Despite missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers came within two wins of winning the 2015 NBA championship. That, certainly, is a testament to the greatness of LeBron James—the man who has appeared in five consecutive NBA Finals. Despite making it to the Finals six times, James has walked away with the Larry O’Brien trophy just twice. As the Cavaliers enter the 2015-16 season as the hands-down favorite to win the Eastern Conference, the world will watch to see if James can deliver the elusive championship to the fans of Cleveland.
Basketball Insiders previews the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2015-16 season.
The 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers will go down in history as a “what-if” unit. What if Kyrie Irving wasn’t hurt during Game 1 of the NBA Finals? What if Kevin Love wasn’t knocked out of the playoffs in the first round? What if LeBron James had one more teammate able to help him out offensively in the NBA Finals versus the high-powered Golden State Warriors? The good news for Cleveland is that the crew is back for another run and head into the training as the runaway favorites to emerge out of the Eastern Conference.
1st Place – Central Division
The Cavaliers are poised to return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season. Coming off an NBA Finals run, the LeBron James-led Cavs now have a season of playing together under their belts. The same goes for David Blatt, who completed his first campaign as an NBA head coach. The Cavs will be getting three key members back from injuries at points during the season: Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving. Even if they miss some time, the Cavs have enough talent to get by during the regular season while they recover. It is important for the team to have them healthy in the playoffs, not in the early months. Tristan Thompson’s contract situation will be a major storyline for the Cavaliers until it is resolved. The key will be for the players to not be distracted by it. The roster is constructed with veterans who have been to the top before and know what it takes to get back. Expect the Cavs to jump out atop the conference early in the season and hold on to that number one seed.
1st Place – Central Division
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere and haven’t realized: I can be long-winded. Fortunately, even for me, there are some things that can be stated succinctly. The Cavaliers are the cream of the crop in the East. Rather than calling LeBron James “the best player on the planet,” we should refer to him as an “all-time great,” because he is. And if you have that guy, along with this supporting cast, the only drama that awaits is whether the rest of his troops can defy attrition the way he has.
1st Place — Central Division
As the Tristan Thompson contract stalemate looms, the Cavaliers still enter the season as the favorites to win the East, mostly because they did so this past summer without the services of Kevin Love who, coincidentally, plays the same position as Thompson. Regardless of how that works out, LeBron James is still healthy and dominant, and has two star teammates in Love and Kyrie Irving. Those three, with a year of experience together, make this team a dangerous one. The bench is still thin and kind of geriatric, but that doesn’t matter. As long as the Cavs can pace themselves through the regular season, they’ll be nasty in the postseason.
1st Place – Central Division
The Cavaliers were obviously one of the top teams in the NBA last year and I expect them to be even better this season. In year two, their star-studded core will have a season of experience together, which should help them a lot from a chemistry standpoint. That first year is always tough for super-teams since they’re getting acclimated, but they typically click in the second season. David Blatt will also have a year of NBA coaching experience under his belt, and his players should be more comfortable with him and his system. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love form one of the best trios in the NBA, and the Cavs did a great job re-signing Love this summer since there was no guarantee he’d be back. I also liked the addition of Mo Williams, who gives Cleveland a very good veteran point guard who can provide scoring off the bench or step in for Irving when he’s injured (as he will be to start the season). The Williams addition also means the Cavs will rely less on Matthew Dellavedova, which is good since he’s a scrappy player but not someone you want playing a huge role. I like this Cavaliers team a lot and I think a second straight trip to the NBA Finals is inevitable, barring major injuries.
1st Place – Central Division
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: LeBron James
LeBron James is not only the best offensive player on the Cavaliers, he is the single driving force behind everything that the team does and hopes to accomplish. It seems like such a long time ago that James was renowned as being a poor shooter. Although most teams still play off of him and go behind screens in hopes that he will settle for a jump shot, that is more the result of a play on the percentages than it is a belief that he cannot score efficiently from the outside. Last season, James shot a respectable 35 percent three-point range, and also converted about 38 percent of his midrange shots. Those percentages are a bit lower than in his Miami HEAT days, but they are still above average. Even as he approaches the ripe age of 31 years old, there is no more explosive force in the league than James. He may not be perfect, but with his still-improving post game and his ability to finish in the paint, he is one of the most dominant forces in the league and certainly the top offensive player on his team.
