RECAPPING A WILD WEEK IN THE NBA

In less than a month, Game of Thrones is back!

With its unpredictable storyline filled with characters you either love or hate, gruesome deaths, and some sex scenes sprinkled in between, GoT’s fast-paced story of action and drama has made it one of the most beloved TV series ever.

Take for example the 4th season when we were introduced to Oberyn Martell, who seemed like a nice and important fella that could last throughout the series. Then BAM — he duels the Mountain in a trial by combat for Tyrion’s freedom, leading to his death. And just as we’re slowly moving on from that, Ygritte gets killed by Olly in front Jon Snow during the invasion of Castle Black. And while recovering from the heartbreak, Tyrion strangles Shae, who was in bed with Tywin, who was enjoying his time in the loo.

Vicious. Gruesome. Heartbreaking. This is what defines Game of Thrones!

Now try squinting a little bit and you’d see that the NBA is pretty much like the world of Westeros… but thankfully without the sex scenes. The league also has its share of unpredictable storylines (KD to the Warriors, DeMarcus Cousins trade) filled with characters we love or loathe (LeBron, JIM BUSS), which makes the NBA one of the world’s most recognizable sports leagues. It replicates the action and drama that has been the formula of success for the series.

It started when Kevin Durant announced that he’s joining the already-favored-to-win-the-title Warriors and made them the already-favored-to-win-the-next-five-titles Warriors. Before we could even process Durant’s decision, James Harden made the Rockets a living breathing offensive machine and became the favorite to win MVP. Then, Isaiah Thomas started wrecking havoc and carried the Celtics to the number one seed in the East. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard did his best Kobe Bryant impression (watch this and this) and joined the MVP frenzy.

And just when we thought we have everything all figured out, Russell Westbrook STOLE THE SPOTLIGHT FROM EVERYONE by hitting a game-winning three to cap off a historic season and setting the record for most triple-doubles while eliminating a team from the playoffs.

That’s just the MVP race!

We haven’t even started with the Playoffs because, well, there was nothing to talk about. Sure, it was LeBron’s chance to finally dethrone Jordan and end the GOAT debate but we all know what happened: the NBA Finals already felt like a coronation for the Warriors, who clinched the title in five.

(Side note: The LeBron hate is getting out of hand. He averaged a triple double against arguably the best team in NBA history and they’re still blaming him for not doing enough?)

Just as the NBA season ended and we’re finally given a chance to catch our breath, the Celtics and Sixers started the ball rolling again! Boston sent the 1st pick of the 2017 draft to Philadelphia for the 3rd pick plus either the Lakers or Kings pick (if ‘18 LAL pick falls out of 2 to 5, they give up the ‘19 SAC pick). It’s the same old move from GM Danny Ainge of filling up Boston’s treasure chest of awesome assets. But digging deeper and it would seem that the team is just not sold on Fultz’s upside, no matter how crazy that sounds:

Most mock drafts have the top two picks locked with Fultz — Lonzo Ball, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that both are head and shoulders above the rest of the class. Philadelphia loved the idea of Markelle playing with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the Celtics took advantage of that interest. The Lakers have no choice but to get Lonzo after Lavar has already spoken it to its existence.

The third pick is where the draft really starts, making it all the more intriguing to understand who could Ainge possibly take at number 3 with a 1st pick potential. Maybe it’s Josh Jackson, the draft’s best defender who is a jumpshot away from being the next Kawhi Leonard? Or Jayson Tatum, the draft’s best isolation scorer who is the renaissance of Danny Granger?

Tatum makes a lot more sense for Boston, who could continue to trade down and swap the 3rd pick with Phoenix (who have Jackson on top of their board) for their 4th and future draft selections. Besides, why do the Celtics need Jackson when they already have Jaylen Brown, who is also a jumpshot away from being the next something?

Let’s say that Danny Ainge has finally settled with the 4th pick and drafts Tatum, the team would still have to solve the Gordon Hayward situation where Ainge is showing his cards.

No matter how perfect a Gordon Hayward-Brad Stevens Butler reunion sounds, it’s not etched in stone. Hayward could resign with Utah and continue their role as the anti-Warriors. If that’s the case, Tatum gives the Celtics another young core to develop while they wait for the inevitable decline of LeBron (like the White Walkers on their way to Westeros, it’s coming). But if Hayward signs with Boston, then Tatum could become a trading chip to acquire another superstar!

Imagine this trade plus Jayson Tatum:

(ESPN Trade Machine uses the ‘16–17 season. Currently, Butler and Crowder have 3 yrs left, Zeller 1)

Is it enough for a lineup of Thomas-Bradley-Butler-Hayward-Horford to finally topple the Cavaliers next season? I say yes.

(Wait…)

I’m shouting YYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSS!!

