The Raptors canvassed damn near the entire league in their quest to become the second team in two seasons to dump Rudy Gay well in advance of the trade deadline, according to sources across the NBA. They went to every team that made at least some theoretical sense: Detroit, with expiring contracts and at least some need on the wing; Milwaukee, with fading postseason ambitions and a massive hole at small forward the Greek Freak isn’t quite ready to fill; Cleveland, with a playoff mandate, a GM on shaky ground, and perhaps the worst group of starting wing players in the league; and many others.
Everyone said no, and they did so abruptly. This is how far Gay’s value has declined league-wide over the last 18 months. I know GMs who say they wouldn’t touch him now in free agency for the midlevel exception. Only one team was left: the Kings, with a new ownership group determined to make a splash and a new GM, Pete D’Alessandro, who worked with Toronto GM Masai Ujiri in Denver. The Kings’ wing rotation is a disaster, even after the recent acquisition of Derrick Williams, who has never resembled an NBA-caliber small forward. The Williams swap and DeMarcus Cousins max-level extension left Sacramento without meaningful projected cap room this summer, putting the Kings in a position where they could plausibly look at Gay’s $19 million player option for 2014-15 and say, “No harm, no foul.” The Raptors were betting Gay would pick up that option given his poor play this season, and dealing Gay allows them to plan with more certainty.
In case you were busy finding a new locker room from which to ban stat sheets, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Kobe Bryant returned to action after rehabbing from last year's Achilles tear, but his Lakers suffered a rare home defeat to the Toronto Raptors 106-94. "It's OK that we lost," Bryant said after the game while sitting in the locker room. "Fear can be a very powerful motivator." Suddenly the lights in the locker room went out, and horrifying screams echoed through the facility. The lights flickered on briefly, and a young girl was standing with her back to Lakers guard Nick Young, singing, "Do you want to play with me?" in a sweet tone. Then the lights cut out again before quickly coming back on. The girl had turned around, and instead of a child's face, she had the face of Popeye Jones. "Do you want to play with me?" the little girl with Popeye Jones's face sang in a scratch baritone to a terrified Nick Young. The lights cut out again, before coming back on to reveal everything back to normal. As Nick Young curled into a ball on the locker-room floor, Bryant chuckled to himself by his locker, and said, "Yes, things will be all right. Fear is a very powerful motivator."
In case you were busy calling out traders on Twitter, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors exploded for 42 points in the fourth quarter as they overturned a 27-point deficit to beat the Toronto Raptors 112-103. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was incensed after the game, saying, "The Warriors, they're who we thought they were. That's why we took the damn court." Casey then pounded the podium and yelled, "Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook." When told of Casey's comments, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry frowned and asked, "This doesn't mean I'm Rex Grossman, does it? Because I really don't want to be Rex Grossman."
In the marquee move of a busy day of major league hot stove action, sources are reporting that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will leave the world champion Boston Red Sox, having agreed to terms on a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees. When asked if he saw himself as following in the footsteps of former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, who also moved to the Yankees after winning a World Series title, Ellsbury's eyes darted as he said, "What? No. Who? Who's Johnny Damon? You're crazy." When asked if he was Johnny Damon posing as Jacoby Ellsbury, Ellsbury glared and said, "Why can't you just be cool? If you were cool you wouldn't ask these questions." Ellsbury was then asked if he had ever existed, or if he had always been a clever ruse designed to extend Johnny Damon's career, to which Ellsbury replied, "Seriously, why won't you just let me have this? Please just let me have this."
This dude looks like he's a talking head in Ken Burns's The Civil War documentary. Bonus points for the shots of Masai Ujiri explaining why "Glass Table Girls" is still his favorite Weeknd song. Seriously though, this is so Drake.
When he commits to something, he really commits. No one has ever taken the totally made up title of global ambassador more seriously than Drizzy.
Compiling the Triangle NBA All-Stars offers a way for us to celebrate the players we love way too much. You can see the other entries in the series here. Check out the latest additions, Andrea Bargnani and Kenneth Faried, below.
Why We Love Him: Kenneth Faried only has one gear. Some people have a first gear, some have a second or a third. Faried's gear is called "I AM A CONDOR." He knows only how to soar.
It doesn't matter if it's the playoffs and he's playing on one leg or if he's playing in the glorified exhibition game that is the Rising Stars clash during All-Star weekend. Kenneth Faried flies high. Everybody else came to chillax? Kenneth Faried came to score 40 points.
True story: There is an NBA mascot convention every summer, where about two dozen mascot performers get together, exchange best practices, show off their best highlights from the prior season, and even meet with various consultants from the league and mascot-related industries.
They also give out various awards, sort of a mascot Oscars — best video skit, best overall mascot for the year, that kind of thing. For several years, the mascots also created a joke award: the Craptor. It was a plunger, painted gold, that they awarded to whomever experienced the worst blooper of the season — the worst accidental pratfall, the video skit that flopped, or some other lowlight that television cameras had caught.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose speculate where new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri will send Rudy Gay, marvel at the NBA Summer League work of Jonas Valanciunas, and celebrate Toronto's "champagne and campaign"–ability.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NBA season? Well, you're in luck! The Triangle is counting down the days for all of us.
Under 30 days till the NBA! We're so close!
But before we get there, let's talk about the Raptors. I have big dreams for the Raptors. Dreams that start with Masai Ujiri sabotaging this year's team, continue with Adam Silver rigging his first NBA lottery to give the Raptors Andrew Wiggins, and end with the Raptors bringing back their 1998 jerseys while Wiggins and Jonas Christ Superstar take over the world in, like, 2017. We can do this.
