Lakers monumental trade
JUST two days after the Toronto Raptors were crowned as the new NBA champions, here comes another development that could shake up the Western Conference landscape that has been the stranglehold of the Golden State Warriors for the last five seasons.
Last June 15, the struggling Los Angeles Lakers finally reached an agreement to acquire forward-center Anthony Davis from the New Orleans in a trade that sent playmaker Lonzo Ball and wingman Brandon Ingram, guard Josh Hart and three first-round draft choices, including the No. 4 overall selection in the NBA grab-bag on June 21 (Philippine time), to the Pelicans.
The Pelicans will get a 2021 first-rounder protected Nos. 9-30 (it becomes unprotected in 2022) and a 2024 first-round pick with the option to defer to 2025. The two teams also agreed to swap first-round draft choices in 2023. Note that an NBA draft rule states that no team can have two consecutive years without a first-rounder.
The deal cannot be finalized until July 6 when the labor moratorium is lifted.
On paper, it would seem that the Pelicans have the upperhand in this transaction.
But there are better things that the Lakers considered in making this deal happen. Ball was injury-prone in his first two seasons with the Lakers and they might not be willing to pay the third-year contract option on him. Ingram, a three-year vet, underwent right arm surgery last March 16 and is still recovering from a blood clot in his right shoulder that sidelined him for the last 1.5 months of the 2018-19 regular season.
Remember the cases of Alonzo Mourning and Chris Bosh.
Ingram is on blood-thinning medication and his health is not exactly rosy at this time even though he is still young.
I think the major reason why the Lakers made the monumental trade is for them to be able to produce an NBA title in the next two or three years (a player option in the final year of his four-year pact) that LeBron James is with the Hollywood City squad.
This is simply a short-term move by the Lakers. Win now and rebuild again (with Davis eligible for a long-term extension in July 2020) down the road.
Six years of non-playoff finishes are just too much for the proud purple-and-gold franchise.
Is Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, an impending unrestricted free agent, next on the Lakers’ radar?
The Lakers now own Davis and also have $32.5 million in salary cap space to sign a prominent free agent in the market to a maximum contract.
Before the Davis acquisition, the Lakers had seven of their 14 players eligible for free agency.
The free-agency period starts on July 1 (PH time), a day earlier than in the previous years.
Teams can negotiate and agree to a deal with free agents but not sign them yet until the labor moratorium ends in five days.
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We the North. We the Champs.
The much-composed Toronto Raptors dethroned the injury-plagued back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors, 4-2, in the 2019 National Basketball Association Finals to hoist their first Larry O’Brien Trophy since joining the American pro league in 1995-96 and likewise reward Canada with its first championship in any of the four major U.S. team sports leagues (NBA, National Football League, National Hockey League and Major-League Baseball) since the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series (4-2 over the Philadelphia Phillies) in 1993.
Five of the six games in the NBA Finals went to the road team — a league record. Toronto won three consecutive times (Games 3, 4 and 6) without a loss at the Oracle Arena in Oakland while Golden State emerged victorious at the Scotiabank Arena on two occasions (Games 2 and 5).
The Raptors grabbed a commanding 3-1 series lead with consecutive victories at the Oracle Arena, Golden State’s home arena for the past 47 years, in the third and fourth games. The Dubs bounced back to take Game Five, 106-105, in Toronto in a game that saw then-reigning consecutive Finals Most Valuable Player awardee Kevin Durant temporarily back in action after a nine-game, one-month absence — including the first four games of the NBA Finals — after he sustained a strained right calf in Game Five of his team’s 4-2 win over James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the Western semifinal series.
Lady Luck was not on the side of KD as he was again sidelined — early in the second quarter — with a ruptured right Achilles tendon. Sadly, the 6-foot-10 frontliner was gone for good this time after undergoing surgery two days later (June 12) that would force him to miss probably the entire 2019-20 season.
In the series-clinching Game Six, the most-watched NBA game in Canadian television history, the Raptors won, 114-110, for a third straight time at the Oracle Arena — 4-0 overall this season including one during their regular-series 2-0 sweep of Golden State — in a bizarre ending that resulted in the final 0.9 seconds being replayed.
And as if the Warriors’ health woes were not enough, Klay Thompson sustained a knee injury with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
(while being fouled by Toronto’s Danny Green) and the Warriors ahead, 83-80. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard was done for the remainder of the game and hours later, it was determined that he had suffered a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee that could keep him out for most of next season. Could it be because of the Chinese shoe brand Anta that he wears for the games, a company with which he owns a 10-year, $80-million endorsement deal until 2026?
