Andrew Luck Still Had His Prime Ahead Of Him

I was not around for Barry Sanders.

It was the summer of 1999 when the NFL’s third-leading rusher of all-time shockingly announced his retirement, one year before I was born.

Sanders had just rushed for 1,491 yards in his age-30 season, and ran for 2,053 yards the year before, the fourth-most ever in a single season by a running back. At the time, it was the second-most ever.

Sanders was in his prime. In nine seasons, he never rushed for less than 1,115 yards in each.  He ran for 1,500+ yards four times, and within nine yards of making it five times in his final season.

Now, we would say he would have never gotten better. That those last two seasons of his career had to be his best. No running back was going to continue producing like that into his 30s. Running backs now produce for 2-3 years and are toast.

With Sanders, we never knew what he could have done.

Perhaps the one thing that we could count on with him was that NFL’s all-time rushing title. No matter how much Sanders declined, he was going to eventually reach it. He retired just 3,086 yards short of Emmitt Smith’s record.

It could have been a slog to reach it. He also could have done it in just two seasons.

Perhaps Sanders retired worried that the first sentence would be the truth. Perhaps playing just to reach that mark wasn’t worth it. Sanders’ numbers speak for themselves over the years. Did the rushing title really make us think differently about him?  Did it make him think any differently about himself?

In his case it didn’t. In our case, I don’t really believe so. Sanders not being the leading rusher in NFL history doesn’t make me think any differently about him.

Despite that and Sanders not showing any real signs of slowing down, Sanders’ career felt decently complete. He didn’t have anything left to really prove.

Andrew Luck did.

We never saw Luck’s peak. Luck had four seasons out of six where he threw for 4,000+ yards, including one in which he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns. He led the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Colts couldn’t capitalize on it.  Despite making the playoffs four out of Luck’s six seasons, they never won a Super Bowl. They never even made it. The closest they came was during the 2014-15 season, when the Patriots stomped them in the AFC Championship Game 45-7.

Luck put up those numbers and made it that far in the playoffs with one of the league’s worst offensive lines and defenses at the same time.

We never saw Luck’s peak.

This season could have been it. The Colts turned around the issues that plagued them for most of Luck’s career last season. They invested in the offensive line by drafting Quenton Nelson, someone who everyone thought could be an All-Pro and then was right away. They improved the defense by drafting Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard, both of whom are absolute studs. They got Luck some better weapons by utilizing Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines and turning Eric Ebron into a functional NFL player. They hired an offensive mastermind in Frank Reich.

They lost to the NFL’s most high-powered offense in hellacious conditions in the second round of the playoffs in the first year of a new start.  No one was going to see that as an unsuccessful season.

This year was supposed to be the year. Luck’s year. The Colts’ year to maybe make the Super Bowl.

Luck’s prime was still coming because he’d never had this much talent around him before.

And it was that lack of talent in previous years that made him step away.

Luck’s retirement is the most shocking one since Sanders, and might even be bigger. Calvin Johnson, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland’s all come to mind as well; this is easily the craziest NFL thing to happen since that Megatron retirement. Luck’s is bigger because he was what made the Colts into what they could have become this season. The Lions were still going to underperform with Megatron gone. The 49ers lost two massive parts of their defense in Willis and Borland, but no two players combined are more valuable than Luck. Sanders had done practically everything he could have in his career except for accomplishing one giant feat, which at the end of the day probably means less than we thought it did.  Luck had more value and so much more to accomplish. The magnitude of it is hard to comprehend. I’m not sure any of the names above had that hallmark at the end of their careers.

More to come

MLB Trade Deadline Roundup

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ constant shuffling from buyers to sellers, from neither to both was getting annoying.  It wasn’t possible to buy and sell at the same time.  The team was clearly not good enough to be a buyer.  Doing nothing would have ignorant and not done anything to help the team, whether that was this year or in the future.  Selling was the only option.

The D-backs certainly did the opposite of nothing.  You can cross that option off the list.

The Diamondbacks bought and sold.  They traded Zack Greinke to Houston, who was probably the most unlikely one to go after worries about teams wanting the rest of his massive contract surfaced.  They got Zac Gallen from Miami, another young pitcher similar to Luke Weaver with No. 2 potential.  And they went out and traded for Mike Leake, a move that I’m still confused by but made the D-backs look a bit more like buyers.

The D-backs sold while buying for the future.  And not just the next five years worth of future.  They bought for next year’s worth of future.

Giving up Jazz Chisholm is hard and legitimately terrifying.  The D-backs, who have completely revamped their farm system over the course of two years from one of the worst in the MLB to one of the best, traded their No. 1 prospect, someone that D-backs fans had held onto with such strength and hope over the years, because he, along with pitcher Jon Duplantier, was the only thing they had.  There were two legitimate prospects in the Arizona system two years ago: Jazz and Jon.  That was it. Jazz is a hard thing to let go of, especially when he’s displayed serious potential as a power-hitting shortstop.

But Gallen is 23 years old and ready to go.  He makes next year’s rotation look something like Robbie Ray(?)-Luke Weaver-Zac Gallen-Duplantier-Mike Leake, with Merrill Kelly, Alex Young and Taylor Clarke all standing by incase the D-backs don’t sign Ray (They’re not committing to that yet).  It wouldn’t shock me if Gallen edges Weaver at some point; he was really solid in seven starts this season with the Marlins, posting a 2.72 ERA and 153 ERA+.  He’s also been unhittable in Triple-A, posting a 1.77 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 91.1 innings.

Do the D-backs have an ace in that rotation?  Maybe not.  Weaver and Gallen are No. 2 guys at their ceiling.  That’s where the trade of Greinke rears its ugly head.  Corbin Martin, the No. 1 asset in the Greinke deal, had Tommy John surgery and won’t be back till 2021, and he’s like Gallen and Weaver too, where he probably tops out at as the second guy in the rotation.  He projects to take Leake’s spot in 2021.

But who says Greinke is going to continue to be an ace?  He’s defying everything we know about pitching right now; the dude is 35 and has a 2.90 ERA and 153 ERA+.  That should come back down to Earth as soon as next season, which yes leaves Houston in a big hole given his contract, but they’re likely to win the World Series now this season with Greinke having the season he’s having, followed by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and are paying two-thirds of it.  Two championships in three seasons is worth that.

The Greinke trade was the opposite of a salary dump.  Despite Arizona paying a third of the rest of it, they got back a package that you just don’t fetch in a salary dump trade.  Despite Martin being injured, he’s another young, close-to-ready starter who can be a top of the rotation guy.  That makes three of those in Arizona’s 2021 staff, plus Jon Duplantier.  Seth Beer is a slugger, whose value only goes up if the NL adds a DH, or if Christian Walker’s season is a crazy fluke and Jake Lamb can never stay healthy at first base.  J.B. Bukauaskas has struggled this minor league season but was still one of the Astros’ top 16 prospects, and Josh Rojas, who I really like, is the type of utility man that’s really gaining usage and value around the league.  The only problem with him is that the D-backs didn’t sell other pieces (Like Jarrod Dyson or Adam Jones) to clear a spot for him.