Top Defensive Player: Anderson Varejao
Yes, one could certainly argue that LeBron James is the top defensive player on the Cavaliers, but aside from him, it is Anderson Varejao who is the vital defensive cog. While both Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov are plus-defenders, Varejao is far more nimble and adept at playing out on the perimeter than either. With his speed and agility, a fully healthy Varejao provides substantial resistance to opposing offenses, as there is almost no advantage in putting him in pick-and-roll situations. He is one of the strongest rebounders in the game, as evidenced by the 12.6 rebounds per-36 minutes that he hauled in over the course of the last four seasons. What is most appropriate to wonder about Varejao is whether he will actually be able to continue to be as impactful as he has been to this point. He managed to play just 26 games last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in December, and overall, has missed 238 of a possible 410 games over the past five years. Staying healthy has been his biggest issue.
Top Playmaker: LeBron James
That LeBron James has seemingly done so much with so little is a testament to his ability to make plays not only for himself but also for his teammates. Long before he brought the 2014-15 Cavaliers to within two games of winning the title, James helped to lead the HEAT to victories, despite enduring long stretches that saw him play without Chris Bosh and/or Dwyane Wade. And long, long before that, he led an underwhelming cast of running mates in Cleveland to a franchise-record 66 wins back in 2009. The following year, the Cavs won 61 games in a season in which James averaged a career-best 8.6 assists per game. With all that he is required to do on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, James has an impressive 6.9 assist-per-game average over the course of his career, and although Kyrie Irving is officially listed as the point guard in Cleveland, at this point, he can only dream of being the playmaker that James currently is.
Top Clutch Player: LeBron James
When one thinks of clutch LeBron James moments, his buzzer-beater that defeated the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series last spring may come to mind, but one could certainly argue that James was at his finest during the waning moments of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Although Ray Allen will always be remembered for hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history, it is James who single-handedly kept the HEAT around long enough for Allen to even have the opportunity to make that difference. Any player who comes up huge in the Finals has our respect, as the stakes will never be higher. Once upon a time, James was thought to lack the courage and fearlessness required of a top clutch performer. Today, the same argument cannot be made, and without reciting his long list of game-winning and game-clinching shots, anyone would be hard-pressed to argue against this assertion.
The Unheralded Player: Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson is just one of many young Canadians making an impact in the NBA today. He has dominated the post-July headlines across the NBA, as it was recently reported that Thompson and the Cavs are at an impasse as it relates to his next contract. Thompson is reportedly looking for a five-year maximum offer from the Cavs that would pay him $94 million total, while the Cavs have refused to offer more than $80 million. While it is arguable that Thompson is not worth that type of investment, the fact of the matter is that he is an incredibly gifted athlete. Thompson’s unique blend of athleticism, power and agility enables him to stay in front of smaller offensive players, yet still battle bigger players at the rim. The staff in Cleveland loves his motor and work ethic and at just 24 years old, Thompson’s ceiling is nowhere in sight. What will get him to the next level is becoming a more versatile offensive player. He is not a threat from the perimeter and still seems to lack the overall poise, patience and balance of a dominant low-post threat. Still, limited as he may be, Thompson has proven that he can be a meaningful player on a winning team and he has shown that he can fit in with LeBron James and the other shot-happy Cavaliers. He fits in quite nicely, but may be overlooked since he doesn’t make the highlight plays in Cleveland – opting instead to do the important dirty work.
