Tag Archives: Portland Trailblazers

BULLet Points: Shorthanded Bulls come up short against Blazers

A night after getting trounced in Atlanta and hosting the red-hot Portland Trailblazers, the Bulls were in a tough position on Saturday night. They went down big at times in the first half and entered the break losing 51-41. They used a solid third quarter to get back in the game but couldn’t find enough late to complete the comeback. They stuck with the fast-paced Blazers til the end, but ultimately came up short, losing 103-95.

  • Derrick Rose missed his third straight game with hamstring tendonitis. While I’ve been one of the stronger proponents of Rose missing occasional games to stay healthy in the long run, his inability to suit up against Portland was a definite red flag. This appears to be a legitimate issue for Rose, not just a matter of strategic rest or “general soreness”. Hopefully he’s back on the court soon, because he’s looked as good as he has in years lately.
  • Pau Gasol took control of the offense with Rose and Jimmy Butler out. He tallied 22 points, 14 assists, and 16 rebounds, his first triple double in Chicago. Gasol’s passing has been a major key lately and indicative of how “Hoiball” can look when the ball isn’t constantly stopped on the perimeter. While Butler has taken plenty of heat for this issue, Pau has been a culprit as well. If the Bulls can get this kind of buy-in from their starters when everyone is (hopefully) healthy, the offense may start to look a lot closer to what we’ve envisioned.
  • I like to think of Portland as the Baby Warriors. The Bulls just didn’t have anything close to enough firepower to keep up with them, even on an off shooting night for the Blazers. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, one of the league’s most talented backcourts, average 5.4 threes on 14.3 attempts and 46 points per game. They combined to go 0/9 from behind the three point line. Nonetheless, Lillard poured 31 points in against the Bulls nonexistent paint defense while McCollum was able to add seven assists.
  • E’Twaun Moore continued to impress with another strong performance. He scored 19 points with three rebounds and assists apiece. Moore is a very solid defender on both guard positions and has proven to be a reliable scoring option. I expect to see him continue playing a big role even as Rose and Butler get back on the floor.
  • Mason Plumlee frustratingly played Taj Gibson off the floor. Plumlee grabbed nine boards and scored 16 points on the back of 13 free throw attempts. Gibson had just seven points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
  • On the plus side, Bobby Portis snatched 16 rebounds and added 10 points for another double double. While Portis is not yet close to being a truly impactful player, he continues to shows plenty of encouraging signs for his future. I’d like to see a little defensive improvement in the next few months, but next year will be the real test.
  • Doug McDermott stayed hot with 18 points, his fifth straight game with at least 14. His shooting splits in that stretch are .578/.500/.933, some next-level efficiency. This should continue to be a valuable tool for Fred Hoiberg, but McDermott is still a complete zero in every other aspect of the game. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging only 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.1 blocks. That is pretty dire stuff.
  • Ed Davis is mini-DeAndre Jordan. Or at least he sure looked like it against the Bulls on Saturday. In 25 bench minutes, Davis tallied three steals, five blocks, nine points, and nine rebounds. He looked ferocious rejecting shots at the rim and slamming them down on the other end. Good find for Neil Olshey and Portland.
  • Newest Bulls player Justin Holiday played a hefty 16 minutes and added one rebound. That’s it. Did you know he turns 27 in April and is Jrue Holiday‘s older brother? Both the Warriors and Hawks have already given up on Justin, who seems destined for an overseas career.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to Miami to take on Dwyane Wade and the Heat on Tuesday night.

BULLet Points: Bulls get first win in Portland since 2007

The Bulls came into Tuesday night’s game having not won a game in Portland since 2007. Fortunately, they were facing a Blazers team that no longer has the benefit of superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, who went to San Antonio this past off-season. Portland sorely missed Aldridge down the stretch, when C.J. McCollum was the guy left trying to be the game-tying hero in the final seconds against a stout defender in Joakim Noah. The Bulls hung on at the end to improve to 9-4; here are the BULLets:

