NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: The Philadelphia 76ers are doing a masterful tanking job

One of the most controversial topics in the NBA is tanking i.e. intentionally putting a weak product on the floor which will lose games and in the process yield a high draft pick. Some call it smart and others call it dishonest. Those who call it smart say that sometimes it's a necessary strategy in order to build a team which can win a championship, while those who call it dishonest say it's wrong out of principle since athletics is all about putting your best foot forward.

I am one who agrees that it can be smart since pro sports is a business and teams are individual businesses all trying to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship. In the NBA, there is one champion every year and 29 teams which fall short. If you own one of the 29 teams which falls short, you must ask why your team fell short and also ask what needs to be done in order for your team to be the one team that is left standing. 

For some teams like the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder, the solution to winning a title lies in free agency and having the stars of the team improve. For other teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, the answer doesn't solely lie in adding free agents or having the best players on the team play better. The answer lies in first acquiring the best talent available by whatever means necessary even if it means tanking. 

The 76ers have taken this approach to heart and have decided to tank like we've never seen a team tank before. I rarely use the word "masterful" when it comes to sports, but the 76ers are truly doing a masterful tanking job and the potential payout is enormous. I will list various techniques that this team has used in order to orchestrate this state of the art tanking job. 

The first technique the 76ers have used is what I call "Go big or go home." This technique was used back in 2012 when the team made a four-way trade with the Nuggets, Lakers, and Magic which sent their franchise player Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets in exchange for Andrew Bynum from the Lakers. This was a trade that was either going to make the 76ers a championship contender or a lottery team. It was really hard to tell since Andrew Bynum at the time was dealing with knee problems while also not being far removed from being one of the league's best big men. 

Had Andrew Bynum panned out, the team would have had the best center in the NBA, which certainly would have changed the course of the franchise for the better. The risk of course was that if Bynum didn't pan out, they would lose a bunch of games and essentially start all over again from scratch. 

The 76ers' decision to trade Andre Iguodala to get Andrew Bynum backfired which actually wasn't upsetting for them. The 76ers knew that if things backfired they would plummet to the bottom of the standings and they were ok with that. Their attitude was lets win now or really stink to acquire the best players in the draft. When Bynum didn't work out, they wholeheartedly embraced the tanking path as the way in which they would go about building a contending team. 

As they started their path to tanking excellence, the first thing the 76ers had to do was get rid of any other talented young player who didn't appear to be a cornerstone player of a championship team.  The reason for letting guys like this go is that such players will only help the team win games and stay away from the bottom of the standings while also not being a part of the long-term plans of the organization. Just prior to the Andrew Bynum trade, the 76ers let their promising young point guard Lou Williams go, which was a player who fit this exact description.

After the Bynum experiment, the 76ers made sure to get rid of their budding all-star point guard Jrue Holiday in exchange for rookie center Nerlens Noel in a draft day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. The 76ers couldn't trade literally everybody they wanted to at once, so for the time being, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young remained on the roster. 

In addition to parting with guys like Lou Williams, there are three key drafting techniques that the 76ers have used which have really been at the core of this tanking job. The first technique is "draft a talented player who can help you win in the future and entertain the fans in the meantime". This technique was used when the team drafted point guard Michael Carter-Willliams in 2013 with the number 11 overall pick. Michael Carter-Williams had a breakout season and won rookie of the year honors this past season, averaging 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. 


It was obvious that the front office was shaking in their boots when the team started 3-0, but thankfully the team did poorly enough to land the third overall pick in this year's draft with a 19-63 record. The 76ers needed to draft somebody who could start helping them right away and give the fans a reason to come watch them play. Michael Carter-Williams did just that for the organization and in the process he has proven worthy of being the first player who they can truly label as a "cornerstone" for a championship team of the future. 

The second drafting technique that the team has used is called"draft a talented guy who is hurt for the year." This technique takes guts, but the 76ers aren't ashamed. When they traded Jrue Holiday to acquire Nerlens Noel in the 2013 NBA draft, they knew Noel was going to be out for the season with a torn ACL, but they also knew that he was likely the most talented player in the draft. 

Standing at 6'11 and weighing around 206 lbs, Noel saw his draft stock fall purely because of injury. His potential to be a rim protector and a force in the paint was enough of a reason for teams to gamble on him, but nobody wanted to take the risk until the Pelicans called his name. 

