Yes, Desmond Bane is well aware of his infamous standing in Boston.
The second-year Memphis guard has emerged as one most surprising and productive players of the 2020 draft, and for a few hot seconds, he was a Celtic.
Boston drafted Bane with the 30th overall pick and quickly moved him to the Grizzlies for second-round picks and to get under the luxury tax.
It may be considered one of Danny Ainge’s biggest draft mistakes, as Bane has turned into a 17.6-points-per-game scorer and one of the league’s top 3-point shooters (42.2 percent going into the weekend).
The Celtics had drafted Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard with their first two first-round picks and decided they did not want to pay the tax or another rookie contract.
“I hear that all the time,” Bane said. “I see it on Twitter, people tagging me. Me slipping away [in the first round] and they took Nesmith, who had a shooting profile going into it. They were obviously looking for shooting in the draft and valued him over me.
“I never knew it was Boston’s pick. Everything was going on so fast, I had seen [the report] that the Grizzlies draft Desmond Bane at No. 30, so most guys put on the Celtics hat, I had a Grizzlies hat before they even put me on the TV screen. I was Grizzlies all the way.”
The Grizzlies are one of the rising teams in the Western Conference, having won 11 consecutive games (before Friday’s loss in Dallas) and are a threat to make a deep playoff run. Third-year guard Ja Morant is an MVP candidate and Bane has slid in nicely as a backcourt mate. Bane has scored in double figures in all but six games this season and tallied 32 points in a last-second win at Phoenix last month.
Memphis’s decision to use that 30th pick on Bane has turned into a franchise-changing call.
“I’m always trying to keep the chip on my shoulder throughout all of it, regardless what I’ve done to this point in my career,” he said. “There’s still a lot room to grow and improve.”
This past week against the Lakers, Bane got into a spirited exchange with all-time great LeBron James, who did not appreciate Bane’s banter or antics during the Grizzlies’ blowout win. Bane responded to James’s chastising with a couple of 3-pointers and screamed back to, “Play basketball.”
Despite his age (23), Bane said he is not intimidated by any NBA competitor.
“There’s going to be all types of trash talk, and obviously LeBron has done what he’s done, but I’m an NBA player, too,” said Bane. “There’s no need to fear anybody in this league. If you want to talk, we can talk. I ain’t worried about none of that.
“I’ve put in that time. I’ve put in the hours. I believe in myself. I believe in my game, so at this point there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Bane said he’s more concerned about the Grizzlies’ rise in the West. For years the Grizzlies have been considered a sleeping giant because of their youth. But the prospects are growing up together.
“I was happy, honestly. I was excited to be a Memphis Grizzly,” he said. “I wanted to go to a small market, a team that was young and up and coming and we all had an opportunity to grow together. I thought that it was a perfect fit for me.”
Bane played four years at Texas Christian and came to the NBA ready to play, as his shooting prowess has translated.
“I really just think it was my skill set, being able to guard, make shots,” he said. “Those are the two things that really get guys on the floor in the NBA, especially young guys. I’ve always been able to shoot the ball, but once I got to college I realized I wasn’t necessarily the most athletic guy on the court anymore. So I had to work on it and develop more than anything a shooter’s mind-set, being able to miss and not have any conscience.”
Bane also arrived in the NBA with a chiseled frame, able to withstand the physical play and offer some of his own.
“I came to TCU a little bit overweight, so a lot of trimming down,” he said. “I was already a strong kid coming in, but I got stronger my four years there. Sweets were my weakness. But I had to cut all of that out.”
The reward for his hard work was playing on a team filled with emerging stars, including Morant, Jaren Jackson, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke.
“I think it was our summer open gym when I thought we had a chance to be special,” said Bane, “seeing how much Ja improved, I improved. Steven Adams has been a great addition for us. Jaren back healthy. I knew we had the makings of a good or great team.”
