TrueHoop: New Orleans Pelicans

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Anthony Davis is ready to take flight

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
2:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis on his breakout sophomore season, why he doesn't have a best friend and why he doesn't eat seafood.

video

Q&A: Anthony Davis on life in the NBA

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
3:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Anthony DavisLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Pelicans' rising superstar, Anthony Davis, has it all ... well, except for a best friend and a Snuggie.
Have you been watching Anthony Davis? He’s crushing it. He ranks fourth in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, and this is a stat that doesn’t even account for the defensive side of the ball where The Brow has emerged as the top shot-blocker in the league.

Davis is a somewhat reticent 21-year-old who doesn’t see himself as the rah-rah guy in the huddle. He says the physicality of the NBA is the biggest different between the college and pro games -- and is carb-loading to bulk up. We reached him in Atlanta, where the Pelicans face off against the Hawks on Friday night.

First off, how are you feeling? How’s that upper respiratory thing? Sounds nasty.

Davis: I feel good. It was a quick thing. I’m ready to get back out there.

Are you a power forward? Does it matter?

I’m a basketball player, but yeah, if you want to put a position on there, I’m a power forward.

What happens when Ryan Anderson is out there? Do you become a 5 on the whiteboard? And is that something you’re cool with?

I’m cool with it. We do different things, but it doesn’t matter what we’re called. It opens up the court and that’s good. Like I said, I’m a basketball player, and I’m still going to guard the rim whoever is out there. It doesn’t matter if I’m a power forward or a center. My job doesn’t change.

I know smart people who believe you’re the third-best player in the league already, behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Can you even allow yourself to think like that?

Nah, you can’t think about that. Maybe down the road, but right now I just have to get better. It’s about winning, doing the job, helping my team get better.

What’s it like to guard LeBron? How do you approach that?

Keep your hands up. He’s going to be aggressive, but you have to be aggressive as a defender. It’s still defense, so that doesn’t change at all. But he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. You have to go out there and do your job -- nothing changes defensively.

What’s your best skill?

Blocking shots. Cleaning up the glass, whatever it is. Changing shots, getting to the ball. Those are probably my best skills right now.

What’s the hardest thing to pick up about the pro game when you come into the league?

The pace, and how physical it is. When you come in, the guys you’re playing against have been in the league for like 16 years! I thought it was going to be a lot easier than what it is. You have to try to get stronger right away. You have to hold your own when you’re in the post. You have to get better right away.

A lot of guys, when you ask this question say, the defensive schemes.

I don’t really think so. Defense doesn’t change. Offensively, it changes a lot. The floor opens up a lot. One-on-one you have guys who can do so much more, who can make tough shots. As far as schemes, I don’t think that’s a big thing, at least not for me.

Whose brain do you like to pick about basketball?

My coach -- Coach Monty [Williams]. He knows so much. Coach [Gregg Popovich] was his mentor and did a lot for him. He’s the best coach ever. I definitely pick [Willams’] brain about a lot of things. He provides me with great feedback, and I want to be better. I want to be an elite player someday.

Are you going to be the guy who’s vocal in the huddle, who does the rah-rah thing?

I’m not quiet, but I’m not that guy. Anthony Morrow is the perfect rah-rah guy. He gets everybody up. I’m more talk to the guys before the game, get everyone ready, but as far as keeping everyone amped up for 48 minutes, I wouldn’t say that’s me.

What’s the most challenging thing about managing millions of dollars as a young player?

I don’t really spend money like that at all. You’ve got to know to save. It’s easier if you’ve got the right people to help, financial people that you trust. I think that’s the thing -- have good people around you.

I imagine that everyone comes out of the woodwork to ask you for stuff.

All the time. For crazy things. You definitely have to learn to start saying no. You’re going to lose a lot of friends. You just have to live with it. And they keep coming back. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with helping people. They usually go to my mom or my dad. Nobody really asks me for anything. They might talk to me about something and I tell them to talk to my parents.

Should the NBA have an age limit for rookies?