  • The Bulls got off to a great 10-0 start with quick ball movement to generate open looks, often utilizing the now-standard dribble hand-off weave to create action, and taking advantage of a Portland team that looked lost on defense in the opening minutes. They pushed the ball in transition and even on made baskets, forcing the Blazers on their heels for much of the game, as the Bulls led from start to finish, for once turning the Trailblazers into the Trailing Blazers on their home court (terrible, I know).
  • Offense: Joakim Noah did some work in the post on two consecutive possessions, one from the right side, which isn’t his preferred method of attack, and he hit his first jump shot of the year, a 20-footer. He was also active on the boards, with a final stat line of seven points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. If Jo can be even an occasional threat on offense, it will bring another dynamic that was non-existent and severely hampering during last season, as it would force the defense to pay a little attention to him and open up opportunities for the likes of Butler and Rose, who combined for 39 points, on 13/33 shooting and a +/- of 12 when paired together, the highest of any pairing of the night.
  • Niko got his three-ball game going, shooting 3/4 from long range, and 4/8 overall for 13 points. The most glaring improvement he needs is to go up stronger near the basket and get rid of the wacky-waving-inflatable-arms-flailing-tube man act, which rarely yields a call from officials.
  • After Kirk’s impressive retro performance against Golden State last week, he was mostly back to his old-new self in this one. I’m just gonna leave this right here, taken from the Game Book: Hinrich Miss
  • Defense: Overall, the Bulls have limited opponents to 40.9% shooting from the field, second best in the league, but give up 33.9% on 3-pointers, just 12th in the NBA for a team that historically has been much better at limiting threes. Against the Blazers, the Bulls continued to struggle with closing out on shooters and leaving men for open looks (*cough* Niko). With the exception of Butler (always), Snell (usually), and Moore (sometimes), the whole team needs to improve in this area. Luckily, for the Bulls, the Blazers missed open looks and only shot 6/22 from beyond the arc. Derrick’s PnR defense left something to be desired for the first part of the game, going over screens clumsily and often trailing the ball-handler, and even failing to stay in front of his man on one-on-one matchups (granted, this is Damian Lillard we’re talking about).
  • Doug McDermott had a rare moment of good one-on-one post defense where he didn’t fall over, commit a foul, or defend the ball-handler while standing out of bounds baseline (yes, this happened), but it’s depressingly remarkable that I’m commenting on the one time he didn’t screw up on defense.
  • Jimmy Butler was his normal superstar self posting 22 points on 6/13 from the field and 8/8 from the line, with four assists and four steals. He’s been so good the last couple years, that writing about his game-to-game performances doesn’t even seem like news anymore, and this is an incredible thing to take for granted. He has blossomed into easily the Bulls best and most reliable player on both ends – scoring, defending (team and individual lock-down), IQ/playmaking, rebounding, and just being an overall game-stopping badass. I could write an article on his badassery, but instead, click here for an awesome link by Chris Terzic at Blog-A-Bull about how Jimmy has single-handily kept this Bulls franchise in the conversation as contenders.
  • The Blazers are struggling this year, now 6-10 on the year, but still have some bright spots. Namely, Damian Lillard, who has well-established himself as a star; he was flirting with a triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) but on 4/22 shooting and missing all six three-point attempts. CJ McCollum is also a reliable guard, the Lehigh University grad responsible for toppling number two seed Duke as a 15 seed in 2012 when he scored 30 of their 75 points. He continues to show his versatility on the scoring end in the NBA, posting 18 points last night, and averaging nearly 20 a game, along with three and a half rebounds and three assists.
  • Coming up: the Bulls finish the circus road trip in Indiana on Black Friday.

Making Sense of Trade Deadline MADNESS

This past Thursday was the most amazing trade deadline in years for us basketball junkies. So much occurred in the 11th hour before the clock hit 3:00 PM EST. Twitter was a tweeting as deals were being reported left and right and everything was coming at us at once. All of this was really hard to digest right away, and still a few days later it’s not entirely clear what every team was thinking. So here’s your guide through what actually went down, and why.

Before we get to the “nitty-gritty” and the game of “point guard roulette” that was played, lets quickly recap all the minor trades that transpired. I’m going to skip over the really inconsequential moves because nobody wants to hear my rambling thoughts on Pablo Prigioni going from New York to Houston, or why Ramon Sessions was traded for the 147th time. Here we go…

Celtics acquire Isaiah Thomas from Suns for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavaliers

Why did it happen?

