• The relationship between impending free agency and the trade market can be complex, particularly for a team like the Raptors that hasn't yet decided its organizational direction. Toronto could follow through on the dissolution of its current roster (by trading Kyle Lowry in particular), banking on a strategy that would land as high a draft pick and as many future assets as possible. Alternatively, the Raptors could look to take advantage of their recent sprint and the sad state of the Eastern Conference, both of which have aligned rather nicely to give Toronto a chance to secure a high playoff seed.
That uncertainty makes it difficult to know quite what to do with Lowry, a quality player in the final year of his contract. Grantland's Zach Lowe addressed that specific quandary in the context of Toronto's greater bind:
Acquiring below-cost talent is a huge challenge in the NBA. Lowry is a difficult character, but he's a 27-year-old legit starting point guard on a $6 million expiring deal. Johnson is a solid two-way big man on an affordable contract only partially guaranteed in the final season. Those are real, valuable assets. Lowry will be a free agent after the season, which could scare off trade suitors now, but the "attitude" issues that have dogged him at every stop will deflate the value of his next contract. Flipping an asset like that for nothing — for an outside chance at a franchise player — carries an opportunity cost that is hard to swallow. Several teams, including the Rockets most recently, have shown that careful asset accumulation can serve as an alternate road map to a franchise-level star. Tossing aside assets in exchange for a low-odds lottery play is reckless in comparison — the tanking inverse of what the Knicks have done for years, mortgaging the future for low-odds plays in the present day. The Raps might lose Lowry for nothing in free agency, but they could also re-sign him on the cheap or use him as part of a sign-and-trade.
• Once individuals reach a certain level of renown, Twitter becomes their own personal concierge service.
• James Harden is a wonderful basketball player, but he also plays a style that inherently challenges the attention span of the viewing audience. Andrew Lynch of Hardwood Paroxysm explains:
On a larger scale, “Harden-ball” is “Morey-ball,” predicated on taking open 3s and getting to the stripe. But it’s also incredibly snooze-worthy, especially on nights where Harden and the Rockets are fully dedicated to drawing as many fouls as possible; the endless parade of clock-stopping, flow-killing free throws makes for some of the most disjointed basketball this side of an under-8 Boys & Girls Club game. Again, it’s completely understood that this is a right-minded approach toward winning games, the analytically correct way of going about things. But sometimes, the proper means toward an end result in the most mind-numbing journeys, Aesop’s fables delivered in the dry, dense rhetoric of Immanuel Kant which puts the children to sleep long before the lesson can be learned.
• When Blazers head coach Terry Stotts met with TrueHoop's Danny Nowell to talk about his playing and coaching background, he brought a full, typed chronology of all his professional stops.
• An at-a-glance look at Dwight Howard's game-by-game performance confirms what we already knew: Howard's play is on the up-and-up relative to last season, but still well below his pre-surgery prime with Orlando.
• I touched on Detroit's tragic fourth-quarter performance in prescribing the Pistons a New Year's resolution, but the struggles are broken down a bit further and explained rather simply in this post from Detroit Bad Boys:
The sad part is, all things being equal, the Pistons are a decent team (maybe even good) for three quarters. Then in comes the fourth quarter and out goes any sense of offensive flow, sanity or logic. The latest evidence of fourth-quarter futility came Monday night against the Wizards when a 10-point lead suddenly became a five point deficit and the Pistons eventually fell 106-99.
But why do they become such a horror show? The answers are numerous but what it boils down to is this -- when your offensive game plan is based on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings (oh, so much Brandon Jennings), you will lose.