You don’t get four of a team’s top 16 prospects in a salary dump trade, even when you’re paying a third of the salary.  You’re paying the third to get those prospects, which is exactly what D-backs CEO Derrick Hall said yesterday.

The Leake trade is still a little puzzling.  I guess it’s insurance if Ray doesn’t come back, or if Merrill Kelly hits some brutal regression next season (Likely.  But then you still have Alex Young to possibly work in).  It didn’t cost the D-backs anything (Jose Callabero is 22 years old and is in High-A), and they’re paying a small amount of Leake’s large contract ($6 million of the whopping $30 million), but still, the move just feels a little unnecessary.  He’s been fine, and at what’s going to be age 33, next season, likely won’t get any better.

From the Marlins perspective, Chisholm is a huge get.  They flipped just one of the four assets received in the Marcell Ozuna trade into Chisholm, and still have Sandy Alcantara remaining from it.  The Marlins essentially have one shortstop on their roster in Miguel Rojas currently, and he’s 30, which doesn’t fit their timeline.  Chisholm is the future there for them, and could be an absolute star.  The Gallen trade was easily the riskiest move the D-backs made this deadline.

For the Astros, the Greinke deal was a no brainer.  For them, the reason they have prospects is to move them in deals like this.  They also still have Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley in their system, which is unbelievable given they’ve traded for Greinke and Verlander in the past two years.  Houston is automatically the World Series favorite; Verlander, Greinke and Cole in the same rotation approaches a historic collection of talent.  Who’s beating that come October?

The D-backs echoes of doing nothing weren’t totally a smokescreen.  The Gallen trade had been a thought of their’s for awhile; same with Leake.  But as detailed here, the Greinke deal was really out of nowhere.

As problematic as it is that the D-backs weren’t planning on doing anything, what they did do worked.  Maybe this deadline will wake them up into doing more.

Here are some thoughts on the other big trades that occurred over the past five days or so…

Mets get: Marcus Stroman

Blue Jays get: Anthony Kay, Simeon Woods-Richardson

Like the Reds, the Mets have a little too much confidence in themselves.

Sunday’s trade for Marcus Stroman was yet another team doubling down on their ill-fated moves from the offseason. The Mets, who probably should have been looking for bullpen help rather than rotation help, traded yet another former first round pick in Anthony Kay along with a recent second round pick Simeon Woods-Richardson for someone they didn’t exactly need.

Sure, Noah Syndergaard and others have struggled for the Mets.  But their rotation does rank fourth in WAR generated from starters this season, and Syndergaard’s ERA+ is exactly 100.

The Mets issues are not their rotation.  They seemed to think that adding more talent to it, and giving away more prospects with bright futures (I really like Kay and a lot of smarter baseball people like Woods-Richardson), solves the rest of their issues.

Besides the bullpen, there isn’t really an exact answer to the Mets’ struggles.  Perhaps that should have been a cue to the front office to sell everyone and start over.  I guess it wasn’t.

For the Blue Jays, Stroman didn’t retain the big package other starters on the market did.  But in Trevor Bauer and Zack Greinke, we’re talking about some of the better pitchers in baseball.  In Stroman, we’re simply talking about a good starter who happened to be available.

The Jays shouldn’t get down on themselves too much for not getting a huge package.  Kay and Woods-Richardson are good players, and continue the trend of the Mets just sending away prospects like they’re nothing.  We’ll get into another one of their returns later though.  That one was a little more questionable.

Mets get: Austin Bossart

Phillies get: Jason Vargas 

So then the Mets moved Jason Vargas, who has been actually quite good and one of the few starters in the rotation that has put up decent individual numbers.  Vargas, at 36 years old, has a 4.01 ERA and 103 ERA+.  Besides Jacob DeGrom, that’s the best line in the Mets rotation this season.

GM Brodie Van Wagenen claimed that trading Vargas was to make room for Stroman.  What about trading Zack Wheeler?  He’s been worse than Vargas this season, and was attracting serious interest on the market.

For the Phillies, Vargas is a veteran, experienced starter.  Philly’s had most of their young pitchers struggle this season.  Vargas is a guy they can throw out in a big game and get decent innings out of.  The Mets essentially dumped him for nothing.

Rays get: Eric Sogard

Blue Jays get: Two PTBNLs

This was the first move of the Blue Jays’ sale at the deadline.  Sogard feels like the most Rays player ever with his defense and versatility, but he’s going to give them offense as well, as he’s hitting .298 this season, a career high.  The Rays will probably use him mostly at shortstop, as Wily Adames has struggled at the plate in his second season and neither of their other options at the position have produced.

Braves get: Chris Martin

Rangers get: Koby Allard

The Rangers didn’t sell like we expected them to, but they did do a nice job of cashing in on the one trade they did make.  The Braves, as I’ll touch on more later, completely overhauled their bullpen, which has been the worst in baseball per WAR this season.  It was a necessary thing to do, but Atlanta sure paid a lot to do it.  Allard is someone who was drafted high four years ago and has made his MLB debut already.

But the Braves did get Chris Martin back, whose been fantastic with a 3.08 ERA and 165 ERA+ just two seasons after playing in Japan.  His home run rate is a little high, but Atlanta should be comfortable rolling with a guy who is having a career year.

Rays get: Jesus Aguilar

Brewers get: Jake Faria

The Rays added another bat in addition to Sogard to get deadline day rolling in Jesus Aguilar, whose production has fell off sharply from 2018, where he batted .274/.352/.890 with 35 home runs.  This year, he’s down to .225/.320/.374 with just eight home runs, leading to more playing time for Eric Thames, whose batting .252 with 15 home runs.

Aguilar is a bench bat for the Rays.  He can DH or play first base.  Plus, they clear Jake Faria from their bullpen, who has been up and down over the past three seasons, but was better at the MLB level this season.  Unfortunately for him, the Rays are just out of room back there.

The Brewers get more depth for their already-loaded bullpen as well with this trade, making it pretty much a win-win, and a clearing trade for both teams.

Astros get: Martin Maldonado

Cubs get: Tony Kemp

What a fun trade!

Somehow, two of the Astros key contributors from last year’s playoff run got swapped for each other.

Kemp, a shifty outfielder who can run, field, and play a lot of small-ball for you in the playoffs, was DFA’d not long ago, making him expendable.  The Cubs, who essentially traded Mike Montgomery for him, will certainly find Kemp a role even with all of their other multi-positional players and platooned lineups.  The addition of Nicholas Castellanos won’t make that simpler, but Kemp is the type of guy you want to have in October.

