Big day in the association. HUGE day. With just three days until the All Star Break and nine days from the Trade Deadline, we got two massive pieces of news within the span of eight minutes. McMenamin tweeted that Love news at 11:02. And at 11:10, Woj dropped his Wojbomb. Two bits of news that could (and very well should) result in some tectonic shifts at the top of the Eastern Conference. Kevin Love is out for at least six weeks, possibly more. And Serge Ibaka is now a Toronto Raptor for the low cost of Terrance Ross and a pick that has no consequence on this current season.
There’s a lot to unpack here. While just three teams were directly involved, this means something to the entire conference. Let’s go through what it means to the most important teams
What this means for Orlando:
Let’s get this out of the way because it’s pretty simple. What this means for Orlando is you basically just took Victor Oladipo (arguably your best asset at the time and someone who everyone realized just needed a team where he wasn’t the first or second option), the 11th pick in the 2016 Draft (Domantas Sabonis, who looks like he’ll be a solid starter in this league), and Ersan Ilyasova (a prototypical stretch four who a lot of teams would trade for right now and who has been AWESOME for Philadelphia)… and you turned them into Terrance Ross (a completely “meh” player making $10.5 million a year who has shown little to no signs of improvement in five seasons) and a First Round Pick in the 2017 Draft (that will likely be in the early 20’s). Hell of a job there Rob Hennigan. Executive of the Year stuff right there. Someone give this man an extension.
The good news is that Orlando can very easily bottom out. The top of the draft is loaded with guards and that’s exactly what they need. The bad news is that Rob Hennigan will somehow figure out a way to either draft another defensive big man or a point guard who can’t shoot. Sorry Orlando fans, all nine of you.
What this means for Toronto:
Toronto finally gets the Power Forward they’ve been looking for, and they get him without sacrificing a young asset (Powell, Bebe, Siakam, Poeltl) or a place in this loaded draft (Toronto owns their own pick and the Clippers’ pick in this draft, and will send Orlando the lesser in value of the two, according to Woj).
Ibaka is on an expiring deal, so I wouldn’t call this a heist. But it’s well worth the risk.
Short term, Ibaka makes this Raptors team significantly better. He’ll bring a defensive presence inside, space the floor offensively, and give the Raps some needed help on the defensive glass. In addition to bumping the struggling Pascal Siakam out of their big man rotation, this opens up minutes for Normal Powell in the back court. It gives Toronto a bigger and more versatile team to throw at Cleveland in the playoffs. And while I spent this morning singing the praises of Washington’s end-of-game lineup, Toronto’s unit (Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Ibaka, Valenciunas) likely just surpassed them. Though I guess I can wait to see them play together to make that decision. Speaking of…
What this means for Washington:
Though not directly involved, this was a MAJOR day for the Washington Wizards
On the one hand, today was a loss. No matter how you spin it, a player as impactful as Serge Ibaka joining a direct contender is not good for Washington. Toronto got better and Washington didn’t. Toronto is more experienced. Toronto is bigger up front. Toronto has a much better bench. You could argue for now that Washington has a better end-of-game five. Over the last month it’s almost impossible to dispute that. But experience, size, and depth matter a lot come playoff time.
On the other hand, today was a bigger win than loss for the Wizards. No matter how you spin it, losing a player like Kevin Love for 6+ weeks (that’s an April 1st, just two weeks before the playoffs) makes the Cavaliers worse.
From a regular season standpoint, the door is open for Washington. Just 4.5 back, the Wiz could absolutely make a real run at the one seed. Home court advantage means significantly less to Cleveland than it does to Washington. Not only did the Cavs get worse in losing Love – they will also get more cautious. They’re not risking anything else by pushing for the one seed. It’s not crazy to assume the young, hungry Wizards will chase that one seed. They’ve won 19 of their last 20 home games. So yes, that would mean a lot.
The Wizards think they can beat Cleveland. They took them to the brink last week, and were a Lebron James banked three away from beating a Cavs team that not only included a healthy Kevin Love, but needed a healthy Kevin Love to win that game. Love went for 39 and 12. Take Love out of the equation, or at least replace him with a hobbled and/or rusty version, and that’s a completely different game. Yes, it was only one game… in February… in Washington… that meant nothing outside of that night. But if Love isn’t healthy come May, Washington has as good a chance as anyone of taking down this Cavs team.
What this means for Boston:
Much of what I said above for Washington applies now to Boston. As of today, the C’s are just two back of Cleveland and 2.5 ahead of Washington. And while Washington has (deservedly) received all the attention for their last month and a hald, Boston is now 10-1 since the infamous “All Black” loss to Washington back on January 24th.
The Celtics are not as equipped to be Cleveland. Isaiah Thomas is a force and a top five MVP candidate, yes. Isaiah Thomas can’t beat Lebron and Kyrie in a playoff series. And that Celtics team as a whole isn’t nearly as experienced or explosive enough, as currently constructed, to compete with even a depleted Cavs roster over the course of seven games.
