With Embiid’s health still a long-term question mark, was it wise to move Nerlens Noel at this point and how would you evaluate the return on him?
Bryan Toporek (@BToporek): If I were running the Sixers, I would have traded Okafor and re-signed Noel this summer, no matter the cost. That said, I’d plan on trading Noel a year or two down the road when (if?) Embiid proves he can stay healthy. If Embiid goes down again, Noel could have helped the Sixers maintain a league-average defense, which is why he’s a far more preferable insurance policy than Okafor. That said, I can understand Bryan Colangelo’s reluctance to commit a huge chunk of cap space to a guy who ideally profiles as your team’s backup center, even if I don’t agree with that philosophy.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Sixers struggled “generating a market for Noel w/ pending restricted free agency status and potential near-max offer sheets expected.” That said, unless Justin Anderson turns into the next Jae Crowder — a fellow former wing castoff from Dallas — the return is mediocre at best and Kings-esque at worst. Agreeing to let the first-round pick turn into two second-rounders if it doesn’t convey this year was a huge misstep. If Anderson and two second-round picks is the best return you can get for Noel, just match whatever offer sheet he receives in restricted free agency and trade him down the road. This has serious potential to blow up in Colangelo’s face.
Vivek Jacob (@VivekMJacob): I don’t think it was wise to move Noel. Noel appeared happy to be a part of the rotation, and they should have moved Okafor by now. Bryan Colangelo should have taken a page out of former colleague Masai Ujiri’s book, and re-signed Noel. Terrence Ross was someone that had been rumored to be in deals before signing an extension, but Ujiri never quite found the right deal. He re-signed Ross, and now transformed him into Serge Ibaka. Poor prudence on Colangelo’s part (nothing we haven’t seen before).
As the question alludes to, Embiid’s health has been poor since being drafted, and to be in such a dicey situation with their franchise player with Ben Simmons also on the mend, this deal doesn’t sit well with me from Philly’s perspective.
The Sixers were undoubtedly a better team with Noel than Okafor, and for Justin Anderson to be the only notable return on the deal, Bryan Colangelo deserves some serious questions.
Adam Spinella (@Spinella14): I’m going to have to disagree with Bryan and Vivek here. The ramifications of the DeMarcus Cousins trade is already being felt — lower return in terms of picks for a talented player with some question marks, no matter what they are. With the 2017 Mavericks pick unlikely to be conveyed based on protections (1-18), getting two second-rounders and Justin Anderson for Nerlens Noel does seem a little low. It’s a similar return to what they got for Ersan Ilyasova (two seconds and Splitter from Atlanta). On its face, that seems low.
But I’m not a big fan on keeping Noel for the sole purpose of re-signing him to a near max contract this summer in restricted free agency, and then flipping that asset down the line. I see an indication here that Philadelphia wants to target a free agent or two this summer, instead of having to use their cap space to re-sign Noel and then navigate the trade market with him. Say what you will about Noel’s talent being worth more than two second-rounders and an embattled Anderson, but this loot is better than letting him go for nothing.
Regardless of Embiid’s long-term health, the franchise had to make a decision on Noel between now and July, and this was ultimately the decision that allows them greater flexibility.
James Holas (@JHolasHoops): Yes. If you KNOW you’re not willing to pay Noel $17-$22 million long term, and you believe that long term, Embiid’s foot shouldn’t be an issue, then make the move and go forward. I understand that teams must value their assets appropriately, but there’s also something to be said about knowing when to cut the string; when to stop sinking time and costs into something that’s just not for you. Embiid and Noel were a flawed fit, and with Simmons penciled in as the PPFOtF (Point Power Forward Of the Future), chances of Noel getting big run in the future were slim.
The return…well. You’d think a rim protecting live wire like Noel would have garnished a more lucrative trade, but seeing what DeMarcus went for, and what Serge Ibaka went for, it’s impossible to gauge the market for bigs right now. We know how much Philly cherishes draft picks. I can’t imagine why Noel went for so little; this seems pretty piss poor asset management on the Sixers’ part.
