The NBA Trade Deadline was supposed to be relatively quiet, with the possibility of a few trades. And it looked like that would be the case leading up to last Thursday’s deadline of 2 p.m. However, the league saw a number of trades come in at the last minute of the deadline. The trades came in fast and furious, but not all were as good as they seemed while others were better than you might think.
Starting from the first and possibly the most overlooked trade was Portland acquiring Arron Afflalo from Denver. With Afflalo, Portland bolsters their bench with a player who was averaging 14.5 points per game and is an excellent defender. Portland had to give up Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver plus a future first round pick, but I still think this was a huge win for Portland. A team who advanced to the second round in last year’s playoffs, returned their core group of guys, and are third in the Western conference added a veteran guard who can defend multiple positions and shoots the ball well. I’ll go ahead and say this trade puts Portland as a dark horse in the West. Why? Because they have a star point guard in Damian Lilliard, not to mention he might be a little pissed off for being an All-Star snub. Granted he was chosen as a replacement, but I still expect Lilliard to play with a chip on his shoulder the rest of the season. And let’s not forget Lamarcus Aldridge is playing at a high level despite his thumb injury. So with a healthy Robin Lopez and Afflalo coming off the bench, this team stacks up well with the West’s best.
The blockbuster trade that got way too much attention in my mind was Phoenix shipping Goran Dragic to Miami. Don’t get me wrong, Dragic is an excellent point guard, and he knows how to produce. But let’s not get carried away here. He isn’t going to help Miami contend for the title this year and most likely not anytime soon. Dragic is posting 16.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, and 3.6 rpg while sharing the point guard duties with Isiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe. However, I don’t think he is worth the max contract he will be offered this offseason or the two first round picks Miami gave up on top of some rotational players. He can’t lead a team by himself and essentially that’s why you pay a player the big time money. That’s what scares me for this Miami team, Dwayne Wade is in the latter half of his career, and Chris Bosh isn’t the same player he was in his prime. (There is a serious concern in Miami that Chris Bosh may miss the entire season due to blood clots in his lungs. It is a very serious issue, so we wish Chris Bosh the best in recovering.) Having said all this, Pat Riley is a genius when operating his teams so I might be completely wrong in saying Miami was on the losing end of this trade.
The trade I liked the most came from team that desperately needed help. And that was the Oklahoma City Thunder. A few days ago, I wrote about how they might acquire Brook Lopez but honestly, he wouldn’t be a fit for a team that runs lots of isolations for their guards and perimeter players. Lopez is a back to the basket type player and I don’t know how he would have gotten his touches in the OKC offense. But that trade didn’t surface out instead the Thunder acquired Enes Kanter from Utah and DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Pistons. In my opinion, Oklahoma City got better overall value than getting Lopez. Kanter is a legit 7 footer averaging 14 ppg and 8 rpg this season. Not to mention he’s only 22 years old. He will slide right into OKC’s rotation with Adams out with injury and Perkins no longer there. This allows Serge Ibaka to play his natural power forward position and stretching the floow out with his perimeter shooting improving. Plus Augustin can fill Jackson’s role as backup point guard and Kyle Singler has proved he can be a solid bench contributor.
On the other hand of this trade, I love what Detroit did. Stan Van Gaundy quietly got himself a steal in Reggie Jackson. Detroit gave up next to nothing for a player who is about to get his chance to be a starter on a playoff contending team. But let’s forget about this season, and look to the future. Detroit has two great guards in Jackson and Brandon Jennings, and arguably the best young frontcourt in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving forward. If they can convince Monroe to sign long term after his contract expires after this season, watch out for the Pistons. Van Gaundy has done a great job in his first season operating the team and I look for him to continue to build momentum for the franchise.
Those are the trades that had impacts on contending teams making a final push for playoff jockeying. Oklahoma City and Portland solidified their roster needs to contend in the wild wild west. But there were was one trade that caught my eye and can have a huge impact for a franchise.
