When news first broke that Chris Paul would be traded to the Clippers for Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Minnesota’s unprotected first round pick, I tweeted a prediction that was neither bold nor calculated: The New Orleans Hornets will sweep the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of 2014′s postseason. After a quick loop of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin running thunderous, arena-shaking pick and rolls played in my head, this was the very next thought. The Hornets fleeced a team about as best you can despite parting ways with the greatest player their franchise has ever known. Not bad, Stern. Not bad at all.
As was proven evident by the rash chaos thrown at a wall these last few weeks—by agents, general managers, players, owners, and a commissioner’s office—predicting tomorrow in the NBA might be more futile than deciphering who the government mole is on Homeland (Carrie’s unseasonable speaking confidant/stalker who lives in a sketchy white van is my guess). Transactions that have purpose and seem rational at first, end up twisting and turning through ESPN owned Blackberries and beat reporter tweets, ad infinitum, until there’s nothing left but ink on paper. It’s a convoluted process, and from beginning to end, through the dozens upon dozens of intricate levels, no one person can possibly predict what a team will do. Subtract an owner and the process gets even worse. So while I say the Hornets will defeat the Clippers three years from now, it’s under a complete understanding that a thousand different scenarios exist: Chris Paul could become a free agent and sign with the Knicks, Lakers, or Heat two years from now, Eric Gordon could plateau his aggressiveness and fade out by the time he’s 25, or Minnesota could win the NBA championship this season and leave New Orleans with a crappy draft pick. I don’t care anymore; I’m expecting anything.
What we know:
- Carl Landry signed a one-year, $9 million contract with the Hornets today. With the expected loss of David West to Indiana official, this was both a smart basketball (filling their role at power forward) and financial move.
- The Hornets are $2 million under the salary cap, allowing them to place a bid on amnestied players. As of right now, none are too realistic or worthy, but with Jarrett Jack as the team’s starting point guard, bringing Baron Davis in would be interesting. Or not, whatever.
- Eric Gordon is really good, and should be signed to an extension as soon as possible.
Here’s what the Hornets should do if they played in an alternate universe where expectations were met, ceilings were reached, and the NBA was a predictable entity. Oh yea, they’d also have an owner.
Once the 2011-12 season ends:
- Under the expectation that Emeka Okafor has another 10 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 bpg season, either flip him for 75 cents on the dollar to a team in delusional belief that they’re one rim protecting presence away from winning a championship, or amnesty him
- Be patient with Chris Kaman’s expiring contract, then let him walk in the offseason. Now you have $24.7 million of salary coming off the books if you also happened to amnesty Okafor.
- Take Minnesota’s unprotected draft pick that’s almost surely going to be a top 7 choice, and pair it with your own. In the last lottery, the Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving with the first overall selection then took Tristan Thompson with the fourth. Now, in a much deeper draft, there’s a good chance New Orleans will be this year’s Cleveland.
- Get lucky in the lottery, replace Okafor/Kaman with Anthony Davis and John Henson. Or Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis. Or John Henson and Andre Drummond.
- Throw a max contract at a player who deserves a max contract. Like, say, Kevin Love.
- Um, Eric Gordon’s resigned, right? What, he’s not?? Pay the man! Okay, now we’re cool.
Rising: James Harden
It’s so easy to look down on a top three overall draft pick when his numbers don’t immediately make television screens spontaneously combust—to jump on his back before maturation is allowed time to settle in, and stamp “BUST” on his forehead. (All the more easy when a player taken with the subsequent pick goes onto have a historically brilliant rookie year.) People don’t have patience. James Harden, armed with bristling beard action and a buttery jump shot, is all about patience. His game, built on all-around methodical consistency—like Paul Pierce and Brandon Roy—depends on it.
When it comes to long term convenience, he’s 22-years-old and firmly entrenched in one of the brightest situations the league has to offer; an argument can be made that he’s the second most untradeable player in the Thunder organization, behind Kevin Durant. He’s already proven he can take over entire quarters at a time in playoff games, and make plays off the dribble that don’t only benefit himself. Hate to light a horse on fire while it’s writhing on the ground, but Harden’s a better decision maker/incredibly less selfish than Russell Westbrook, and it isn’t crazy to say his future may be an even more rewarding one alongside Durant.
Coming off the bench in all but five games last season, Harden was a respectable role player who’d flash brilliance every now and then, but he wasn’t blowing the hinges off anybody’s doors. His style lacked glamour, existing more as sophisticated style hidden beneath a high IQ basketball player who’s just about ready to tornado the league. A few days ago I wrote that there will never be another Scottie Pippen. I stand by that statement, but right now James Harden is the closest thing the league has.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Thornton, Eric Gordon, Arron Afflalo
After being traded from New Orleans for Carl Landry, in one of the more honorable trades you’ll ever see, Marcus Thornton’s minutes more than doubled. Subsequently, so did his shots, points, steals, assists, and free-throw attempts per game. He went from a decent second round draft pick to one of the game’s most dynamic scorers, post all-star break—and that isn’t an exaggeration (21.3 points with an 18.2 PER).