Best New Addition: Mo Williams
Because this past summer was marked by the Cavaliers deciding to re-sign their own players, Mo Williams almost wins this label by default. However, over the course of last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets, Williams was very effective. With the Wolves, he scored a career-high 52 points. Then, after being dealt to the Hornets, he remained productive. Although he was not able to help the Hornets qualify for the playoffs, Williams gave them 17.2 points per game and looked pretty good during various spurts. Now, he returns to Cleveland having unfinished with LeBron James. At this point, Williams’ ball handling is still respectable, but it is his off-the-dribble shooting ability that will continue to help him find minutes at the NBA level. Last season, he converted 34 percent of his three-point shots, and this season, with open looks created by playing off of both James and Kyrie Irving, that number may increase. Williams also provides the Cavs with another ball handler who can score when given the opportunity, certainly solidifying the point guard rotation that proved incredibly weak when Irving went down over the course of the 2014-15 season.
Who We Like
Kyrie Irving: Despite a lack of post-high-school basketball experience, Kyrie Irving entered the NBA with high expectations that we have seen crush some of his predecessors. Despite the pressure, he has hit the ground running and, like Damian Lillard, has already become one of the top point guards in the game. Best of all, he is just 23 years old and is already a three-time All-Star, averaging 21 points per game over the course of his young career. The 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals that Irving racked up in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals before his postseason ended showed the type of all-around, dominant performance he is capable of having on a daily basis. This season, we will be watching intently to see if he can continue to thrive and progress, despite somewhat being in LeBron James’ shadow.
Iman Shumpert: Iman Shumpert fell out of favor with New York Knicks fans and management after his attitude and demeanor deteriorated. As a rookie, Shumpert opened eyes across the league as he quickly earned a reputation for being a top-flight defender and explosive athlete. It certainly seems as though the trade to the Cavs rejuvenated Shumpert and helped him refocus on being a pesky on-ball defender. It seems that is the skill and talent that will help him remain in the league for many years to come. He needs to continue to work on his shooting, though, as his field goal percentage dipped to just 36 percent during the course of last year’s playoffs. Still, Shumpert filled a major void for the Cavs last season, and with championship expectations and a brief taste of success, we believe that Shumpert can re-tap some of the potential that had him among the NBA’s most talked about rookies back in 2011.
Kevin Love: After trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, it would have been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Love to have taken his talents elsewhere this past summer. Fortunately, for the Cavaliers, that didn’t happen. Although Love seemed to have issues fitting in with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving last season, his re-signing in Cleveland is an obvious indicator that the trio is intent on making their partnership work. In theory, Love’s skills in the low-post and proficiency from behind the arc should fit seamlessly with the diverse skill set that James possesses and many continue to believe that it is merely a matter of time before the two figure out how to work together more proficiently. Now that James knows that Love is all in, expect whatever tension that existed between the two before to dissipate and for them to be fully focused on winning.
Sharing the ball is a strength for the Cavs. Despite having three of the most offensively gifted players in the NBA, the Cavaliers were 10th in the league in assists per game last season with 22.1 a night. With increased chemistry and familiarity, that could easily rise this year. Another advantage for Cleveland is their experience. Their roster features many players with postseason and championship experience. Also, losing to Golden State in last year’s Finals may ultimately be good for some of the younger players on the roster – as a learning experience and team-building opportunity. Sometimes, suffering heartbreak in the Finals can draw a team closer and allow them to dig deeper in trying moments. The experience of coming up short against the Warriors is one that the Cavaliers are, no doubt, thinking about quite often. But with proven leadership and a talented core, the experience of reaching the 2015 NBA Finals should be a positive for this team as they attempt to join the 2014 Spurs, 2012 HEAT and 2009 Lakers as teams that won the championship after losing the Finals the previous year.
It has been said before, but it’s worth repeating: health is going to be the major concern for the Cavs during the 2015-16 season. As we saw their hopes for a championship thwarted, we were collectively served a stark reminder that having all the talent in the world at your disposal won’t help you win if it isn’t on the court. All eyes will be on Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao to stay healthy this season given their injury histories.