The Astros shipped out Max Stassi and got back Maldonado.  Houston hasn’t gotten any offensive production out of their catchers this season.  Maldonado’s not going to help much on that end, and actually ranks below Stassi in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA stat, which is an attempt at measuring a catcher’s defensive impact.  This could be more of a comfort thing though, as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, two of Houston’s now big-three in the rotation (More on that tomorrow), had Maldonado catch them last season.

Dodgers get: Jedd Gyroko, international cash, cash

Cardinals get: Tony Cigrani, Jeffry Abreu

Like the Cubs, the Dodgers’ plethora of multi-positional and purely talented players only increased at the deadline.

Los Angeles is currently without Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez, both of whom shift between infielder and outfield roles.  Gyroko is another guy who has the ability to do that.

Gyroko’s offense is dreadful, but Hernandez’s contact and on-base percentages have dipped a bit this year as well.  Perhaps a change of scenery could turn Gyroko around at the plate, and there’s a chance Hernandez or Taylor miss the rest of the season, giving Gyroko an even bigger role.

The Dodgers essentially gave up Abreu for Gyroko.  Cigrani struggled last season and is out for 2019 with a shoulder injury, but is a decent reliever when healthy, giving the Cardinals something extra in addition to Abreu and cash in the deal.

Nationals get: Daniel Hudson

Blue Jays get: Kyle Johnston

The first move of the bullpen overhaul for the Nationals cost them quite a bit, and they kept spending as well after it.

Washington gave up their 27th ranked prospect for Hudson, who owns a ERA of 3.00 and an ERA+ of 151 this season, which is a huge rebound from his past three seasons.

Hudson’s walk rate is a bit high, but the Nationals needed relievers who get outs.  Hudson has done that this year.

Nationals get: Roenis Elias

Mariners get: Taylor Gulibeau, Elvis Alvarado

The Nationals then traded their No. 15 ranked prospect to get Roenis Elias, who isn’t necessarily the first guy you’d think would have been traded at the deadline.  Elias owns a 4.40 ERA, but ERA+ suggest he’s been average as he checks in at the 100 mark.

Gulibeau was a lot to give up for Elias, but the Nationals must see something they like.  Perhaps they believe a change of scenery can get him back on the track he was  on last season.

Brewers get: Drew Pomeranz, Ray Black

Giants get: Mauricio Dubon

Well, these certainly weren’t the Giants pitchers we expected to get moved! However, Mauricio Dubon was the prospect we’d expect to get moved for Giants pitchers.  Just not these Giants pitchers.

First of all, Drew Pomeranz hasn’t been even close to good since 2017, his last season with Boston.  In 2018, he posted a dreadful 6.08 ERA, which didn’t overrate his poor play, as he had an ERA+ of 73.  This year hasn’t been much better, as Pomeranz has a 5.68 ERA and a ERA+ of 74.  He’s came out of the bullpen four times this season for San Francisco, which is how Milwaukee plans to use him.

That’s probably a good thing.  Limiting innings for someone who is struggling reduces the odds that they will struggle.

Except, the last thing Milwaukee needs is more relievers.  As mentioned in Jesus Aguilar write-up above, the Brewers are set in the bullpen.  They need starters.  Trading for Pomeranz and hoping they can fix him as a starter makes more sense than trading for him as a reliever.

The same case goes for Ray Black, who the Brewers must have some serious confidence in as he’s only played in 28 games in his two year career as a 29-year-old, and has been terrible in that small size with a 6.04 ERA.

And then to give up Maurcio Dubon, one of your best prospects who could have easily been the No. 1 asset in a trade for an established starter, for Pomeranz and Black is even stranger.  Sure, Dubon may have been blocked by the duo of Orlando Arcia and Keston Huira in the middle of the infield, but he could have been moved for a better player(s) than Pomeranz and Black.

This is why Farhan Zaidi deserved his own team to run.

The Giants get Dubon, who immediately becomes their eighth best prospect and adds another name to a farm system that’s suddenly came a long way over the past two years, and get rid of what’s been a failed rejuvenation project in Pomeranz.  Not bad!

Nationals get: Hunter Strickland

Mariners get: Aaron Fletcher

The Nationals finished their bullpen overhaul by shipping out this time their No. 21 prospect for Hunter Strickland, who has been injured practically all season.

You can essentially combine this deal with the Elias deal, but either way it’s a lot.  Strickland was good last season with a 3.97 ERA, but came in below average in ERA+ (96), is coming off of an injury that’s kept him out months and has a long and questionable playoff track record.

The Nationals getting Hudson was huge, but they’re going to need Strickland to produce right away and for Elias to turn it around.  They gave up a lot for so little certainty.

Rays get: Trevor Richards, Nick Anderson

Marlins get: Ryne Stanek, Jesus Sanchez

This was a fun one.

Evaluating the Rays trading for pitchers is hard.  Are they going to use them as starters?  “Openers”?  Relievers?  What’s their role going to be?

Here, it seems as if the Rays made this calculation: That giving up Ryne Stanek, whose been very good in his opener role the past two seasons, was worth giving Trevor Richards a shot in the same role, getting Nick Anderson to replace Adam Kolerak and acquiring Niko Hulsizer, who the Rays got from Los Angeles in the Kolarek deal.

It’s a fascinating calculation, and though I have disagreements with parts of it, am hesitant to criticize because the Rays are really, really smart.

The issue I have with it?  Why swap Kolarek (3.95 ERA, 115 ERA+, 30 years old) for Anderson (3.98 ERA, 107 ERA+, 28 years old) and Hulsizer (A 22-year-old, who, while producing, is only still playing A-level ball)?

The Rays likely have numbers beyond my understanding that support this move.  But I tend to believe in “Don’t fix it if it’s not broke.”  The Rays kind of fixed something that wasn’t broke.  They didn’t really need to do anything.  An extra starter, who can be in the Charlie Morton/Blake Snell-like starter role, would have been nice for October.  The bullpen didn’t really need anyone else.

The Marlins did well here.  Jesus Sanchez is ranked in the top 100 across prospect boards, and Ryne Stanek, despite not necessarily fitting Miami’s timeline, is a good pitcher who can be dynamic in the pitching staff.

Twins get: Sam Dyson

Giants get: Jaylin Davis, Prelander Berroa, Kai-Wei Teng

It took awhile for the Twins to do something, as it did with most of the teams Wednesday.  It was going to feel odd if Minnesota’s only move was to get Sergio Romo from the Marlins four days before the deadline.

The Twins went out and got one of the premium relievers on the market in Dyson.  He’s put up a 2.47 ERA and 171 ERA+ this year with San Francisco.  The playoff resume is a little scary, as was yesterday’s outing (Perhaps don’t use him as a closer??), but the Twins have multiple reliable relievers in the bullpen, including Taylor Rogers and Ryne Harper.  Romo has experience, and Dyson’s been there for better or for worse.

And Minnesota didn’t give up too much.  Berroa and Teng aren’t exactly top prospects, and Davis is a fringe guy.  It was a pretty modest price for one of the hottest names on the market.

The Giants may not care as much about not nailing this return due to their success in the Pomeranz deal, though.  They’re fine.