The Celtics have been pretty fond of Isaiah Thomas dating back to last off-season. Danny Ainge saw an opening to get him and in exchange gave away one of their many future 1st round picks. The Celtics are the most “un-tanky” of all the “tankiest” teams in the league (those are words now). Boston is really not helping themselves only being bad enough to secure the somewhere around 11th pick in lottery. Suns pick up a future asset and cut their losses with the ill-fated Thomas signing.

76ers trade K.J. McDaniels to Rockets for Isaiah Canaan and 2015 second-round pick

Why did it happen?

K.J. McDaniels is on a goofy one year deal and because of his play this year some team is likely to give him an offer sheet that the Sixers aren’t interested in paying. Further, many in Philadelphia are saying that Sam Hinkie doesn’t really want to deal with K.J.’s agent after botching the initial contract negotiations. Plus the Sixers really like Isaiah Canaan and have tracked him since last year’s draft, and now have an obvious void at PG. Houston grabs another wing player who can defend really well and could see minutes in the playoffs.

KG minny

Brooklyn sends Kevin Garnett to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young

Why did it happen?

Flip Saunders is a genius, and when I say genius, I mean he makes other GM’s look like geniuses. T’Wolves traded a first round pick for 50 games of Thad Young, and then traded Thad so they could have a family reunion with the corpse of KG. Now they may want to extend the contract of said corpse. Flip you continue to amaze us all.

Trail Blazers acquire Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee from Nuggets in exchange for Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and a lottery-protected 2016 first round draft pick

Why did it happen?

Blazers get a key pickup in Afflalo who can provide scoring off the bench, something Portland needs desperately. Only costs them a future first rounder, and likely a pick that will land between 22-30. Nuggets who are now in a rebuild, acquire an asset.

All of this brings us to one of the biggest trade deadline clusterf&*%s we’ve ever seen…let’s dive into it.

In three-team trade, the Thunder acquire Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from the Jazz for Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett and two draft picks (one from the Pistons); Oklahoma City also receives D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from Detroit for Reggie Jackson.

Why did it happen?

Let’s start with the Jazz. Kanter publicly announced he wanted out, Utah obliged and picked up some future draft picks. The Jazz are eager to start the Rudy Gobert era, and losing Kanter probably won’t haunt them. Detroit upgraded the PG position in hopes to squeeze into one of the final playoff spots in the East this season and prepare for the future. Reggie is for sure an upgrade from Augustin, and they could choose to resign him this off-season as an insurance policy if Brandon Jennings recovery is stunted. But that is something Stan Van Gundy will have to attend to later. They desperately want to make the playoffs, that’s why the deal went down.

Which brings us to OKC, who is a clear winner in this trade. They discarded an unhappy Reggie Jackson for a low post threat in Kanter, as well as some solid bench pieces in Augustin, Singler, and Novak. This gives OKC a really deep roster which could spur them to a title run this year. Augustin can definitely hold his own as a backup PG; Kanter at times is a very gifted low post scorer and may command double teams on some nights. They also acquire two lights-out three point shooters that could hit some big shots during the playoffs with so much defensive attention constantly going towards Durant and Westbrook.

goran dragic fox sports

In three-team trade, Suns send Goran and Zoran Dragic to Heat in exchange for Danny Granger and two draft picks, while also acquiring John Salmons from Pelicans; New Orleans gets Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams from Miami.

Why did it happen?

Dragic was emphatic over the displeasure he had with the Suns front office, and basically forced Phoenix’s hand to deal him before the deadline passed. Pat Riley savvily stole Dragic for essentially nothing: some fringe NBA players and future first round picks that Riley himself will probably never be in office to select. Miami’s league-worst stable of point guards was their one true weakness now that Hassan Whiteside has emerged as the reincarnation of Alonzo Mourning.