If a guy is ready to come into the league, if they think they can play, by all means they should. Age shouldn’t matter. Kobe came in at 18 and became one of the best players. I don’t think age really matters at all.

How do you take care of your body? What do you eat -- or what do you not eat?

I don’t eat seafood, but I eat everything else really. I’m trying to put on weight, so I eat a lot of pasta. A lot of vegetables. And anything to help put on weight.

Who’s your best friend in the league?

I don’t have a best friend.

Are there guys in the league you’re tight with?

I’m not really tight with anybody. I mean, the guys on the team, but I’ve only been in the league for a couple of years. Maybe the guys from Kentucky, but that’s really it.

Did I read somewhere that you used to fly with a Snuggie?

I did at one time.

So the Snuggie is gone?

The Snuggie is gone.

New Orleans' new era: Fight or flight?

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
11:42
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
DavisJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Davis is a bona fide superstar. Now comes the hard part: building a winner around him.
For all the dealmaking, recruitment and asset management that go into building a winner in the NBA, the most reliable way to engineer a contender is by the sheer luck of the draft. More specifically, landing the top pick when a surefire superstar is on the board.

In the spring of 2012, six months after Chris Paul departed for Los Angeles, the Pelicans lucked their way into Anthony Davis. They didn’t have an owner at the time, nor more than 650,000 television households in their market, but they had the No. 1 pick.

Davis has lived up to it thus far. He ranks fifth in the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER) at 26.72, nearly a five-point uptick from last season. He’s an intuitive pick-and-roll player with good hands and good timing. He’s a gazelle in transition and a lethal cutter in the half court. He drains 43 percent of his midrange shots, and few in the NBA gets to the line at a greater rate than Davis, who converts 76.6 percent of his shots when he’s there. So long as he maintains his health, he’s poised to be one of the five most efficient offensive players in the game for the next dozen years.

That’s just the appetizer because defense projects to be Davis’ greatest long-term asset. At 20, he isn’t yet the quickest decision-maker on the floor, but he’s just getting started on a team that can’t keep a healthy lineup together. When it comes to basic pick-and-roll stuff, matching up with a perimeter ball handler off a switch and shot-blocking instincts, he’s already proficient and getting better.

“A.D. is a phenom in a different realm,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams says. “Everyone wants to compare him to Tim [Duncan]. I see him more like LaMarcus [Aldridge], but with a better handle. And what A.D. does that throws you off is he’ll get two steals and five blocks. He does it a different way. He can do more from a [ballhandling] standpoint.”

Davis’ presence alone puts the Pelicans at a sizeable advantage over the overwhelming majority of the league. For at least the next five years, they get the chance to construct something special with Davis, and it doesn’t matter that they play in a tiny television market that’s expressed a longtime indifference toward NBA basketball. Bring them a dynamic top-five superstar and they’ll start following.
 

A cornerstone like Davis provides a firm foundation, but plenty of organizations have botched the task of building up from there. Cleveland was never able to develop the right combination of parts around LeBron James and is currently stuck in the mud trying to do the same around Kyrie Irving. Orlando got close with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard but never cracked the code. The head start provides a huge opportunity, but it’s fraught with difficult choices, without much time to deliberate. Management must quickly identify who they are and where they want to go.

“We knew we were going to get Anthony [Davis], so what do we want to do with him?” Pelicans general manager Dell Demps says. “Do we want to keep this veteran group? Or do we want to kind of start over? Or -- and it was the route we chose -- do we want to build through a combination of free agency and the draft?”
[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Anthony Davis
AP Photo/Joel AuerbachWill the Pelicans struggle to build around Anthony Davis like the Cavs did around LeBron James?

Early on in the process, Demps identified a couple of features that were important to him when he went surveying the league for available players.

“We really were targeting guys between the ages of 23 and 25, what we call ‘young veterans.’” Demps says. “We were trying to say, ‘Let’s get a bunch of guys who have already been through the ringer a little bit, had some ups and downs, know the league, but are still young and in their athletic prime.'”

