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Obvserations from NBA All-Star weekend with eye towards trade deadline

Obvserations from NBA All-Star weekend with eye towards trade deadline

NEW ORLEANS — Another All-Star weekend is in the books, and now it's all about the trade deadline as teams have been as active as ever going into the stretch run of the season.

In the East, a lot of it has to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers being viewed as vulnerable.

They're still the favorites to advance to another NBA Finals but the Raptors, Wizards and Celtics believe they have a chance to make them uncomfortable. 

There will be drama.

My takeaways:

RELATED: NBA POWER RANKINGS AT THE ALL-STAR BREAK

1. Russell Westbrook is the Silky Johnson of All-Star Games. If you don't know who that is, see Chappelle Show.

What Westbrook did in taking 26 shots in 20 minutes for 41 points is try to lift the MVP from Anthony Davis, who was playing at home.

Davis wound up earning it with an All-Star record 52 points. Maybe Westbrook was just playing hard, but he came off the bench as a reserve and really wanted that trophy. He has no off button, but if that's not hatin' I'm not sure what is. Everyone on the West team was on board with helping Davis shine -- except Westbrook. But in a way, I respect that.

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2. James Dolan and the New York Knicks can be thankful for the Sacramento Kings, who makes their incompetence as an organization pale in comparison.

The Kings gave up a three-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins for a rookie whose ceiling is unknown (Buddy Hield), a known quantity who is a role player at best (Tyreke Evans) and future draft picks with value that only can be gauged by the success of those picks. In other words, whatever Cousins' flaws -- and he has many -- draft picks mean little if the Kings don't draft well. And they don't have a history of doing so. The most difficult thing to project is the celing for players who are 19 and 20 years old.

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3. Pelicans GM Dell Demps, who has been undermined at almost every turn in his tenure because of ownership issues, pulled off a deal that should solidify his spot if not in New Orleans with a future organization. He knocked this deal for Cousins out of the park. It's a risk worth taking to pair him with Davis. A playoff berth is in reach as the West isn't as strong at the bottom as it used to be.

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4. Some semblance of defense needs to be played to resemble an actual game.

Then again, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Isaiah Thomas rarely play defense in actual NBA games so in an exhibition it's all downhill.

Bradley Beal, who would've been a first-time All-Star, would've played harder. A vet like Anthony, in his 10th apperance and admittetdly didn't want to be there after he was named as a commissioner's pick, is too concerned with not getting hurt. The last All-Star Game at Verizon Center in 2001, the final score was 111-110. That's 131 fewer total point scored than Sunday and an indication of how far the effort has waned.

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5. Not buying that the Westbrook-Kevin Durant rivalry is over just because they passed the ball to each other. It's a nice, warm and fuzzy storyline for now.

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6. To spice up All-Star Saturday night, sprinkle in some of the better D-League players compete with NBA players in the three-point shootout, skills competition and dunk contest. They'll take them more seriously which makes for a better product. NBA players won't want to be shown up and will try harder and lead to a better product.

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7. Given that the East had so many guards, the idea that they needed another frontline player in Anthony to "balance" the lineups is ridiculous.

It's a jump-shooting and dunking contest. No one is calling for iso post-ups in an All-Star Game. So Kevin Love's replacment didn't have to be Anthony (Yes, I'm beating the Beal shouldve been an All-Star dead horse).

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8. How great is it to have an All-Star weekend free of labor strife and jockeying for postion over a new collective bargaining agreement?

That baby was put to bed long ago and it's a signal at how new leadership for the league (Adam Silver) and players (Michele Roberts) have led to a more common sense approach to doing business.

A lockout benefits no one.

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9. Draft picks have become so overvalued.

As with the Kings, they're only as good as the selections that are made.

If it's a weak year (see 2016) then those picks aren't that big of a deal as it would be in a strong year (see 2017). All of this, however, is about projections. It's not an exact science. You can put a tape measure on things like height, weight, vertical leap but not heart, will and work ethic. When a variable such as millions of dollars enters the picture, it's impossible to tell how it will impact those traits positively or negatively. Therefore if I'm trading an All-Star, I want certainty in return for his services as in a proven impact player (though not necessarily an All-Star) and a pick or two. 

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10. Did I mention that the Kings' front office is the worst in basketball? 