Acquiring Dragic, who was second team All-NBA last season, was such a huge acquisition for Miami that for a short 24 hours they perhaps were a dark horse title contender before Chris Bosh’s scary blood clot issue was discovered. But Miami will likely be able to resign Goran during the offseason and could potentially compete in 2016. More importantly, Bosh will be okay. So the Suns acquire more future picks and rid themselves of an unhappy Dragic. They also receive Danny Granger and John Salmons, who both could be waived or just wither away on the bench for the rest of the season. New Orleans get a warm-blooded backup PG in Norris Cole, which is something they need if they are to beat out OKC for the eight spot, though it is highly unlikely. Jrue Holiday’s injury is taking a turn for the worse, and you really can’t have Tyreke Evans playing 40 minutes a night at the point.

In three-team deal, Bucks send Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall to Suns in exchange for Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee; Additionally, Phoenix sends their protected 2015 first-round pick from the Lakers to 76ers, and Philadelphia sends Michael Carter-Willams to Milwaukee

Why did it happen?

This was clearly the most shocking trade of the whole deadline. The Bucks imploding their frontcourt and trading their leading scorer during a playoff run is not a strategy many teams subscribe to. The Bucks must have felt that impending restricted free agent Brandon Knight was worth more to the open market this summer than he was to their organization. Milwaukee is not interested in paying a dollar figure potentially between $12-15 million that Knight will command this summer. So instead they swap in Michael Carter-Williams who is at least under team control for two more years.

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The problem is they’re swapping Knight for possibly the worst shooter in the entire league. They do gain a 6’6″ point guard and now have a stable of players who are extremely long and can defend multiple positions. Jason Kidd likely sees a lot of himself in MCW and must feel that he can work with him to fix his woeful jump shot.

The Bucks definitely improve on defense, but will now really struggle to score the ball in the halfcourt and don’t really have someone to go to in crunch time. That will really hinder them this season, but going forward with Jabari Parker and the Greek Freak, they will surely be an interesting team to watch. They also acquire Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis to add more bodies to an already deep bench.

The Suns get a pretty good replacement for Goran Dragic in Brandon Knight. Dragic is much better than Knight, but Knight may fit better into the Suns guard dominated offense. Knight is much more a combo guard than Dragic was and can be a prolific scorer. The duo of Bledsoe and Knight seems like a more natural fit than the Bledsoe and Dragic duo, because Knight can easily transition into the 2 spot. They painted themselves in a corner when they alienated Dragic and were forced to deal him and try and get some value before he became a free agent this summer. Phoenix really screwed this up, but Brandon Knight could pay dividends for the Suns eventually.

What won’t pay dividends is the idiotic move to trade the Lakers top five protected pick to Philadelphia. It’s just insane to let that pick go. They must have proposed multiple deals not involving the Lakers pick before they eventually caved to Milwaukee and Philadelphia’s demands. Losing the pick is bad, but losing Dragic and getting nothing return is worse. So they downgraded from Dragic to Knight and let go of an asset that had the potential to land them a future star this summer. Wow. That’s some Flip Saunders-like ineptitude.

So here’s what the Sixers and Sam Hinkie were thinking when they dealt away the “current” face of the franchise. The Sixers are not in the business of trying to become average; they’re trying to reach greatness. To the Sixers, MCW was just an average prospect who may have hit his ceiling. They did not view him as a future cog going forward; he plays the deepest position in the entire league and is 100% replaceable in their eyes.

Another reason for ditching MCW is that his numbers are inflated because of the run ‘n’ gun style the Sixers play, they have more offensive possessions than most teams. He also constantly has the ball in his hands and only shoots 38% from the field, and 26% from three (I just threw up in my mouth reading those numbers). His numbers are just awful by any standards for a starting guard in this league.

The Sixers want to develop a team around stars and MCW is never going to be one. By acquiring the Lakers’ protected pick, they are just giving themselves another opportunity to hit the lottery and draft a potential building block. They don’t really feel like they are taking a huge step back by shedding MCW either. By draft, trade, or free agency, the Sixers are constantly seeking the right opportunity to nab a superstar. Hinkie himself is one of the guys who orchestrated the James Harden trade. That is a type of scenario that they will be looking for moving forward, besides just drafting talent. Remaining flexible by staying way under the salary cap and gathering tons of valuable assets is what will make the Sixers a desired trade partner when a star from another team becomes available.