Phillies get: Corey Dickerson

Pirates: PTBNL, international cash

The Phillies continue to load up on outfielders to replace the holes left by Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera.

Dickerson has been good in a limited sample size this season, batting .317/.376/.556 in 43 games.  He’s been just a backup in Pittsburgh, but in Philly he could be playing everyday with Jay Bruce, the Phillies last outfielder trade, hurt.

A’s get: Tanner Roark

Reds get: Jameson Hannah

So the Reds, who traded for Trevor Bauer and intend to compete next year (I guess the Bauer move was for next year?  Good luck!), then traded Tanner Roark, who they signed to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason as part of a rotation overhaul.

Had the Reds not gotten Bauer, the Roark deal would have made sense.  Like the Mets, if Cincy’s grand plan failed this season, they could flip guys who they brought in over the season.  Roark was the perfect candidate for that; so was Yasiel Puig.

But bringing in Bauer and then shipping away Roark, who’s been fine (4.24 ERA, 107 ERA+), when you’re still trying to find a fifth starter (I understand Tyler Mahle is young, but if you’re trying to “compete”, you’re not going to be rolling out a 24-year-old who has a 4.93 ERA when you can keep getting him reps in Triple-A) doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Keeping Bauer and Roark together would have improved the Reds greatly.

They did get a good prospect back in Jameson Hannah though; I was surprised Oakland gave him up.

The A’s are right in the middle of the AL Wild Card Race and currently have Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson as their No. 1 and No. 2 starters.  Sean Manena won’t be back until close to the postseason, and that’s even if they make it.  Frankie Montas is in a similar situation, though his absence is due to a PED suspension which will make him ineligible for postseason play.

The A’s needed another fine, reliable starter, and they got that in Roark.  Making him be worth Hannah though will be tough.

Astros get: Joe Biagini, Aaron Sanchez, Cal Stevenson

Blue Jays get: Derek Fisher 

Once a top prospect, it was quite stunning to see Derek Fisher get moved in a deal like this.

But, the Astros might have gotten away with one here.  Cutting bait with Fisher made sense.  He’s about to be 26, and has hit extremely poorly up at the major league level the past two seasons.  There’s a chance he’s just a fourth outfielder who can run.

The Blue Jays must think they’re getting the top prospect Fisher. Biagini was one of the better relievers on the market (3.78 ERA, 120 ERA+), and trading any starter, no matter how bad their past performance is, to the Astros is a terrifying proposition.  To just get Fisher back is quite risky.

For Houston, Biagini gives them a reliever who can help take innings away from  the struggling Hector Rondon or Chris Devenski, and Sanchez could be switched around with Brad Peacock as a fifth starter or reliever.  Sanchez was good as a 22-year-old out of the bullpen for Toronto in 2015, posting a 3.22 ERA, so the Astros likely see potential there along with their vision for fixing him as a starter.

Giants get: Scooter Gennett, cash

Reds get: PTBNL

The Reds dumping Scooter Gennett like this is quiet stunning after the season he had last year.  Injuries and poor productivity have made him unplayable, and that’s saying a lot considering other Cincinnati second basemen are also having issues at the plate (Jose Peraza and Derek Dietrich have low averages but are hitting home runs).

The Giants overhauled second base this deadline, getting Dubon and now Gennett, who’s just a rental/flyer.  If he starts playing a bit better, and he will get innings since Joe Panik has struggled, he could be an interesting bridge signing for the Giants in the offseason.

Cubs get: Nicholas Castellanos, cash

Tigers get: Paul Richan, Alex Lange

As if the Cubs needed more talent and players on their roster.

I was surprised there wasn’t more action on Castellanos at the deadline.  Obviously, action throughout the league was relatively low, but Castellanos was very available and was maybe the best bat that had that label.

Castellanos is a fantastic contact hitter who can hit for power.  The home runs, and obviously the OPS+, is down a little bit this year.  But Chicago is likely to platoon Castellanos with Kyle Schwarber, who brings the exact opposite approach to the plate (Low contact, but 24 home runs on the year).

In regards to the talent glut, the Cubs have mostly infielders as backups.  They lack outfield depth.  It’s best when Kris Bryant moves out from third; then you’re only choosing between Albert Almora Jr. and Schwarber’s bat.  Now, Castellanos can be an almost everyday guy in the outfield, switching off with Schwarber and giving the Cubs a nice mix at that spot in the batting order when David Bote plays third.

It seemed like a little much for the Cubs to give up, as Paul Richan and Alex Lange are both top 30 prospects, for someone they maybe didn’t need.  The Tigers got a good package for Castellanos, someone who’s been with the franchise for years, is still quite young at 27, and has produced practically every season.

Braves get: Shane Greene

Tigers get: Joey Wentz, Travis Demeritte

Braves get: Mark Melancon

Giants get: Tristan Beck, Dan Winkler

The Braves completed the overhaul of their bullpen by adding Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, one of whom has been excellent this season and the other good.   Melancon gets only the label of “good”, only because his 3.50 ERA and 120 ERA+ probably still isn’t worth his massive contract, which the Braves are going to pay the rest of in full (It’s only next year, but it’s also $19 million!).

Wentz is one of the Braves top prospects, but when you’re as young as the Braves are, and are legitimately capable of making the World Series, you’re going to move prospects for October’s most valuable assets.

Beck seemed like a bit of an overpay for Melancon, especially when Atlanta is paying all of the salary.  The Giants nailed this deadline, and have a lot of steam coming out of it.  Somehow, they might have sold and could still be a potential playoff team.

The Indians Nailed The Trevor Bauer Trade

I’ll likely have a trade deadline roundup column tomorrow morning or maybe even later tonight depending on the volume of deals.  Anyways, here’s a lot of words, way too many to pack inside a bigger column, about the Trevor Bauer deal last night.

Reds get: Trevor Bauer

Indians get: Yasiel Puig, Logan Allen, Franmil Reyes, Victor Nova, Scott Moss

Padres get: Taylor Trammell

The Indians season was experiencing the worst case scenario I thought it could until after the All-Star break, where Cleveland has won 11 of their last 16 games and is now just two games back of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central race and has the first AL Wild Card spot.

The reason I thought the Indians could swoon was due to their poor outfield play and competition from within the division, specifically from the Twins.  That’s certainly occurred.

When rumors of a possible Trevor Bauer trade started circulating, the No. 1 thing the Indians needed back was outfielders.  They got that and more.

This move comes off as one that makes the Indians look like sellers.  They’re trading one of baseball’s best pitchers over the past few seasons (As much as I can’t stand Bauer due to baseball (Look at the playoff numbers) and non-baseball reasons, that statement is true.), who’s been a key to the No. 1 thing that’s made them the contender they’ve been over the three seasons, in a year where they’re not nearly as strong of a team.  That’s selling, right?

