On Locking Up The Defensemann

On Locking Up The Defensemann

Thankfully, I've never been sick enough to warrant a Get Well Soon card. I have, however, gotten the requisite birthday cards, always opened with that "Will some cash or a check fall out?" anticipation. Well, yesterday, Nick Grossmann got a combination of both. Sidelined with a knee injury, The Defensemann received and signed a 4-year contract to stay in Philadelphia, as Nick covered yesterday
The digits appear relatively favorable for the club (4 years, $14 mil; $3.5 mil cap hit), which has seen improved rearguarding since trade deadline deals brought Grossmann and Pavel Kubina to town. The Flyers had steadily been among the league's worst in allowing goals, surviving on their ability to light the lamp at a higher clip than most nights' opponents. But Grossmann and Kubina brought size and experience to the blue line, and along with improved goaltending, the Flyers have become a more balanced team. 
As I imagine was the case for most Flyers fans, Kubina was the more recognizable commodity at the time. We've seen much more of him over the years, and his name is usually thrown around when deadlines approach. However, it's been Grossmann who's had the bigger impact since coming over. 
Without Chris Pronger, the Flyers had only two bigs on the blue line—Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Grossmann's impact was immediate, bringing an ability to clear the porch and reliably manage the attacker under his charge. Puck-moving ability is key for defensemen in the Flyers' system, and it's not a particular strength of Grossmann's. But the team already had vertical mobility, and it's not as though Grossmann is a sieve with the puck on his stick. In fact, he's appeared better than advertised in nearly every way. 
Our intel on Grossmann was decidedly thin when he came over. Due to the NHL's conference-heavy scheduling and his playing in Dallas, we knew little of him before reading the trade-day descriptions that basically all said the same things. Dallas dealt him in part due to a perceived inability to retain him when he became a free agent this coming summer; his star had also fallen in Big D, where he was moved from the top pairing to the second. 
It appeared at the time of the deal that the Flyers would give the 27-year-old, 6'3"/227 Grossmann a solid look, and if he panned out as expected, bolster the defense for the next few seasons by inking him to an extension. 
That's exactly how it has played out, despite the interesting timing of his signing coinciding with a knee injury. Grossmann already wears a brace on one knee, and Joe Vitale's hit injured the other one. There's no definite timetable on his return (or at least, one has not been given aside from "day to day"). The Flyers must be pretty confident that the injury is minor and transient though, or they wouldn't have consummated the deal. 
BLUE LINE LANDSCAPEWhat the Grossmann contract says about the team's overall defense plan is unclear. 
Uncertainty abounds on the blue line's horizon, where Kimmo Timonen has one year left on his contract and quite possibly his NHL career. Chris Pronger's NHL future is uncertain at best, though the book is not yet closed. Matt Carle will be a coveted free agent when the spending season opens this summer, unless the Flyers extend him first, which could be tough with the market often friendly to players who fit his description. Pavel Kubina has said he'd like to be re-signed by Philly, but if that happens, it'd likely have to be at a much lower cap hit than his current $3.8 mil. Andrej Meszaros has two more seasons left on his current deal, both at $4 mil per, though he could always be dealt, and the Flyers made Braydon Coburn their cornerstone this past fall when they extended him through 2015-2016 at $4.5 mil per season. (Figures in this section courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Hamstrung by the uncertainty of Pronger's future and the permanence of his 35+ contract, the Flyers have lined up Coburn and Grossmann as fixtures, but most other slots could be in play going forward. As usual, they'll be linked to any defenseman looking to change addresses this summer. 
The team has overcome tremendous bad luck with their defensemen, from Pronger's severe concussion to a slew of injuries throughout the season. Meszaros is likely out until the second round timeframe at best, Grossmann is "day to day," and a career's worth of long minutes has taken its toll on Timonen. And yet, the Flyers are a contender when the playoffs begin next week. Paul Holmgren's deals to bring on defensive depth may have saved the season, as well as being tryouts for the future. 
Yesterday, the team anted up on Grossmann, who appears to be a safe bet provided his knees hold up. 

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench (see feature highlight).

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season, he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.”