It’s not often those types of draft picks like the Lakers’ become available. It has the potential to be great, and the Sixers were selling high on MCW. Especially considering he’s a PG who can’t shoot and whose only viable trait is his height. All of this trying to acquire and develop around stars is easier said than done, I realize. But what the Sixers want to do is build something that will last not just a few years, but possibly for a decade or longer. The Sixers management is dedicated to building something special and you can begin to see through the mist if you squint really hard. The Hinkie strategy may seem outrageous to many and logical to few, but on Thursday they made the easy decision.

The Trade Machine Diaries, Part 1

The ESPN Trade Machine has been a great innovation for avid basketball fans like us. If only real trades were able to go down so easily and without everyone’s consent like in your 2K franchise. I tried my best to come up with 15 realistic trades with all 30 teams involved. So when I say “go” everybody grab a dance partner and make a trade…go!

(Disclaimer #1: because you can’t swap draft picks in the trade machine, I ad-libbed and traded picks based on what I thought was fair value. Disclaimer #2: You may or may not be aware that I’m not a real NBA GM, so what I thought was fair value is subjective. Enjoy.)

Atlanta Hawks/Phoenix Suns

Atlanta sends Pero Antic and a future second round pick to Phoenix for Gerald Green

Right now Atlanta has a decent squad, I think ownership’s main focus is just getting into the playoffs and trying to generate some extra revenue as honest as that sounds. (Editor’s note: the Atlanta Hawks are likely to change owners in the near future after this summer’s very weird scandal). Paul Millsap and Al Horford are a great frontcourt and Jeff Teague is really good at times. They could use another scorer out on the wing though. Kyle Korver can fill it up, but it’s hard to get any consistency out of him; DeMarre Carroll is also a really nice role player. But Gerald Green can be asked to score 15-20 points a night for the Hawks, which is something they lack out of the two or three spot. The reality of this trade is that both Green and Antic are expiring deals, and the Suns might have a real concern about trying to resign Green, if they actually want to keep him. The Suns also just gave PJ Tucker and a new deal and drafted TJ Warren in the 1st round this year. Green is definitely expendable.

Boston Celtics/Sacramento Kings

Boston sends Rajon Rondo to Sacramento for Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and a future top three protected first round pick

This would be a perfect move for both teams. Danny Ainge should really be on the phone 23 hours out of the day trying to get rid of Rondo before he becomes a free agent. If the Celtics get absolutely nothing for Rondo, they are insanely stupid. We know Sacramento is willing to make a splash, and this move might actually make them a contender to get into the playoffs. Celtics would get young assets and a future pick. The Kings would get a true facilitator and someone who could make DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins even better (that’s a scary thought for the Western Conference).

Brooklyn Nets/Indiana Pacers

Brooklyn sends Kevin Garnett and a second round pick to Indiana for David West

It’s crazy to think that last year we thought the Brooklyn Nets would be able to compete with Miami for the Eastern Conference title. Oh, how quickly things can change in the NBA. I don’t think anyone still believes they can compete, but the reality is that the Nets are still probably bound for the playoffs. Deron Williams has been playing much better than last year, and Joe Johnson is still a very gifted scorer. If Brook Lopez can stay healthy they still may have a slim shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers could easily be sellers come the deadline and David West could be the first guy they relieve themselves of. The Nets could really use an upgrade from the walking dead that is Kevin Garnett. West is a proven guy come the postseason and could really complete this Nets squad and make them a headache for other teams in the playoffs. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and David West is a pretty formidable foursome. Pacers meanwhile acquire Garnett’s expiring, and could use the extra cash to put more pieces around Paul George upon his return. Also, losing West will clearly help the Pacers lose more games and yield them a higher lottery choice.