The team’s big men rotation and rebounding are also weaknesses. Last season, the Cavaliers ranked a mediocre 18th in the league in rebounds, with just 43 boards per game. Because of the team’s lack of reliable big men last season, coach David Blatt opted to play smaller lineups and often depended on players who were undersized to help out with rebounding the basketball. If Varejao can remain healthy this season, he will go a long way toward helping to cure these ailments, but as it stands, the Cavaliers did not address the apparent need for another dependable big man. In the end, that could end up haunting them.
The Burning Question
Can the Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA Finals?
In a word, the answer here would be “YES!” Had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love each been 100 percent healthy for the entire postseason last year, the Cavs may very well be entering the 2015-16 season as the defending NBA champions. With those two stars returning and Anderson Varejao (hopefully) becoming a difference maker on the floor once again and the addition of Mo Williams, the Cavs should be able to fix some of the weaknesses that were exposed last season. When you have one of the best players in history on your roster and one of the best young point guards in the NBA playing as his second option, you do not need very much to be a good team. That the Cavs have an awesome supporting cast to play off of their three superstars makes them the clear-cut favorite in the Eastern Conference and should give them a legitimate opportunity to defeat any team that survives the gauntlet that is the Western Conference. If the Cavs earn home-court advantage in the Finals and if they can remain relatively healthy as a unit, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them win it all. Those are big ifs, but this team appears to be on the cusp of greatness.
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Small Forwards
Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by checking in on a thin small forward class.
With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.
Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some long-overdue changes. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.
If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.
Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something, donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.
We’re approaching the halfway point in our examination of potential upcoming free agents – today, the ball keeps on rolling with the small forwards.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485
Across all positions, Brandon Ingram will be a top option for any franchise with oodles of cap space and a need for consistent scoring. Even then, Ingram seems destined to stay in New Orleans, no matter the cost.
Since he arrived from Los Angeles a year ago, Ingram has quickly turned into the type of stone-cold No. 1 option that can transform a roster. The 6-foot-7 youngster averaged 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 2019-20, numbers that eventually netted Ingram his first-ever All-Star Game appearance. And now, the budding star will likely see any forthcoming offer matched.
Paired with Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have developed an ideally dynamic and flexible duo to carry them into the next half-decade and beyond. With more volume and efficiency from three-point land, Ingram is evolving at a ridiculous rate – all right at home in New Orleans’ high-tempo offense. Capped off by a 49-point stunner back in January, it’s clear that future All-Star berths are just his floor.
Although the salary cap is sure to suffer after the stoppage, the 22-year-old’s future paycheck certainly won’t – he’s that good.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690
Before Hayward even potentially hits free agency, he’s made waves within the NBA’s restarted bubble. On a call last week with Boston media, Hayward announced that he’d leave Orlando should his wife go into labor – whether or not the Celtics are still in the postseason.
The news seems to have passed through the Northeast without major drawback – although, surely, let’s revisit if the franchise is in Eastern Conference Finals when he departs – but could that be the end of the road in Boston? It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but the arrival of Hayward hasn’t gone as planned – and now, both the franchise and player are likely stuck at a hard fork in the road.
Hayward, naturally, has the easier, initial decision: Does he want to opt-in for $30 million-plus? On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Getting paid a small fortune and competing for a championship is achievable NBA paradise – currently, he’s got it. But after that season, Hayward would be unrestricted, 31 years old and playing fourth fiddle to Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
If Hayward is concerned with his overall fit with Boston – while the Celtics themselves must give careful consideration to how it’ll all work money-wise with Walker and Brown re-upped, alongside glue guy Marcus Smart – then opting out and securing a new multi-year deal might be on the table.
Given his injury history and any presumptive salary cap fluctuations, however, reaching the $30 million range seems far out of his reach. Either way, Hayward, finally, appears to be healthy and confident again, even averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Celtics’ will surely miss the scorer should he leave the bubble, but this partnership is likely to last at least another year.
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559
After entering the season as potential trade bait for a Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari fulfilled his status as a go-to scorer and all-around menace. The Italian played so well that Oklahoma City kept the veteran at the trade deadline even though he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency.
At the time of the shutdown, the Thunder were 40-24 and owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Much of the attention was given toward the rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Gallinari has been a healthy revelation too. Ultimately, keeping the core together for this run was worth it, even if he doesn’t land back in the midwest this offseason.