With the fourth-quarter absence of Thompson, who finished with 30 points and five rebounds in 32 minutes with shooting percentages of 8-for-12 from the field, 4-for-6 from three-point range and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line (including a pair just before his season ended abruptly), the Warriors lost another heavy scoring option to back up struggling co-Splash Brother Stephen Curry, who went a frigid 6-for-17 (.353) from the field, including 3-for-11 from beyond the arc, en route to a 21-point, seven-assist performance. Curry even missed a potential game-winning triple in the final 9.1 seconds that could have overturned a slim 111-110 lead by the Raptors and perhaps gifted Golden State a victory that would have sent the series to a seventh game in Toronto.
It was not to be for the Raptors had a substitute point guard by the name of Fred VanVleet to save them from a second consecutive game debacle. The (2016) undrafted 6-foot playmaker came off the pines to contribute 22 points on 6-for-14 field shooting, including 5-for-11 from deep, and 5-for-5 from the charity stripes, in 34 minutes.
This was the night Kawhi Leonard struggled a bit offensively (7-for-16 from the field, 22 points) and starters center Marc Gasol (only three free throws) and guard Danny Green (no attempts anywhere in 18 minutes) were not in their usual form.
But VanVleet, who also won a title ring with the Ontario-based Raptors 905 in the NBA D-League (now known as G League for commercial purposes) in 2017, OUTSCORED Curry and was one of five Raptors to chalk up double-digit scores, including four that breached the 20-point barrier.
A four-year product of Wichita State University, the calm and cool VanVleet knocked in a three that deadlocked the count at 91-all at the 9:06 mark and connected on another trey with 3:46 remaining that gave the Raptors the lead for good, 104-101.
No wonder VanVleet got one vote from the 11-member media panel that chose the NBA Finals MVP award that goes with it.
Cameroon-born Pascal Siakam (10-17 FGA and 10 rebounds), the leading candidate for the NBA Most Improved Player award, and heady floor general Kyle Lowry (9-16 FGA, 4-7 3FGA and 10 assists) topped the scoring charts for Toronto with 26 markers apiece. Leonard and VanVleet racked up 22 each and backup center Serge Ibaka netted 15 (7-12 FGA).
Put to waste was the triple-double performance of Warriors’ do-it-all power forward Draymond Green, who put together 11 points (5-10 FGA, 1-4 3FGA), 19 rebounds, 13 assists and three steals in a team-high 44 minutes.
Yet some people will also remember him as the guy who called a timeout when his team had none – shades of Chris Webber while the hip-hop Fab Five member (with the long, baggy shorts and black socks) was still attending the University of Michigan in the early 1990s.
On April 5, 1993, the Wolverines qualified for the NCAA tournament finals against eventual champion North Carolina and in that game the 6-foot-10 then-sophomore Webber brought the rock up the court and called for a ceasefire with 11 seconds left and Michigan trailing 73-71, while his team had no timeouts remaining. The result was a technical foul and the Tar Heels went on to be crowned national collegiate champions. Webber, who eventually had a successful NBA career that nonetheless produced no title rings and only a 1994 Rookie of the Year award with the Golden State Warriors, continues to be ridiculed for his time-out error until now and he has yet to be voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to date.
The timeout mental lapse happened also to Green in Game Six. With 0.9 seconds left, and Golden State down by just one, 111-110, Green called a timeout following his recovery of a loose ball – a move that was even seconded by teammate Andre Iguodala. The problem is Warriors head coach Steve Kerr had already called his team’s final timeout with 9.9 ticks remaining to set up for a three-point shot by Curry.
The result was a technical foul against the Warriors. The penalty: a free throw and ball possession for the Raptors. By then, the game was over except for the prayers left unspoken by the Warriors faithful who had come to witness their team’s farewell appearance at the Oracle Arena as it moves to the newly-built Chase Center in San Francisco next campaign.
Leonard canned the technical free throw to give Toronto a 112-110 lead that sealed the Raptors’ title victory. Before the final 0.9 seconds were replayed, as if adding insult to injury to the Warriors, Leonard made two more charity stripes for the final count: 114-110.
Expectedly and deservedly so, Leonard, whom Toronto acquired from San Antonio last summer in a trade that jettisoned DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs, was named the NBA Finals MVP, receiving 10 votes from the 11-member media panel.
