K.C. Jones is the 13th Best Coach in NBA History

KC Jones FI2

Throughout the Offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 11

Total Championships: 2

Regular Season Record: 552-306

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .643

Playoff Record: 81-61

Playoff Winning Percentage: .570

 

Why he’s great: Pride is the downfall of many great coaches. Jones’ predecessor in Boston, Bill Fitch, was arguably a more accomplished coach than him. But he had to run the Celtics his way, and it eventually cost him the team. Jones’ best trait as a coach was his least noticed: he knew how to stay the hell out of the way.

There’s something to be said for that. How much coaching does Larry Bird really need? Jones was smart enough to keep a steady hand on the Celtics without becoming overbearing, allowing them to operate as adults without risking an undisciplined locker room because he knew the veterans would keep it in line. Pat Riley was never able to do that. Phil Jackson is struggling with it right now. No matter how great a coach is, he has to know when to trust his team to figure things out naturally.

His reputation could’ve been much greater. He was fired after only three seasons coaching the Washington Bullets despite winning 155 games and making the NBA Finals. Had he been able to coach them through the decade, he likely would’ve been there to win the 1978 championship instead of Dick Motta. Had he won a title with an aging Wes Unseld instead of Bird, he might get a bit more respect from casual fans. Still, I’m not sure Jones is complaining about winning two rings and leading arguably the greatest team ever in the ’86 Celtics.

 

Why he’s not higher: Coaching Larry Bird is a double-edged sword. He doesn’t need much coaching, but he also doesn’t need much coaching. How much credit are we going to give someone who sat at the head of the best organization in basketball? He always had great players and, if anything, probably should’ve won at least one more championship.

The peripherals on most of his teams are also questionable. Every one of his Celtics teams won more games than their Pythagorean expectation would suggest, meaning they likely received an unsustainable amount of luck through things like bad bounces, 50/50 balls, officiating and so on. Not one of his non-Boston teams ever finished higher than 9th in offensive efficiency, and his short tenures with Seattle and Washington indicate potential discord we weren’t aware of.

If Jones had a more distinctive brand of coaching we might be able to overlook that, but there just honestly isn’t much evidence to suggest he was a particularly great coach outside of his great players. So by accomplishment he has to make this list, but it’d be unfair to rank him any higher than this.

Avery Bradley is the 44th Best Player in Basketball

Avery 50

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: You know about the defense. Avery Bradley is going to be the next Tony Allen in that he’ll never let you forget that he’s First Team All Defense. Make your peace with that, it’s going to be our next five years as basketball fans. He’s that good. But let’s talk about Bradley’s offense.

Avery Bradley attempted five three-pointers as a rookie. He was Tony Allen on offense. Downright useless. And then things started to turn.

Bradley worked himself into a consistent 35-36% shooter on a high volume of three-pointers. Boston scored 1.07 points per possession on his spot ups last season, well above average for any player or possession. He’s a willing cutter who’s always in the right position, and his passing as an off-guard is a legitimate asset especially on a team with a shoot-first point guard in Isaiah Thomas. Bradley could’ve easily made a living in the NBA off of his defense alone, but over the past few years, he’s become an above-average offensive player in his own right.

In a league desperate for D-AND-three players, that’s an absolute boon for the Celtics. Bradley is now legitimately good enough to be the centerpiece of a Kevin Love trade. He’s one of the rarest breeds of small NBA guards: a complete two-way player. Nobody at his height should be this good on both ends of the floor, but Bradley is, and that makes him legitimately one of the 50 best players in basketball.

Why He’s Below No. 43 (Steven Adams): Different strokes for different folks. Centers who can do what Adams does are slightly rarer than guards who can do what Bradley does. The two could be flipped depending on personal preference, but you could create Bradley in the aggregate with two wings on the right team. You can’t do that with Adams.

And hey, Bradley has flaws on both ends of the court. Bigger guards can post him up, he is only 6’2” but is forced to cover bigger guards because he shares a backcourt with Thomas. He’s also not a great dribbler, he has to be on the court with a ball-handler for his value to be maximized.

These are all minimal issues, but they add up with a low-ceiling player like Bradley. He’s never going to explode and give you 50 points to carry your team to a win on his own. Case in point: he has scored 30 or more points in only two NBA games. He’s played six seasons.

What if Ralph Sampson Entered the 1980 NBA Draft?

Ralph Sampson Celtics

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes.

Red Auerbach can do anything. He’s built champions, he’s coached champions, and this time, he convinces a college freshman to forego his final three years of college to join a future champion. After plenty of cajoling, Virginia’s Ralph Sampson finally agrees that he can’t pass up a chance to play for the best organization in basketball. So he enters the 1980 NBA Draft and gets selected by the Celtics first overall.

The move pays immediate dividends. Boston wins the 1981 championship behind Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell and Sampson helps them do it again by 1983. They take the title in 1985 as well while losing the Finals in 1984 and 1986 to the Lakers. Each team enters the 1987 season with three titles among their core group and an assumption that they’d meet in the Finals to see who’d get ring number four. But Sampson never plays another full season.