Despite the incredible campaign, Gallinari’s injury history should be a red flag for any franchise ready to hand out a lucrative deal. Since 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and can struggle to return once he goes down. In any case, regardless of any past ailments, he’s handled back-to-back career seasons – first in Los Angeles with the Clippers and now, obviously, with the Thunder.
At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul and the young roster – but at 32 years old, is there still room to grow over a new multi-year deal?
After Ingram and Hayward, both of whom may not even hit the open market, Gallinari is the crown jewel of available small forwards, so watch this space.
Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916
Understandably, Dario Saric has become a bit of an afterthought. And that’s unfortunate because the Croatian is still useful – he just needs to find his right team.
At 26, Saric is no longer a spring chicken, but his multi-positional playmaking on the cheap will surely elevate a playoff-ready roster down the line. The 6-foot-10 forward is mobile for his size but struggled to fit next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, two touch-gobbling scorers. Saric has a unique NBA skillset and he often does the little things right – but his below-average three-point percentage has hurt him.
For a brief moment, Saric had fallen out of the rotation in early February, but his all-out effort and flexibility made him tough to leave out for too long. While Kelly Oubre Jr. has not been entirely ruled out of the Orlando bubble, Saric is the ready-made replacement for the starting lineup. As the forward will likely become a restricted free agent in the offseason, these upcoming games are vastly important to prove he belongs in Phoenix.
Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029
Last but not least, there’s Carmelo Anthony.
After being booted from the league for a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has been a solid, reputable source of scoring for Portland. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most high-tallying performance – duh – but it’ll be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. At 36, he’s still a decent option, even if efficiencies may often tell another story.
His stints with Oklahoma City and Houston withstanding, Anthony can still score. And in the NBA these days, that’s worth a stab. Anthony will no longer demand multi-year contracts or salary cap-sponging money, so he’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of player at this point. What team couldn’t use that? The legend has excelled in big moments and brings boatloads of experience – so whether he lands in a veteran-laden locker room or one that needs his guidance hardly matters now.
Bring back Carmelo Anthony in 2020… or else.
With the bubble close to resuming, we’re still unsure if two of the top players on this board are even available. Does Hayward’s eventual leave of absence impact his decision? Would the Celtics look to retain him if he opts out? And, more importantly, is there even more than two seconds of consideration before New Orleans matches whatever max offer sheet Ingram signs? Surely, if a franchise misses out on these two – if they’re out there at all – then the small forward market shrinks tinier than it already is.
Gallinari and beyond, we’ll just have to see how the season of one thousand plotlines and twists continues to unfold.
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Shooting Guards
Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency tracking series by taking a look at the notable shooting guards potentially hitting the market this summer.
Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency Tracker. We’ve already gone over the top point guards entering free agency this season. Now we’re taking a look at their backcourt counterparts- the shooting guards.
To be honest, this crop of free agents period isn’t exactly a loaded one compared to years’ past. The shooting guards don’t have a great free agency class, but they are among the deeper positions in free agency. There aren’t currently any elite ones potentially going on the free market — DeMar DeRozan once was considered elite, but not now — but there are some shooting guards out there who can make a difference in a playoff series.
What’s odd is that among the highest-paid shooting guards that could go on the market are in similar situations for different reasons. Let’s start with the two best at the respective position that could potentially hit the open market once the season concludes.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs — Player Option — $27,739,975
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,000,000
How can a no-win situation get worse? Ask DeMar DeRozan. It was already tricky enough for him to decide what to do with his player option. He can either stay in San Antonio, whose present is a sinking ship that DeRozan is not reportedly happy to be on, or he can risk losing millions of dollars by playing the field in an offseason with hardly any teams to offer the contract a player of his caliber would demand.
And that was before COVID-19 dismantled the league’s salary cap. DeRozan is one of the league’s premier bucket-getters, and the evolution in his all-around game offensively doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Sadly for him, there are two things he’s not particularly good at that the NBA needs from max contract players now more than ever: shooting and defense.