The trade that had every NBA fan reminiscing the old days was Kevin Garnett being sent back to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young. Obviously Minnesota is going nowhere this season, but Kevin Garnett could be a valuable pickup for them in terms of leadership and locker room presence. Minnesota might have the best core of young players in the league. Andrew Wiggins, Zach Lavine, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, and Gogui Dieng are all young talented players still learning their way in this league. The Timberwolves were lacking a veteran leader who can mold these young players into stars. That’s where Kevin Garnett comes in play. KG could be the perfect mentor for these kids since he was thrown into the same fire of the NBA right out of high school. He knows what it takes to become a perennial All Star and win NBA championships. So kudos to the Minnesota front office for making this happen.
And then there was the random swap of point guards that took place. Milwaukee sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Phoenix sent Isaiah Thomas to Boston, and Philadelphia packaged reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter Williams to Milwaukee. Brandon Knight was playing very well this season, so I was particularly surprised that the Bucks let him go and brought in Michael Carter Williams. I’m interested to see how Jason Kidd and company can mold the young Carter Williams into a legit PG. Brandon Knight could be a good compliment to Eric Bledsoe down in Phoenix so that could be something to watch for. As for Isiah Thomas in Boston, I just don’t get it. Boston should be in full rebuild mode, and Marcus Smart was their draft pick who could use some playing time at the point guard position so why trade for Thomas who can only play point guard. Thomas also is owed plenty of money after signing a lucrative deal just this offseason so that’ll take a hit on Boston’s cap room. These teams all made the headlines for acquiring players but I’m not sure any of them actually won their respective trades. I guess time will tell with them.
But wait, that’s not all! There have been reports Kendrick Perkins will be bought out by the Utah Jazz and the front runner to sign him is, you guessed it, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He would be a great fit for Cleveland, coming off the bench and giving them valuable minutes defending and rebounding the ball effectively. A few other potential bought out players include Tayshaun Prince and Thomas Robinson who could both be a great addition to any team. So the deadline might have passed, but a few teams could still be adjusting their rosters here in the next few days to gear up for the postseason.
Its Final Four time. The underdogs have been dealt with, and the Cinderellas have sent home: this one is exclusive. After a couple of seasons of upsets, and unlikely runs to the national semis, only the blue bloods of basketball made it through this one.
Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas are the four teams left, and they collectively combine for 13 National Championships and 44 Final Four appearances, counting this season(it would be 45, but Ohio State had a Final Four vacated by the NCAA).
The biggest question going into this seasons national semis is whether or not anyone can beat Kentucky. The Wildcats have scored at least 80 points in every tournament game, including a 102 point outburst against No. 4 seed Indiana. The y have been the hands down tournament favorite since they turned a tied ball game into a 20 point lead in nine minutes against a tough Iowa State team in the second round. Those feelings were only bolstered when they jumped out to a 22 point half time lead against Baylor in the regional finals. Kentucky has been a very tough team to play, out rebounding three of their four opponents-they tied Baylor at 29-and are shooting 53 percent over the four games. It only shot below 50 percent one time, but still put up 102 points.
Kentucky may have the most prolific offense left in the tournament, but it will face the stingiest defense in the Final Four. Louisville is holding teams to 57.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including holding No. 1 seed Michigan State to just 44 points in the Sweet Sixteen. That is the best defense effort in the tournament this season, matched by South Florida in the first round. It has held three teams under 40 percent shooting, and held the Spartans to a pitiful 28 percent shooting from the field. The Cardinals have held five of their last eight opponents to under 60 points, and under 50 on two occasions. Only Marquette was able to eclipse 70 since the first round of the Big East tournament with a whopping 71. No team has been able to corral Kentucky on offense in the tourney, and Indiana was unable to outscore it, so a new strategy could provide different results.