His injuries begin in 1987 and simply pile on from there, but Auerbach can’t bring himself to trade such a Celtics legends. So he holds him for too long and Larry Bird wastes the end of his prime playing with subpar talent. He retires out of frustration in 1990.

TopGSWPicks_Parish_760

Things don’t work out quite as quickly for the Golden State Warriors, but behind their front court pairing of Kevin McHale (the No. 3 overall pick in that same 1980 draft) and Robert Parish they turn themselves into a real contender.

Their major mistake was trading perimeter scorer Bernard King for Micheal Ray Richardson, thinking that a star guard would help lift their front court into the Finals. He didn’t, but the principal wasn’t wrong on its face. They steal Terry Porter at the end of the first round in 1985 and have the core of a championship team.

All they need is the opportunity. The Warriors spend most of the 80’s stuck behind the Lakers, but finally got their chance in 1990 when the Lakers are unexpectedly knocked out by the Suns in the second round. Golden State breezes past the Suns into the Finals. They lose the series to Detroit, but just making it that far puts something of a cap on the careers of McHale and Parish. For a brief moment, they had a chance to win basketball’s ultimate prize. Those Golden State teams are remember fondly in the Bay Area, championship or not.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 7/9/16: Vucevic to Boston

Vucevic Celtics

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. 

 

Celtics Logo

Boston Celtics Receive: 

Nikola Vucevic

 

 

 

Magic Logo

Orlando Magic Receive:

Memphis’ 2019 1st Round Pick

Amir Johnson

 

 

Why Orlando would make this trade: Picks=valuable, Vucevic=gone.

Why Boston would make this trade: Vucevic can play center next to Al Horford or go to the bench at crunch time if the Celtics wanted to go small. In any case, Boston needs to win next year to attract another star free agent, and adding Vucevic helps them do that by giving them another scorer they can rely on off of their bench. His contract is eminently movable, so creating cap space next summer isn’t a problem.

The Nets Are Proving You Can Tank Without Picks

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Newly hired Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks answers questions during a press conference before the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on February 19, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

There was never a right way for Sean Marks to rebuild the Nets. He took over a team with worse current players than just about anyone else, but without his own draft picks until 2019 traditional rebuilding flew out of the window as well. A lesser GM would’ve made a bunch of high-risk moves trying to win now. And yes, Derrick Rose was available and there are attainable potential stars on the free agent market like Dwight Howard who might have made the Nets a .500 team and improved the optics of trading away their first round picks.

But those picks are a sunk cost, it makes no sense to try to screw over the Celtics and build hype around a team that has no chance to win a championship. So Marks went the other way and tanked, even without his own draft picks in the lottery.

There are benefits to tanking beyond high draft picks, and that’s how Marks is rebuilding his team. Actively trying not to win games usually creates an extraordinarily clean cap sheet. With Thaddeus Young off of the books and Brook Lopez likely to follow the Nets will be devoid of any long-term salary commitments. Forget about using that money in free agency, the real benefit is acting as a facilitator in big trades. Need someone to take on some salary for your blockbuster? Sure, the Nets will do it, but only if a draft pick is attached.

Those picks have real value. The 23rd overall pick Boston just made came from a salary dump by Cleveland two years ago. The Lakers stole the pick that became Larry Nance Jr. from the Rockets as part of the Jeremy Lin traded when Houston thought they were getting Chris Bosh. Picks add up, and a team as desperate as the Nets need as many bites at the apple as possible.

There are also the lineup implications of having a bad team. Normally, a player like Caris LeVert would be drafted in the 20’s and join a playoff team that didn’t really need him. He wouldn’t get minutes, he wouldn’t develop and he would eventually be unfairly labeled a bust. But on a bad team like the Nets he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.

The same goes for every young player on the Nets roster, from first round picks like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to whatever undrafted free agents they bring into camp. They’ll be able to give minutes and opportunities to players other teams simply can’t, a chance to uncover hidden gems available exclusively to them.

Are they going to be superstars? No, but rotation players on cheap contracts are only going to get more valuable as the cap explodes. Golden State found Anthony Morrow and Anthony Tolliver in the same season from the D-league. If the Nets could unearth two similar players they’d suddenly have two very valuable contracts that costed them nothing to obtain.

That’s going to be the path for Brooklyn. Slow gains like Tollivers and Nances. It will involve a lot of losing over the next few years, but it will prepare the Nets for 2019, when they have their own pick back and can take advantage of their bad team for the first time. By then, they’ll have a stockpile of young role players who can support the foundational pieces the Nets look for in the lottery. They’ll be ready to bring in a star youngster because they’ll have spent three years preparing a roster around it.

It’s going to be ugly, and will require a lot of patience. But it’s the only viable way to build a team under such horrible conditions.

