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FPC NBA Roundtable: Midseason Edition

Feb 7, 2018; Miami, FL, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket past Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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With the polarizing trade deadline passed and the All-Star Break looming, the FPC NBA staff sits down for this roundtable discussion. Today, the staff discuss the trade deadline, the MVP, and more.

Let’s Meet the Participants:

Ben Pfeifer: Head NBA Editor, Colts’ Managing Editor, AFC South Managing Editor

Brandon Ray: NBA Writer, Bills’ Managing Editor

Eduardo Monk Jr.: NBA Writer, Bears’ Writer

Michael Wesner: NBA Writer

Chris Simmons: NBA Writer, Raiders’ Writer

Jared Talbot: NBA Writer, Patriots’ Writer

Question One: FPC NBA has a lot of new viewers. Tell us a bit about yourselves, and how to contact you.

Ben Pfeifer:

I’m a die-hard NBA fan. I live in the Los Angeles area, but my allegiance lies with the Indiana Pacers. I’ve been following the NBA for as long as I can remember, and can’t wait to see who finally dethrones the Warriors.

Brandon Ray:

A little bit about myself: An avid Celtics fan, who ironically my only favorite Boston team. Ray Allen is the player who attracted me to the Celtics during his run with the Big three of The Truth, KG, and Allen.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

Well, my name’s Eduardo Monk Jr, currently a sophomore at Highland Park High School. I play football, I wrestle, and I run track outside of school and Full Press. I am an avid ginger ale fan and you can contact me through my Twitter (@monnke30) and email (eduardo.r.monk@gmail.com)

Michael Wesner:

I’m a writing and communication junior at Eckerd College. I’m originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia (or what’s left of it, after last Sunday). I’ve been interested in the NBA since going to my first game in 2012, a 76ers playoff game against the Celtics. The best way to contact me is at mhwesner@gmail.com or on Twitter at @mhwesner. For more immediate things, you can text me at 267-229-5293.

Chris Simmons:

I was born in Brooklyn, NY by grew up in California between the Bay Area and LA. I am a Raider fan, HEAT fan, A’s Fan, and Cardinals Fan in that order. Best way to get me is through my cell: 323-251-4949, email: Chrissim@sbcglobal.net, or twitter: @sik0simmons

Jared Talbot:

So I’m Jared. I was a writer with Cover32 for several years and now I’m apart of the FPC team. I’m about to graduate from Flagler College with a major in journalism and a minor in Theater Arts. I have an eventual goal to one day return home and call Boston sports on the radio or television. It’s my lifelong passion to cover sports and it’s an honor to begin to do it young.

Question Two: With the eventful trade deadline passed, who do you think was the biggest winner and the biggest loser of the day?

Ben Pfeifer:

My biggest winner is Cleveland. The Cavs desperately needed an influx of new talent, and more importantly a revitalization of their chemistry. After the beating that they gave to the Celtics, it is fair to believe that the Cavs are in a far better place than they were a week ago. Getting younger, better at shooting, and better at defense is exactly what Cleveland needs around LeBron James heading into the postseason.

My biggest loser is the Utah Jazz. Rodney Hood was likely going to be traded, but the return they got for him is laughable, to say the least. I’d like to think Utah could get more for a young shooting guard who could turn into a star one day. They did get Jae Crowder, who could be a solid role player, but he hasn’t been the same since last season. With Hood, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio and more, the Jazz look to make the playoffs. When the postseason comes. Hood would have been a huge help for them.

Brandon Ray:

The biggest winner for trade deadline: Boston Celtics. Going back to the Kyrie trade, the Celtics are clearly winning it. They have the chemistry that most didn’t think they would have and he has fit very well in Brad Stevens’ system. Also having young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum has taken pressure off of Kyrie. With the Cavs trading IT and Jae Crowder before the deadline gives the Celtics an automatic win and forced the Cavs to clean house and bring in a new team.