Justin Anderson is an intriguing prospect, and the 76ers certainly need help on the wing, but given his struggles adjusting to the NBA three-point line, is he a proper fit next to the likes of Ben Simmons or Dario Saric at the forward positions?
James: “Simba,” as Justin Anderson is so affectionately called, had good size and athleticism, and is a streaky scorer. He’s only 23, and can inject dynamic energy into a young Philly team desperate for perimeter help. He may not be the PERFECT fit, but Philly is still in the “talent acquisition” phase. Remember, less than a year -ago Anderson was a key reason Dallas got into the playoffs (he averaged nine points and seven rebounds as a starter during the Mavericks pivotal six-game win streak down the stretch). The Sixers have proven they can wring NBA type production from fringe NBA players (see: Covington, Robert), so they must be confident that they can unlock Anderson’s potential.
Bryan: If Anderson doesn’t become more consistent from beyond the arc, then no, he’s not an ideal fit next to Simmons. That said, Saric and Embiid each have three-point range, so an Anderson-Saric-Embiid trio could work, especially since Anderson could be a strong defender off the bench. At least through 2017-18, Robert Covington profiles as the Sixers’ ideal starting 3 next to Simmons and Embiid, but the team was light at that position beyond him. (Rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Gerald Henderson have been eating most of those backup minutes.) Sixers fans can only hope Anderson’s career arc follows that of another former Mavericks wing castoff, Jae Crowder.
Vivek: I have liked Justin Anderson, but I question the fit. The Sixers need knockdown shooters, someone along the lines of a Terrence Ross or Eric Gordon. Unless Anderson improves his shot significantly, I do see the Sixers struggling to make the trio of Simmons, Anderson, and Saric work.
Having said that, he could be a solid contributor off the bench if they can formulate the right fit there. He’s long and built like a brick house, so there’s value in keeping him on the roster.
Adam: The Crowder comparison isn’t an awful one for Anderson, but that’s in a best-case scenario. There’s little downside to the Sixers adding a talented young wing and figuring out if they can play within their system. At the very least, Anderson and Robert Covington are two strong defensive wings who are weapons in their own right. It’s always easier to find a backcourt scorer on the free agent market than anything else, so giving a flier on a kid like Anderson is a solid move.
Simmons and Saric will need shooting to surround them if they ever plan to play together at the 3 and 4 in Philly. If Joel Embiid shares the floor with them, I think that does enough to distort defenses and create mismatch problems that Anderson and a shooting point guard could survive on the floor together.
The Dallas Mavericks continue their recent trend of burning their first round draft picks, sending Anderson for Nerlens Noel right as he’s set to hit restricted free agency. At this stage in the Mavs’ timeline, is this the right move? What does this do for the Mavs’ short-term playoff prospects (this year and next) and long-term future with a core of he and Harrison Barnes?
Adam: I like this move for Dallas a lot. Cuban has struggled in free agency over the past few years to attract that home run player, and getting a restricted free agent where Cuban can match any offer he finds is a surefire way to get that young gun to build around. This will be a really great defensive-minded team in Dallas, with plenty of physical wings and an athletic rim protector in Noel. He also masks Dirk’s defensive disability in the final years of his career.
Offensively, the Mavericks will probably put Noel in a Tyson Chandler-type role as someone screening, standing in the short corner or rolling hard to the rim after a high ball screen. There are enough shooters around him to maximize his usage. And the price was perfect in acquiring Noel, giving up two second-rounders and a prospect in Anderson that was up and down during his 18 months as a pro. Great move from Dallas, cap wise and on the court.
James: Nerlens Noel is young and has the potential to be a prototypical modern “Block, Board, & Bang” big. Barnes is young and is a prototypical wing scorer. Dallas will be overpaying for both, but honestly, what other options do they have? I’m fine with the move for Dallas. They now will have two real deal starters who, while neither project to be superstars, aren’t over-the-hill vets nor end-of-bench flotsam. Short term, I know coach Carlisle is a wizard, but I feel that Boogie Cousins joining Anthony Davis has the eighth seed sewn up; but I’ve learned to stop betting against Carlisle’s Dark Arts.