In addition to youth, Demps values certain skill sets. In his vision of an NBA offense, dribble penetration is the most effective way to generate the highest-percentage shots, and he wants perimeter players who can attack defenses off the dribble.

Eric Gordon fit both. After a game of chicken with the Clippers (for whom keeping Eric Bledsoe out of the deal was their prime objective), New Orleans landed Gordon as their consolation prize in the Paul deal. Seven months later, much to Gordon’s chagrin and despite his playing only nine of 66 games in New Orleans, the Pelicans made him their first max player of the post-Paul era.

Right about the same time, Demps nabbed Ryan Anderson, another player in the Pels’ coveted 23-to-25 demographic. Anderson wasn’t a conventional big and, like Davis, power forward is his natural spot, but the Pelicans wanted some stretch alongside their prized draft pick, who is devastating when he has ample space to work.

From the Pelicans’ perspective, things looked promising: A future superstar in Davis, a prototypical modern-day stretch-4 on an affordable contract and a shooting guard with two-way capabilities. Gordon made too much and wasn’t the perkiest guy in the office, but the Pelicans would still have in the neighborhood of $18 million in cap space and a decent first-round pick when Summer 2013 rolled around.
 

Late last spring, Demps started hearing rumors that Jrue Holiday might be available. After being initially rebuffed, the Pelicans struck a deal with Philadelphia on draft night 2013, sending the Sixers the No. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel) and their top-five protected pick in the 2014 draft.

“It all kind of went back to our plan,” Demps says of Holiday, referring to his target demo and ideal skill set. “Jrue was the perfect guy. He’s injured now, but when you look at his injury history before he went down, he’d played 96 percent of his games. Defensive-minded, can guard the other team’s point guard, can score, make plays and can become an elite-level point guard in the NBA. We also wanted to pair someone with Anthony and they could grow together. The two picks -- maybe we could’ve drafted guys like that. But with Jrue, we got that guy and he’s proven and getting better.”

A week later, Operation 23-to-25-Year-Old continued when Demps showed up on the doorstep of Tyreke Evans at midnight on July 1. Evans’ approval ratings as a player waned after winning Rookie of the Year 2010. But even though he’s missed a bundle of games over the past few seasons, he’s been efficient offensively when on the court.

From Demps’ standpoint, Evans was miscast in Sacramento. Rather than think of him as a point guard with the occasional bout of tunnel vision, Demps saw Evans as a scoring wing who passes the ball at a healthy rate and still had some upside. Demps promptly put an offer sheet of four years and $44 million in front of Evans, who soon arrived in New Orleans as part of a three-team deal, with New Orleans’ starting center Robin Lopez headed to Portland.

“That was a tough one,” Demps says about shipping out Lopez to Portland. With Davis, Anderson and Lopez, the Pelicans had a reliable and diverse three-man frontcourt rotation -- the do-it-all power forward, the stretch big and the 7-footer who can protect the rim and doesn’t need the ball. On top of that, Lopez carried a favorable deal: two years and $10.5 million, a bargain for a competent starting big man with a PER of 19.

Demps felt as if it would be easier to find a stopgap center who could give them some defense than land a dynamic scorer like Evans -- and because of cap restraints, the Pelicans couldn’t acquire the latter without casting off the former. Even if you have a charitable view of Evans’ game, it’s a reach to appraise four years and $44 million of Evans as a more valuable asset than two years $10.5 million of Lopez.

Sources around the league say the Pelicans’ intention was to unload Gordon to generate the space to pay Lopez, but no reasonable offers surfaced. The Pelicans deny they’ve ever actively shopped Gordon, but multiple team executives say that Gordon has never vacated the display window since last summer.
 

It’s ironic that the service Lopez provided inside are now cited by both Demps and Williams as the team’s most pressing need, all the while they’ll shell out $78 million for the Gordon-Evans duo over the next three seasons. Lopez might not be Roy Hibbert, but cutting an affordable starting center loose then lamenting the lack of interior defense six months later is the equivalent of setting a perfectly good couch on the curb, then complaining there’s nowhere in the den to sit.

