LAS VEGAS — Between the lines, the NBA Las Vegas Summer League is focused on the future of basketball. But in the stands, in hallways and around concourses that connect the Thomas & Mack Center to Cox Pavilion, the buzz is all about who will be challenging the champions of today.
The buzz around the gym jibes with the prevailing reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: The New York Knicks are deep into discussions with the Houston Rockets about sending Anthony to Space City, there may be two other teams involved and New York wants no part of Ryan Anderson and the three years and more than $61 million left on his deal.
Untangling this web requires finding a place where Anderson’s services as a three-point sniper at power forward make basketball sense.
The Minnesota Timberwolves could be one such squad. Head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau has spent the summer loading up on grinders and familiar faces.
As much as Jeff Teague can be a credible threat from three-point range—and as much as Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have stretched their shots—Minnesota’s new trio could use someone with Anderson’s range at power forward to open up the floor.
The Wolves already have two other quality bigs to play next to Towns in Gorgui Dieng and Taj Gibson. But Gibson, a Thibs favorite, only recently arrived in Minneapolis. With him on board, Dieng’s skills as a rebounder, shot blocker and mid-range shooter are largely redundant at that spot.
Put Dieng next to Kristaps Porzingis in New York, though, and the Knicks’ frontcourt might have something cooking—especially with the 27-year-old Dieng locked into a four-year, $62.8 million extension which begins this year. That would look a whole lot better on New York’s books than the $71 million set aside for Tim Hardaway Jr.
Dieng doesn’t fit under New York’s “marching orders” (per Woj) to focus on players age 25 and under, but the Knicks can’t expect a perfect return if they’re going to move Melo.
What about that fourth team that, as Woj put it, “was needed to move a particular player contract that neither the Knicks nor Rockets could or would accept in the deal”?
Well, if the Wolves are involved, maybe they are the fourth team, and maybe that undesirable contract belongs to another of Thibs’ old hands. Could this be how the New Orleans Pelicans free themselves of the nearly $34 million still owed to Omer Asik?
Such an arrangement would be more complicated than that. To make the money work, Minnesota would have to send out close to $11 million more in salary, with Houston offloading roughly an additional $1.6 million in the deal. With Anderson and Asik in tow up north, Nemanja Bjelica (another shooting forward) and Cole Aldrich (another backup big) could become expendable. The Rockets also have a raft of cap filler they can dispatch to the Big Easy if need be.
None of this is to say a deal of this complexity is likely. It’s no accident that the NBA hasn’t seen a four-team swap since Dwight Howard went from Orlando to L.A. in August 2012. The more moving parts involved, the more likely such shaky machinery will come undone.
“There aren’t enough balls to go around,” one veteran Western Conference scout told Bleacher Report. “I’m not sure how they’re going to make that work, but if anybody can do it, [Rockets head coach Mike] D’Antoni can.”
History would suggest otherwise. D’Antoni and Anthony didn’t see eye to eye when they were together in New York. The difference of opinion between the ball-moving coach and the ball-stopping superstar contributed to D’Antoni’s resignation from the Knicks during the 2011-12 season.
“They would have tons of firepower,” one Eastern Conference executive said, “but with Melo comes Melodrama.”
Perhaps Anthony would be amenable to playing the role of spot-up wing shooter in Houston, alongside two other USA Basketball stalwarts, that he has during his international stints. Or, perhaps Anthony lands in his other approved destination: in Cleveland, alongside longtime friend LeBron James.
Don’t rule it out until the Knicks and Rockets reach the end zone.
What Else Is Buzzing?
No Love For Kevin?
Were the Cavs to add a major piece to their mix, they would likely have to find a taker for Kevin Love. Prior to the draft, ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes reported the Cavs were working on a three-team trade that would send Love to Denver, Paul George to Cleveland and rebuilding pieces to Indiana.
There’s some concern across the Association that Love’s body might not survive the three years remaining on his contract. The 28-year-old All-Star has been plagued by injuries over the course of his career, including an assortment of back problems.
In terms of pure basketball ability, the league hasn’t soured on Love. For all of his warts, he’s still one of the best rebounders, outlet passers and low-post operators on the planet.
“He’s misused in the Cavs’ system,” said one Western Conference executive. “They’ve turned him into a spot-up shooter.”
Even so, Cleveland has been to three straight Finals and won a title with Love playing out of place. With or without him, the Cavs will be the odds-on favorite to own the East again, thanks in large part to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
“They should ride it out with him for another year,” a Western Conference scout suggested.
Options for LBJ
Lonzo Ball wasn’t the only star who had Lakers fans in a frenzy at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night. Early into L.A.’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, LeBron James plopped into a baseline seat next to San Antonio Spurs sophomore-to-be Dejounte Murray, another member of the Klutch Sports Group roster.
Talk of James taking his talents to Hollywood has been in the basketball ether since last year’s Finals. But the Lakers won’t be the only young team with the talent and cap space to accommodate the NBA’s reigning king.
The Sixers, for one, will be plenty flexible, even with Joel Embiid’s cap hold of $18.3 million on the books. J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson will combine to keep $34 million of cap space warm in 2017-18 while bringing some veteran know-how to the City of Brotherly Love.
At this point, the league at large seems to have a high opinion of Philly’s youthful stockpile, with two of last season’s Rookie of the Year favorites (Embiid and Dario Saric) and two of this coming campaign’s top contenders (Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz) on the roster. Those blue-chippers won’t move the needle for the Sixers, though, unless they can stay healthy. Embiid and Simmons have played a total of 31 games in four combined seasons. Fultz’s stint in Las Vegas ended after a lateral ankle sprain in his first game (third total, including two in Salt Lake City).
“He’ll be watching,” an Eastern Conference executive said of James.
Fighting the Warriors
Between Paul George’s introduction in Oklahoma City and the bubbling about Anthony’s potential move, Wednesday marked another day of high intrigue on the NBA’s summer hot stove. The flurry of activity focused on closing the gap between the Warriors and everyone else has sparked fresh excitement around the Association—a far cry from what Golden State getting the band back together after its all-time title run might suggest.
“I’m glad to see teams are going for it,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “If you can push Golden State to six or seven games in a series, you’ll have a chance.”
That’s what the Rockets and Thunder are fixing to do after adding big names to their rosters. The same goes for the Spurs, who can only wonder what could’ve been had Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker been healthy for the duration of this year’s Western Conference Finals.
Beyond the thrill of competition, these and other clubs have every incentive to load up—and launch themselves into the luxury tax—rather than stand pat or take a step back. The West’s top contenders all either have a stud in his prime to build around (Leonard in San Antonio, Blake Griffin with the Los Angeles Clippers), potential free agents to court (Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Oklahoma City) or both (James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston).
“You’ve got to shoot your shot,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “As long as they [teams in the luxury tax] are making money, they’ll be fine.”
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