On the other side of the bracket, the major battle should be in the paint. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger will square off against Kansas' Thomas Robinson in what will be a showcase of two of the top post men in the college game. Both average 17 points per game to lead their teams, and have nearly identical stat lines with Robinson having a slight edge in rebounding. Both are accompanied in the middle, with Sullinger pairing with Deshaun Thomas, and Robinson with Jeff Withey. Thomas is much more dangerous on offense averaging 16 points per game, while Withey only averages 6, but gets three blocks per game with his longer reach. Kansas is taller, with Robinson being measured at 6'10'' and Withey at an even seven feet, and has more length on the interior, while both the Ohio State players carry more bulk. Sullinger and Thomas may have games that look a little better in the box score, but Robinson's and Withey's length and defense could have a larger impact on the game. It will be interesting to watch.
With only three games left in the college season(sorry Washington State and Pitt of the CBI, and Stanford and Minnesota at the NIT), the best of the best will be vying for immortality. And while having a Final Four banner is nice, having a championship is even nicer.
JCovan Brown, 14, struggles to get a shot off against Kansas guard Merv Lindsay, 22, during the Longhorns loss on Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks beat Texas for the second time this season and prevented the Longhorns from getting their first signature win of the season.
Kansas forward Thomas Robinson led the Jayhawks with 25 points and 14 rebounds to a 73-63 win over the Longhorns on Saturday, effectively forcing Texas’ NCAA tournament hopes on the shoulders of its performance in the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas’ squad of pro-ready athletes put Texas away in the second half on the heels of Robinson’s 18 points that period. In his last regular season game at home, senior guard Tyshawn Taylor added 22 points, including 14 in the second half, and four assists that paced the Jayhawks.
J’Covan Brown did all he could to keep his team in the mix, notching 33 points on 9-18 shooting, but Texas couldn’t get its younger players in on the mix. The Longhorn freshmen combined for just 16 points.
“I felt like we were right there in the beginning,” Brown said. “In the second half, we just made some mistakes to break the lead open [for Kansas].”
Texas was only down 21-26 at the half, but the third-best team in the country had arguably the best player in the country to pace the Jayhawks.
“He’s the best player in the country,” Texas forward Clint Chapman said of Robinson. “He took advantage of every opportunity that we have him with offensive rebounds and driving by guys.”
Robinson wasn’t the only player bruising Texas in the paint. Kansas scored 30 points in the key, compared to 16 by Texas, and it outrebounded the Longhorns 36-29. Seven-footer Jeff Withey snagged six boards for Kansas and managed nine points.
Chapman was one of many Longhorns brutalized by the big-man inside, and it hurt that the Longhorns couldn’t rely on their interior defensive specialist, Alexis Wangmene.
Normally in-and-out of the rotation because of consistent foul trouble, Wangmene left this contest at the start of the second period after sustaining a left wrist injury. Wangmene attempted to secure a defensive rebound, but came down wrapped up with a teammate and extended his hand to break his fall. There is no official timetable for his return, but the senior is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
This is ominous news for the Longhorns as they prepare for the conference tournament. They are a young, undersized team that could have used all the help they could get in the coming week. Texas head coach Rick Barnes won’t say his team has a spot wrapped up for the NCAA tournament the following week, because he knows he’ll need a nice conference tournament showing to breathe easier.
However, he also believes that Texas’ showing in the nation’s second-best conference is enough to speak for itself.
“I always believed it’s your body of work,” Barnes said. “I also have confidence in our league — if we’re the second-best league in the country, that’s where we are, I don’t know how [the Big 12] shouldn’t have six teams in [the NCAA tournament].”
On Sunday, Texas was announced as the sixth seed in the Big 12 tournament where they will face No. 3 Iowa State. Texas faced Iowa State as a sixth seed as recently as 2010, when Brown was a freshman, but the Cyclones were the eleventh team in a field of twelve. Texas won that contest 82-75.