“In a perfect world, I’d like to have a monster big who commands attention,” Williams says. “To me, that’s the biggest thing we have to address -- to get somebody like that next to A.D.”
[+] EnlargeJrue Holiday
Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesNew Orleans is relying on Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to help lift the franchise to the next level.

When a team desperately needs a conventional center, chances are there’s a top-shelf power forward in close proximity who’d rather have his jaw wired shut than deal with Marc Gasol, Howard and company every night as a 5 (see Aldridge, LaMarcus; Garnett, Kevin in Minnesota). As a general policy, organizations do everything they can to keep that guy happy.

Demps says that bringing in a bruiser wouldn’t compromise the Davis-Anderson frontcourt pairing, which has destroyed the league offensively (115.4 points per 100 possessions in the 324 minutes they’ve shared the floor and a plus-6.0 differential). He pointed to last season’s rotation as proof.

There’s a popular sentiment around the league that with the max commitment to Gordon, the acquisition of Evans and the drafting of Austin Rivers in 2012 (and to a lesser extent, the trade for the scoring point guard Holiday), Demps has constructed a glorified AAU team of ball dominators. In an era when most NBA offenses are predicated on spacing, what a team really needs are wings who can shoot from distance, something Evans can’t do. And if these wings are playing with a rarified talent like Davis, they need to be expert pick-and-roll practitioners. Neither Evans, Gordon nor even Holiday can list that as a strong suit.

Demps confidently backs his vision, and his arguments aren’t without merit. He points to the lineup data: The Pelicans’ desired closing unit -- Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, Davis -- dominated the league offensively this season before its members started dropping like flies, scoring an ungodly 123.5 points per 100 possessions. The assist rate for that lineup is over 20 percent, well above the league average. Even when the three ball dominators share the floor, their assist rate is a respectable 16.8, about the league average.

“One of the goals was to make sure we had a team that’s deep and hard to guard,” Demps says. “We wanted to be hard to match up against, and we were before the injuries happened. At times, we were unguardable.”

This isn’t an unfair characterization. The night Holiday fractured his right tibia, the Pelicans were ranked seventh in offensive efficiency. That gangbusters unit gives the Pelicans a slew of options in the half court Have Davis and Anderson run a stagger screen up top for Holiday or Evans. Davis rolls, while Anderson pops -- both lethal in that context. Gordon spaces the floor on the weakside. Holiday can too, if Evans is the ball-handler. And if Holiday mans the point, Evans can be ready and waiting to cut or start the second-side action if he gets the pass. With the collective offensive skill set on the floor, there’s plenty more where this came from.
 

Sitting behind his desk at the Pelicans’ new training facility in Metairie, La., Williams is in no mood to discuss the Pelicans’ offensive potential. Williams is a serious guy, Eeyore to Demps’ Tigger, and as the coach of a team occupying the 12-spot in the West, the prospect of such a conversation is unseemly.

“I’m so tired of talking about offense,” Williams says. “I don’t care how many offensive guys you have -- from Ryan, to Tyreke to Eric to A.D. to Jrue, the bottom line is you have to defend. ... Our defense is horrible and you just can’t play offensive basketball all the time. All the top teams? Their defense is sound. Our defensive mindset has got to get better.”

While Williams is disgusted with the current state of his 26th-ranked defense, he believes there’s precedent from his first season on the job for vast improvement -- so long as the Pels can keep bodies on the floor. New Orleans has strong bookends with Holiday at the point and Davis up front and it’s difficult to believe that with those two guys accounting for the ball and the rim, the Pelicans can’t have at least a league-average defense.


Our defense is horrible and you just can’t play offensive basketball all the time. All the top teams? Their defense is sound. Our defensive mindset has got to get better.


-- Pelicans coach Monty Williams

New owners often like to redecorate the front office when they buy the place, but Pelicans owner Tom Benson pledged his support for both Demps and Williams. Almost immediately after the completion of the sale, new Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis extended Williams a contract extension. A few months later, one was extended to Demps. Along with the new deals, Demps and Williams were given an imperative -- win sooner than later.