Biggest loser for trade deadline: Los Angeles Clippers. Instead of getting something for DeAndre Jordan, they kept him but the tension is still going to be there. They had the opportunity to potentially bring in more talent but failed.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

WINNERS: The Cavaliers, after a whirlwind of trades and gutting half their roster, have set themselves in a much better spot than before ad win the glorious Trade Deadline Champions award. The oldest team in the league looked like they are the oldest team in the league with sloppy defensive rotations and overall laziness on both sides of the court. Now with much younger legs who actually put in effort in Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, not to mention moving on from the drama queens of the team (cough Isaiah Thomas cough) should hopefully let the Cavs focus more on basketball than holding player meetings ripping into each other.

Also shoutout to the Miami Heat for graciously bringing Dwyane Wade home and letting him retire with them. And the Suns made a nice low risk, high reward move with the Elfrid Payton experiment.

LOSERS: DeAndre Jordan being forced to go down with the ship known as the Clippers gets the prestigious L Award this season. Months of being a hot name on the trade market with connections to much better teams like the Cavaliers and Raptors, the Clippers chose to not mercy trade him and now he’s trapped on a team trying to claw for a playoff spot after moving on from Blake Griffin. May he find a better home in 2020.

And hearts out to Derrick Rose, a man desperately trying to hold onto his waning NBA career. You’re still Chicago’s favorite player, DRose, stay strong.

Michael Wesner:

I think one of the more subtle winners of the trade deadline was New Orleans. For years, they’d been hauled down by Omer Asik’s terrible contract. After Boogie went down they needed a reliable big to pair next to Anthony Davis and they took a chance to see if they could capitalize on Mirotic’s recent success in Chicago. For losers, I think Utah definitely lost. They basically gave up two contributors in Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder (in his worst career season) and the ghost of Derrick Rose.

Chris Simmons:

The biggest winner has to be CLE for the simple fact that they increased their chances of keeping Lebron, kept that BK pick, and shed some unhappy campers along the way. For a team that had no real roadmap for improvement coming into the deadline, they got, by far, the most bang for their buck. The biggest loser has to be Memphis. How do you have Tyreke Evans and don’t trade him for literally anything is beyond me. Even if he went for a lottery protected first or a salary dump, that would be a better situation then what the Grizzlies have made for themselves here.

Jared Talbot:

I know most people are going to say the Cavs but I actually believe the Lakers were big winners. To clear up cap space by getting rid of Clarkson and Nance while also bringing in Thomas as a very low-risk option was fantastic. This gives them the flexibility to go after two MAX stars while also getting a draft pick as well.

Question Three: Are the Lakers better off or worse off with Isaiah Thomas?

Ben Pfeifer:

I don’t believe that the Lakers are better off with Thomas because he helps them as a player (even if he does), it is because of the cap space that they freed. The Lakers will likely not resign Thomas, making way for two superstars to come to the Lakers. Magic Johnson has run one of the best front offices in the NBA, and his deadline deal is another on the long list of excellent decisions made by the Lakers’ management.

Brandon Ray:

The Lakers are better off with Isaiah Thomas because he’s in a system that can make him the main focus. Much like his time in Boston, he needs to be the main focus of an offense and he wasn’t in Cleveland which is why he was destined to move on from the Cavs sooner or later.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

The Lakers aren’t a better team with Thomas (although his debut proves otherwise), but the trade itself just put them in a much better situation as a franchise. After cutting ties with the ball-and-chain Jordan Clarkson and his 50 million dollar contract, they have set themselves up to be far more aggressive in free agency this offseason or the next. Names like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James are all going to be on the open market in the coming offseasons and now they have the cap to be as aggressive as they want.

Michael Wesner:

The Lakers are better off with Isaiah Thomas. Thomas hasn’t been himself this season, but that can almost certainly be pinned to him rushing himself back from his injury. In Los Angeles, Thomas will be able to come off the bench and slowly reintegrate himself into winning basketball, rather than rush himself into Kyrie’s shoes like he did in Cleveland.

Chris Simmons:

It all depends on both what the Lakers think they have in IT and which IT shows up in Los Angeles. If the pre-injury IT shows up in spurts and flashes but not a sustained torrent, that would probably be the best case scenario. If events unfold as such then the Lakers could likely talk themselves into giving IT a prove-it deal similar to KCP’s. However, if IT ends up on either end of the extreme things could get ugly. The Lakers cannot afford to give the long-term high percentage contract IT is looking for, and if IT doesn’t think he can get that then he may revert to his Cleveland form.