DeRozan got away with this during his days as a Raptor because he was one of their top dogs on a well-crafted team built for him to thrive. But, since moving to San Antonio, being at the forefront of the Spurs’ downfall over the last two years has made his blemishes stand out now more than ever. Because his style of play grows more and more outdated by the day, both sides seem prepared to move on from each other. Unfortunately for both of them, in an upcoming, uncertain free agency period where available money will be scarce, it may not be the best idea for DeRozan to walk away from upwards of $28 million.
He never deserved this. He gave his all to Toronto to put them on the map. He did his best to fill in the void left by Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. He’s being punished when all he did was show his utmost loyalty to begin with. That’s one of the worst non-injury fates a basketball player can endure. Not many players in NBA history have had to go through a decision as tough as DeRozan will — stay with a team you don’t have a future with, or potentially take a massive pay cut?
Should DeMar DeRozan leave San Antonio? Of all the rhetorical questions in the NBA right now, this is definitely among the rhetorical-est. Then, there’s Fournier.
2016 really was a different time. Back when pretty much every team thought they could do no wrong no matter who they added. When you look at the moves the Magic made at that time — and they made some bad ones — they definitely were one of those teams. Among all the ill-advised moves they made, Evan Fournier was one of those guys that was paid just right for his services. Paying $85 million over five years for a complementary scorer such as he is an adequate price. It’s really quite astounding that he was given a fair pretty deal when you see what other players were paid then.
Now he’s got the option to pocket $17 more million or test the open market. The salary cap falling off a cliff will probably make the decision easier for him than it would have in any other year of free agency. That’s a shame because this season’s easily been his best as a pro — averaging almost 19 points on 47/41/82 splits — but with the lack of funds available, there’s really no reason for him to risk leaving that money on the table, and being in Orlando isn’t a bad situation… right?
Really, it’s his long-term prospects that he has to think about. At 27 years old, Fournier is now entering his prime as a player. His career has been a fun story to watch unfurl because he was originally viewed as a throwaway asset when he was first traded to Orlando six years ago. We’ve seen pretty much ever since that’s definitely not the case with him, but Fournier’s contributions have led to five playoff games in Orlando. He has to ask himself if it’s worth it to stay as a secondary scorer on the most average team in the entire league.
In a normal offseason, DeRozan and Fournier would similarly opt-out but for different reasons. DeRozan would opt-out to find another team that has better use for him, while Fournier would opt out looking for a deserved raise — but because the money they are looking for isn’t going to be around, expect the opt-in.
There is another pair of highly-paid shooting guards who, much like DeRozan and Fournier, are in similar situations but are in completely different stages in their career.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks — Player Option — $18,975,000
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $27,130,435
There is literally just one similarity between these two players. Even before COVID-19 hit, they were going to take that player option because there was no way either of them was getting that kind of cash on the open market (thankfully, the salary cap hangover from the insanity of 2016 and 2017 is almost over). Besides that, these two couldn’t be more different.
Putting all money aside, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been awesome for the Mavericks this year. At least for what they’ve asked of him. As the designated third wheel next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Hardaway has thrived in his new role. His numbers dropped just as they were expected to — from 19 points to 16 — but the man is putting up his best effective field goal percentage (55.4) and best true shooting percentage (58.1), which has no doubt come from both playing with Luka and under Rick Carlisle.
A man of Hardaway’s talents is tailored more for being the complementary scorer on a rising playoff team like Dallas rather than being the top dog for a young team looking for direction like the New York Knicks. It’s amazing how anyone with eyes can see that except the Knicks themselves. Of course, guys can just score and it means absolutely nothing, but Hardaway actually has the best net rating in Dallas, as the Mavericks are plus-6.1 when he’s on the floor. Not bad for someone who was supposed to be a throw-in from the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
Literally the biggest problem with his game right now is that he’s being paid more than he’s worth and…that’s about it. It may sound ridiculous, but there is such a thing as being so overpaid that it makes you underrated. That’s exactly what Hardaway is. Of course, Dallas would probably prefer to have the cap space, but at least they overpay for someone who actually does something for them on the court. Charlotte can’t say the same with Nicolas Batum.