The injuries that have decimated the Pelicans have rendered that nearly impossible. Holiday and Anderson are sidelined indefinitely, as is starting center Jason Smith. The Pelicans now start Brian Roberts and Alexis Ajinca at point guard and center, respectively.

“The injuries make it hard to evaluate our plan on the court,” Demps says. “But we have a young core and we want to keep adding to it.”

The investments in Gordon, Evans and Holiday will make that process difficult. Demps will have the mid-level exception to work with, but little else. Unless it lands in the top five, the Pelicans’ first-round draft pick this season will go to Philadelphia to complete the Holiday deal. In retrospect, the Gordon contract was excessive for a player who looks increasingly like a third option and doesn’t feel comfortable playing at much less than 100 percent. Evans has his attributes, but a deal more akin to Paul Millsap’s two-year $19 million contract in Atlanta would leave the Pelicans less hamstrung when it’s time to pony up for Davis’ max extension.

The errors in planning are easy to enumerate and Demps tacitly admits some of his primary goals are cleaning up his own mistakes. Fortunately for the Pelicans, a single truth lies beneath the spreadsheets:

When you have a budding star like Anthony Davis, you can afford to make mistakes.

Still, if you wander off into the woods, you still need to be able to see the trail. When the Pelicans heal, we’ll have a better gauge of their navigational skills.

Race to the bottom

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
5:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Would an injured Kobe Bryant help or hurt the Lakers' chances of a top pick? Can the Pelicans lose enough games to get into the top five so they won't have to give the 76ers their 2014 draft pick? Chad Ford on tanking.

Warriors find their 'scout' in New Orleans

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
12:28
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


NEW ORLEANS -- The fortunes of an NBA offense fluctuate. Shooters get hot for a week or two, then the cylinder shrinks and the points dry up.

A sound defense, in contrast, is supposed to be slump-proof. There might be nights when the process doesn’t yield the intended results, when a scorer goes ballistic and the opponent’s prayers get answered. But if a team masters the defensive schemes and -- as coaches are fond of saying -- competes, it can’t be kept down for long.

The Golden State Warriors had been such a team since opening night. With the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the health of Andrew Bogut, the Ws have hung around the top five in defensive efficiency all season.
[+] EnlargeAndrew Bogut, Al-Farouq Aminu
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Bogut anchored a renewed defensive effort for the Warriors, blocking five shots.

But over the past week, the Warriors have hemorrhaged defensively. On Wednesday night on their home floor, they gave up 123 points in 103 possessions to Denver. In Oklahoma City, authorities are still investigating the crime scene from Friday night, when Kevin Durant went off for 54 points while the Thunder scored 127 points in 99 possessions.

And in the first half on Saturday night in New Orleans, the beat went on -- 52 points in 44 possessions to a Pelicans team playing without Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. By halftime, it was apparent: The Golden State Warriors were in a defensive slump, a funk every bit as abject as an offense that can’t find the basket.

“It’s the mental aspects of the game,” Iguodala said. “You can be sluggish. You can go through slumps as a team defensively.”

If the Warriors experienced such a slump, they snapped out of it at halftime. After trailing for virtually all of the first half, the Warriors ground the Pelicans into a fine powder in the second, surrendering only 33 points after intermission to cruise to a 97-87 win.

“It’s not a function of inconsistency,” Bogut said. “We just have to buy into our defense and move around like we know we can. The last two or three games for us we’ve just been lackadaisical defensively and have tried to win it offensively. It’s easy to get caught up in that and try to get your numbers, and so on. I think when we commit to being a good defensive team, we win games.”

Durant went unconscious on Friday, so let’s give Golden State a mulligan for that game. But the debacle against the Nuggets and the first half in New Orleans were unsightly. Skeptics who were slow to buy into the notion that the Warriors could ever excel defensively would point to the backcourt personnel and David Lee at power forward as liabilities too pronounced to build an elite defense around.