As news trickled out last night about the Knicks' pending acquisition of Andrea Bargnani, I found myself wondering what they know about Bargnani that the rest of the league does not. He was rumored to be an amnesty candidate, so why would you trade any assets, especially draft picks, for his swollen contract?
There was a time when Bargnani appeared to be the next legitimate European “stretch 4.” He was so enticing as an athletic 7-foot prospect that the Raptors selected him first overall in the 2006 NBA draft. However, time has been cruel to him, his body has proven to be fragile, and his development on the court has been modest at best. In a nutshell, Bargnani has not panned out.
About the only thing that has improved is his defense, which has risen from atrocious to acceptable. Over the past few years, the other key aspects of his game have either regressed or remained stagnant. As a scoring 7-footer, you would expect Bargnani to rack up tons of double-doubles. In 2009-10 he had 10, but in the three seasons since then he’s only had four combined. The problem is simple: He can’t rebound.
In case you were busy jet-setting, globe-trotting, or napping, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates became the first team to win 50 games this season with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. "Yes, yes, excellent," said master of the underworld Satan Jones upon hearing the news, "it is as prophesied: When the Pirates from where the three rivers merge ascend, so, too, shall I, Satan Jones!"
Free agent Chris Paul's representatives have informed potential suitors to end their pursuit of the point guard because he plans to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. "Good, good, everything is falling into place," said master of the underworld Satan Jones upon hearing the news, "yes, re-sign with the Clippers. Strengthen the Clippers franchise. The reckoning is hastened thusly. The reckoning is hastened thusly! Satan Jones shall return!"
The long game in the NBA is fickle. Luck intertwines with talent to determine long-term success in a 30-team league in which having at least one of the top 20 players (and preferably one of the top 10) is required for championship contention. The luck + talent + decision-making equation tilted against two local lightning rods on Tuesday, one coach and one GM. Some words on each:
The Clippers Decline to Offer Vinny Del Negro, and Del Negro’s Hair, a New Contract
Del Negro is by some measures the most successful coach in the sad history of the Clippers, but 56 wins and back-to-back playoff appearances were not enough to earn a new contract — not after the Clips dropped four straight games, each more dispiriting than the last, to a very good Memphis team in the first round. It’s hard to evaluate this decision without first acknowledging four realities so basic they are almost boring:
• Del Negro would still have this job if Chris Paul wanted him to have it.
• Del Negro may well still have this job had Blake Griffin not suffered a serious ankle injury between Games 4 and 5 of the Clippers’ first-round series against the Grizzlies.
• With Del Negro out, and probably unlikely to get one of the head-coaching jobs currently open (or soon to come open), there is a vacancy atop the “Best Coach at Screaming at Opposing Shooters and Stamping His Feet” rankings. Del Negro really redefined this skill. He was like a sixth defender on some possessions, and if you edited out the basketball game happening around him, he’d have looked at times like an adult going through a child’s tantrum. Lawrence Frank was a solid no. 2, but he’s also out of a job for now. The door is wide-open, Erik Spoelstra.
• Del Negro might still have this job if the Clippers played defense in the second half of the season, and in the playoffs, as they did over the first 30 games. The Clippers finished ninth in points allowed per possession, but they ranked just 21st from February 1 through the end of the season, and the slowpoke Grizzlies absolutely sliced them up in the playoffs. The Clippers were bad defensively almost the whole season when the Blake Griffin–DeAndre Jordan duo shared the back line, and they just never showed enough growth or systemic coherence on that end. The Clippers’ bench was mostly very good defensively, and both Griffin and Jordan showed fits of progress — Jordan protecting the rim and defending the post, Griffin using his speed to disrupt pick-and-rolls far from the hoop.
You know how at the beginning of every NFL season, everyone is 0-0 and has a chance at the Super Bowl? That is not true in the NBA. For fans of five to 10 teams every year, the NBA draft lottery is the Super Bowl.
No other sport decides its future like this — with an uncomfortable, surreal 30-minute raffle, basically — and that's what makes it so great. In the span of 30 minutes, jammed in before some conference final game every year, the directions of entire franchises can change one way or the other. For instance, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the most insane lottery night of all time ...
... when Memphis nearly landed LeBron James, only to end up with nothing (its pick was protected as no. 1 overall but otherwise the Grizzlies had to send it to Detroit). Instead, we walked away thinking Cleveland had just fallen into a dynasty, Detroit was about to extend its dynasty another decade with Darko's frosted tips coming to the Midwest, and the Nuggets were getting Bernard King 2.0 for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were destined to remain in NBA no-man's-land, wondering what might have been.
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have George Karl understandably scrambling for healthy rotation parts, but I’m not sure the world is ready to watch the Wild Child front line play heavy minutes. On their very first possession as a duo against Houston on April 6, Jeremy Lin blew by McGee’s overly aggressive and off-balance help defense on a pick-and-roll and launched a layup that Anthony Randolph, helping from the weak side, blatantly goaltended.
Randolph and McGee have combined for at least a dozen moments of sublime chaos since, including a half-dozen alone in Denver’s wild and very necessary win Monday night in Milwaukee — more silly goaltending infractions, two completely out-of-control offensive fouls by a stumbling Randolph, and at least one McGee into-the-stands rejection so dumb McGee expressed immediate regret that he didn’t just catch the ball.