Kind of. The Indians got pieces back that are either major league players or major league ready players.  They got guys back that can help now.  Franmil Reyes will slot into an outfield spot immediately and provide power that Cleveland is lacking back there along with Yasiel Puig (Who went out from Cincinnati in the most baller way possible), whose WAR total might be the lowest it’s been since 2016 but is still producing, batting .255/.305/.480 with 22 home runs.

Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow have been fine.  Mercado is someone I like (He’s a rookie at 24!) and Luplow has been quite good (118 OPS+). But both are young, and may not be reliable playoff players.  Still, Mercado and Luplow is pretty good depth for the playoffs, especially for a team that had nothing beforehand.

Trading Bauer, one of the three good and healthy starters Cleveland has in its rotation during the middle of a playoff race is a little backwards.  But say Corey Kluber comes back and is Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar and/or Carlos Carrasco return to themselves when they come back. The Indians only need two of those guys to be good with Shane Beiber, Mike Clevinger and Zach Pleasac all pitching well.  That rotation, combined with a completely revamped and now-talented outfielder, makes the Indians a threat again.

Plus, the Indians got the very-talented Logan Allen, and two other prospects (Scott Moss, who is a little older but has been good in the minors, and Victor Nova).  Allen would be more highly praised if he wasn’t in the insanely talented San Diego farm system (For reference, he’d be the D-backs best pitching prospect).

Cleveland not only somehow shipped out their best pitcher in a somewhat confusing move and made it not look stupid, but got back close to 100 cents on the dollar and spread those 100 cents around about as well as they could have.

The Reds perspective of this trade is perhaps the most confusing end of it.

They should be better.  Their offseason consisted of quite the buying spree, similar to that of the Mets, and it’s kind of paid off.  Puig had been good.  Sonny Gray hasn’t let Great American Ballpark get to him like Yankee Stadium did.  Luis Castillo, a longtime favorite of mine, is blossoming.  Tanner Roark has pitched well.

And yet somehow, they’re six games below .500 and are seven games out of a wild card spot.

The way we treated the Mets and Reds offseason was to give them a path both ways.  If the moves worked, great.  If they didn’t, you could sell off some of the pieces for good assets back and rebuild.  Neither team did that.

Instead, they doubled-down on the troubling moves from the offseason.

It’s probably a hard pill for the Reds to swallow that they’re not good.  Their pythagorean record is the opposite of their current 49-55 record.  But that doesn’t mean you try and fix it by putting yourself more in the hole.

The value given up isn’t as severe, but this move by Cincinnati reminds me greatly of Pittsburgh trading for Chris Archer at last year’s deadline.  A team that is well-out of it believing their still in it trading for a top-end starter and giving up a lot to do so in a move that makes zero sense.

The Reds have to bank on getting hot this season or being able to reload and build a serious contender over the offseason that allows them to be a threat next year, because there’s no way they’re paying Bauer contract he’s going to demand in the 2020-21 offseason.  Those are the only two ways they make this trade even close to worth it.

At the same time, it’s important to consider that they didn’t give up what the Indians got.  Cincy essentially traded Taylor Trammell, Scott Moss and Puig for Bauer.  While still not making much sense, the value swap is a bit better there.  At the same time, Trammell is likely to be a stud, Puig is an above-average starter, and Moss could be a decent pitcher soon.  That’s what you have to pay for one of the league’s best pitchers.  The Reds paid it in full.  It’d be fine if it made sense for them to do so.

San Diego got bailed out a bit by the Reds making such confusing moves, because I didn’t really understand their positioning here.

As I wrote above, I figure Trammell to be stud eventually.  But Franmil Reyes, despite being a lower-average guy, is a power hitter with 27 home runs already this season and, despite being a negative defensively, gave the Padres a pretty good outfield combined with Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot.

And yes, while Logan Allen was one of the Padres lower-rated prospects, and was stuck in the middle of a loaded crop of upcoming pitchers in the San Deigo system, he could have been worth keeping around to possibly flip for a veteran, experienced starter down the line.  Plus, not all of the pitchers the Padres have will work out.  Allen, with a lower projected celling, also makes him more a safer bet, which could be good insurance incase one of their up and coming prospects doesn’t develop as well as they thought he would.

Then again, Trammell-Margot-Renfroe is better than Reyes in Trammell’s spot.  I guess you give up Allen to make that happen.

There’s been rumors about Trammell staying put, along with rumors that Bauer may be getting flipped in Cincinnati.  Flipping Bauer would be smart, but I’d be surprised if that’s the Reds’ intention.  The Padres have been connected to the Noah Syndergaard talks, but reports last night indicate that him being moved is unlikely.  Some saw Trammell as extra ammo for the Padres to make a potential trade for Thor.

If Syndergaard were to go to the Padres, it’d be San Diego making some maybe-too-early assumptions about some of their guys.  I’d wait, see what you have, and let next year’s deadline or next winner be the time to cash some of the chips in.  At the same time, while it may not pay off this year as San Diego is a little far out in the playoff race, a top three of Syndergaard, Chris Paddack and Mackenzie Gore is among baseball’s best already.


Did Anyone Win The CP3-Russ Trade?

The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the decade set up better than practically any other team in basketball.  They had three young stars in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden.  Yes, they had the new big three in Miami to deal with, but for the most part, the path to a championship, or championships, seemed quite clear.  The conference was partially in decline.  Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki were still winning, yes, but that wouldn’t continue for 10 more years.  Steve Nash and Tim Duncan were getting up there in age too.  Once those guys moved into their twilight years, the Thunder were going to be the league’s next best team.  With its next best players.

For the most part, the last sentence was correct.

OKC will exit the decade with zero of those three players – Durant, Harden and Westbrook – on their roster.  One they traded away for nothing, one left for nothing because the first one was traded for nothing, and the last, somehow, was traded for much more value than the first two.

Oh, and somehow the two that were traded away ended up on the same team.

Not how OKC planned it.

The Thunder’s trade of Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, the Rockets’ first round picks in 2024 and 2026 (Both are protected 1-4) and the right to swap picks in 2021 and 2025 concludes their big three era, which ended with zero championships and just one NBA Finals appearance, despite all three of those players winning a MVP at some point in the decade.  It will go down as one of the biggest NBA tragedies ever.

Practically nothing will make-up for that.  Despite his promise and potential, it won’t be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  It likely won’t be the insane bevy of draft picks they’ve landed from the trades of Paul George and Westbrook.  It won’t be the extra year of Westbrook’s contract that the Thunder shed in return for CP3’s own albatross.

But if you’re evaluating OKC’s moves in a vacuum, in a place where they have an incredibly overvalued, pure travesty of an asset in Westbrook, then it’s really not all that bad.  Sure, the Thunder have to postpone a rebuild for likely three years due to CP3’s deal.  But they got off of a contract that was actually worse.  With Russ, you risk other guys developing bad habits and having their games changed by the way Russ plays.  The Thunder got four first round picks in order to not have that happen.

