Boogie And Blake: Can Two Big Men Really Play Together?

Around a year ago, we were wondering how amazing or disastrous the DeMarcus Cousins trade would be for the New Orleans Pelicans.  It was an ultimate Hail Mary trade made by their front office; a group that had shown signs of complete incompetency over the past few years.  But at the price they paid, it was totally worth it.

One year later, we’re still trying to answer that question, and we may never get an answer.  With Cousins tearing his achilles tendon Friday night vs. Houston, the Pelicans are left with Cousins’ expiring contract, Anthony Davis, possibly Nikola Mirotic and an extremely mediocre Jrue Holiday, who’s looks totally worth that $126 million contract when he’s playing well but also makes you go “What were they thinking?” when he’s playing bad, and a bunch of chumps who are legitimately bad basketball players.  That’s harsh, but it’s the truth.  Why was this team in and out of the playoffs until recently?  There’s your answer.

Before we look at the long term view of this, let’s take a moment of silence for the Pelicans and their fans.  The Boogie trade was the type of move New Orleans has literally never made.  It showed their fans that they were at least trying to be competitive; the first time that’s happened since the Chris Paul days.  It paired two of the league’s top 12 players, including the two best big men, and formed one of the most dominant duos ever.  It was fascinating, even when it didn’t work.  New Orleans would runs all sorts of fun sets with Boogie and Davis; double screens with Holiday, Boogie stretching out onto the perimeter and cutting in, Davis isolations, Boogie putting the ball on the floor and doing what he does best.  It went on and on.  It was a pure joy.  The team’s shortcomings weren’t their fault.

The shortcomings were going away recently too.  E’Twaun Moore had a massive December, putting up a 70.9% true shooting percentage and scoring 16.1 points a game.  Darius Miller had been making shots, and was a huge difference defensively when they slid him to the three spot and benched Rajon Rondo (Over their past 15 games, the Pelicans have a -6.8 net rating with Rondo-Holiday-Moore-Boogie-Davis.  Replacing Rondo with Miller brings the net rating up to 38.4.  38.4!).  The lack of three point shooting has still been an issue, and the problem only gets worse with Boogie out; Cousins was taking 6.1 threes a game and making them at 35.4% clip.  Holiday is taking five a game, but his don’t go in.  Moore is essentially their only option any more from deep.

From an offensive prospective at whole, the Cousins loss is huge.  That’s 25.2 points and almost 13 rebounds a game that they have to make up for, plus the loss of a rim protector (Cousins usually played five since Davis is athletic enough to cover the stretchy fours on the perimeter).  Davis playing center isn’t a disaster; he’s just as good at that as he is anything else.  But that’s not his preference, and he’s made that very clear to a front office that has mangled a bunch of things over the years.  Pissing off AD is not anything they want to do.

New Orleans has to hope that the contributions they’ve gotten from their role guys isn’t just a hot streak.  If it’s not, they may be able to survive and make the playoffs; The Nuggets and Trail Blazers have been just as mediocre, though I think Portland has a big move to make at the deadline.  Denver could as well, though they have Paul Millsap coming back soon.

If it is a hot streak, then the Pelicans are gonna find themselves in the same spot they were before the Boogie trade and earlier this season.  Fire up the tanks if that’s the case!

This leads into what New Orleans should do long term.  Boogie’s a free agent this Summer, and before the injury was scheduled to get paid.  Now, a nine figure long term deal seems unlikely, especially considering that it could very well be a whole year before Cousins comes back.  He certainly won’t be ready for opening night in the fall.

Front offices usually overreact to the fact that a guy they sign over the summer won’t be able to contribute right away due to injury.  It’s kinda silly… if you’re signing him to a five year deal, he’s only gonna miss the first part of the first season.

At the same time, it should be taken into serious consideration, especially given that this is an achilles rupture.  Myself, Kobe Bryant and Wes Matthews all know that it can end careers.  That Wes Matthews contract is an atrocity now…

Obviously Cousins is much better than Matthews and is much younger than Kobe was when he sustained his achilles injury; he’s somehow only 27.  But given that Cousins’ effort has been a major sore thumb no matter where he’s been in the league (Yes, New Orleans included) and the money he could earn, a potentially career-affecting injury could lead to some early decline/carelessness from him.

Teams should be wary about that this Summer when evaluating Cousins.  Yes, I said teams, because the odds he returns to New Orleans might be slim for multiple reasons.  Let’s run through them.

  1. The Lakers could easily have LeBron James, Paul George, Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr. on their roster, making this a very likely destination for Cousins, whose name has been attached there for awhile.