If Dwyane Wade Is Really Considering Leaving Miami, Here’s Where He Might Sign

sfl-miami-heat-dwyane-wade-s121715

Brian Windhorst is reporting that Dwyane Wade will field offers from outside teams when free agency begins on Friday. Obviously this publication predicted that he’d stay, but if he really is exploring other options, here are the teams he’s likely to consider:

Cleveland Cavaliers:

If money really is a sticking point then it would have to be a sign and trade, but if Wade wants to become a Cavalier there’s a very simple trade to be made:

Kevin Love to Miami, Wade to Cleveland.

Pat Riley would accept it in a heartbeat. Love fills in for Chris Bosh, but the pair could play together or even in rotation with Hassan Whiteside. Ultimately Love is just a younger star player than Wade, someone Riley would have an easier time building around. LeBron would move to power forward and either Richard Jefferson or J.R. Smith would play small forward. It’s very simple, and if Wade has his pick of any team, Cleveland is likely the choice. It’s just a matter of convincing Cleveland (i.e. convincing LeBron) to make the trade.

Dallas Mavericks:

One of the few conceivable teams for Wade that has both the cap space to sign him outright at this very moment and has enough of a reputation for winning to make it viable. Wade would hang out with Dirk and do old man things, and the Mavs would use the rest of their cap space on a center. Assuming Wesley Matthews is willing to play small forward (or Chandler Parsons returns) the roster makes a fair bit of sense.

Mark Cuban will make the call, it’s just a matter of what priority they assign to Wade. Getting a center is simply more important, so if they max out Hassan Whiteside Wade would have a slot of around $18 million left to take (again, assuming Parsons returns, there’s even more calculus involved here if he doesn’t). That’s obviously a lot of money, but Wade bristled over $20 million last season. If he wants a payday, Dallas isn’t the team.

Los Angeles Lakers:

HERE’S The payday team, and it actually isn’t a horrible basketball move. The Lakers would presumably trade Jordan Clarkson (or simply let him walk) and try to win now while developing D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram. It’s not the worst idea, giving up Clarkson might be worth it for a team that can realistically sign almost any free agent it wants. Those early playoff reps might be very beneficial for the youngsters down the line.

But they’re going to be first round reps and nothing more. Will Wade accept that? Or does he want to win another championship? He likely can’t have his cake and eat it too, if he wants a max salary the Lakers are the one of the only realistic teams that can give it to him.

Boston Celtics:

And here’s another one, and it’s a perfect fit on a one-year deal. Wade gives Boston their end-of-game scorer, but they’re deep enough that he can sit plenty of games and never play more than 30 minutes. The Celtics get to give themselves more credibility with stars next summer without sacrificing flexibility, Wade gets his payday now. The fit is nearly perfect, the only potential downside is any lingering organizational animosity over the rivalry back in the LeBron days. Otherwise, there’s no reason Boston wouldn’t chase Wade as a major piece of their offseason.

 

 

Why Al Horford Will Sign With the Boston Celtics

Al Horford Celtics

Let’s get this out of the way: whatever contract Al Horford signs next month is going to be a bad contract.

Al Horford is 30. Al Horford has missed the majority of two of the last five seasons. Al Horford wasn’t particularly athletic to begin with. Whichever team signs Al Horford is doing so for the 10th and 11th years of his career. The 12th and 13th could get ugly.

That eliminates a lot of teams from the bidding. Young teams that aren’t ready to peak aren’t going to sign Horford because it would be wasteful. Teams that want to spend their money in next year’s superior free agent class wouldn’t because Horford just doesn’t have the upside Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin do. Teams that manage their money conservatively aren’t going to want to lock $30 million onto their 2018 and 2019 caps.

Boston happens to fall into all three of those groups. Their situation is just so unique that they can afford to eschew common sense in favor of immediate gains.

Boston has their three best players, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, locked into contracts that are far below market value. Combined, they’ll make less than $21 million next season. Their most valuable long-term assets are draft picks, and all of those will be on rookie contracts. There is not a single player on the roster guaranteed eight figures in any present or future season.

The Celtics need to find a superstar, and to do so they need to make themselves more attractive to superstars on the free agent market. Al Horford does that, but the Celtics have so much money to spend that they can afford to give him a max contract without sacrificing any future flexibility. With Horford on the roster Boston likely makes the Eastern Conference Finals next season. If that’s the case, they should feel comfortable in their ability to sign someone next summer. They don’t need to care about the bad half of Horford’s deal because by the time it comes up they’ll ideally have found their superstar already. Horford’s dead money won’t affect their ability to do so, and even if he does, their draft assets give them a suitable backup plan.

Think of Horford as the cost of doing business. Yes, his contract will be bad, but he’ll be good immediately and the money they’re spending on him down the line might as well be considered part of the salary of whichever superstar they end up signing. All in all, Horford becomes a good investment for them specifically because of that.

And on his end, what’s a better option than Boston? San Antonio isn’t getting involved. Houston is a clown’s graveyard. Miami is too old to win anything going forward. Minnesota is too young to do so while he’s still relevant. Boston is just right. Brad Stevens would put him in the best possible position to succeed, and the Celtics really could use a center.

It’s the logical match of a player who wants to win right now but get paid later and a team that wants to win right now and doesn’t mind paying for it later.

Likely Contract: Four Years, Max