The 76ers really liked his upside even with the injury and saw an opportunity to get themselves a second potential cornerstone of a championship team who would help them win games in the future but in the process help them lose games in the upcoming season due to his inability to play as he recovered from his torn ACL. It was perfect. They got the most talented player in the draft while also ensuring that they would have another lousy season even more lousy than before! It was all starting to come together at this point.

The 76ers used this same technique again in this past draft when they drafted Kansas center Joel Embiid with the #3 overall pick. Embiid came into the draft as the most promising talent in the league due to his Hakeem Olajuwon-like qualities but he too saw his draft stock fall due to injury concerns about his back. When Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker got drafted with the top two picks, the 76ers swooped in and drafted Embiid knowing that they once again landed the most talented player in the draft who wouldn't be able to help them win in the upcoming season. The 76ers now have two potential beasts in the paint with one of them out for the upcoming season and the other (Noel) already looking like a front runner for rookie of the year. 

The third technique the 76ers used was once again in this past draft and that is the "draft and stash" technique. This technique is simply drafting a really talented foreign player who can't play in the NBA for a few seasons due to obligations to a foreign team. The player they used this technique on was Dario Saric, a 6'10 power forward out of Croatia whom they landed in a draft day trade with the Orlando Magic. Saric is incredibly talented and has point-forward potential which means he has the potential to play some point guard as a forward. He's got a good shot and great skills for a big man who easily has the skill-set to play with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. What makes this move great for their quest for tanking is that he once again will help them win in the future, but not next season which ups their odds of landing another high draft pick. 


In addition to these draft techniques, the 76ers have already found a home for promising guard Evan Turner by trading him to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger whom they went on to cut. In addition, they are also rumored to be looking to move their very talented young forward Thaddeus Young (17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season) to the Timberwolves to help facilitate a Kevin Love trade. 


The wheels are still in motion in this tanking process for the 76ers, and so far things are going good. They have two young bigs in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid who can form another "Twin Towers" duo like the Rockets had back in the 80s, a budding all-star point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, and a very promising international talent in Dario Saric. In addition, they are sure to get another high draft pick in the 2015 NBA draft. 

The bottom line is that what the 76ers are doing is necessary for them to contend in the future. They've acquired quality building blocks already and are on track to acquire more. Tanking may not be the most honest thing to do or be one filled with integrity, but it is a technique that can work provided that you know what you are doing. The 76ers clearly know what they are doing and they are doing it quite well. Several teams lose games with the hopes of landing the #1 pick, but only the Philadelphia 76ers have actually orchestrated a multi-part tanking job that is bringing in the most promising young players to their city. 

It may not happen overnight, but before long we may eventually see a dominating team in Philadelphia that features Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric, and some other promising young lottery pick. If we do see a dominating team with those guys as the key players, it will all be because the 76ers succeeded at pulling off the most masterful tanking job the league has ever seen. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Slam: Why the Cleveland Cavaliers should not trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love


As usual, the hottest topic in the NBA right now involves LeBron James. This time it has to do with who he will be playing with as he makes his return to Cleveland. We already know Mike Miller and James Jones are coming over from Miami to play with LeBron, and now there is also chatter of Ray Allen heading to Cleveland as well. While those additions are certainly noteworthy, they all pale in comparison to the possibility of the Cavaliers landing Kevin Love via trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not only does the possibility of Kevin Love playing with LeBron James have people buzzing, but so does the possibility of the Cavaliers giving up Andrew Wiggins, the number one overall pick in this year's draft, to get him.

While most who follow the NBA believe that giving up Andrew Wiggins to get Kevin Love is a good move for the Cavaliers, I disagree. I think it would be better for the Cavaliers to hang on to Andrew Wiggins and let him develop into the next superstar of the franchise under the tutelage of LeBron James. There are three key reasons for why I hold this position. 

The first reason why I hold the position that I do is that Andrew Wiggins has a higher ceiling than Kevin Love. While it is true that Kevin Love is a double-double machine, averaging 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game last season, I don't see Kevin Love being anything more than he is. I don't mean to say that he won't get better over time or that he is done improving, but we all know what Kevin Love is. He is a double-double machine who plays zero defense and knocks down threes. That's not nothing, but is he really worth acquiring at the expense of a young kid in Wiggins who has the potential to be a superstar on both ends of the floor? 


