Once you move beyond the data sets to explain how a 38 win team became a 60 win team, how they were a top-5 shot making team, the second best three point shooting and assist team, fifth in steals, sixth and seventh in field goal percentage defense and three point percentage defense, sixth in offensive rating and defensive rating, you are left with this: it was a perfect Atlanta storm in 2014-15.
The reactionary explanation is look at the roster. So let’s.
Jeff Teague, ran the point. Paul Millsap was the guts of the team. Al Horford was a stretch five who had a willowy touch and could drain a midrange jumper and played unselfishly. Kyle Korver effortlessly and predictably drained threes. And DeMarre Carroll was resolute and gritty and had the best offensive year of his career.
DeMarre Carroll was drafted in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft. That was the Blake Griffin and Steph Curry and James Harden super draft. DeMarre Carroll was drafted by Memphis right after Taj Gibson was drafted by the Bulls. Carroll played 78 games in Memphis, 86 games in Utah and 73 games in Atlanta before his greatest season as a pro.
In 2014-15, DeMarre Carroll appeared in 70 games; he started 69. His 31 minutes were a little less than his 32 minutes the previous year when he played 73 games. In 2014-15, he drained 39% of his threes, a career high. He made 48% of his shots, a career high. His offensive rating was 117; only Kyle Korver’s was better. His defensive rating was 104, a career high. Of those who played 20+ minutes for the Hawks, only Al Horfod had a better defensive rating. The only area of the floor Carroll needed offensive work was the midrange. He drained 46% of his long two’s and 46% of shots 3-10 feet.
DeMarre Carroll was a free agent following the best year of his career.
In the Eastern Conference Finals of 2015, DeMarre Carrol injured his knee and the Hawks defense went downhill fast. J.R. Smith was an unstoppable force the Hawks had no answer for. LeBron James took advantage of a hobbled Carroll. That 60-win team disappeared pretty quickly. All year, the Hawks had been motivated and pushed by a collective national media scorn. Now there was nothing left but crumbs. The Cavs dismantled them in every way en route to the NBA Finals. Dejected, the Hawks had the memories of their best season to comfort them in the hollow locker room that was increasingly morose.
In July of 2015, DeMarre Carroll bolted Atlanta for Toronto, all smiles. A role player his entire career, the system worked. He cashed in after an extraordinary year. He followed the money, as was expected. The Hawks couldn’t pay Carroll and Paul Millsap what they had earned. Carroll, the lesser of the two, was odd man out and Raptors GM Masai Ujiri took advantage. He signed Carroll to a $60 million dollar deal. He said:
“We are thrilled with not only the skills but the intangibles DeMarre will bring to our team. He is a hard-nosed player who plays with passion and commitment on both ends of the floor.”
That was true. DeMarre, the basketball player, couldn’t be summed up in points per game, rebound totals, steals. It was what he did on the court, his hustle, his grit, his relentless energy never to quit. It was what he did off the court, his drive, his leadership, his focus, his edge. A long time ago, he was nicknamed The Junkyard Dog and he attached himself to that blue-collar raw intensity characterization, someone competing for scraps that often goes ignored.
The Raptors GM was paying attention though. In the 2014 playoffs, the Toronto Raptors were eliminated in seven games by the Brooklyn Nets when Paul Pierce made a game winning block in Toronto to walk off with a first round win while arrogantly shoving his brilliance in the Raptors face. Masai Ujiri had no comparable small forward to match against Pierce, particularly on the last play when Pierce just used his body and brutalized his way into the lane to contest Kyle Lowry’s game winner. Carroll, was seen as a player who could not only stay with Pierce but who could dish out physicality on his end to make Pierce sweat and work. Carroll seemed a logical fit for a Raptors team trying to fill out an elite roster.
In 2014-15, Carroll made the most shots of his career, the most threes of his career, the most free throws of his career. His steals to turnover ratio were elite, third best in the NBA, and that was saying something because the Hawks were a team where everyone touched the ball.