What keeps the Marcus Thornton fire from burning strong is a big bucket of water named Jimmer Fredette. The situation in Sacramento should be exciting, but there’s only one basketball to play with, and Jimmer should see that ball quite often. With his confidence sitting on a cloud, Thornton will look to shoot more than he should, unless, of course, the free agent signs somewhere else after the lockout. Putting a proven, reliable, unafraid shooting guard like Thornton on a team that could use reliability from the shooting guard position, like, say, Chicago, could cause more than a few ripples. It makes too much sense.
For Eric Gordon, please see here.
An argument could be made that after the Carmelo trade, Arron Afflalo was the guy George Karl looked to with the game on the line, and his penchant to play hard on both ends should keep him on the floor (especially with no Wilson Chandler/Carmelo/JR Smith three-headed monster to deal with).
Since his first playoff series in 2008, Afflalo has seen his minutes grow from 7.0 to 16.5 to 20.0 to last year’s 28.3. He’s a player who’s constantly improving on skills he struggled with early on in his career (a 20% three-point shooter his rookie year, Afflalo finished tied for sixth league-wide from deep last season), with brimming desire and fearlessness gleaming from his eyes whenever advantageous moments present themselves. He was drafted at the end of the first round in 2007, then flipped two years later for a second round pick, placing one of those handy, metaphorical chips on his shoulder that should only grow as his career continues to mature.
Falling: Dorell Wright
Last year Dorell Wright had one of the quietest breakout seasons in recent memory. In his seventh year—the first outside Miami, also known as self-discipline dementia—Wright became a full-time starter for the first time. Naturally, he posted career high averages across the board and led the entire league in both three-point attempts and three-pointers made (!!!). Unfortunately for Wright (and the Warriors organization), he shot a harsh 37%, hardly qualifying as a feared deep threat. By comparison, teammates Steph Curry and Reggie Williams finished with the third and sixth most accurate three-point shooting percentage in the league, relegating Wright to at least the third best deep ball option on his own team (which is, like, sooo not !!! worthy). It was also worse than Keith Bogans. So, yea, there’s that.
When we look closer, maybe Wright didn’t have a breakout season after all. I mean, how many breakout seasons are followed by your team taking a player known for shooting threes and thriving in the same position, two months later in the draft? Many thought the Klay Thompson pick spelled a plane ticket for Monta Ellis, but if Golden State’s management were smart (they are) they’d take Wright, a player who can’t possibly have any better of a year than we just saw, and move him while he’s at the height of his value.
Honorable mention: Kobe Bryant
Eric Gordon is about as dangerous a basketball player can be without becoming a household name. But being that he seems to be so single-minded on basketball instead of exposing and expanding a personal brand, maybe that’s his choice. He’s a lethal threat to score from any spot on the floor—literally— at any given time.
Each of these moves exemplifies the diversity he has to offer with the ball in possession. His crossover is one of the many great ones being overlooked by most fans, probably because his jumper can melt nylon. If he wanted, Gordon could win the three-point shootout then give a certain teammate a run for his money in the dunk contest. It’s all within reach.
The shot is so flick-of-the-wrist effortless—so graceful and natural—and his situation alongside Blake Griffin is so divine, that Eric Gordon will soon be recognized in the average American household, whether he likes it or not.
1) Of all the players dealt last week, Marcus Thornton has arguably (an argument you’d certainly lose) made the greatest impact on his new destination.
3) Why basketball’s small city markets will (hopefully) never look like baseball’s.
4) The league’s rookies are given an in-depth, behind the scenes, pull-the-curtain-back level of detailed analysis. Or, they’re just graded on how well they’re playing.
5) A pro-Miami Heat financial argument.
6) A new basketball blog was launched yesterday. It’ll probably end being very informative and well written. Basically on par with this one.
7) For the first time since high school, Corey Brewer is a seriously hot commodity.
My feelings on this are mixed. On one hand, you have Blake Griffin coming up for an impenetrable monster screen, only to have Eric Gordon trick Curry by defying basic logic and driving away from it. This causes Curry to stop and think “what in the hell is he—” before rolling his ankle over the top of Griffin’s shoe and crumbling to the ground in pain. This hardly makes it impressive.
On the other hand, Gordon’s crossover is the primary reason Curry sprains his right ankle, thus making it an incredible move. Tough call, but I tend to side with the former.