round pick, we’re looking at a new package that the Lakers could offer the Pacers for George. Would the 27th and 28th picks plus Jordan Clarkson and Tarik Black get the job done? Would the Pacers insist on getting either Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle back in any deal? Is the deal a no-go unless the Lakers are willing to part with the 2nd pick?

If the Pacers won’t part ways with George unless the 2nd pick is on the table, then the smart move by the Lakers would be to wait it out and hope there is more to the “LeBron and George to LA in 2018” rumors than anybody else realizes. And while we’re here, let’s not forget that there is a second team in Los Angeles that will be very active in pursuing both George and LeBron James next summer. If DeAndre Jordan ends up being dealt and if Chris Paul re-signs with the Clippers, expect that there will be conflicting “LeBron and George to LA in 2018” campaigns being put together over the next few months.

Are there any teams that could get into the Paul George hunt that we haven’t heard much from yet? 

Portland Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum haven’t held back when discussing their interest in their front office finding a way to trade for Paul George. George’s very public break-up with Indiana has only diminished his trade value, so could a Maurice Harkless, Ed Davis, 15th and 20th picks package get the deal done? Even if all signs point to George leaving for LA next summer, isn’t this actually a risk worth taking for the Blazers? A trade for George that doesn’t include Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic or any future 1st Round picks would be a major win for the Blazers; it would be a move that puts Portland on the same tier as the rest of the elite Western Conference teams that are chasing Golden State. Even that isn’t the ideal rung to strive for, the reality of the situation is that unless a major move is on the horizon, that’s the best case scenario for any team in the West.

Wait, what if the Spurs sign Chris Paul this summer? Don’t they then have the best shot of challenging the Warriors in a best of seven series? 

Yes, this is true, and if you were paying close attention to everything that was going down yesterday, you may have seen that Pau Gasol opted out of his $16.2 million contract, a necessary step in the Chris Paul to San Antonio timeline. Gasol intends to re-sign with the Spurs, but on a long-term deal worth less per year. The Spurs would still have to maneuver some contracts around to come up with enough cap space to make this a reality, but the first domino that had to go down has officially fallen.

San Antonio has quietly shopped LaMarcus Aldridge in the past and I would expect the Spurs to quietly make Aldridge available again this summer if it meant opening a door for Chris Paul to eventually walk through. Aldridge has never been an ideal fit in San Antonio, and while it’s no guarantee that Paul would be either, he changes San Antonio’s ceiling in a way that Aldridge never could.

Has the funniest moment of the last few days been the most maniacally competitive player in NBA history trading for an occasionally disengaged big man who thinks he’s still a franchise Center? 

Without a doubt. The Dwight Howard era is going to be a blast for Charlotte Hornets fans.

If Cleveland really is out of the Jimmy Butler hunt for now, are any other teams a threat to deal for Butler? 

All talk relating to Jimmy Butler seems to have slowed down, but this has been a gradual and necessary separation that would officially usher the Bulls into the post-Derrick Rose/Tom Thibodeau/Joakim Noah/Jimmy Butler era. Butler has said all of the right things publicly, and it’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that if he had it his way he wouldn’t go anywhere.

What Jimmy Butler wants won’t dictate whether or not the Bulls accept a trade proposal if the right deal was presented to them. Plenty of teams have the assets to put together an intriguing package that would net them Butler. There are a thousand different combinations of players and picks that the Celtics could woo the Bulls with. Phoenix could send Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren and the 4th pick in the 2017 Draft to Chicago and get Butler back in return. My favorite possible deal would involve Minnesota sending Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and the 7th pick Thursday’s Draft to the Bulls for Butler. Even though the Butler/Thibodeau partnership was short-lived in Chicago, a reunion in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins involved would be tremendously exciting.

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