They clearly believed they couldn't get more in return for Cousins which is why they should've a) traded him sooner; b) held onto him until this summer because they still had his rights; c) not be deceptive and dishonest about their intentions to the player and his representation. That's bad business.

RELATED: WALL EXPECTS WIZARDS TO MAKE A TRADE DEADLINE DEAL

 

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

Through nearly three weeks of NBA free agency and almost a month of trades, the Eastern Conference had remained eerily quiet. The Wizards had arguably been the most aggressive team in the East, as all the biggest moves had occurred in the West and, most notably, LeBron James changed coasts.

That all changed on Wednesday as the Toronto Raptors pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to land Kawhi Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year. The full deal includes All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan going to San Antonio along with big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick. The Raptors also get guard Danny Green, according to ESPN.

Here are some takeaways from the trade...

This is good, potentially great news for the Wizards

The worst-case scenario for the Wizards and most of the East would have been if Leonard got dealt to either the Sixers or Celtics, as the potential would have been there for a dominant team. The Sixers, in particular, could have conceivably traded for Leonard without giving up much in the way of pieces that can help them now. They would have teamed Leonard with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and would probably be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. Instead, the Sixers struck out and now face the prospect of taking a pretty big L on this offseason, given all the guys they were tied to going into it.

Leonard and the Raptors will be good and they may even be better than they were last season. Though the Raptors won 59 games in the regular season, they disappointed in the playoffs. Leonard could change that, but he won't have the help to make them an unstoppable force. Kyle Lowry is good, but he's an aging player and they don't have a third star, at least not yet. They have a lot of recent first round picks that could, in theory, make the leap.

This deal is good for the Wizards and could become great if Leonard leaves in free agency next summer. If he does, the Raptors will be in deep trouble.

What will the Lakers do?

When James signed with the Lakers, most assumed they would then add at least one star to run with him. But now that Leonard is going to Toronto, it's very possible they don't add one at all. James might actually have to play with Lonzo Ball in addition to Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Sure, they can sign Leonard next summer or find another star then, but this is shaping up as of now to be a lost year for James.

As consistitued, they aren't winning anything of substance. It's just so surprising James would be cool with this level of talent around him considering what he could have done this season if he signed with Philly or some other team.

People are looking at the wrong contract

Much of the instant reaction to the Leonard trade was praise for the Raptors in ridding themselves of DeRozan's deal. That's a headscratcher. DeRozan is set to make over $27 million in the next three years, the third being a player option, but he's an All-NBA player who turns 29 next month. In the context of NBA contracts, that isn't too bad.

Lowry's contract, on the other hand, is borderline awful. He's 32 with his numbers heading in the wrong direction and he's due to make $31 million next season and $33.3 million the year after. It's not like the Raptors freed themselves of their worst deal.

Masai is making moves

This is a risk for the Raptors and you have to respect it. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, had seen enough of the DeRozan-Lowry duo falling short in the playoffs. He fired head coach Dwane Casey and pulled off a trade for Leonard, who at his best is one of the premier players in the NBA.

There is considerable risk in this move with Leonard having missed 73 games last season with a quadriceps injury and given the fact he can opt to test free agency next summer. If he really does want to join the Lakers, he could leave the Raptors empty-handed.

But it's a risk that is probably worth taking. Everyone assumed the same future for Paul George and he ended up staying in Oklahoma City. It's not a guarantee Leonard leaves and now the Raptors have a year to convince him to stay. Ujiri should get praise for this deal because it's bold and he did one of the hardest things a GM can do in finding a top-5 talent for his team.

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With LeBron gone and Kawhi in, who's the best player in the East?

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With LeBron gone and Kawhi in, who's the best player in the East?

With Kawhi Leonard off to the Raptors, we have a shakeup near the top when it comes to the best players in the East.

Whether it's a one-year rental or ends up being a long-term partnership, the Raptors got themselves an MVP candidate when he's healthy.

That's the issue though. What will Leonard be when he returns to the court after that quad injury took most of last season away from him?

RANKING THE TEN BEST PLAYERS IN THE EAST

With LeBron James now in Los Angeles, the East has a new pecking order when it comes to the top talent, which includes a couple of Wizards as well.

How do they stack up?

Well, here's your answer:

RANKING THE TEN BEST PLAYERS IN THE EAST