DeMarre Carroll scored in double figures 55 times.
It felt organic and preordained. Really it did. DeMarre to the Raptors was perfect. Until two years later and DeMarre Carroll was traded to the worst team in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets. The Raptors were dumping salary after paying Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. DeMarre Carroll was odd man out. (Again). The $30 million he had left on his contract was the Brooklyn Nets problem.
Where did it go wrong?
Where it usually goes wrong in the beginning, overdelivering on who Carroll was as a player. He was a role player who fit in perfectly with a team that was unselfish, experienced, attuned to one another and ready. He was not a star, not an almost-star. He had a great year that he translated into a lot of money but he could never live up to his contract and he suffered through injuries and underachievement. He only played 26 games in his first season.
In his second season, he couldn’t put the ball in the hole. He was far removed from the player he was in Atlanta. It seemed his knee injuries had compromised his body, that he was a little beaten down on the physical side of things but the bottom line was the bottom line. He played as if he was in serious decline and the value of his signing was gone.
Norman Powell, passed the eye test. He was a young developing player who had so much promise while Carroll seemed to be treading water. It wasn’t fair measuring young versus experienced, but its the system at both its best and worst: feast or famine, beauty or beast.
In 2016-17, DeMarre Carroll played in 72 games, enough of a sample size to see what kind of player he was after his injuries had derailed his hopes of duplicating his Atlanta miracle. He played 26 minutes but only attempted 7.6 shots, the lowest total in four years. It’s easy to blame it on Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s usage rate but the fact is Carroll only made 3.1 shots per game, the lowest in four years. His 40% field goals were disastrous. He had a four year low in shooting the three. His inability to grab offensive boards seemed to make the case that he lost quickness. He grabbed 3.8% of the available offensive boards. He was a poor rebounder overall. His defensive rating was the worst it had been in five years, also proof his body had changed.
His specialty in Atlanta, making timely shots, disappeared. He made 40% of his long two’s and 37% of his midrange shots. In the playoffs, he drained 31% of his threes and his minutes were down to 15 which was handwriting on the wall that something was coming. His 4.2 playoff points were a career low.
That DeMarre was traded was not a jolt of lightening that stunned the masses with its ridiculousness. With the Raptors, he averaged 9.4 points. He shot 39.6%. He averaged 4.1 rebounds. DeMarre Carroll was, for the most part, a ghost at the end.
It was math. It was economics. Kyle Lowry needed a big payday to stay in Toronto. Serge Ibaka needed to return to help the frontcourt. There was no room for a below average performer like Carroll who still was owed a lot of money. In short, DeMarre Carroll was ruining the cap. So, he had to go.
There is always the question of value and worth. Was his value to the Raptors higher when he was no longer on the Raptors? And what was he really worth to the team? Did DeMarre Carroll bring enough to keep the Raptors engaged in his promise. Obviously, the answers were no and no.
The repository for contracts in salary cap hell is the team in Brooklyn. They took the horrible contract of Timofey Moszgov who was owed $47 million. Add DeMarre Caroll’s $30 million to the Net total.
The trade of DeMarre Carroll is how business is conducted in the NBA. Forget the Raptors end of it, how Masai Ujiri failed, how Carroll was a disappointment who never lived up to the deal Ujiri gave him. This trade was about Kyle Lowry.
Without Lowry in Toronto, everything fails. It was addition by subtraction and DeMarre Carroll was persona non grata. It was hardly an emotional goodbye when they cut him loose.
Are the Raptors equal to the Cavaliers without Carroll and with Normal Powell sliding in to his slot? No, of course not. DeMarre Carroll wasn’t a difference maker. He was respected for what he brought defensively and for his intangibles but in Toronto he was a descending player who couldn’t contribute. Those players are quickly exiled to Siberia.
In NBA-ology Siberia is the Brooklyn Nets.
photo via llannaba