Team Barnes and Noel with veteran Wes Matthews (who’s been rounding into form as a good player again, his deal isn’t as puke-inducing now), and coach Carlisle, and things are looking up in Texas moving forward. Dirk’s on the books until ’18, and after that, Dallas will have loot to spend and a framework that might (I said MIGHT) entice a Big Fish to come join the fray.
Vivek: I like the move for the Mavs. They’ve banked on free agency big time in the past and failed, so to acquire a good talent that they will have control over as a restricted free agent is step forward. With regards to their long-term future, I could see Noel becoming a third banana type offensively while anchoring the defense.
In terms of building their roster, they can feel good that they’ve addressed that. Harrison Barnes has redeemed himself this season, and could even be the second-best scorer on a championship team. He’ll have to continue his upward trend for more than a season to validate that, but the potential is there.
What’s missing of course, is the top dog. While Barnes, Noel, a solid bench, and a heck of a coach in Rick Carlisle may be good enough to squeeze back into the playoff picture in the next couple of years, they’ve still got some ways to go before anyone takes them seriously.
How much of a difference will Lou Williams make for the Houston Rockets in the playoffs?
Vivek: I don’t think he’ll help them in the playoffs. Having watched Lou with Toronto, where they were swept by the Wizards in 2015 postseason, his game went from being a hammer in the regular season one day, to a nail in the postseason the next. The running jumper for the and-one won’t get called. Teams will target him defensively, and he’ll even struggle to get his shot off.
Having said that, he can help them in the regular season. The Rockets have relied heavily on Harden all season, and Williams should help to alleviate some of that stress. His style of play is well suited to the regular season, and is a reason why he always intrigues teams. I had the Rockets as the fourth best playoff team in the West behind the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, and this move has done nothing to change that opinion.
Adam: Williams certainly gives Houston another ball handler and scoring creator to lighten the playmaking burden that Harden carries. The ultimate goal for the Rockets is making a move to push them over the ledge to beat Golden State. The way to do that would be to prepare for small-ball and try to out-space a team that switches everything defensively. Houston has to get players that can take guys off the dribble to counteract Golden State switching scheme. Williams certainly gives them that, and the price was worth paying.
But Williams doesn’t move the needle defensively, and playing him, Harden and Beverley together makes the Rockets mighty small with two weak perimeter defenders on the floor. It’s a gamble to outscore the Warriors, and it’s one that D’Antoni certainly would be willing to make. I don’t know if I see it paying off.
Bryan: Sweet Lou will provide a minor boost to the Rockets, as he’ll give them even more scoring punch if James Harden or Eric Gordon have an off night. In a theoretical second-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, Williams only further tilts the scales in Houston’s favor, as San Antonio will struggle to keep up with the Rockets’ firepower. That said, I’d still pick a fully healthy Golden State Warriors team over Houston in a seven-game series. So, I’d pencil the Rockets in as the Warriors’ likely opponent in the Western Conference Finals — if anything, his addition should help Houston stave off the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed — but I’d still pick Golden State in 6.
James: Lou Williams is another bullet in the Rocket’s prodigious offensive armory. the Rockets of last year were hamstrung because Harden was the only guy who could make plays off the bounce; this year, Eric Gordon and now Lou Williams can get into the teeth of the defense or bury defenses from deep. Even with Gordon, Houston at times struggled to score when Harden took a breather; as Williams has proven over his career, bench units can prosper with his (sometimes) efficient, creative scoring touch.
The benefits of the trade are obvious for the Lakers, so let’s cut to the new basketball hierarchy, which brings all sorts of intrigue: what are your thoughts on Magic taking over in Los Angeles?
James: As a Celtics fan, the brouhaha of the Lakers front office coupe fills me with glee. As an NBA fan, it warms my heart to see an NBA legend kept close by the team he dominated for. He brings that megawatt smile and charisma to a franchise in the midst of a makeover, and as face of the franchise, his handshake will hold weight. From another perspective: his elementary posts on social media are good for a laugh, but it’s a little troubling that a front office voice hold such, um, “alternatively good” views on personnel (seriously, Magic? Brandon Knight with the number one pick?)