Charlotte Hornets/Detroit Pistons

Charlotte sends Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and PJ Hairston to Detroit for Josh Smith

This trade I admit is a little bit of a stretch, but it also makes sense for both teams. It’s not a secret the Pistons and Stan Van Gundy have become very disenchanted with Josh Smith. It’s also obvious watching Josh Smith play that he is simply not a small forward. This trade would send Smith to the Hornets where he could play power forward for them and stretch the floor creating space for Al Jefferson. The Hornets have invested a lot in Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker this offseason, if Charlotte doesn’t make the playoffs it would be a huge disappointment for the front office. Adding Josh Smith would really create an offensive juggernaut, if they can become a cohesive unit before season’s end they would have a real shot at a playoff series victory. In return Detroit gets a few young assets including MKG and Cody Zeller. Kidd-Gilchrist might benefit from a change of scenery and Zeller is a fundamentally sound scorer who could develop under great tutelage from Stan Van Gundy. Detroit also sheds Smith’s bounty of a contract. It may be a long shot, but this deal has me pining for a Josh Smith/Al Jefferson frontcourt.

(Editor’s note: If SVG pulled this off, I would move to Detroit and join a Van Gundy cult. Josh Smith’s contract, style and attitude are terrible. I would rather have MKG or Noah Vonleh than him on my team).

Center swap? Highly unlikely, but Portland would love it.
Center swap? Highly unlikely, but Portland would love it.

Chicago Bulls/Portland Trail Blazers

Chicago sends Joakim Noah to Portland for Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright and a future first round pick (lottery protected)

I realize this move may be unpopular with the (D)Roses and Thorns faithful, but just hear my explanation before you excommunicate me. Derrick Rose’s and Pau Gasol’s health is a real concern, it doesn’t really seem like the Bulls are going to be able to make a real run at the title as is. Noah is almost 30 and has been banged up himself; if a willing suitor comes along looking for a center the Bulls would really have to consider. Noah has a costly contract, and the looming Jimmy Butler deal is not going to weigh favorably on the Bulls salary cap. This trade enables the Bulls to take on three expiring deals and a future first rounder. Even if you swap Robin Lopez for Noah, I don’t think this necessarily takes the Bulls out of playoff contention if they’re close to getting a spot at the deadline. Thibs will for sure get the most out of his players, this includes Robin Lopez. The Trail Blazers will get a legitimate defensive stopper to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge. Noah will help the Blazers get past the first round in the playoffs once again, and potentially win another round. Noah’s passing ability will also make Aldridge and Dame Lillard better as well. The Bulls have certainly gotten the best years out of Noah; the Blazers are hoping for a couple more.

(Editor’s note: NOOOOOO STOP IT)

Cleveland Cavaliers/Minnesota Timberwolves

Cleveland sends Dion Waiters to Minnesota for Corey Brewer and a second round pick

The displeasure that LeBron James shows for Dion Waiters is painfully obvious, and as we all know, LeBron is the real GM of the Cavs. So GM LeBron decides he’s had enough of Dion and sends him to a city that’s even colder than Cleveland. It’s a disappointment for the Cleveland front office that this is all they’re receiving for the former #4 overall pick Dion Waiters. But they’re clearly “all in” this season, and if swapping Corey Brewer for Dion Waiters will make them a better team and more formidable in the playoffs, this a deal they have to do. The Timberwolves on the other hand get another young Cleveland asset, and they are hopeful they can squeeze any remaining potential Waiters has out of him–but with Flip Saunders calling the shots that’s pretty doubtful. Eventually Waiters will hook on somewhere that utilizes him properly. He can really be a spark off someone’s bench where they ask him to be a pure scorer when he’s in the game. It won’t be in Cleveland and it certainly won’t be in Minnesota, but the kid has talent.

Miami Heat/Houston Rockets

Miami sends Norris Cole to Houston for Clint Capela and Nick Johnson

This trade is really simple for both teams. Listen, I can’t be expected to produce blockbusters every time. Houston isn’t necessarily desperate for a PG, but they could really use an upgrade for their second unit. That is something Norris Cole has proven he can do for the last three seasons. Isiah Canaan has been a good surprise for Houston, but he can’t be expected to deliver in the playoffs. Norris Cole could really be a valuable piece for Houston come April. Miami has really gotten a steal in Shabazz Napier. Between Napier and Mario Chalmers, the Heat are pretty much set at PG. Trading Cole for some young assets like Clint Capela and Nick Johnson isn’t too shabby of a deal.