OKC can, at worst, remain a semi-competitive team until the Paul deal is up while wisely using their draft picks to build for the post-CP3/SGA era.  By then, the Thunder should be back and ready to go.  And they’ll still have three years left of picks rolling in from the Clippers and Rockets.

How good will those picks be?  I covered the Clippers side of that here.  The Rockets picks, however, might be a different story.

Westbrook and Harden might have been the two unlikeliest players of the original OKC trio to end back up together.  With Russ and Durant alone, it was successful for a couple seasons until Durant realized he could have much better and nicer things in life, which included a better basketball situation.  With Harden and Durant alone, you would have been looking at possibly one of the most explosive, efficient and dynamic offensive duos ever.  You want to talk about unstoppable?  What happens when those two run a pick-and-roll?  Or when both of their jumpers are cooking?

With Westbrook and Harden, it’s hard to find common ground.  Both players dominate the basketball; they’re literally the top two players in the league when it comes to how much they have the ball in their hands.  One can’t shoot it from beyond the arc, or shoot it like at all.  The other doesn’t player defense; really neither of them do when the effort is poor.  One is the most selfish player in the league because he wants to be.  The other is one of the most selfish because he has to be.

I’m sure this is going to work out great.

Maybe the sarcasm is me just being mean.  Harden and Westbrook wanted to play together.  They’ll work out the differences.  Right?  Right?!!?

That worked out well.  Now Houston is going to try a player who fits even worse with Harden?

That’s why Houston mortgaging their future picks is a lot riskier than the Clippers mortgaging even more of their’s.  Despite the Clippers’ extending a year extra, and being less protected, the Clippers have younger stars (Kawhi Leonard is barely 28 and Paul George is 29 while Harden is 29 and Westbrook is 30) and a more attractive place to play basketball.  Despite them being the little brother Clippers, it’s still LA.  It didn’t stop Kawhi from going there, and if they have the success they should have with their new superstar duo, then the Clippers won’t be the little brother anymore.

Plus, Westbrook is the type of player who’s likely to age horribly.  He already can’t shoot; that won’t get any better.  His insane, freakish athleticism has already caused him injuries, and as his body breaks down even further, it’ll reduce his availability and defensive impact.  All of that on a massive four year, $170 million contract.

The Rockets dumped CP3 and had to move four first round picks for a worse player, and contract, to pair with Harden.  That feels like complete incompetence, and was the opposite of everything I’ve preached about when it came to Westbrook’s deal: you don’t give up anything of value for it.

But at the same time, doesn’t it feel like Houston maybe got a tad better despite the chemistry concerns and misguided asset management?  Doesn’t the rejuvenation of of part of the original OKC core get you a little excited?  Doesn’t Westbrook make more of an impact than 34-year-old Chris Paul, who seems to be breaking down?

Westbrook brings impact.  He brings oomph.  He brings electricity.  Will it work?  Likely not.  I can’t wait for the reports about the unhappiness of Westbrook in his role a month into the season.  But if you’re Houston, and you just lost to Golden State, a team that was without arguably the best player in the league, in the second (!!!) round of the playoffs, practically anything is worth it at this point.  Were there any real answers?

The Paul George Trade Is A Massive Win-Win

No matter what they did this summer, the Los Angeles Clippers were going to be fine.

If they struck out on the top tier free agents they were connected to all season long, they at least had a good, young team that competed with the Golden State Warriors well enough for me to pick against the defending champions in the second round of the playoffs. And most importantly, they had a budding star and potentially a player whose ceiling was “best player on a really, really good team” in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They had surrounded him with defensive-minded players like Patrick Beverley, shooters like Landry Shamet and mobile-enough, rim-protecting big men in Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell.

The Clippers were on their way to becoming really good, really fast.

If the Clippers added the star they coveted, then their timeline was accelerated. Accelerated so fast that even with someone like Kawhi Leonard on the roster they possessed, they would have been title contenders due to Kawhi essentially taking care of the missing extra spark SGA hadn’t developed and due to the Western Conference being insanely wide open next season.

Instead, the Clippers went all-in. They got what they wanted and more. They accelerated their timeline even further than we thought they could have possibly done so this offseason. They went from a scrappy, young and fun team to a potential title contender to the absolute favorite in a matter of minutes Friday night.
You can’t look at the Paul George trade from the Clippers perspective as the Paul George trade. You have to look at it as them trading for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. While Kawhi was off leading on the Lakers and getting essentially serenaded in Toronto, the Clippers were exploring ways to get PG. There was a reason Kawhi met with the Clippers first.

Kawhi’s choice of George is interesting. He’s not one of the seven-or-so guys in the league that matter, but he’s one of the league’s top 15 players. He’s essentially the perfect side-kick, or the perfect second-best player on a championship team. George is never going to hog the ball, take bad shots or play selfishly. He’s going to play defense because he’s really good at it. And he’s going to score in volumes when he can.

But he’s never going to be taking, or demanding to take, the last shot of the game unless he’s really hot. And he’s never going to have chemistry issues with Kawhi. Despite the takeovers we saw from Kawhi in the postseason, the two are both incredibly selfless players, who move within an offensive system and can get open off-the-ball. Due to their efficiency, the Clippers have two of the best players in the league who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective.

And they have a defensive menace to go with it. PG and Kawhi are two of the six best defenders in the league and can switch 1-4 and 1-5, respectively. Patrick Beverley is one of the best defensive point guards in the league, and they have fantastic role players to go around them.  They have three-and-D wings like Rodney McGruder, Mo Harkless and Jerome Robinson, all of whom don’t need to have the ball whatsoever.  They have Landry Shamet, a lights out shooter whose size might  enable him to play at the three spot in certain lineups.  They have Montrezl Harrell, one of the best energy bigs in the league whose athleticism keeps him on the floor late in games.  They have Lou Williams, who was legitimately their closer last season and is now one of like four dudes who could take on that role.  They have Ivica Zubac, who came back on a team friendly, four-year, $28 million deal.

The Clippers are absolutely loaded from roster spots 1-10.  They’ll likely start Beverley-Harkless-Leonard-George-Zubac, and bring Shamet, Harrell and Williams off the bench for spurts throughout games.  I’d be all in favor of them closing with Beverley-Williams-Leonard-George-Harrell, but that leaves Shamet and his shot on the bench.  The Clippers might actually have a dilemma when it comes to their crunch-time lineup.  Imagine that being your biggest issue.

So yeah, that is definitely worth the insane amount of assets they gave up.  Trading SGA, the guy you thought was going to be your future, hurts.  But with this deal, you get two guys who are already everything you want SGA to become.

The picks have their pros and cons.  For the next four seasons after next (No 2020 pick is in this deal), you know those picks are going to be in the 25-30 range.  The only one that has significant value is the 2022 pick, which is slated to now be the double draft year instead of 2021, where the Miami pick that has been all around the league, is.  That Miami pick made its rounds across the NBA with good reason; Miami was supposed to be rebuilding by then, and there was a chance that was the double draft.  Now the double draft is the year after, and the Heat have at least Jimmy Butler (And possibly Russell Westbrook) on that season’s team.