You’re probably asking two questions:  1) Where is Brandon Ingram’s name?  2) How do they make the money work?

Well, they’re interconnected.  The Luol Deng apocalyptic contract is on the books for next year, and it’s probably gonna take Ingram to get it moved.  If I can get LeBron, Paul George and Boogie together, I’m trading Brandon Ingram faster than I’m trying to get out of high school right now.

If that contract is gone, LeBron and George get maxed, then there’s room for Boogie.  The Lakers only have 10 dudes under contract next season, and without Deng’s deal it’s Jordan Clarkson’s at $12.5 million.  That’s not an atrocity… they could move it pretty easily if they have to.

Three maxes doesn’t work though in the days of $150 million+ deals.  As I said above, there’s no way Boogie’s getting paid like he was going to after this injury.  Does he sign the veteran’s minimum to really help the Lakers out and possibly grab one more guy to help compete with Golden State, or could he do a Tyrod Taylor-NFL styled deal, with a cheap, say one year $10 million contract with a team option, in which they could opt into a max next season?  It’s a fascinating scenario.

2. There’s a case New Orleans should let him go.

The critiques on this front office go back and forth.  The trade for Boogie was a walk-off home run swing that’s starting to look like it was caught at the wall.  You can’t 100% blame them for it not working out; there were just some unfortunate circumstances.

But at the same time, their big free agent signings over the past two years have been Solomon Hill (A big, whooping congratulations there) and the Holiday extension (I can’t tell if it’s a “Yikes!” or not yet).  With Boogie’s contract, that left them strapped.  They couldn’t do anything else to add to the roster  (However, if Omer Asik is dealt at some point, that opens some money to play with this Summer).

If Boogie doesn’t re-sign, it leaves them room to add someone who’ll make an impact.  But does Boogie leaving make New Orleans a lot less attractive than they were?

It’s a tough balance.  Part of the problem is that the team can’t draft well; Anthony Davis fell into their laps in 2012.  If anyone else went No.1, the world would have been set on fire.  They deserve no credit for that.

The point is that free agents don’t want to come to New Orleans.  They have to build through the draft and they’ve failed at that.  They’ve failed to accumulate any assets that could be moved in a trade (Buddy Hield was not an asset in the Pelicans’ mind).

In a perfect world, Boogie not re-signing gives them something to work with.  But the Pelicans have created anything but that perfect world.

3.  A catalyst team could hop in the mix.

The Wizards could be a fit, but they’d probably have to pay a one year, $15-20 million JJ Redick-style deal to get him to come there.

The Bucks would also be extremely interesting, but they’ve got some other problems to work out before they can look at that (They’re rolling since the Kidd firing though!).

On every front, the Boogie injury sucks.  For New Orleans, it gives a troubled fan base an even more crushing blow, a front office a more complicated situation than they know how to account for, and the NBA another team stuck in the middle.  It’s the place no one wants to be, and the Pelicans just can’t escape it.

On the blockbuster Pistons-Clippers trade…

Pistons get: Blake Griffin, Willie Reed, Brice Johnson

Clippers get: Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, top four protected 2018 first round pick, 2nd round pick

Well then!  This was not the type of move I expected Detroit to make, and this was not the Clipper I expected to get moved either.

I didn’t really get this trade for either side.  Does Detroit really think they’re a contender?  How did the Clippers not get Stanley Johnson back?  There’s a lot to sort out here.

My first reaction:  It took the Clippers about seven months too long to figure out that Blake Griffin, Danillo Gallonari and DeAndre Jordan weren’t gonna work together.  The Gallo contract already looks like an albatross, and Jordan’s name has been everywhere in trade rumors.  With the injuries to the guards, it led Griffin to become the focal point, yet nothing was there to surround him.  This trade should have kicked off a reboot, garnering many assets.  Instead, they got a pick and competency for next season.

Not getting Stanley Johnson is a farce for LA.  Sure, Detroit didn’t want to give up on him yet.  But if you’re getting rid of Blake Griffin, acquiring Johnson shouldn’t be too unreasonable of a demand.  He’d be the No.1 or No.2 asset in this deal!  You’re already selling low at the point!

Instead, the Clippers got a some role guys who probably won’t be on the team two years from now.  If LA is kicking off a rebuild and is shipping more guys out, re-signing Bradley, as good as he is, makes zero sense at the price he’s gonna command this Summer.  Flipping him before the deadline is an intriguing option; many teams covet his defense.