During this recent defensive slump, that’s precisely what the evidence showed. On Wednesday, Stephen Curry repeatedly got drawn to the ball while guarding the perimeter, while Klay Thompson died on screens as a matter of routine. And in the first half on Saturday, the Pelicans fed Anthony Davis one-on-one against Lee relentlessly.

“We lost the scout,” Iguodala said.

By losing “the scout,” Iguodala meant that the Warriors were forgetting to factor what they knew about their opponents when hunkering down to defend.

“A scout is: This guy likes to go right, so don’t let him get to his right hand,” Iguodala explained. “Ty Lawson got to his right hand a lot that game. [Evan] Fournier got left. [Randy] Foye got right. Wilson Chandler got right a bunch. Once they got their rhythm, they got their rhythm.”

So far as the first half against the Pelicans, the Warriors lost the scout on Davis, who went for 21 of his 31 points before halftime.

“We were a little inconsistent in the first half, and gave Davis quite a bit in the first quarter,” Lee said. “In pick-and-roll, when he was diving down the middle, our weakside [defense] wasn’t pulled over enough.”

After halftime, the Warriors were vocal defensively. Calls came from the backline. Iguodala could be seen directing traffic from the wing. The Warriors realized that with the likes of Greg Stiemsma, Jeff Withey and Alexis Ajinca on the floor -- and to some extent Darius Miller and Brian Roberts -- they could take liberties and flood the strong side of the floor with impunity. They keyed in on Davis and Eric Gordon.

“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Lee said. “More than anything, our effort just picked up all the way around. And I want to give myself some credit for being a great rim protector ... I’m just kidding.”

Cue laugh track -- but amid the festive Warriors locker room after the game, the business of defending the floor became serious again. Golden State found its scout in the Crescent City.

Houston's improbable midrange winner

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
1:15
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


NEW ORLEANS -- The Houston Rockets use an offensive formula they’ve been cultivating for years under their current regime: 3-pointers and rim shots. Everything in between is for suckers.

The Rockets attempted 35 field goals in the first half of their 103-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Only four of the 35 occurred between eight feet from the basket and the 3-point line. The trend held throughout the game, as more than 80 percent of the Rockets' shots occurred in their sweet spots.

That is, until the final minute of play, when Old Man Midrange reared his head and the Rockets soared back in time. Two possessions yielded two isolation plays for James Harden, the first resulting in a pair of free throws that briefly gave the Rockets a one-point lead, the second an ankle-breaking, step-back jumper that put the Rockets up 102-100.

But heroball this wasn’t. The Rockets didn’t run a 1-4 flat set with Harden pounding the ball into the hardwood until he felt inclined to put it on the floor. And though these shots didn’t originate from the Rockets’ preferred zones, each was cleverly crafted with one goal in mind: Take Harden’s primary defender, Eric Gordon, out of the play and draw a lesser perimeter defender on the switch. The way to accomplish that? A "small-small" pick-and-roll -- one guard picking for the other guard.

"Teams don't know how to guard it," Harden said. "Late in the game, either you’re going to switch it and put a smaller guy on me or they’re going to try to show and get confused. It worked tonight."

The first possession was more elaborate and took longer to materialize. It was a familiar NBA set: The point guard (Jeremy Lin) gets a staggered screen up top -- one screener a shooter (Harden), the other a big man who can roll (Dwight Howard). Harden pops while Howard rolls. The Pelicans defended it beautifully. Brian Roberts was able to fight over the first screen, allowing Gordon to stay home on Harden. When Roberts got hung up on the second screen, Jason Smith bought him some time, then quickly rotated back onto Howard. New Orleans survived the action with everyone in their right place.

That’s when Lin got crafty. He probed, reversed course and circled back out of the lane counterwise, with the sole intention of rubbing Roberts off Harden, thereby forcing Gordon to switch off of Harden and onto Lin.

The ploy worked. A pass from Lin went to Terrence Jones out on the perimeter, then Jones zipped it quickly to Harden. From there, Harden did his thing: one dribble, collision, whistle, two free throws, Rockets by one.