Kevin Love is without question the best power forward in the NBA, but he is no Karl Malone or Tim Duncan. The reason why is that both of those guys played defense in their prime and Kevin Love does not. Love's defensive deficiencies are problematic and ultimately hold him back from being a legitimate centerpiece of a championship team. 

Wiggins may have question marks surrounding his offensive abilities, but the defense we can see is already there. I have no doubt that Andrew Wiggins will be able to defend right away in the NBA and make an instant impact on the defensive side of the ball. If you give him a polished offensive game with his motor and athleticism, you have a legitimate superstar who blows Kevin Love out of the water. 

If I had Andrew Wiggins on my team, I would roll the dice and bet that he'll develop an offensive game. His upside as a fantastic two-way player is too much to give up for a guy who only plays well on the offensive side of the ball. If Kevin Love was a really good defender, this would be a good trade for the Cavaliers. Of course, if Love was a really good defender, the Timberwolves would already have a couple of playoff appearances with Kevin Love by now, and he'd be staying in the Twin Cities. 

The second reason why the Cavaliers shouldn't give up Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love is that it doesn't guarantee a championship. I understand that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love is a great trio that easily contends in the Eastern Conference, but does that lineup automatically equal a championship? I don't think it does. Especially since the Cavaliers likely throw in Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters in addition to Andrew Wiggins to get Kevin Love. The price to get Love might be too steep for Cleveland, and they probably are better off going forward with the assets that they have. 

This leads right into the third reason for why I don't think the Cavaliers should give up Andrew Wiggins to get Kevin Love, which is that the Cavaliers can already contend as presently constituted. With the team that they have right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. They don't need to add Kevin Love to become contenders, and as I said previously, they may actually be giving up too much to get Kevin Love. I.e. Subtraction by addition.


 Kyrie Irving and LeBron James at the moment is the best 1-2 punch in the Eastern Conference.  In addition, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett make for a very nice supporting cast around those two superstars which I think is good enough to get Cleveland to the NBA Finals right away. They may not defeat whoever comes out of the west, but they have what it takes to get to the NBA Finals which by default makes them a contender. 

The counter argument to my position is that adding Kevin Love makes them better right away, Andrew Wiggins isn't a sure thing, and giving up Wiggins for Love is what LeBron James wants. My biggest issue with adding Kevin Love and giving up Andrew Wiggins is that it makes them weaker defensively. I personally like what they have at the moment with Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James instantly forming one of the best perimeter defensive fronts in all of basketball better than what they get with Kevin Love putting in 25 points while collecting 12 rebounds every night. They already can score points with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, James Jones, and Mike Miller, and they can also get rebounds with Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett. The presence of Andrew Wiggins as great defender gives them a much more rounded out and complete team. 

To say that Kevin Love is a sure thing and Andrew Wiggins is a complete unknown and unproven player who might become a bust is really hyperbolic. It's true that we are yet to see Andrew Wiggins develop into a polished offensive weapon, but only an idiot would think that there are good odds he becomes a bust. 

At worst, he becomes a very athletic perimeter defender without a jump shot which is still nice to have on your team. Trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love basically says that you don't have any faith in Andrew Wiggins and his tremendous upside, which to me sounds incredibly foolish. The bottom line is that the Cavaliers are getting a terrific athlete in Wiggins who can come in and contribute instantly as a defender. He just needs the time to become a more consistent offensive threat, which I think with time he will become. 

As for the part about doing what LeBron James wants, this too isn't a good reason to make this trade. LeBron James sounds committed to staying in Cleveland for the rest of his career and he needs to focus solely on winning a title with what he has rather than begging for more help. Plus, great players don't always make the best front office decisions. The job of a player is focus on the next season, but the job of a general manager and an owner is to focus on the next five seasons and beyond. 

The Cavaliers have a tremendous player in Andrew Wiggins who guarantees them great basketball for the coming decade. Trading him for Love to make LeBron James happy would be a huge mistake by the front office because even though they want to keep LeBron James happy, their primary job is to do what's best for the franchise in the long term as well as the short term. I see short term and long term benefits of keeping Wiggins so in my opinion it's a win-win deal for LeBron and the Cavaliers to keep Wiggins. 