Kansas forward Thomas Robinson led the Jayhawks with 25 points and 14 rebounds to a 73-63 win over the Longhorns on Satuday.
Kansas’ squad of pro-ready athletes put Texas away in the second half on the heels of Robinson’s 18 points that period. In his last regular season game at home, senior guard Tyshawn Taylor added 22 points, including 14 in the second half, and four assists that paced the Jayhawks. J’Covan Brown lived up to his billing as the league’s best scorer, notching 33 points on 9-18 shooting, but Texas couldn’t get its younger players in on the mix. The Longhorn freshman combined for just 16 points.
Texas was only down 21-26 at the half, but the third-best team in the country, had arguably the best player in the country to pace the Jayhawks.
“He’s the best player in the country,” Texas forward Clint Chapman said of Robinson. “He took advantage of every opportunity that we gave him with offensive rebounds and driving by guys.”
Robinson wasn’t the only player bruising Texas in the paint. Kansas scored 30 points in the key, compared to 16 by Texas, and it ourebounded the Longhorns 36-29. Seven-footer Jeff Withey snagged six boards for Kansas and managed nine points.
Chapman was one of many Longhorns brutalized by the big-man inside, and it hurt that the Longhorns couldn’t rely on their interior defensive specialist, Alexis Wangmene. Wangmene attempted to secure a defensive rebound, but came down wrapped up with a teammate and extended his arm to break his fall. He left the game with a left-wrist injury. There is no official timetable for his return, but he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Texas will take on the third-seed Iowa State Cyclones on March 8 in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas forward Thomas Robinsons role as dramatically increased since last year. A Big 12 and national player of the year candidate, Robinsons 11.8 rebounds per game rank second in the country.
Rick Barnes has led Texas to the NCAA Tournament a dozen years in a row, but shaky play as of late could have the Longhorns on the outside looking in when the 64-team field is chosen in March.
“Dropping three in a row isn’t something we like to see. This is a program built on winning,” said center Clint Chapman.
Under the tutelage of Barnes, the Longhorns have also recorded 20 or more wins for the past 12 seasons. Currently, Texas sits at 13 wins, with just three of those victories coming in conference play.
The Longhorns have an outside shot at keeping both of Barnes’ streaks alive, but Texas must first survive the gauntlet-type Big 12 conference schedule made possible by a 10-team league.
“As long as we’re making progress in the process, I’m happy with it,” Barnes said.
Missouri seniors making history
The eight-man Tiger senior class improved their overall home record to 63-3 with a recent 63-50 win over Texas Tech. Matt Pressey, Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe are among this group and have helped Missouri to four straight 20-win seasons after a 67-66 win over Texas.. The Tigers have now won 20 games for four consecutive seasons, just the fourth time in school history they’ve accomplished the feat.
Texas Tech head coach Billy Gillispie summed up the reason for the Tigers’ recent success after his team was defeated in Columbia, Mo.
“Missouri is a good team. They are a good team for a lot of reasons, one of which is experience. Out of the seven guys we saw, there [was] a sophomore and junior, but everyone else was a senior.
They’ve been here a long time and done a great job. They can all pass, catch, dribble and shoot. Their floor spacing is as good as anyone in our league, probably anyone in the country. They can all make shots, and they can all beat you off the dribble, so it’s a very difficult team to defend.”
Jayhawks’ Robinson among national leaders in rebounding
After playing a backup role to the talented Morris twins for the past two seasons, junior forward Thomas Robinson has been able to grow both physically and mentally — something he uses to his advantage regularly.
“I feel that I know a little more as an older player,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s minutes have jumped from averaging just under 15 minutes last season to over 30 minutes per game this year. Last year, Robinson averaged just seven points and six rebounds, but this year he’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. His rebounding average is the second highest total in the nation and his improved play is a big reason the Jayhawks find themselves atop the Big 12 rankings once again. Robinson is also shooting over 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range.
Printed on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 as: Texas' NCAA tourney chances fading