It’s not Batum’s fault that Charlotte basically paid him like a franchise player back in 2016. If money like that is on the table, how can you say no? At the height of his game, Batum was arguably the league’s best glue player. His lanky arms and skinny physique make him somewhat of an all-around terror in all phases of the game — defense, shooting, rebounding, and oddly enough, passing. Or at least it did back when Charlotte played him consistent minutes.
Batum’s impact has died a slow and painful death in Charlotte that over the last two years, he’s basically just been accumulating healthy scratches. Even after the team waived Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Batum hasn’t managed to play one single minute in the NBA since Jan. 24. Over 22 games, he’s put up 3.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3 assists a.k.a. stats that make you scream, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, NICOLAS BATUM?!”
Maybe playing in the league for 12 years has taken its toll on Batum’s body, but the veteran forward is only 31. That’s why there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for both him and the Hornets — besides the fact that he’ll be off their payroll this time next year. With him likely to opt-in, we might get to see the old Batum resurface with the new contract coming up. Whether he does or doesn’t, the quicker the Hornets move away from this era of basketball for them, the better.
So in case you were wondering, the highest-paid shooting guards to hit free agency are probably going to opt-in. Others who play the same position are primed to get their first payday in the NBA. There actually aren’t too many shooting guards entering restricted free agency, but the best ones who are are names you should be familiar with.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings — Restricted — $9,000,000
Malik Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted — $1,958,379
There’s really not much to say about Bogdanovic’s free agency that we didn’t already know. He’s one of the league’s premier hybrid playmaker/scorers among NBA second units. Unless there’s something going on behind closed doors, there shouldn’t be anything stopping the Kings from paying him what he wants this offseason. Especially now that they’ve offloaded Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza from their cap. Seriously, why did they bring those guys in again?
The only detail worth questioning is: How much will they give him? Bogi certainly deserves more money, but the lack of cap room going around may limit how much money interested parties are willing to offer for him. The Kings should show him how much they value what he does, but both his restricted free agency and the lack of money give Sacramento more leverage than they are used to. Bogdanovic should stay a King, but we know what the Kings are and are not capable of.
Then, there’s Beasley. Beasley correctly bet on himself when he demanded the Nuggets to trade him to a team willing to give him the minutes he wanted. Since going to Minnesota, he’s putting up excellent numbers that you never thought you’d see from him — nearly 21 points on 47/43/75 splits are sensational numbers for a midseason addition who honestly didn’t cost much to get.
The only two hangups from this situation are that Beasley played this well for 14 games and his contributions didn’t lead to much; the Timberwolves went 4-10 in that span. Now that their season is over, they have to decide if his play was enough to earn him the payday that he clearly wants.
Again, restricted free agency gives teams more leverage, but the Timberwolves might very well be onto something with their midseason shakeups. There’s not a whole lot of avenues for them to get better, so perhaps the best plan for them from here on out is to see what they have here.
There are definitely some other notable free-agent shooting guards this coming offseason:
- Joe Harris’ sharpshooting should attract plenty of suitors, but the cap crunch will probably prevent any unforeseen departure from Brooklyn. Ditto for E’Twaun Moore seeing how New Orleans also has his bird rights.
- Tony Snell has no business being on a rebuilding team like Detroit, but no one’s going to pay him the $11 million that the Pistons will if he opts in.
- Wes Matthews and Austin Rivers have been among the NBA’s best economical additions this past season. Typically guys like them don’t come cheaply the next year, but it might not be up to them.
- Avery Bradley and Rodney Hood are more than likely going to opt-in both because of the cap crunch and their seasons ending prematurely.
- Until they can’t shoot the rock anymore, guys like Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli will be in the NBA. With who is anyone’s guess, but their jumper is a weapon that every NBA team will want.
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Point Guards
Shane Rhodes starts off Basketball Insiders’ new “Free Agent Watch” series, looking at the best free agent point guards set to hit the market this summer.