Starting in 2024 is when dealing the picks gets risky.  The Clippers sent three of them, their own 2024 unprotected pick, a pick swap in 2025 and their own 2026 unprotected pick.  That’s three really risky picks.  Why? By then, I’m going to be 25, Kawhi and Paul George’s contracts will be up, Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson will be two of the five best players in the league, LeBron will likely be retired (Who knows really, though) and the No.1 overall pick in that draft is about to enter middle school.  The point is, that is a really, really long time away.  And who knows what anything is going to be like by then.  The Clippers will likely be in a different era, maybe a rebuilding one by then.  Not having those picks would be debilitating.

Then again, winning 2-3 titles and then having to go through that would ease the pain a bit.

From Oklahoma City’s side of the deal, it’s a bit of a kick in the balls. But it might have been a good, necessary one. This deal, and offseason overall, shows a positive progression of thought from the Thunder’s front office: that winning anything significant with Russell Westbrook in a primary, ball-dominant role is not possible.

Trading George and not Westbrook is a tough swallow. George was traded to OKC in a hail mary deal that ended up as one of the best, most fair trades ever due to George’s surprising commitment to the Thunder last summer, which was only made due to his friendship to Westbrook. He was the second superstar to ever actually come to OKC and be happy and want to stay. He wasn’t forced there at all despite his trade from Indiana before the 2017-18 season, as he could have left last summer. But keeping him could have resulted in a Kawhi-in-San Antonio-or-Jimmy Butler-in-Minnesota-like situation that we saw in 2018, where a refusal to play forced the Thunder to make a deal. Even keeping him and not Westbrook puts the Thunder in a not-as-frustrating (considering finances and value) yet similar situation: a team centered around George is not winning anything significant either due to the type of player George is.

Moving either player was a step in the right direction. It seems as if they’re going to do both. It gets a good but not great team out of the middle class of the league. It allows them to reset and rebuild around that stud young guy above in SGA and an insane bevy of draft picks which likely won’t be all very valuable but are going to a team that has shown an ability to draft well. It gives them Danillo Gallanari, who plays like he’s worth the contract he’s on when he actually plays, is a veteran presence and establishes some competency to a roster that could lose it quick.

Westbrook obviously won’t net that, if anything substantial at all. George required a massive haul because it essentially forced the Thunder, a legitimately good team, to admit defeat and give up. For a small market team to have a really good, competitive team and then do this is devastating to fans and to the front office. Because the draft is a crap-shoot, and no one is voluntarily coming to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The impending Westbrook trade is essentially one where OKC gets out of an absolutely crippling contract to take one that’s not great but is much better.  Are the Thunder desperate enough to just demand Dragic and call it a day?  That might be underrating OKC’s position; given the way they’ve held onto Russ over the years, they may not be wanting to just get rid of him, and could be looking for legitimate value back.

If I’m any team, this is a contract dump deal.  There’s no way I’m giving up anything of true value for Westbrook.  Miami’s interest to me makes zero sense.  Them handing over a contract and an asset like Justise Winslow or Bam Adebayo is a complete miscalculation of what Westbrook would bring to the table.

Despite it making all the sense in the world, it was likely a tough deal for OKC to make.  They’ve been competitive all decade and had put their core together just last summer.  Now, that core is beginning its demolition just a year after it was put together.  But the consequence of doing that is a good one, even if they don’t realize it yet.

Don’t Worry, The Warriors Are Still The Warriors

People weren’t going to stop hating the Warriors.

As long as they were competitive, as long as they kept taking and making insane amounts of three pointers, as long Stephen Curry kept being Steph and kept doing Steph things, as long as Klay Thompson doubled him up and created the best shooting duo ever and as long as Draymond Green kept being a pest, on and off-the-court, people were going to keep hating the Warriors.

That wasn’t changing if Kevin Durant left.

It could have gotten better.  That’s not happening now.

The Warriors sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell was the most Warriors thing ever.  It was also the most cruel, shrewd and unfair thing ever.  These guys get to have him, one of the ten best guys on the market?  Really?!?  After all they got the past five years?

I mean, it’s pretty good value for when you’re about to lose one of the three best players in the league for nothing.

The fit for Russell in Golden State is complicated, no doubt.  And they paid him a lot money, maybe a tad more than even I, someone who wanted the Suns to land him, felt comfortable paying.  But it’s a completely acceptable risk for Golden State. What do they have to lose?  More than 32 games?  Not with this roster.  Nope.

It’s going to be weird to see Russell go to a team with a player already not only playing his listed position, but taking his role as well.  Russell was the No.1 option, closer and point guard in Brooklyn.  Everything and everyone revolved around him.  In Golden State, that’s Steph Curry’s job.  And that’s not going to change.

In a way, Russell in Golden State creates almost a new Splash Brothers duo.  It moves Klay Thompson into the three spot, a position that his game represents better than the two-guard.  The backcourt of Russell and Curry somehow creates an even more explosive backcourt; Russell’s ability to create his shot off the dribble a tad better than Thompson and the passing Russell brings to the table makes the Warriors’ offense more complicated but also more potent.

It’s insane that’s even possible.

But this time, there is, and will be, some doubt.

What happens when teams play a guard and three wings?  Curry and D-Lo is a horrific defensive pairing of two small and nimble defenders.  Sure, the Warriors will still have Klay Thompson (By the way, his contract doesn’t matter, because he never leaving and was never not getting the max) and Draymond Green as two lockdown guys at the three and four spot come playoffs, but D-Lo and Curry are going to get cooked.

They should be able to score enough to make it not matter as much, but does D-Lo accept his new role as the secondary, or even third option offensively?  What if he turns into an even higher usage, inefficient player trying to fight for shots and doesn’t buy into the Golden State style of play?

Golden State could flip him, which has been rumored quite a bit, with some reporters even saying it’s going to happen rather than it being a possibility.  It seems like a stretch to go that far; Golden State isn’t going to be that big of a disaster, right?

The other thing that I think we’re forgetting about the fit: Curry doesn’t care.  Neither does Klay.  What makes both players so special is their ability to play and be effective with anybody.  Curry doesn’t need the ball; he’s the best shooter of all-time.  Klay can score 50 without dribbling.  D-Lo should, and will get freedom to be D-Lo in Golden State.  And if it really is a disaster, the Warriors can move him and get better role players to go around their core than they’ve ever had before.

What about Kevin Durant now?

D-Lo at least represents a fall-back plan for Klay’s injury, which probably keeps him out until the playoffs.  In February, the Warriors can evaluate the market based on Klay’s progress, and the team’s success, and make a decision.  But for now, it could be fair to say that Golden State hasn’t lost that much ground, if any at all.  If Kawhi ends up on the Lakers, ground is lost.  The Lakers may into the next dynasty.  If it’s the Clippers, the West is insane.  If it’s Toronto, the West is still insane, but Golden State shouldn’t be exclude from the No.1 seed conversation.