Behind Embiid, 76ers starting to hit stride
The 76ers have won eight of nine games and are beginning to resemble an Eastern Conference power, even without the exiled Ben Simmons. Halfway through the season, coach Doc Rivers said his team is making progress, but outside factors, such as injuries and protocols, have derailed their ascension.
“I know when we’re at full strength we’re a pretty good basketball team,” he said. “There’s no perfect team that I’ve ever come across, every team has a weakness. I look at us and defensively, I think, overall we’ve been pretty good, but we have these stretches where we struggle. Rebounding has been a big problem for us all year. That’s an area we focus on a lot. The size at our guard spots, it’s a problem sometimes. But I love how we’re playing, how [Joel Embiid’s] playing and how we’re using him. I like where we’re at, but there’s a lot room for improvement.”
Embiid has been mostly healthy and Tyrese Maxey has filled in admirably at point guard in place of Simmons. Seth Curry has emerged as one of the best shooters in the league and has a chance for a 50-40-90 season — field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage.
“We had a whole camp together and then about 10 or 12 games where we were together and from that point on things have been in flux,” Rivers said. “Not just us, you could rewind this to every press conference in the league right now. Every time you feel like you’re close to being healthy, COVID [happens] or someone gets injured.”
Rivers said, despite the injuries, he has asked his players to demand more from themselves and set goals.
“It’s hard to have your standards,” he said. “You have to use examples. I use the Four Seasons Hotel; you know what you’re getting when you go there. The other days we asked our guys for a fast food chain and they said, ‘McDonald’s is consistent.’ We talk about standards and consistency and owning up to those.”
Embiid was considered a skilled but inconsistent player at times before Rivers arrived. But with his experience coaching Kevin Garnett, Rivers has pushed Embiid to the next level. He is a dark-horse MVP candidate and has carried the 76ers at times, such as Dec. 20 when he scored 41 points at TD Garden in Philadelphia’s comeback win over the Celtics.
“He’s really good,” Rivers said. “He’s talented in every area. He can shoot the three like a guard; handles the ball like a guard; he has a size like a big. Great post game, great feel. And he’s worked on the things he has struggled with. He’s a willing worker. He cooperates. So, for me, he’s been great.”
Finding a home for Simmons
It’s becoming increasingly evident that the 76ers are going to have to trade Ben Simmons because the parties are not going to reconcile. Simmons maintains he wants to start with a new team. The 76ers have been hoping that Simmons would have a change of heart.
General manager Daryl Morey met with Simmons’s agent, Rich Paul, this past week and the sides maintained their stances. The 76ers are not going to move Simmons, a three-time All-Star, unless they get an All-Star in return; Simmons isn’t going to play until he’s traded.
So, what’s going to happen? Chances are the 76ers will wait until the trade deadline to move him unless Morey is offered a sweetheart deal. What deals are out there? There aren’t many because teams have no idea which Simmons they are going to get.
When he is mentally locked in, Simmons is a game-changer, a 6-foot-11-inch point guard who can run the floor, defend, and score at the rim. Simmons, 25, has never learned how to capably shoot, but he was able to develop a respectable short jumper that made him a weapon.
Then there’s the Simmons that played against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He was afraid to attack the basket because he did not want to shoot free throws because of his low percentage. And he eventually became afraid to shoot at all in the fourth quarter. A key moment of Game 7 was when he passed up a sure dunk to pass to teammate Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled at the rim and split two free throws.
What makes any Simmons trade more complex is he’s in the second year of a five-year extension that pays him $40 million in 2024-25. Any team that decides to trade for Simmons is making a major financial commitment. The question is whether Simmons will ever return to previous form and how much he wants to play basketball.
There are some trade scenarios that make sense, but it’s going to take Morey dropping his high demands and other teams taking a calculated risk.