"I feel like it’s really hard to guard," Lin said. "You see, like, OKC [the Oklahoma City Thunder]. They run a 1-3 pick-and-roll, which is really hard to guard just because you’re not used to being in that position where they have to get out and show and do different coverages. They’re usually like sized enough where they’re, like, 'We can switch this.' But that gives us the matchup we want."

The game winner was more basic: Jones, Howard and Chandler Parsons along the baseline, with Harden at the foul line poised to set the 1-2 pick-and-roll for Lin.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams elaborated on the theme in Lin’s comment: It’s easy to say, "Don’t switch," but the consequences can be dire.

"The problem is the guy who’s setting [the screen] can shoot," Williams said. "If you try to hedge it and that guy pops, he’s going to get a shot. We wanted to try to keep Eric [Gordon] on him as much as we could. So we got [Brian Roberts] out of the game and put Austin [Rivers] in to try to give us some more size in case they do it again."

Harden set the screen on Rivers to Lin’s right (go figure) and, sure enough, when Lin turned the corner, there was Gordon waiting for him. Switch accomplished with relative ease.

"We run that play a lot, especially late in the game," Harden said. "We don’t really run it in the beginning of the game. They switched it, and Jeremy threw it back to me."

Harden explained that the element of surprise contributes to the 1-2’s effectiveness. Defenses tighten up in the closing minutes, which is one reason we see more switches late out on the perimeter. Nobody wants to be left out to dry. Switching poses the risk of a mismatch, but at least somebody picks up the ball handler.

Harden held the ball for a moment, thrust a head fake or two, then went right -- to his off hand.

"I was reading what the other four players were doing," Harden said. "They all stayed home. It was mano-a-mano."

Harden took one slick dribble, yanked the ball back as he thrust his arm forward at Rivers. Did it make contact? Hard to say. Harden then lurched back, with all the space in the Bayou to rise and shoot.

"[Harden] made a tough shot on Austin," Williams said. "Austin played him well. Austin thought he got pushed, but in that situation, you got to just play tough. You can’t even ask for the ref to bail you out in that situation. It’s just not going to happen."

With that, the team that’s driven the midrange jumper out of fashion won the game on a 21-footer.

Tank or try?

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
11:19
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Which teams should keep at it? Who should pack it in? We play "Tank or try" with Amin Elhassan.

Bad contracts, bad decisions

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
5:25
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Amin Elhassan has identified some of the NBA's worst deals, and amazingly, almost all of them looked bad on the day they were signed, which is not flattering to NBA front offices.

 

'Bruise Brothers' the answer for Wolves?

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
1:43
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
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As this reconstruction of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise has been executed over the past few years, the idea of putting Kevin Love next to a frontcourt bruiser never seemed to be high on the list of priorities.

Find a scoring forward like Michael Beasley to form a dynamic, productive duo? They tried that.

Make sure Ricky Rubio comes over from Spain and starts cashing in on the hype and potential to make him the apotheosis of successful pure point guard play? That’s still a work in progress that could be under construction longer than the city planned.

Making Nikola Pekovic the bulldozer to Love’s wrecking ball may not have been the initial plan, but it has developed over the past three years as Pekovic became a viable option in the paint. When he re-signed with the Wolves for five years and $60 million, new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders seemed to have a vision of how this team would play.

Punishing.

“We envision Pek and Kevin Love being the ‘Bruise Brothers’ and forming one of the best front courts in the NBA for a long time to come,” Saunders said during a news conference this summer to announce the Pekovic re-up.

Wednesday night against a more modern, less conventional New Orleans Pelicans’ attack, the Wolves put that style into effect. They allowed Anthony Davis to chase Love around the perimeter. They took advantage of Ryan Anderson giving up roughly 50 pounds of brute strength to Pekovic in the post. And the Wolves lived at the free-throw line like they were designed to do.

