NBA

Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans and other potential players on the move before the NBA's trade deadline

Jay Asser 30/01/2018
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Lou Williams is averaging a career-high 23.5 points this season.

The first domino ahead of the trade deadline has fallen with Blake Griffin traded to Detroit. Here are five players who could be on the move next, with his former team-mate kicking off the list:

Lou Williams

It would only make sense that after the Clippers unloaded Griffin, they would then move Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan, right? Not necessarily.

Both are expiring contracts – though Jordan could opt-in for $24.1 million in 2018-19 – but LA might be content holding on to them and re-signing them in the summer. Out of the two, Williams could be moved easier, thanks to his lower salary and what he can offer a contender: scoring and shooting in a pinch, either as a starter or off the bench.

Kemba Walker

Charlotte have made it clear that their point guard is available for the right price, although that price may be too steep for teams who would like to pursue him.

Walker isn’t having as good of a season as he did last year, but he’s still a borderline All-Star and a talented scorer. He’s also on a cheap contract that will pay him just $12 million next season. All these reasons are why Charlotte are likely seeking high value in return and few, if any teams, will want to match that price point.

Rodney Hood

Hood might not be any more than what he already is, but at just 25, he’s worth taking a gamble on.

Utah aren’t going anywhere right now and the only players on their roster that should be in their future plans are Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Detroit, even after trading for Griffin, are reportedly eyeing Hood, who would instantly provide outside shooting and some scoring, complimenting the Pistons’ new frontcourt look.

Tyreke Evans

Evans is having the best season of his career at the age of 28 and would provide a major boost to any contender in need of a scoring punch.

Memphis are headed for a lottery pick and could improve their selection by shipping Evans somewhere he could play meaningful minutes, like Boston. However, Evans is playing too well for the Grizzlies not to command a first-round pick and teams will hesitate at spending that for an expiring contract.

Julius Randle

Despite his production, Randle is a bit of a question mark in today’s NBA as a bruising power forward who doesn’t stretch the floor or provide much rim protection.

But he’s only 23 and seems to produce whenever he’s on the floor. The Lakers are chasing cap space in the summer and Randle doesn’t figure to be in their long-term plans as he’ll hit restricted free agency, so it would make sense to move him now if a team values his old-school game.

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NBA

Blake Griffin trade is a pivot for Los Angeles Clippers, while Detroit Pistons finally nab a star

Jay Asser 30/01/2018
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Blake Griffin had spent his entire career with the Clippers after being drafted number one overall in 2009.

With a little more than a week to go before the trade deadline, we’ve likely already seen the best player to switch teams this season.

In a move that few saw coming, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick (protected 1-4 through 2020, unprotected in 2021) and a 2019 second-round pick. Detroit also receive Brice Johnson and Willie Reed from Los Angeles.

The transaction has positive and negative aspects for each side, which makes it a difficult trade to judge through a binary lens – at least in the immediate aftermath.

Let’s parse the move to make sense of it for both franchises.

End of Lob City

In the span of seven months, the Clippers have lost the two best, and most iconic, players in the team’s history, with Chris Paul traded to Houston in the summer and now Griffin shipped to Detroit.

It feels like just yesterday when Paul was tossing alleys to Griffin and the Clippers were the most entreating basketball show in Los Angeles. But things can change in the blink of an eye in the NBA and the Clippers are now primed for a new era.

There’s zero doubt that LA are surrendering the best player in the deal, with Griffin’s star power, talent and production unmatched by any player in Detroit’s package. And unlike past stars who were traded because they were considered flight risks, Griffin is locked into a five-year, $171 million (Dh628m) contract he just signed this past July.

That contract, however, is what ultimately spooked the Clippers as they quickly realised this season their ceiling for the future. The silver lining in Paul’s departure was Griffin taking on more playmaking responsibility and while he’s averaging a career-high in assists (5.4), his game – outside of his 3-point shooting – hasn’t expanded to the extent that the Clippers likely envisioned.

Griffin hasn’t been good enough to be an All-Star in the Western Conference this season and it’s hard to have $171m owed to a great, but not top player. Especially when it looks like your team is going to be no better than a fringe playoff contender for the foreseeable future.

Which is why the Clippers decided to pivot. Not only do they get out of Griffin’s contract, they also picked up a potential lottery pick, a young, smooth-stroking small-ball four in Harris and an expiring contract in Bradley, whose $8.8m (Dh32.3m) will come off the books in the summer.

Bradley can be rerouted for another pick, giving the Clippers another tradeable asset to go with Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan.