Tobias Harris has been fantastic this season, and is under contract for next year as well.  He’s somehow only 25, so he’s got years ahead of him.  But next Summer he becomes a liability.  With the cap’s waffling lately, he’s gonna probably be paid a lot more than what he’s worth.  By then, you’re paying someone who’s had two (possibly only one) good seasons (That one is this year, by the way).  By the time your rebuild is complete, he’s entering his age 29 season.  By the time you’re contending, he’s gone or is washed up.

Harris is one of the dudes who benefitted massively from the cap spike two Summers ago.  From my perspective, his value didn’t change; he deserves to be paid somewhere in the $10-15 million dollar range, even with the spike.  But that’s not how inflation works.  If there’s more money to be spent, then there’s more money to be paid.  Sorry, I’m just not giving him five years, $120 million to be a competent bridge guy for my rebuilding team.

BOBAN (Yes, it’s being capitalized because he’s BOBAN and BOBAN is in LA now.  Also, he might be the No.2 asset in this deal) is a fine addition.  In giving up three frontcourt players, the Clippers needed minutes from somewhere else.  They’re gonna need even more if Jordan is moved.  BOBAN is on a favorable contract; it’s fine for what he’ll contribute.

BOBAN in LA is gonna be fantastic.  I can’t wait.  The crowd’s gonna love him.  Is Lob City 2.0 in the house with him and Milos??

The pick they got was absolutely necessary; I’m surprised the Clippers didn’t try and squeeze two first rounders out of Detroit given the overall return.

At the same time, the pick is also a little underwhelming.  It’s gonna conceive this year; there’s no way the Pistons are picking in the top four come June.  It should end up somewhere in the 15-24 range; not terrible but also not great considering this is a year removed from one of the best drafts of all time.  The 2018 draft is nowhere near 2017 in terms of depth.

Plus, you have Doc Rivers half in charge.  I understand Jerry West is there, but his role in LA seems to be a little too involved; just a reminder for the Jerry West backers that he helped facilitate this trade and thought signing Gallo was smart.  Doc can’t draft as we’ve found out over the past few years, and I don’t think 79 year old West is scouting the dudes in the 15-24 range on the Clippers big board.  The hope with this pick is that West can make the right decision based on his limited scouting and knack for talent, and that Doc doesn’t override him.

So yeah, congratulations to the Clippers on trading one of the league’s 15 best players for competency and draft hope.

I went hard on the Clippers.  It’s easy to do the same for the Pistons.

From a straight up value perspective, this trade was a steal for Detroit.  Sure, they got rid of part of their core, but they probably weren’t gonna pay Avery Bradley $90 million when they already have a ton of money committed, and that money committed wasn’t gonna get them anywhere in the first place.  There’s a chance Tobias Harris is just a good stats bad team guy; he’s practically been their whole offense this season.  They got rid of their pick, but I’d trade the 20th overall pick or so for Blake Griffin any day.  You do that 100 times out of 100.

However, the logistics of the deal aren’t as great.  Not only do the Pistons have some chemistry to fizzle together, but they also have some serious systematic problems with Griffin’s addition.  Some existed before he got there, and his presence complicates them even further.

The primary concern is how Griffin will fit with center Andre Drummond.  Both are best in the post; beating up on guys and doing the dirty work.  However, neither possess stretch capability, leaving two guys clogged in the paint in a league where teams are playing five-out most of the time.

The Clippers had experimented with Griffin on the perimeter.  He’s averaging almost six three attempts per game this season, and they’re going in on a iffy number: 34.2%.  That’s practically a tiebreaker; it’s right on the edge of good/bad.

Dig deeper though and you’ll realize the number is being held up by Griffin’s hot start to the season, where he shot 42.4% from three in the month of October.  Since then, his three point percentage has cratered; the highest monthly split behind the arc has been 33.3%.

This led LA to plant him at the elbow, and run the offense through his passing from that spot, similar to what Denver does with Nikola Jokic.  It’s worked; he’s averaging 5.4 assists per game.  But the Clippers just didn’t have enough around him to really make it work.  The Pistons could have the same issue.

Blake essentially becomes their point guard.  With Reggie Jackson injured, Ish Smith nothing more than a backup, and Drummond taking up space down low, getting creative with Griffin is the best way to go.  Whether it works or not remains to be seen; this experiment is similar to Boogie and AD last year.  But Stan Van Gundy needed to do something to save his job through the season and Summer.  This is that splash.  It may only be a ripple though.