Houston is running it back again.  The Trail Blazers made good, necessary moves but will be relying on younger, less experienced players.  Utah is going for it, but I’m less high on them than others.  Denver has a chance to replicate Toronto in terms of build and roster-makeup, but with a potential key piece in Michael Porter Jr. playing his first basketball in two years next season, they could be another year away.  The Lakers without Kawhi could be playing with six legitimate dudes.  The Clippers are probably just frisky again without Kawhi.  Dallas has serious potential, but like Denver is probably one more year away.

Golden State, even without KD, even without Klay for the regular season, could be just as good.  They brought back Kevon Looney on a bargain of a contract (I honestly think he could have gotten $8 million more annually somewhere) and signed Willie Cauley-Stein, a player whose value immediately jumps thanks to the situation he’ll be playing in.  Those two give the Warriors a good defensive presence down low.  Glenn Robinson III seems irrelevant, but has been a long time “wrong situation” guy for me; the Warriors are anyone’s fix for that.

And that’s why the Warriors are hated and won’t stop being hated.  They make and fix guys into the best possible version of themselves.  They gave Andre Igoudala, the sacrificial member of the dynasty, a career revival.  They turned Draymond Green into one of the best defenders the game has seen after taking him in the second round.  They got lucky and put two of the five best shooters ever in the same backcourt, and possessed the organizational competence to add one of the best eight or so ever (That designation could also be applied to player soon, in addition to shooter) as well.  And because that guy left, they got value back that will still keep them as relevant.  None of this is unfair or should be ridiculed.  All they did was just be smart.

The Nets Don’t Have To Wait For KD To Contend

A lot that was reported about two of the three best free agents in this 2019 class was correct.

We knew Kevin Durant had interest in playing in New York.

We knew Kyrie Irving had interest in playing in New York.

And we knew the two of them had discussed playing together.

We just had the wrong team.

Despite all of the rumors (Kyrie to the Lakers, Durant maybe coming back to Golden State, Durant then teaming up with Kawhi, Durant going to the Knicks no matter what, Anthony Davis getting involved with both players), most of what we thought happened.  And on top of all of that, the one thing I thought should have happened did: they (smartly) didn’t go the Knicks.

It made sense all along.  The Knicks were a disaster in the front office and in their ownership.  They had a young core which had the wrong players being hyped up (Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr.) and the right ones being shuttered (Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson).  If Kyrie and KD wanted to team up, that was cool.  But if they went to the Knicks, they’d be putting themselves in a troubling situation.

Instead they went to Brooklyn, a team with Jay-Z as its biggest fan, the NBA hipsters’ backing and a much better and more fun roster in an area that is taking off as tech and media hub.

When ‘Public Service Announcement’ by Jay came on in my car Monday morning, I got it.  KD and Kyrie in Brooklyn felt right.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Durant is going to have to wait awhile.  But when he returns in the 2020-21 season, the Nets will likely have one of the two-to-four best teams in the league, and will have a path to being the best.  Irving-Caris LeVert-Kevin Durant-Joe Harris-DeAndre Jordan/Jarrett Allen is insane.  That’s two of the seven best players in the league alongside LeVert, who, with a little bit of Durant in his game, was having one of the 20 best seasons in the league in 2018-19 before getting hurt and could easily be that again next season, and be even better the next year.  If Kawhi ends up on the Lakers, we’re looking at the Nets and the Lakers as the next installment of a Cavaliers-Warriors-like deal.

Durant’s decision to leave was a bit puzzling but also made sense.  If not for devastating injuries to two of the top 15 players in the league, the Warriors are likely three-peating.  Durant would have won three titles in three years.  Why leave that?  Why leave Golden State?  They were running it back either way.  The whole league was figuring how to stop you for three years.  No one had any success.  It’s likely no one would have found it.  You would have been the best player on a team that could have won an unprecedented amount of titles in a row.  Who would give that up?

Durant did because some things didn’t break right.  But he also did because he wanted to play with a different group of guys.  He wanted to play with his friends that he’d been wanting to play with for awhile.  Would you leave a good job to take a good job that your best friend worked at as well?

Durant also left to go play in, and bring greatness to, a city that has lacked it in the sport of basketball for so long.  It may not be the most prominent team in the city, but that could change soon. If he succeeds there, he’s the king of New York and Brooklyn.

Despite Durant not being able to contribute next season, the Nets are still in really good shape.  The Nets did in fact upgrade from D’Angelo Russell to Kyrie Irving, though some disagree with that statement (Something I’ll get into later this week)

The reason why Kemba Walker could be an upgrade over Irving has nothing to do with Kyrie himself.  It’s about the surrounding pieces and how those guys fit with Walker compared to Kyrie.

Kyrie is one of the few guys who really matter in the league.  I do believe, despite the failure in Boston, he’s a No.1 guy on a championship team.

As much as people blame Irving for Boston’s failures, there’s also a lot he couldn’t do.  The Celtics had team-wide effort issues on the defensive side of the ball, and decided to hit zero shots in the first halves of games, leaving Irving to have to bail them out at the end.  The Celtics don’t win nearly as many games as they did last season without Irving’s heroics late.

That’s why the Nets signed Kyrie over D’Angelo Russell.  Because he matters.  Is D-Lo really ever going to be one of the ten best guys in the league?  Are we sure D-Lo is going to live up to that max contract (It seemed much more likely that deal would be an overpay before he ended up in Golden State)?  When a guy like Kyrie is available, and you can easily get him, you do it.  That’s what Boston did.  It didn’t work out, but they tried.  You just do it and see what happens.

Because of what Kyrie brings to the table, and the foundation they already have, the Nets could easily be contenders next season even without KD.  We’re looking at a lineup of Kyrie-LeVert-Harris-Garrett Temple/Taurean Prince-Jarrett Allen/DeAndre Jordan.  Kyrie and LeVert is a deadly duo; both have the ability to play off one another as they can hit threes.  LeVert’s length makes him a threat off-the-ball as well.  Joe Harris is a sniper; and whoever of Temple and Prince provides shooting and defense (I assume Temple starts due to the signing and his experience).  Center is in an odd spot; the Jordan signing is easily one of the worst of the summer, but it’s clear that KD and Kyrie pulled a LeBron-like move on the Nets and said “Pay him or we ain’t coming.”  Allen did get exposed a bit in the playoffs, but Jordan isn’t exactly bringing good rim protection either.  Maybe playing with his friends will bring his effort back up.  Anyways, if Kawhi leaves the conference, the Nets automatically slide in as the No.2 seed behind Milwaukee, with Indiana, Miami, Boston and Philadelphia challenging them for it.  If Kawhi stays, it likely slides everyone back a spot.  Nonetheless, the Nets have boosted themselves into the East’s, and the league’s, top tier.  They only have up to go from there.