Ultimately, the Clippers made the trade with future cap space to chase bigger fish in mind and by shedding Griffin, that dream becomes a more feasible reality.

Pistons get their star

Before unpacking all the other factors involved, let’s acknowledge that Detroit got a star, in his prime, and locked into a long-term contract. Those types of players are hard to find and often harder to keep, especially if you’re a middling team that is far from being a free agent destination, like the Pistons are.

It came at a cost, of course, but the price becomes more palatable when you consider that Bradley was all but gone in free agency this summer and Harris will command big money when his current contract ends in 2019. Essentially, Detroit paid a fringe lottery pick to upgrade from a good player in Harris, to a great player in Griffin, with the assurance that they can benefit from the upsize for the coming years.

Griffin and Andre Drummond should work well together, not too dissimilar to the Griffin-Jordan pairing in LA. What Griffin loses in rim protection in going from Jordan to Drummond, he gains in playmaking as two of the best passing big men in the league join forces.

The problem, however, is there’s little else surrounding those two right now. Reggie Jackson, at his best, is an average point guard, while the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired in terms of depth and talent.

This move may end up locking the Pistons into the dreaded no man’s land as something more than a good team and something less than a contender, but even before this trade, there were few avenues at a bright future for Detroit.

Acquiring Griffin at least shakes up their landscape and gives them someone to attempt to build around.

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NBA

Golden State Warriors versus Boston Celtics is the Finals the NBA needs

Jay Asser 28/01/2018
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Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry combined for 86 points on Sunday.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the Eastern Conference team most capable of giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money isn’t the one with the world’s best player.

Styles make fights and in the Boston Celtics, the Warriors have an adversary worthy of pushing them in the NBA Finals and in turn, delivering an entertaining series.

Boston don’t have LeBron James and their arsenal may not be as loaded as other contenders, but they challenge the defending champions in ways few teams can.

Even though the Celtics couldn’t pull off a second victory in as many chances this season against Golden State, falling short in a 109-105 loss on Sunday, they proved two things that should excite all NBA fans: Boston pose a threat to the Warriors dynasty, and even if they can’t topple the league rulers in June, the potential for a fun, competitive Finals would be high if the teams were to meet.

All of that is true in a vacuum, but when you put it in the context of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ downward spiral, it becomes clear that the NBA needs a Warriors-Celtics Finals.

We already saw how the Cavaliers fare in a series against this iteration of the Warriors last summer, when they were little more than sacrificial lambs. And what’s been made obvious this season is that Cleveland have only gotten worse since, through a combination of personnel changes and the inexplicable decline of key players.

When you have LeBron, you always have a chance. But to test the greatest team maybe ever assembled, you need a collective effort and these Cavaliers, at least right now, are very much a one-man army. Unless they get their act together or make a significant move before the trade deadline, no one outside of Ohio should be rooting for the fourth chapter of a Finals rematch that has become all too stale.

The Celtics, on the other hand, are in many ways the antithesis of Cleveland: fresh, young, defensively-minded and greater than the sum of their parts. And most importantly, they’ve shown this season that they can give the Warriors a hard time.

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Both meetings between the sides have been decided by four points and each time Boston have done well to control the pace of the game, turning them into rock fights rather than allowing the free-flowing style Golden State prefer.

The Celtics boast the top defence in the league with exactly 100 points allowed per 100 possessions, so it’s not as if the ability they’ve shown to counter the Warriors has been a fluke. They possess length, athleticism and a penchant for playing hard all the time.

But all of that would be wasted if not for the brilliance of Kyrie Irving on the other side of the floor.

No player on Boston evens the playing field against the Warriors more than Irving, who – as he showed on Sunday – can carry the offence and get buckets when his team need it the most.

Irving was unconscious in a losing effort, hitting 13-of-18 shots to score 37 points with what looked like ease. If not for Stephen Curry’s equally amazing performance in which he dropped 49 points, including 13 over the final 1:42, Irving would have added another signature moment at Oracle Arena.

“We try to bring the best out of each other and tonight, was kind of one of those nights,” Curry said of his duel with Irving. “Just a fun way to play.”

Other Warriors players were just as complimentary of Irving and the Celtics, sounding almost excited at the thought of seeing them again in the Finals for the opportunity to get a real challenge.

Of course, the playoffs, as the Celtics have learned the past few years, are a different animal and Boston may not even be the most well-rounded team in the East – hello, Toronto – but there’s no doubt at this point what Finals match-up would be best for practically everyone.

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