Jared Talbot:

The Lakers are better off. Isaiah is a phenomenal player who was in a bad situation. It was time to get him out of there and to give him his own team where he can thrive will be the best thing for him. They will be able to maximize his talent more then the Cavs were able to.

Question Four: Did The Cavaliers do enough to reach the Finals?

Ben Pfeifer:

To be perfectly honest, I think that the Cavaliers would have made the finals, even if they made no moves this deadline. Until LeBron gives me a reason to doubt him, I shall not doubt him. But, these moves definitely did improve the Cavaliers’ roster. The Cavaliers will blow through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and defeat either the Raptors or Celtics in the eastern conference finals. This question really doesn’t matter, because whoever makes it is likely getting swept by the Warriors.

Brandon Ray:

The Cavs did not do enough to make it back to the Finals. This year could be the first season the NBA does not feature LeBron in the finals since 2010. They brought in young talent, but not enough to beat teams like the Celtics and the Raptors.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

Unless they nabbed DeAndre Jordan, moving on from drama and old legs isn’t going to be enough to keep up with the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas was meant to be Kyrie’s replacement, the heir to LeBron’s sidekick throne but that blew up in their faces, leaving them with a team of LeBron and some nice role players. Boston, on the other hand, is soaring with a core of some of the brightest young players in the game (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier) and proven stars in this league (Kyrie and Al Horford). The trade deadline was a wonderful detox period for the Cavs but not a single move put them over the edge to keep up with Boston.

Michael Wesner:

Until LeBron James fails to make it to the Finals, I refuse to believe he won’t. It’s that simple. The Cavaliers always get into some midseason drama and the same question is asked: Will they make it to the Finals, or will this be the King’s final year? And as always, they blow through the competition in the East. I think replacing an injured Thomas for some youth was the right decision to either convince LeBron to stay after this summer or prepare for his departure. A backcourt of Hood and Hill will do them some good in the playoffs, as they beefed up their bench depth with Nance Jr. and Clarkson.

Chris Simmons:

Their chances got better but we can’t really know until later in the season. One game against a Boston Celtics team that has come back to earth does not make the Cavs world beaters. However, it is now more clear than ever that the Cavs locker room was a mess and this will go a long way to bring it back to good health.

Jared Talbot:

Yes. However, they need to prove that they can truly pull this off. It’s hard to ever doubt Lebron but this team is now practically brand new. They will need to be fast, better defensively and crisp on offense to beat the Raptors or the Celtics in a full series. It will be a tough feat.

Question Five: Which team missed the biggest opportunity to

improve at the trade deadline?

Ben Pfeifer:

The Washington Wizards, a perennial second-round exit team, have a chance to make some noise this postseason. A healthy John Wall, Bradley Beal, and DeAndre Jordan have a serious chance to make the finals… oh wait, the Wizards didn’t trade for DeAndre, did they? Trading for Jordan puts the Wizards over the hump in the eastern conference and gives them a legitimate shot at the NBA finals. I don’t understand why they didn’t try harder to acquire him.

Brandon Ray:

Both the Celtics and the Clippers could have done something big. With Boston, they needed that extra scorer coming off the bench to help them on offense. With the Clippers, they could have received a big incentive for DeAndre Jordan but came up short.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

The Clippers probably blew a lot more here but the Cavs and Raptors blew-by-association just as much by not making a move for DeAndre Jordan. That man deserves better than a team coached by Doc Rivers and he easily could have been the final cog in a Finals bid for either team. Neither team is catching the Celtics as of right now but Jordan in place of Tristan Thompson or Jonas Valanciunas just might have been enough.

Also, I don’t even know what the Clippers are attempting to do anymore. They showed rebuild by moving Griffin but they held onto Jordan and resigned Lou Williams like they still think they’re playoff contenders instead of being smart and moving them for picks and prospects. Jordan for the Nets pick from Cleveland would have been a good idea here but nope, Clippers still are trying to grab that 8th seed and a cold sweep from the Warriors.