In conclusion, I simply don't think the Cavaliers should trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. His talent and upside in addition to the other players that they would have to trade is too much for them to give up. If the Cavaliers are at all concerned about the state of their franchise for more than just a couple seasons, they'll keep Andrew Wiggins. The potential payout of hanging on to him is much bigger than the payout of trading him for Kevin Love. If they want to not only win a championship within the next 5 seasons but also be a force in the east for ten seasons and beyond, they'll keep Andrew Wiggins and let him develop into a superstar under the instruction of this generation's greatest player. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: With the Eastern Conference wide open, don't sleep on the Atlanta Hawks

In a matter of a few weeks, the landscape of the Eastern Conference has dramatically shifted from being a two horse race between the Heat and Pacers to a wide open derby with as much as seven contenders. Of course, this is primarily due to LeBron James' decision to head back to Cleveland to join the Cavaliers, but other factors such as Lance Stephenson going to the Hornets and Pau Gasol going to the Bulls have also contributed to this shift. While everybody is all abuzz about the Cavaliers, Bulls, Wizards, and Hornets, nobody is paying one iota of attention to the Atlanta Hawks and the potential they have to make a run for the Eastern Conference crown.

The reason why they aren't getting any attention is equally obvious as it is incoherent: They haven't added any major free agents to their team this summer. What makes this incoherent is that their star center Al Horford missed almost the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle, and yet they found themselves taking the #1 seeded Indiana Pacers to a Game 7 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  


With Al Horford now healthy, the Hawks will finally be able to see how much damage they can do with a frontcourt that features Al Horford and Paul Millsap, two guys who are both all-stars. In my opinion, the damage that they can do is severe enough to come out of the Eastern Conference and stun everybody who follows the NBA. 

Before he went down with his pectoral injury last season, Al Horford was having the best season of his career, averaging 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per contest. As for Paul Millsap, what earned him all-star honors was his season average of 17.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. Those aren't numbers to ignore in today's NBA, especially for big men. With Pacers center Roy Hibbert going all coo coo in the head, the door is now open for the Hawks to have the best front court in the Eastern Conference even with the Bulls having Joakim Noah and the Cavaliers potentially landing Kevin Love.

In addition to their fantastic frontcourt which also features the very dangerous stretch-big man Pero Antic, the Hawks have a very dangerous backcourt which features Jeff Teague and also Thabo Sefolosha who they signed this summer in free agency. Like Horford and Millsap, Teague has gotten better every season with this past season being his best, averaging 16.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. 

Teague is not only a playmaker offensively, but he is also a playmaker defensively. By adding Thabo Sefolosha to their backcourt, the Hawks now have a very dangerous defensive team on the perimeter that can give the best backcourts in the NBA serious trouble. In addition, the Hawks also have Kyle Korver knocking down threes at the small forward position, which makes up for Sefolosha's lack of offense. 

As for the role players on the Hawks, I like the pieces that their head coach Mike Budenholzer has to work with. Kent Bazemore, who had a breakout season of sorts with the Lakers last season should be able to provide scoring off the bench, DeMarre Carrol is effective at providing energy and hustle, and Dennis Schroeder is looking like he may become a quality backup point guard. Plus, both rookie Adreian Payne and veteran Gustavo Ayon should be able to provide quality relief in the paint for Al Horford and Paul Millsap. 

The only knock on the Hawks is that they don't have a big name player who will put them on ESPN and TNT every week. They will once again fly under the radar as a result, but don't allow that to make you forget that Hawks still exist as a viable contender in the East. They can beat you in the paint and on the perimeter and they also have quality role players. In addition, they learned that without Al Hoford they can still make some noise in the playoffs. Now that they are getting Horford back, I don't see any reason to think that they can't run the table and come out of the East. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland: What this means for the rest of the NBA


Over the past couple of weeks, talk of LeBron James going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers slowly morphed from being pie in the sky to a strong possibility. Now it's more than just a strong possibility. It is a reality. LeBron James told Sports Illustrated in an interview today that he has decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after abandoning them 4 years ago to chase championships in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It's pretty obvious what this means for the city of Cleveland. It means that they have a championship caliber team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins. Rather than talking about what this means for Cleveland, since that's pretty obvious, what I will do in this article is try to articulate what it means for the rest of the NBA.