Bryan: It all depends on how much he empowers new general manager Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office staff. If he allocates responsibilities and trusts their input over his own opinions, Magic’s charisma may help lure top-tier free agents once the D’Angelo Russell-Brandon Ingram-Julius Randle core develops — and if USA Today‘s Sam Amick is to believed, the Lakers may not need much help signing Paul George in the summer of 2018. Pelinka reportedly has a sound understanding of the CBA and has established relationships with other general managers from his previous negotiations with clients, so he’ll be the key to how successful this Magic experiment is. I’m cautiously optimistic about the potential, but it could also go to hell in a handbasket right quick.
Vivek: The entire transition went down in typical Lakers fashion, and that might be a sign of things to come. His weak twitter game and desire to state the obvious won’t be a factor in his new role. He brings some lure back to the Lakers, I think. As their young core continues to develop, players will look at Magic in meetings, knowing what’s on the roster, and struggle to say no.
Factor in Rob Pelinka’s connections, and it’s hard not to see the Lakers not progressing back towards the top of the heap.
Adam: Look, for every Pat Riley or Larry Bird GM there’s a Phil Jackson or Vlade Divac. Big names offer no guarantees to being a quality decision-maker or head of basketball operations — it’s all about the staff they surround themselves with. The addition of Pelinka is a great grab for Magic because he has the inside connections and cap sense to negotiate quality deals for the Lakers and be the executor of Johnson’s will.
At the end of the day, the biggest test for Johnson will be having patience with a young core. All his rhetoric speaks to an expectation that the Lakers, as one of the NBA’s golden franchises, don’t have losing seasons like they’ve had lately, and must change this quickly. If that translates to impatience with many of the talented young players on this roster in return for a near-sighted talent grab, I think Magic will be set up to fail. Ingram, Russell, Randle, Clarkson and Nance are all talented young players… giving away a few of those pieces in chase of just one superstar won’t push the Lakers to true title contention.
What do the additions of Ibaka and P.J. Tucker do for the Raptors’ frontcourt and have they addressed their weaknesses enough to retake their place as the Eastern Conference’s second best team?
Adam: This is a wildly successful deadline for Toronto, in a vacuum and when stacked against the rest of the East contenders. Ibaka and Tucker, for the price of picks and one rotation player in Terrence Ross, is a great loot. Both tighten up Toronto’s leaky defense, against any team or against the top dog in the East. Ibaka and Tucker can both defend two positions. Ibaka can play the 5, but is also a great offense and defense fit alongside Jonas Valanciunas. Tucker can slot in at the 4 in small-ball and check LeBron, or space the floor as the 3 along with DeMarre Carroll.
Toronto now has two wings with physicality and size they can throw at LeBron without jeopardizing their shooting and spacing around Lowry or DeRozan. Now this takes the Raptors out of the free agent pool this summer, as their focus shifts towards keeping both Ibaka and Tucker. If they can keep both, Ujiri has assembled an incredibly strong top-ten for his rotation with depth, versatility and multi-positional players. Exactly the formula needed to topple the top teams in the league.
James: The Raps had been reeling. Since Jan. 18, they’re losers of 11 of 15 and owners of the ningth worse net rating in the league over that span. Their offense had cratered during the stretch, tumbling all the way to 24th in the NBA. Not coincidentally, Patrick Patterson only played in six of those games. Toronto missed Patterson’s shooting and defensive versatility; acquiring Ibaka and Tucker makes up for that and then some. Serge’s production has been on a slow decline the last few years, but even this version of him is a major upgrade for the Raps at power forward, and he can play small ball center. In PJ Tucker, they bring in a tough-as-nails, savvy veteran who can guard most wings AND some power forwards. The duo gives Casey a slew of new lineup options to tinker with. It remains to be seen if these moves can catapult Toronto back up the standings, but let’s not forget how dominant Toronto looked early in the season. Sometimes fresh faces can inject a jolt of caffeine into a sluggish lineup.