Michael Wesner:

The Hornets are going nowhere fast. It’s in their best interest to trade Kemba and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for picks and look to the lottery to save them. Kemba Walker may be a fringe All-Star, but his career is being squandered in Charlotte. I was disappointed to see them stagnate during the deadline, rather than making moves for the long run.

Chris Simmons:

If I had to pick a team it would probably by the Oklahoma City Thunder who probably could have used a replacement for Andre Roberson or a salary swap partner for Carmelo Anthony. In truth, there were few trades and trade partners that would have really moved the needle throughout the league once the Blake Griffin domino dropped. The Thunder though must feel that pressure but also like their chances of re-signing Paul George for them to let the deadline come and go.

Jared Talbot:

The Wizards. Washington has been a 2nd round ceiling team for quite a while now and this is going to be tough for them. Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston are all practically locks for the top 3 seeds which will make them a guarantee to play one of them in the second round if not the first. This all combined with the fact that they are acting disgruntled with John Wall our with an injury is not good news going forward.

Question Six: As of right now, who is your NBA MVP?

Ben Pfeifer:

As much as my sadistic side wants to see James Harden get snubbed for the third year in a row, I can’t see it happening this year. Harden may be having the best season of his career, on a team that has a legitimate chance to beat the Warriors in the playoffs. If 31.3 points, 8.9 assists, five boards, and a 62.1% true shooting on a team that is 42-13 won’t win you the MVP, I have no idea what will.

Brandon Ray:

My NBA MVP right now is Russell Westbrook. Just one rebound away from averaging a triple-double once again, he continues to dominate for the Thunder. Even with having Paul George and Carmelo Anthony with him, this almost the same Westbrook that we saw last season.

Eduardo Monk Jr.:

As much as James Harden may or may not deserve this after getting snubbed three years in a row, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the player that should win MVP. The award doesn’t necessarily mean the best player in the league or the most valuable to a team, more often than not it’s the best story that wins. And it doesn’t come more storybook than the season Giannis is having.

As LeBron and the Cavaliers slowly melt into a cesspool of drama crawling towards an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Celtics or heck, the Raptors for that matter, Giannis is beginning to grow into the player we all kinda sorta maybe believed he could be. We knew not what to think of the lanky Grecian but we just all accepted he could super good one day. And lo and behold, that day has arrived just in time as the fall of LeBron begins to commence. In a superstar-driven league, there’s always one or two that sits above the rest. In the 1980s, it was Bird and Magic, then came Jordan, then Kobe and that throne has been owned by LeBron since his late Cleveland days.

And as he drifts towards irrelevance as the weeks go by and the drama multiplies, it’s only a matter of time until he can no longer be as respected as before and a lot will rest on his free agent decision. The man is already 33 and with 13 years of mileage under him, it won’t be long until he passes the torch to the new face of the league. And as perfectly timed as it is, Giannis is putting an MVP level season right when LeBron becomes his decline. Consider this award symbolic for the new king of the league.

Michael Wesner: James Harden. There’s no clear winner yet, but Harden’s 60 point triple-double performance has been this season’s highlight for me. A lot of people expected his scoring and assisting to go down with Chris Paul on the team, but instead, he’s leading in points per game and third in assists. If you’d have asked me months ago, I’d have said he was tied with LeBron James. But with the Cavaliers’ midseason troubles, Harden has come out the clear front-runner for me.

Chris Simmons:

James Harden is probably my least favorite player to watch play but most deserving of that title at the moment. While I do believe that players like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and even Lebron can catch him, the rate at which he has been producing (and winning) is what separates him. He still takes breaks on defense and can be guilty of stat-chasing, but he also has been elevating the play of everyone on his team. To me, that matters more than anything else in these kinds of conversations.

Jared Talbot:

James Harden. To be honest it has to go to him. The man has played out of his mind for several years now and has finished second several times in the MVP voting. He has finished second too many times though and is too impressive on a team that has been spectacular for him not to get the award. This is finally his year.

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