The Wolves shot 35 free throws on the night, 31 of them coming through the first three quarters when the game was pretty much decided. It was the 10th time they attempted at least 30 free throws in a game this season and the eighth time they won such a game. When they get their mail forwarded to the line, they’re hard to beat, and that seems to be the plan.

“Well, it’s kind of the way we want to play,” Rubio said after the 124-112 victory, “Because that means we've been aggressive and we go to attack the rim. We don’t take too many shots from outside when things are going well.

"It’s been our problem when we don’t feel good, we start taking shots that don’t make sense. We don’t get to the free throw line and that allows them to get fast break [opportunities] too. We control the game from the beginning.”

If the Wolves are going to snap roughly a decade of watching the playoffs from their vacation spots, they have to remember their identity: Move the ball and get to the free-throw line. Abuse the competition inside. Let Love take the attention from the defense and then allow Pekovic to control the paint.

Everybody can play off of that and be aggressive.

“It was good for us, plays to our advantage,” Corey Brewer said. “Somebody has to guard Love out on the perimeter and someone has to guard Pek inside, so you have to pick your poison.”

There are still plenty of issues for this Wolves team. The bench needs consistency, the defense needs to protect the rim while keeping with the strategy of not fouling, and the outside shots need to fall when they’re created. But everything starts with bruising the interior and living at the free-throw line. They can still play the modern style of up-tempo and creating open looks, but it starts in the paint.

“Nights like today, when maybe they want to stop Kevin Love, we have another guy like Pek,” Rubio explained, “And he’s strong and if you don’t put a big body on him, [Pekovic is] going to destroy him.”

Top-Ranked Sophomores

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
1:58
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says Anthony Davis is the best player in the NBA's sophomore class, but he's injured at the moment. That created a sophomore-ranking dilemma between Blazer Damian Lillard and Piston Andre Drummond, who vied for the top spot.

25 under 25

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
2:20
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kawhi Leonard was a candidate for Finals MVP, and he's only 14th on the list of elite young NBA players compiled by ESPN Insiders David Thorpe, Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan. That means a lot of things, including that good times are ahead for the NBA. Elhassan joins us to discuss.

Re-ranking the 2012 draft

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
6:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard are in a class by themselves at the top. The rest of his top 20 includes several lower-drafted and even some undrafted players. Missing: high picks like Dion Waiters and Austin Rivers.

Anthony Davis on pace for history

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
1:11
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Anthony Davis
Davis
Anthony Davis had a career game for the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, setting a career high with 32 points, tying a career high with six blocks, and grabbing 12 rebounds to boot in a 96-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, improving the Pelicans to 3-3 on the season.

In Pelicans (formerly known as the Hornets) franchise history, only two players have had games with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Alonzo Mourning, who did so seven times when the team was based in Charlotte, and now Davis.

Davis, who has four double-doubles in six games this season and is averaging a double-double for the season, is doing this all before his 21st birthday.

In fact, Friday night, he became the youngest player in NBA history to have a game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, at 20 years, 242 days old, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He broke the record shared by Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Webber, both of whom were exactly 20 years, 309 days old when they pulled it off in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

The season is young, but Davis is averaging over 23 PPG, 11 RPG and four blocks per game this season. Since blocks became an official stat in the 1973-74 season, only three different players have averaged those numbers over an entire season: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon (twice) and David Robinson.

The Pelicans have improved to a modest 3-3 this season, but it's impressive when you consider they went a combined 48-100 over the last two seasons.

Davis has been arguably as valuable to his team as any player in the league this season. With Davis on the court, the Pelicans are outscoring opponents by six points per 100 possessions this season. But with Davis off the court, opponents are outscoring them by 11 points per 100 possessions.

He has been especially valuable in the rebounding department. With Davis on the court, the Pelicans are outrebounding opponents by seven rebounds per 48 minutes. But with Davis off the court, opponents are outrebounding them by 12 boards per 48 minutes.

Davis' effect has been considerable on the club dating to last season as well. In 2012-13, New Orleans went 23-41 (.359 win pct) with Davis in the lineup, and just 4-14 (.222) without him.

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