The stoic, silent operator that he is, the 6-foot-7 forward is the first NBA player ever to earn the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy in both conferences. Out West in 2014, he also was voted the Finals MVP while helping guide the San Antonio Spurs to their most recent title finish.
Leonard joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1971 Milwaukee/1985 LA Lakers) and LeBron James (2012 and 2013 Miami/2016 Cleveland) as the only players in NBA history to gain the Finals MVP award with two different franchises.
Additionally, the San Diego State University alum is just the fourth player to snare the NBA Finals award in his first season with the team, following in the footsteps of Earvin (Magic) Johnson (then an NBA rookie) with the LA Lakers in 1980, the late Moses Malone with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983 and Durant with the Golden State Warriors in 2017.
In the six-game Finals against Golden State, Leonard averaged 28.5 points (.433 FGA, .349 3FGA, .894 FTA), 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and1.2 blocks an outing.
Overall, Leonard scored 732 points in 24 games in the postseason for the third-most in league annals behind Michael Jordan (759 in 1992 with Chicago) and LeBron James (748 in 2018 with Cleveland). He normed 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.67 steals and 0.71 blocks a game as the Raptors finished with a 16-8 record during their title campaign.
The Los Angeles-born Leonard, who turns 28 on June 29, had wanted to be peddled to an LA club – Lakers or Clippers last summer when he sought a trade from San Antonio but was instead detoured to Toronto, has until June 26 (June 27 PH time) to exercise a $21.3-million player option on his contract for 2019-20.
If not, he will become an unrestricted free agency on June 30 (July 1 PH time) – one day earlier than the usual July 1 start for NBA teams to negotiate with free agents but not sign contracts as well as consummate trades that won’t be official until the labor moratorium (for financial accounting and salary-cap determination purposes) concludes five days later.
Leonard is expected to opt out as he is on track to receive a maximum salary that would start at around $33 million whether he re-signs with the Raptors or any other team.
A maximum deal with Toronto would be $190 million over five years. With another employer, it would be $140 million over four years. Of course, Leonard could sign for a shorter term – say for two years when he would again be eligible for free agency in the summer of 2021 and secure a larger contract as a 10-year free agent.
Another player who must determine his decision to opt in or out is Durant. He owns a player option in his two-year deal with the Warriors worth $31.5 million next season. With his major injury that could sideline him for the entire 2019-20 wars, many observers believe he will opt in but there also were reports that he would still opt out and check his market value in the free-agent race.
Even Thompson, another impending free agent, will re-up with the Warriors notwithstanding his torn ACL injury and ink a maximum contract with the only franchise the LA native has played for since 2011-12. That’s according to his father Mychal Thompson, a two-time LA Lakers championship veteran (1987 and 1988) who is currently a radio color commentator for the same team.
Thompson could have been eligible for a larger maximum contract this summer but he lost around $30 million when he was shut out from any of the three All-NBA teams. Instead of a five-year supermax contract worth $221 million, Thompson will instead be eligible for a five-year max deal worth $191 million.
Strange coincidence that on the two occasions that Golden State surrendered its NBA crown, it was against teams that were seeking their first NBA championship – Cleveland in 2016 and Toronto this year.
For good measure, Asian-American Jeremy Lin, he with Taiwanese roots, is now an NBA champion despite limited minutes. His co-Raptors substitute Patrick McCaw, who played on Golden State’s NBA title teams in 2017 and 2018, has won a ring in each of his first three seasons in the league (he signed with Toronto on January 10, 2019 as a free agent) and is one of only around 40 players in NBA history to win championships with different franchises. He joins Frank (Pep) Saul (consecutive titles with the 1951 Rochester Royals and 1952-53-54 Minneapolis Lakers) and Steve Kerr (1996-97-1998 with Chicago and 1999 with San Antonio) as the only players to capture two championships with two teams in consecutive seasons.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, the team’s erstwhile assistant for five years (2013-18) under Dwane Casey (who’s now with the Detroit Pistons), has joined Paul Westhead (1980 LA Lakers), Pat Riley (1982 Lakers), Steve Kerr (2015 Golden State) and Tyronn Lue (2016 Cleveland) and others on the nine-member list of head coaches who won the title in their first year of NBA X-ing and 0-ing.
Four players on the Toronto Raptors’ 15-man playoff roster were born outside the United States. They are Ogugua Anunoby (England), Marc Gasol (Spain), Serge Ibaka (Republic of Congo original who plays on the Spanish national team) and Pascal Siakam (Cameroon).
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