Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reacting to summer trades so far...

Summer is here and that means all the speculation, trades, and reshuffling the NBA goes through during the summer. The draft has occurred and I'll put out a post regarding my thoughts on the Spurs' draft picks, though there's not much to say, they made smart picks with their typical late 1st round and 2nd round picks. However, this post will be about the two major trades that have happened so far. Granted, every team is still trying to see if they can land Paul George and/or Gordon Hayward.

Jimmy Butler rejoins Tom Thibodeau

More importantly than Jimmy Butler rejoining Thibs in Minnesota, is the fact that he joins two #1 overall picks with #1 overall pick talents in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. The details of the trade are pretty straight-forward, Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick (the 7'0" Creighton center Justin Patton) for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick (the 7'0" Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen). While we could discuss how Chicago is now rebuilding, I'd like to examine more closely the impact this has on the Western Conference, namely how does this affect the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The likely T'Wolves starting lineup will be Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng. Butler, Wiggins, and Towns already create a deadly two-way combination from SG to PF. Beyond that, Rubio and Dieng, I believe are solid starters and I believe somewhat underrated defensively. Rubio can help set up the offense and passes well, getting others involved. Tyus Jones is a solid backup and we can see if they retain Shabazz Muhammad, Omri Casspi, and Brandon Rush, even as they continue to develop Nemanja Bjelica and begin to develop Justin Patton. This starting five, I believe matches up well against that of Golden State in this year's championship run, especially given that I believe either Butler or Wiggins to be much more offensively versatile than a player like Klay Thompson.

The biggest concern for Minnesota is the depth. Normally, this wouldn't be a huge concern given the age of their stars and key players, however, given Tom Thibodeau's history with running players into the ground (see: Luol Deng and Joakim Noah), not having talent that can keep or extend leads built by their stellar starters may come back to bite them in the future. Let's see if Thibs, as President of Basketball Operations, can work with GM Scott Layden to get solid backups, and if Thibs, as the head coach, will provide his starters with sufficient rest to be fresh and primed for an off-season run.

Chris Paul leaves the Clippers

This is the most recent and biggest news. The Spurs were the popular name to toss about in the Chris Paul sweepstakes, but were said to not have gone all-in to woo Paul given the potential return of Tony Parker. Which, frankly, I entirely agree with. I won't be going into the whole speculation on Paul's disagreements with Doc Rivers. Perhaps that led to CP3's exit from LA, they did manage to find a trade partner in Houston, landing Patrick Beverley, Louis Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, and a bunch of non-guaranteed deals (and some cash).

Certainly, Houston will continue to pursue more talent, having gutted a large portion of its depth to land Chris Paul. While Chris Paul and James Harden make a potent backcourt combination, I do have my doubts as to whether or not Coach of the Year Mike D'Antoni can really integrate the two of them together. Let's be honest, even in D'Antoni's high octane offense, he only really ever utilized a single ball-handler, who dominated the ball so much that even mediocre ball-handlers like Shawn Marion wanted more touches. Both Chris Paul and James Harden demand the ball in their hands. Certainly, having both Harden and Paul on the floor wouldn't enable defenses to hone in on Harden, who seems to have a tendency to wilt under pressure, particularly in the playoffs whereas CP3 tends to shine under pressure.

The question I have is simply this, how will Mike D'Antoni design plays for either CP3 or James Harden off-ball. I'm not saying that this will be as catastrophic as the Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry pairing in 2008 with Isiah Thomas, but I'm not convinced that either (particularly James Harden) will be engaged enough to play well off-ball. If giving the ball to James Harden is the solution to his engagement, I don't know how you can consider CP3 anything other than a glorified Patrick Beverley; a strong defender and stabilizing locker-room presence. Granted, we'll have to see if they can indeed land a third star, but also to what lengths will they gut their depth to do so, will they trade 6th Man of the Year Eric Gordon? Will anyone want an injured Nene Hilario? Will they give up defensive stalwart Trevor Ariza and/or Clint Capela, who had a break out year?

While I'm sure Daryl Morey knows much more than I do, and is always willing to make a bold move to improve the roster, I'm not really sure that Chris Paul was really the improvement that the Rockets needed. Patrick Beverly played well, and I don't deny that a secondary play-maker might be needed. However, I believe that the weakest link was not Beverly but rather Ryan Anderson, specifically his defense, which was exposed when Nene got hurt and D'Antoni was forced to rely on Anderson as a backup to Capela. Coupled with Ariza, whose defense is largely built on reputation now more than ability, so some would say, gutting the Rockets for CP3 and potentially gutting it further for another star may be only slightly less disastrous than Brooklyn's mortgaging of its future for Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett.

Maybe they'll prove me wrong.

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