The number one thing this means for the rest of the NBA is that the Eastern Conference just got really interesting. Now we aren't looking at another Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals. We are instead looking at the Cavaliers, Pacers, Bulls (with or without Carmelo Anthony), and possibly the Raptors as contenders in the East. In addition, this means the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Hornets will all be battling it out for the Southeast division title instead of the Heat taking it in a cakewalk.

As for the Western Conference, this means that the San Antonio Spurs without a doubt are the team with the biggest target on their backs. So long as the Heat had LeBron James, the Heat in some sense still had the biggest target on their backs, but now that LeBron is going back to Cleveland, the San Antonio Spurs are undoubtedly the team that EVERYBODY will be honing in on to beat. It doesn't mean the Cavaliers won't have a target on their backs since LeBron James by default has a target on his back, but it does mean that the Spurs are clearly the favorite to win the NBA title and clearly are the team that everybody should be most afraid of.

As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, this means that provided they can get past the Spurs, they have to really like their chances of winning a title next season. Kevin Durant no longer needs to feel like he needs to go Hollywood to chase a title like Carmelo Anthony did when he bolted the Mile High City for Broadway. LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the the Thunder because I think it will motivate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to stay in their small market town of Oklahoma City and continue to pursue a championship.

More broadly speaking, this is great for small market teams everywhere. To see the world's greatest player leave Miami (technically a mid-major market) for Cleveland (a small market) has to give small market teams hope that they too can hang on to stars and build a contender if they get the right kind of players. Teams like Utah, Minnesota, Portland, Memphis, and Indiana have to feel like if Cleveland can become a contender, so can they.

Overall, I think LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the NBA. It energizes Cleveland, it makes the race for the Eastern Conference title way more interesting, and it gives hope to small market teams everywhere that they too can compete and contend for championships. This truly is a great day in the NBA.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Future Is Bright In Milwaukee

            It’s crazy how quickly fortunes can change for an NBA franchise on draft night. A team can go from being a laughing stock of the league to suddenly being a team that warrants respect and fear from their opponents. Such is the case with the Milwaukee Bucks, who have greatly changed the face and image of their franchise upon drafting Duke star Jabari Parker, who many think has the potential to be a championship caliber centerpiece. In addition to Jabari, the Bucks also have Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6’11 220 lb small forward from Greece who is known as “The Greek Freak”.
Many think that if the 2013 draft were done over again, Giannis would have gone #1 overall in the draft after seeing how quickly he matured and developed over the course of the season. He was thought to be really talented, but still very raw and in need of a lot of development. But as it turned out, he was much more NBA ready than people thought, which was great news for the Bucks as they were heading into another losing season in which they might land a potential superstar like Jabari Parker in the draft.
Now that they have both Giannis and Jabari, the future in Milwaukee is sky high, and teams in the Eastern Conference have to view them as a team capable of doing serious damage in the near future. If Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo both reach their full potential, they could form a scary duo like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. I’m not saying they will be as good as that duo, but what I am saying is that the potential to be that good or nearly that good is definitely there. If this potential is reached, the Bucks will have a team that is capable of competing for the NBA championship.
The key thing for the Bucks’ front office to do at this point is to be patient with both of these guys and start thinking about what complementary pieces these guys need to succeed. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn’t become a championship caliber duo over night and the Thunder still are looking for the right complementary pieces to put around them to get over the hump. The Bucks realistically are looking at probably a 5 year process to become a championship threat and probably a 6-9 year process to morph from a threat into a viable contender. It all depends on several factors such as future free agency periods, future drafts, and the ability for their other quality assets like Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, and Larry Sanders to fit in with the team. 
But regardless of those factors, the fact that the Bucks have Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo makes them a potential contender by default and now it’s just a matter of time before the two of them flower into the stars that they have inside of them. There will be growing pains, frustration, and moments of doubt, but if the Bucks stay the course and continue to have patience and faith in these two guys, the Bucks should see their dream of forming a championship caliber team in the East realized. 
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord