I’m a mill man. My father was a mill man. And his father before him. We are mill people, and we truck in gossip, innuendo, anonymous sources, and idle chatter. The Rumor Mill runs on belief as much as, if not more than, truth. Because of that, I feel like I can present this 10-point plan, which lands Chris Paul in Houston this offseason and ties together a bunch of other fun predraft stories floating around the NBA.
The Chris Paul Rockets Conspiracy
Chris Paul to the Rockets. Wilder things have happened.
1. In December the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified. It was very much the handiwork of players union president Paul. They changed the "over-36" rule to the "over-38" rule. All you need to know about that is that it directly benefits veteran superstars like Chris Paul. He is approaching free agency, but could re-sign with the Clippers for five years and up to $210 million. Were he to leave Los Angeles, he could sign for only four years, losing out on upward of $50 million. The new CBA essentially guaranteed Paul reupping with the Clippers.
2. Since then, the Clippers have Clipped. Blake Griffin, also a free-agent-to-be, missed time with another injury, and the Clippers suffered another tough playoff exit (to the Jazz).
3. During the postseason there were multiple reports from reputable people like Marc Stein and Zach Lowe about a mutual appreciation society formed by Paul and the San Antonio Spurs. Take that as seriously as you want, but I took it like this: Los Angeles is going to give Chris Paul everything he wants, so why are these rumors leaking out unless there’s some truth to them? Being Chris Paul is all the leverage Chris Paul needs, right? Maybe a shot at a ring is worth $50 million to him.
4. Steve Ballmer has begun to assert himself more as Clippers owner. First on Wednesday there was the announcement of a possible new arena, in Inglewood (the City Council voted to move forward with negotiations on Thursday). The Clips were no longer going to be the other team at Staples Center. Then came the announcement that Jerry West, one of the great team-builders in NBA history, would join the Clippers as an adviser, the same role he filled with the Warriors. In Oakland, West reported directly to majority owner Joe Lacob.
One would assume the same would be true in L.A., with West reporting directly to Ballmer. All of a sudden, there’s another set of eyes on the Clippers’ roster. This can be read as a weakening of Doc Rivers’s position as the decider of all basketball matters for the team ahead of the most important two free-agency decisions in the history of the franchise. An anonymous executive told the Los Angeles Times, "West is not looking to have ‘more power’ than Rivers, but wants to work beside him." As someone who emotionally rode shotgun through the Hinkie-Colangelo saga in Philly, let me tell you: That always works out great.
5. Doc and Chris are tight. This Kevin Ding piece from Bleacher Report suggests that Paul is closer to Rivers than to his teammates. There was talk earlier in the year of Doc returning to Orlando, but even with his staying put in L.A., he’s not the only voice in the building. Maybe that doesn’t sit well with the franchise point guard. Maybe San Antonio. Maybe elsewhere?
6. On Monday, Lowe published a column on ESPN.com about how the Warriors were built and what other teams are doing to stop them. Daryl Morey popped up in the piece, with this very intriguing quote: "If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve."
7. On Wednesday, in that same Times piece with the anonymous exec quotes about West’s arrival, Broderick Turner dropped this breadcrumb: "Paul also has plans to talk with the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, one executive said."
8. Huh. So Daryl Morey has something up his sleeve, something that would raise the Rockets’ risk profile. CP3-Beard.
9. I like to think of myself as the big-vision guy here, and I leave the Spotrac deep dives to the experts. So I asked Kevin O’Connor how Morey could make this happen. Here’s what he said:
YOU HAD ME AT KYLE WILTJER. Call me "Mr. X" from now on.
10. Would this work? There are lots of reasons why not. There’s only so much ball for two guys as high-usage as Harden and Paul. CP3 plays point guard, while Harden became an MVP candidate after his move to point guard. The entire identity of these Rockets runs through Harden. And that offense was second best in the NBA this past season. Do you really need to tweak that?
My answer: Why not? Morey was essentially telling Lowe: The Warriors demand a gamble. Would CP3’s infamous ball-breaking infringe on the "we’ll do it live" Rockets offensive ethos? Good! Would he bring some accountability and doggedness to a Mike D’Antoni team that is just trying to shoot out the lights every night and hope the opposing team can’t keep up? Yes! Would it be mind-boggling to guard a perimeter of Harden, Gordon, and Paul? HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
San Antonio makes the most sense for Paul. He becomes an immediate and huge upgrade at point guard, plays for a team that takes winning basketball games as seriously as he does, and plays for a coach who knows how to navigate a season in order to peak in the playoffs. CP3 and Kawhi would be awesome. But CP3 and Harden would be so, so interesting. That pairing would keep Ron Adams and Steve Kerr up at night. And in 2017, that’s all you can really hope for.
Paul George to Cleveland
Evan Turner remains undefeated on the internet. The Kid ET was answering some questions yesterday when he dropped some possibly-league-shaking gossip on us all. Either that, or he’s been reading Jonathan Tjarks. At his annual celebrity softball game, George was asked about the rumors that have him leaving Indy:
Paul George–to-Cleveland would single-handedly revive my interest in seeing a fourth Warriors-Cavs Finals. Speaking of revived interest.
LeBron’s Gram w/ Harden, Russ Likes
Read Paolo’s and Ryan’s pieces from yesterday. Short version: LeBron shaved his head, had a leg day, and roasted Draymond (Draymond answered back), and Russell Westbrook and James Harden liked his Instagram. The NBA is incredible.
Here are some draft tidbits …
This draft is so volatile because the abundance of talent in the top 10 means no team is totally comfortable with where it is picking. Not even Boston, apparently. For weeks, Markelle Fultz has been the presumptive no. 1 pick and a sure thing to join the Celtics backcourt. He even posed for a Belle and Sebastian album cover photo shoot in the bowels of the Garden.
All was quiet on the Fenway front — until Thursday, that is, when Danny Ainge and Kansas forward Josh Jackson started passing each other notes in class, via ESPN’s Chad Ford.
This could be classic Celtics bullshit. Or it could be really savvy. Which means it’s both. Maybe the Celtics have tied themselves to the Isaiah Thomas tugboat and decided that Jackson’s electric athleticism and defensive gusto are exactly what they want. But after recording The Ringer NBA Show with Bill on Thursday, I am more of the mind-set that this report feels like bait, there to goad other teams into making the Celtics offers for the no. 1.
Maybe they love Fultz. Maybe they also love Jackson, and would be happy with him at three if it came with Robert Covington and Dario Saric in return. Bill seemed to think the top pick was more in play than we were being led to believe. This is Boston we’re talking about, so expect tons of speculation and rumors ending with them doing the most predictable thing and taking Fultz.
Can the Kings Chill?
Sacramento and De’Aaron Fox make so much sense that only the Kings could screw it up. Can they stay disciplined enough to wait for him at five? Here’s how Thursday night should go: Fultz to Boston, Lonzo to Lakers, and Jackson to Sixers (note: I want Malik Monk, but this how it should go, not how it I want it to go). Phoenix could literally do anything and I wouldn’t be surprised, but if they take Jayson Tatum then Fox is sitting there for Sacramento, and it can keep its 10th pick and have a dope young team of Kentucky roof-raisers (Skal, Willie Cauley-Stein) and Buddy and whoever they get at 10.
This last week of draft rumors seems to be specifically calibrated to make the Kings nervous about getting the player they want at five. Each team picking ahead of them has been linked with Fox. Watch out for Los Angeles and Phoenix to goad Sacramento into moving up.
Speaking of Magic
The Lakers have been especially good at using the "Does Magic know what he’s doing?" thing to keep us guessing. Will they go chalk and pick Ball? Will they take Jackson? Overreach for Fox? Does Magic have Malik Monk’s Carolina tape on a loop in his office? Or are they using that pick at all? Tania Ganguli at the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday that the Lakers pick is in play, if unlikely to move. I am just a guy with a MacBook asking a question, but if you’re new Pacers shot-caller Kevin Pritchard, do you do Paul George for D’Angelo Russell and the second pick? If you know George isn’t coming back (especially after not making All-NBA this season), do you bite the bullet and put together a Russell–Josh Jackson–Myles Turner core? You have to think about it.
The Manhattan Triangle
By far, the best motif of draft news this week has been the parade of prospects going through New York to check out the museums. Not the Met. Not MoMA. Not the Museum of Natural History. They’re seeing a different kind of artifact at their New York Knicks workouts. It’s called the triangle.
That’s all they were doing. Bless you, Phil.