After today, though, Boston is now the best positioned contender to make a giant splash. While Danny Ainge might have previously been hesitant to part ways with one of those Nets picks, things are different now. The East just opened up a little. And after years and years and years of hoarding assets, maybe it’s time to pull the trigger on someone like Jimmy Butler even if you have to overpay. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
What this means for Cleveland:
I’ve laid out the general concerns for Cleveland regarding matchup issues vs. Toronto and Washington, so I won’t regurgitate that here.
There are two ways Cleveland can approach this news. Stay put or Panic.
Option One: Stay put. Leave the team as is and wait for Love, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert to return from injury. If you’re winning, that’s great. If you’re losing, don’t press these guys too hard. Health is all that matters. Accept that you might lose home court advantage, knowing full well that you can win on anyone’s court as long as you’re healthy. If anything, you should take this time to give young bench guys like Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, and Derrick Williams (just kind of throwing him in here) heavy minutes with the starters every once in a while like Popovich does. You’ll never know when you need one of them to come off the bench in crunch time, especially considering the injury history of everyone on this team not named Lebron.
That’s the approach you take if you truly think this is just a six-week injury from Love. Six weeks would bring him back April 1st. It gives him two weeks to get back in the rhythm before the Playoffs start (on April 15th).
Option Two: Panic. If you think it’s going to be more like eight weeks? Maybe even ten? That’s an issue. After what Toronto acquired today and what Washington has done the last month, and yes, even what Boston and Isaiah has done the last month, round two won’t be a cakewalk for the Cavs like it has been. Those are three very real, very dangerous, very hungry teams. If Kevin Love isn’t healthy and/or back in rhythm come round two, the Cavs are gonna be in trouble.
If they think he’ll be out longer, do you really think the Cavs will just stand pat before next Thursday’s trade deadline? Do you think Lebron would let them?
I personally think Love will be out longer. No, of course I don’t have any medical expertise to back that up. But knee scopes scare me. And I wouldn’t be remotely shocked to see a report scroll across Twitter in five days that reads “Kevin Love out for season”.
Okay, so then what?
What this means for New York:
Yup. Here we are again.
I had given up on Melo trade rumors. I really had. I mean I literally wrote that it wasn’t going to happen. I’d accepted that, at least until this summer, Carmelo Anthony would be a Knick. And with all that’s happened the last week with this godforsaken Knicks franchise, I’d almost forgotten all about the Melo trade rumors int he first place.
But what happened today changes the entire landscape of the East. Toronto got better. Washington’s chances improved. Boston is now the only trade contender with assets. And the Cavaliers, even if just for the next six weeks, are worse.
The Cavs front office turned down a Carmelo-for-Love trade because, well, it was a bad trade in every sense. Short term replacing Love with Carmelo made them worse. Long term replacing Love with Carmelo made them worse. And from a leverage standpoint, it would give Lebron more power than he already had in Cleveland.
Now? Now things change in the short term. Regardless of what you think of Carmelo Anthony’s game… Regardless if you as a basketball fan think that acquiring Carmelo Anthony is actually a “subtraction by addition” situation… Lebron can now go to that front office and say “Kevin Love is out. I need Carmelo on this team to have a change this year“, knowing full well that the Cavs front office now has less leverage.
You might not agree with that, but the reality is that is exactly what Lebron is doing right now. Right now Lebron is sitting in David Griffin’s office telling him to call Phil Jackson while simultaneously texting Melo with one last plea to drop his No-Trade Clause. I would bet my entire life on that.
The question of course is… why would Melo change his mind about that No-Trade Clause now? If he didn’t want to go last week, why would he go now?
Fair point. In reality he won’t. I don’t expect him to, and neither should you.
But at the very least, a few things have happened to nudge him off his position. First was obviously the James Dolan-Charles Oakley incident. Melo’s a smart guy. I’m sure he’s been pretty well aware of how dysfunctional the Knicks organization is from top down. But maybe… maybe… this was the straw that broke the camels back.
Second, and more importantly, was what Dolan said to Michael Kay on Friday. He admitted, on air and very much in public, that he wouldn’t meddle in Phil’s work. Dolan said he would honor Phil’s contract no matter what, thus giving Phil free reign to do whatever he wants for the next two years. If Melo thinks he can’t push Phil out… if he thinks Phil is here to stay… then maybe he doesn’t want to stay for that. Maybe that’s crept into his thinking the last few days, and at least opened his mind to the possibility of accepting a trade to go play with his friend while his legs are still under him.
At the very least, Love-for-Melo makes a little more sense than it did two weeks ago. The Knicks get an injured yet very movable player in return – one who can’t help them win now but gives them a monster trade asset this summer. They can lose out, take a high pick, and maybe even move Love for another pick come June. The Cavs get a replacement for the injured Love – at least giving them a better chance this spring than they’d have without him or with a hobbled version of him. It’s a bad trade for them in the long run. But with Lebron on one-year contracts for the forseable future, they can’t risk not bending to his will.
In reality though, Melo’s never dropping that No-Trade Clause.