The “Butler to the Celtics” rumors go all the way back to last season. Chicago is currently on what I love to call the basketball purgatory — a dreaded place where teams couldn’t reach an organizational consensus on whether to rebuild by trading their lone star player or continue building around said lone star player.

(Teams that are also in basketball purgatory: New York, Detroit, GlobalPort Batang Pier)

Yes, they have Rondo and Wade, and yes, they were a Rondo-thumb injury away from upsetting the Celtics in last year’s Playoffs. But both guys are not getting any younger. Trading Butler, who has at least two years left (3rd year is player option) in his contract gives the Bulls enough leverage and a chance to acquire multiple assets to jump-start a rebuild.

The presumed availability of Butler has other teams looking as well. The Cavs have been asking for a guest list in the #FreeJimmyButler party after Kevin Love had an unceremoniously awful NBA Finals series. Just this week, GM David Griffin was on the phone trying to seek a third team with Chicago on board.

Is it enough to have a Irving-Butler-LeBron-insert minimum contract player hereThompson against the Warriors?

(Crickets chirping…)

Maybe. But even before talks could get serious between two sides, owner Dan Gilbert had elected not to extend Griffin after having different opinions regarding the franchise’s direction. In the wake of his departure, Griffin still left trade scenarios for his successor (possibly Chauncey Billups) in case they continue their pursuit of Butler or Paul George. David Griffin’s exit has caught LeBron by surprise:

The sudden chaos in Cleveland further limits their capability to improve their roster, a must if they’re going to face the Warriors next season (highly likely). Butler and the Bulls have already informed teams that he’s staying, for now, leaving the Cavs with fewer options to go after. A straight swap of Love for New York’s Carmelo Anthony makes sense on paper — a stretch four with a contract that ends the same time as LeBron’s, giving the team huge cap flexibility after next season

But Carmelo is 33 years old and has suffered nagging injuries throughout his career. And how does Love improve the Knicks? They get another stretch 4 allergic to playing defense and partner him with Kristaps Porzingis who could be on the trading block.

You read that right! The NBA’s unicorn might be on the move! It’s the Knicksiest Knicks rumor ever. Free Phil Jackson! Free KP!

For goodness’ sake, FREE STEPHEN A. SMITH!

(Update: Knicks asked the Suns for Devin Booker and the #4 pick in exchange for Porzingahahaha I can’t stop laughing)

How about Indiana’s Paul George? When The Vertical reported that George has informed the Pacers of his intention to leave in 2018, the team began shopping PG13’s services. The Cavs are well aware of George’s desire to be a Los Angeles Laker but were ready to offer Love even if it meant for a one-year rental. James has been an admirer of George, and a lineup of Irving-George-LeBron-insert minimum contract player hereThompson could give them a more potent lineup against Golden State.

But the scuffle between ownership and management may have all but closed the door on any PG13 to Cavs moves. It’s hard to imagine George committing to a team with so much uncertainty hovering above and could lose both LeBron and Kyrie Irving by the end of next season. The Lakers still make the most sense due to the mutual interest and have started their pursuit for George.

Early today, the Lakers traded away D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s Shaq-like contract of 3-year/$48M to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring $22M contract and the 27th pick. In a nutshell:

Personally, the D’Angelo Russell move stings a little bit. At 21 and about to embark on Year 3, Russell still has enough potential to be a great player in a league that values pick and rolls and perimeter shots more than ever; some of the qualities that D’Angelo is good at. But the move by GM Rob Pelinka solves the point guard drama before it even started with Lonzo Ball coming to Tinseltown. The addition of the 27th pick gives LA three 1st round selections to work with.

Obviously, two late-1st round selections plus Randle or Clarkson is not of equal value to Indiana for Paul George. But it’s not like there are any better offers out there. The Pacers could call George’s bluff and retain him for the year, hope he plays well enough to earn a spot on the All-NBA team next season. This would trigger the Designated Player Extension clause where Indiana can offer George a Star Wars-budget-like max contract extension amounting to $210M.

But they also risk losing PG for nothing once free agency starts on July 1, 2018. It’s basically the Carmelo Anthony — Denver Nuggets — New York Knicks love triangle we had six years ago.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets WHILE DWIGHT HOWARD WAS TWEETING ABOUT TRADE RUMORS, the Clippers’ quietly shopping DeAndre Jordan, the Andre Iguodala situation in Golden State, Kawhi Leonard cutting his braids, Greg Monroe getting dem $17M cheques in Milwaukee, or even the big news that Langston Galloway will opt out of his $5.4M contract with Sacramento!

Yet it all seems as if we’re in the midst of the greatest NBA preseason since the summer of 2010, the same year James bolted to Miami. From mere speculations to rumor mills, actual trades to blockbuster signings, this is what defines the NBA.

Catch your breath while you still can; you’ll never know what tomorrow brings.

– David Gamboa

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