PART 2 OF THE TRADE MACHINE DIARIES

Well, There’s the West…

Let’s be honest. We’ve talked about a lot of depressing shit on here lately. So instead of focusing on the Eastern Conference, which is a historic pile of human feces after Indiana and Miami, let’s take a look at the utopia of exciting basketball out West. While the East is struggling to field even four teams above .500, the West is so loaded that 3-5 legitimately solid teams will unfortunately miss the playoffs (although for some, a 2014 lottery pick may be more appealing). Let’s take a look at some of the teams that have exceeded expectations thus far (in order of current standings):

LMA lillard

Portland Trailblazers, 19-4 (1st)

Rip City has been KILLING IT!! I tried to warn you guys. Last year’s starters were excellent together, but whenever the bench came in all hell came loose. This year, the additions of Robin Lopez (in lieu of JJ Hickson), Dorrell Wright and Mo Williams have helped solidify an actual rotation that can hold leads. Plus, Damian Lillard looks every bit as good as his rookie season (which is tougher than it looks–Tyreke Evans and Kyrie Irving (le gasp!) are good examples) and LaMarcus Aldridge is garnering illegitimate MVP buzz* for his beautiful midrange game. New coach Terry Stotts has been praised league-wide as a terrific hire. Portland may not be the best team in the West, but they’re certainly in the hunt. Awesome.

*-Sorry, but LeBron’s shooting .584/.433/.784 on 25.0-6.5-6.3

San Antonio Spurs, 18-4 (2nd)

On the one hand, the Spurs were inches away from winning last year’s Finals and capture a top 3 seed every single season. However, their champions are actually getting old and Tim Duncan’s numbers this season have taken a noticeable dip, even after some inspired recent play for my fantasy team in my matchup against Stavi. Danny Green has taken a big step back after his barrage of 3s in last year’s Finals. Coach Pop has no fear, though, because the next man up is always ready. Manu Ginobili is playing out of his mind while only playing about half the game. New addition Marco Bellinelli (sigh) has been unbelievable, the most improved shooter in the league by some statistical measures. Don’t be surprised when Pop and the Spurs are once again one of the last teams remaining.

dwight melo

Houston Rockets, 16-8 (4th)

I think most people expected Houston to end up around here in the standings, but they’ve really been much better than some are giving them credit for thus far. With the 3rd best record in the conference, Houston has shown capable of reshaping its identity on the fly. Dwight Howard is still the best center in the league, and some early free throw struggles have at least escaped him for this week. Jeremy Lin and Pat Beverly have each missed time with injuries and James Harden and Chandler Parsons are banged up as well. Still, the Rockets keep on winning. Plus, they’re anywhere from an hour to a week from trading Omer Asik and improving their roster even more.

Phoenix Suns, 13-9 (6th)

This has been the most shocking story out West so far. Considered by everyone to be all out tanking this season, the Suns moved the needle even further by trading Marcin Gortat for a future asset right before the season began. However, new coach Jeff Hornacek has the Suns playing efficient, inspired ball. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have worked better together than anyone could’ve imagined and the Morris Twins Experience has been as fun as humanly possible. The losses will eventually come (I think), but Phoenix will probably make a move or two to augment the process. The Suns just don’t have a good enough core to try and win now, and the front office knows that better than anyone. Still, it’s a great sign for the future of the players and coach that they’ve done so well already.

Dallas Mavericks, 13-10 (8th)

After missing the playoffs last season, many wrote Dallas out of their minds. You know the thinking: Dirk Nowitzki is only getting older…nothing but another superstar would bring Dallas back to prominence. Nonetheless, Mark Cuban confidently slapped together a reshaped roster that has worked really well together thus far. Monta Ellis has been reborn playing aside Dirk. His improved efficiency has been so bananas that you MUST keep an eye on it now. Jose Calderon, a heady passer and deadly long-range shooter, has settled in quietly to an important background role. Rick Carlisle remains an elite coach, and Dallas should be able to return to the playoffs once again.

Honorable Mentions: Oklahoma City, Denver