Here are some potential Simmons trades:
1. Portland sends Damian Lillard and a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Simmons, Thybulle, and Jaden Springer — In this situation, the Trail Blazers would move on from the increasingly unhappy Lillard, who has had a troubled, injury-plagued season, and send him to a situation where he can win. The Blazers would sweeten the deal with a first-round pick. The Blazers would get a younger player in return in Simmons, along with a solid defender in Thybulle and a prospect in Springer. The Blazers seem like the perfect trade partner, but they are reluctant to include the popular Lillard in any deal. And the club does not have a permanent GM after firing Neil Olshey.
2. Atlanta sends John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, and Jalen Johnson to Philadelphia for Simmons — Collins has been increasingly unhappy with his changing role with the Hawks. He signed a five-year, $125 million extension and was expecting to be a cornerstone, but Collins is more of a pick-and-roll dunker and rebounder. While he is an improving player, he is a complement to All-Star Trae Young. The Hawks also have had a difficult season, prompting the organization to make changes. Hunter is an impactful defender and swingman when healthy. Johnson would be added to give the 76ers another prospect.
3. Minnesota sends D’Angelo Russell, Jaden McDaniels, and Jaylen Nowell to Philadelphia for Simmons — Russell is a solid scorer but will never be a frontline guard. Because of that, the Timberwolves would add two rising players in McDaniels and Nowell. Simmons would take his pass-first mentality to Minnesota, where he’d be the perfect partner for Karl-Anthony Towns. What’s missing in this deal is the All-Star-caliber player, but McDaniels and Nowell are improving and would add depth to the 76ers.
4. Sacramento sends De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell to Philadelphia for Simmons and Springer — The Kings are pretty much the same team they have been for years, talented but grossly underachieving. They have stacked lottery picks over the years, but those picks have done nothing to lift the franchise to the playoffs. So, it may be time for major changes. Fox is playing at an All-Star level, but it isn’t leading to winning, and the Kings also have Tyrese Haliburton, who could slide into some point guard duties while Simmons could play multiple positions. Mitchell would come along to give the 76ers another tough-minded guard who can defend.
5. Cleveland sends Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Lauri Markkanen, and two first-round picks to Philadelphia for Simmons and Springer — The Cavaliers could go all-in for a bona fide point guard and send Sexton, who appears to be a poor fit with the Cavaliers, Okoro, and Markkanen to add depth to the 76ers. Okoro is a strong defender and Markkanen has the potential to be a solid stretch-4. With the Cavaliers rising with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, they can afford to send some of their young talent to Philadelphia for a chance to compete in the East.
The Nuggets were trying to give Bol Bol a fresh start with the Pistons, moving the former second-round pick after a few years of being planted on the bench. Bol was ready for a new team, except he failed his physical and was sent back to the Nuggets. Denver officials claim Bol was healthy, but the trade has been voided by the NBA and the Nuggets will have to find a new suitor. Bol was projected as a first-round pick in 2019 after he entered the draft following his freshman season at Oregon. The 7-2 center never developed into a dependable stretch-4 and was lost in Denver’s depth. Generally, when players are returned after voided trades, the team finds another interested trading partner. Bol is likely to bring a second-round pick in return . . . The Knicks may have boosted their playoff chances with the acquisition of Hawks swingman Cam Reddish, who should immediately help with his scoring and versatility. Reddish is a former lottery pick who experienced injury issues and didn’t play as much with Atlanta because of its depth and inconsistency. Reddish could join former Duke teammate RJ Barrett in the starting frontcourt or come off the bench for scoring. Former lottery pick Kevin Knox needed a new team after Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had banished him to the bench. After a promising 2018-19 season in which he averaged 12.8 points and started 57 of 75 games, Knox saw his playing time decrease dramatically, including this season when he played just 8.5 minutes per game. Knox is only 22, so the potential and upside is there, but do the Hawks have enough minutes to get him untracked? . . . Although the Magic extended the contracts of GMs Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, the team is still years from competing and could be active at the trade deadline. Orlando wants a hefty price for veterans such as Terrence Ross, a player the Celtics should covet. Fellow veterans Gary Harris and Robin Lopez are also on the block. The Magic are going to take years to win, and they are building around Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and Franz Wagner.