Bryan: Power forward has been a gaping hole for Toronto all year, so Ibaka gives the Raptors a much-needed third banana who can relieve some stress from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, particularly in crunch time. P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, gives Toronto another wing stopper who could help slow down the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler in the playoffs while DeMarre Carroll is on the bench. Boston and Washington have each hit a groove as of late, so I don’t know that the Raptors finish as the No. 2 seed in the East, but I do think they’re the second-best team now.
After all the hemming, hawing, and speculating about if the Celtics were finally going to unleash the war-chest to nab jimmy Butler or Paul George, Boston again fizzled at the deadline, standing pat, moving forward with two delectable draft picks instead of a ready-to-go new All-Star. Did Danny Ainge make a fatal balk for his franchise? Was he right to hold his money so close to his chest?
Vivek: I’d say that fatal is too strong. They still have both Nets picks which makes their future look very bright. If the rumors are to be believed, Paul George wants to go to the Lakers, so I can’t imagine him being too thrilled about the possibility of wearing a Celtics uniform. The other rumor is that the Celtics did put both of the Nets picks on the table, so it’s not that he didn’t try. Granted, I would imagine at least one of the picks would have been well protected.
Jimmy Butler, 27, is a year older than George, and has a strange affinity for conflict. There’s no doubt he’s a top 15 (maybe top 10) player in the league, but if Ainge didn’t believe Butler pushed the needle enough to validate losing even one of their top picks, then it makes sense to hold his cards.
Personally, I probably would have been less likely to make a move once Toronto and Washington made theirs. I’d rather build a future around the picks to come, and consolidate their roster with the best pieces they have right now.
Adam: Earlier this week I wrote about this same topic here for BBALLBREAKDOWN. I think this was the best move that Boston could have made, standing pat and waiting until better options show themselves. Realistically, they can afford to be patient and don’t have to force their title window into this season or next year — in fact, the opposite is probably smarter. Boston can take the Nets pick, which will likely be a top-three pick, and turn it into a future star to keep the title window open longer, and in a post-LeBron era out East.
The fact of the matter is LeBron and the Cavs won’t be the same team they are now in two or three seasons — age, wear-and-tear, difficulty of continually finding role players. Boston’s best chance at taking them down now, without ruining the future window, is to build from within, strengthen their young core and evaluate which of their wings and guards (Crowder, Bradley, Smart) they’ll want to keep long-term. If Gordon Hayward shows himself this summer as a possible target, and the Celtics can get him without giving up that Nets pick, it will certainly look like the right gamble on Ainge’s part. If the Celtics don’t get him, they still have the ability to keep their core, Horford and a bunch of under-30 players, together for a few more seasons.
Bottom line, Ainge has positioned himself to utilize the utmost flexibility. Boston doesn’t need to press to make a deal, and I’m glad they didn’t less than a week after seeing a superstar get traded for cents on the dollar.
James: I’ve reached Celtic Fan Zen; whatever decision Ainge made today was the right one. For the two season prior to this one, I lived and died with every personnel decision the Celtic front office made. I was livid when they didn’t flat-out tank, and last summer I gnashed my teeth with every rumor that didn’t pan out. I wanted Isaiah Thomas traded, I poo-pooed the Terry Rozier pick, and I basically was a miserable fan.
I reflected, and I realized that, since moving on from Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have exceeded every projection or expectation set before them. There’s something to the saying “stop and smell the roses”, instead of wringing hands with eyes cast forward, look at what you have, in the moment, and appreciate it.
The Celtics are on pace for 53 wins, are second in the east, have depth on the wings and the backcourt, a great young coach, and some insanely high draft picks in the holster for the next two years. Their best player is only 27. Why sweat it?