The big guy playing point center has experienced trouble around the league.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a bad idea, but no team has really figured it out.  Just look at Denver, who’s fun on paper but still can’t formulate a contender with Jokic as their main piece.  LA couldn’t get it to work with Griffin.  The Pelicans didn’t have enough around their two big men.

Shooters are absolutely necessary if a team wants to play that way, and Detroit does have that.  Reggie Bullock is fine, Luke Kennard is gonna get more playing time with Bradley traded, and Anthony Tolliver can contribute as well.  On paper, it works.  But they’re gonna be screwed in crunch-time.  I certainly don’t want Reggie Jackson going into “I got this” mode with two minutes left.  Blake’s not able to take dudes one-on-one.  Neither is any of their other wings.

The big man isn’t totally dead, but it’s dead to the point that if he’s your best player, you better have your 2nd best player be a wing or guard.  Detroit doesn’t have that.  Neither does New Orleans.

The Pistons are even more screwed if Blake gets injured again, which is entirely possible.  Without him or Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson enters unprecedented “I got this” mode.

Despite getting awesome value, this is a risky trade for Detroit.  If it doesn’t work for them, they’re stuck with bad contracts (Including Blake’s) and in the NBA’s 50th percentile, which is exactly where they were before the trade.

An underrated part of the move from the Clippers side is shedding Blake’s contract.  If Blake continues to be injury prone, the league continues to get more athletic, and the cap doesn’t increase, that contract is an abomination.  It could become untradeable.  That’s why getting out of it now is smart.

This trade could work for the Pistons, but history isn’t on their side.  You have to wonder if this is just a job-saving heave by SVG.

On the John Wall injury…

For a team that was already in a rough patch of their season, this could not come at a worse time.

The Wizards offense dies with John Wall out.  They lack passing without his presence; Bradley Beal isn’t that type of guard, and Tim Frazier and Tomas Satoransky aren’t nearly as talented.  Their assist numbers aren’t bad given their minutes; Satoransky averages 2.6 a game while Frazier averages 3.6.  But again, the impact and quality of the passes won’t be the same.

This is gonna lead to a Bradley Beal takeover, which isn’t a terrible backup plan; Beal probably deserves his own team.

But the Wizards get worse without Wall defensively.  On/off slightly backs that up, mostly due to the fact that Washington isn’t very good defensively in the first place. But we all know Wall is an incredible defender.  They go from bad to terrible without him on that end.

Over the year’s, Washington’s been frustrating.  They can play awesome one night and look like they can beat anyone.  Then the next, they look like a below .500 team.  This year, those issues have come to a head.  Now they’re more worrisome than before.

I’m not sure a trade make sense for them however.  Their best bet might be to ride this out and hope they can maintain until Wall is back.  Tyreke Evans couldn’t start with Beal and doesn’t pass the ball; it wouldn’t fill their long-term need.

If the Wizards can’t recover, you could point to Wall’s injury as the reason that their season died.  But doing that ignores much greater long-term problems.  Perhaps this injury leads Washington to look in a different direction this Summer.

On that awesome Celtics-Warriors game Saturday night…

If Houston-Golden State can’t be the Finals, then Saturday night’s game was a preview of June.

The East is wide open for Boston.  The Cavaliers have finally quit getting away with terrible defense.  Toronto is good, but we can’t trust them in the playoffs.  Washington just lost their best player.  The Pistons are have a ton to figure out.  The Bucks are transitioning.

Yet, this Boston team still has its flaws, most of which were exposed against Golden State.

First of all, the Celtics really missed Marcus Smart.  The bench was awful without him Saturday; his 10.1 points a game and facilitating was coveted.

It’s part of a larger problem Boston’s had.  With Kyrie Irving on the floor, the Celtics have a 108.4 offensive rating.  When he’s resting, that number plummets to 96.7, well below average.

This is why Tyreke Evans’ name has came up lately.  He’d give them some extra firepower off the bench, and has been able to make threes this year.  He could play off of Smart if needed.

Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier have been good, but like the rest of this Boston roster, you have to wonder if you can trust them in the playoffs.  You certainly couldn’t against Golden State; the two were 4-14 shooting on the night.

An even bigger concern:  It’s not like the Warriors were excellent defensively.  Characteristically, the Warriors missed a ton of close-outs on threes.  Kyrie was unstoppable.  Boston had a ton of open shots.  They just didn’t go in, especially down the stretch.

As fun as that game was, and as likely as it is that we get this matchup in June, Stephen Curry is still Stephen Curry, and the Warriors are still the Warriors.  As good as Boston can play, it still may not be enough.

That is, unless a man named Gordon Hayward is ready to go.