Bryan: I’m as guilty as anyone of mocking Danny Ainge for overvaluing all of his assets, but I can’t fault him here, especially with regard to Paul George. Considering the report from USA Today’s Sam Amick that George is “hell-bent” on signing with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 2018 if Indiana isn’t a title contender, I don’t blame Ainge for not mortgaging the farm for what could be a year-and-a-half rental. It’s harder to defend not trading for Jimmy Butler, but based on the reports from The Vertical’s live trade deadline special, it seems as though Chicago’s front office dysfunction may have been as much to blame for that. (Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Bulls wanted to acquire some of Boston’s major rotation players so they could rebuild on the fly, which is a topic for an entirely different day.) In all likelihood, neither George nor Butler would enable Boston to beat both Cleveland and Golden State this season, so it makes sense to see how the draft lottery plays out before deciding whether to move that 2017 Nets first-round pick.
Plenty of talk swirled around Eastern conference hopefuls Boston, Chicago, and Indiana. The Bulls’ minor move aside (Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Joffery Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow), all three are going into the second part of the season with their respective squads intact. Which team will most regret not making a big change? Which GM did the smart thing by standing fast?
Bryan: Indiana will regret not trading Paul George for a blockbuster package, assuming one was available. It sounds as though he’s all but gone from the Pacers come July 1, 2018, and the leaks to that degree over the past few days will eviscerate Indiana’s trade leverage moving forward. Giving up a player of George’s caliber would sting, but retooling around Myles Turner and other promising young prospects and/or draft picks would accelerate the Pacers’ rebuild timetable significantly. As already discussed, I don’t find much fault in Boston standing pat, so I’d call the Celtics the inertia winners. The Bulls, meanwhile, desperately need to get their front office all on the same page by the night of the draft lottery so they can chart a cohesive course with Butler’s future and free agency. Either rebuild around Butler or trade him, but no more of these win-now Rondo signings, for the love of God.
Vivek: As explained in the Celtics questions, I think Danny Ainge made the right call. Indiana taking calls for George came out of left field for me, as I think they have something to work with around Turner and George. Unless they have good reason to believe he’s determined to join the Lakers at some point, I think they need to keep him. Superstars like him don’t grow on trees.
Chicago, man, do we really need to do this? They’re a mess, so I’m happy for Taj Gibson. They must believe they’ll receive better offers for Butler in the off-season. I can’t believe they’re at odds over whether or not they should keep Butler. They need to move on, it’s a no-brainer. They’re not going to able to put together a great roster in time to maximize his peak, and they’ll whittle away his considerable value if they keep waiting.
Adam: Ainge is the smartest of the group by not making a move because he has the most assets, the best team and the highest likelihood of keeping all his best players beyond this season. Both Indiana and Atlanta are taking gambles on their ability to keep their best player in free agency, and will have to win in order to do so. Indiana’s core is better than Atlanta’s right now… I’d be disappointed if the Pacers sold out on Paul George.
As for the Bulls, I wish I had some semblance of an idea of what Gar Forman and John Paxson are doing. It seems like, in the post-MVP Rose era, they’ve been stretching beyond belief to try and find a point guard. Time after time they bring in an overrated, non-shooting point guard where too much is given up to acquire them. If true that the Bulls were more motivated by finding pieces in a Butler deal than picks, they missed the memo that there are several franchise point guards available at the top of this year’s draft, and there were picks available. This isn’t to say they need to move Butler (actually, I think both them and the Pacers are better off for not moving their superstars at the deadline and should wait until the summer to consider) — but the Bulls are the biggest mismatching of talent and skill sets built around a win-now group of stars I’ve seen in a long, long time.
James: Paul George doesn’t seem too happy. The team is mediocre, they downgraded at point while weakening their defensive identity, and his front office is trying to goad him into playing out of position. Is he unhappy enough to leave $30 million on the table and skate away from Indiana in the summer of 2018? The fact that this is a question means that the Pacers might look back and rue the day they didn’t sell.
And look, I get that everyone is chomping at the bit to see a challenger topple the big bad Cavs, and the idea of Jimmy Butler or Paul George turning the Celtics into a Kingslayer is fun. But be real; a lineup of Isaiah-Horford-Butler is really nice. It’s not a LeBron James destroyer. Ainge isn’t in any rush; all these trade ideas can be revisited this summer and may not have to be: if Boston can land a Gordon Hayward in free agency, they get 88 percent of Paul George/Jimmy Butler, AND keep their picks).