We’re in the home stretch!
It’s July, and the NBA is set to reconvene in just 26 days — of course, those may be the longest 26 days in recorded history, but the wait is sure to be worth it. Soon enough, Adam Silver will have crowned the next NBA champions.
Of course, the postseason should come-and-go in an instant, with an infinitely condensed offseason set to follow — and unfortunately, just as the season has, the draft, training camp and free agency are sure to feel the restrictions of COVID-19. With that in mind, we here at Basketball Insiders are taking another look at the coming offseason, specifically at the soon-to-be free agent class position-by-position.
Today, our first entry in our Free Agent Watch, we’ll look at the point guards. Let’s jump in.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors — Unrestricted — $9,000,000
Even with the salary cap expected to dip next season, don’t expect it to keep VanVleet to get anything less than his due.
Just 26 years old, VanVleet is cruising into his prime and has already proven himself an essential fixture on a championship-caliber roster — don’t expect his services to come cheap, and don’t expect him to sit on the open market for long. With VanVleet, however, it isn’t so much about how much he may earn, but where he may earn it. The former undrafted free agent has seemingly made a home in Toronto, but the Raptors face a number of other pressing financial issues in addition to VanVleet’s upcoming free agency.
Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, vital in their own right to Toronto’s championship run a season ago, are also set to hit the market. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam’s contract extension — worth more than $30,000,000 per year through the 2023-24 season — is set to start next season as well. Do Masai Ujiri and Co. see VanVleet as a star to pair with Siakam in the long term, or would the Raptors opt instead to re-sign Gasol and Ibaka (or at least attempt to) in order to maintain a more balanced roster?
Only time will tell. Either way, and in spite of the current global financial downturn, expect VanVleet to get paid rather handsomely — certainly more so than any other point guard expected to hit the market — come free agency.
Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $17,000,450
Relative to the other guards in the free-agent crop, Dragic is old. But, even at 34, Dragic, who has transitioned to a reserve role in Miami, should continue to contribute at a high level over the next few seasons.
Dragic started just one game during the regular season, his fewest since his rookie year. That said, the reduced workload had proven a boon for his health; after a (mostly) lost 2018-19 season, in which Dragic played just 36 regular season games, he had rebounded mightily before the league was shut down. In 54 games, he averaged 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and shot 37.7 percent from three.
Given he’s made just three postseason appearances in his career, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see the 14-year veteran Dragic re-up with the HEAT — with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the fold, Miami should find themselves in the thick of the postseason hunt over the life of Dragic’s next deal. Any other roster — and most would be more than happy to work him in — with a legitimate title shot in the next few seasons wouldn’t be much of a surprise, either.
Would an opportunity to start for around the same (or even higher) contract value persuade Dragic to join an up-and-coming roster or non-contender? It would seem unlikely, again citing his lack of postseason appearances, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls — Restricted — $4,372,072
It would seem as if Dunn’s time in Chicago is over.
Coby White and Tomas Satoransky have displaced Dunn on the Bulls’ depth chart, while their presence would also preclude Chicago from matching any deal worth more than Dunn’s potential $7,091,457 qualifying offer. Meanwhile, the Bulls have a guaranteed lottery pick in a draft loaded with talent at the guard position.
So, what exactly would push Chicago to retain Dunn, or interest any team in adding him as a free agent? Elite defense.
Yes, Dunn has proven a bit limited on offense — he’s not exactly a score-first guard, and his ability as a passer isn’t spectacular, either. But Dunn is a defensive menace, a kind of player any roster looking to make noise in the postseason could take advantage of.
He may not garner the proper respect given the Bulls’ position near the bottom of the league, but Dunn made a legitimate case for an All-Defense nod in 2019; he was second to Ben Simmons in steals per game while he led all qualified players with 2.9 steals per 36 minutes.
Dunn is also more than capable of defending another team’s top offensive option and, given that he may not earn much next season, should prove a steal for any team looking to either shore up their defense or boost it to the next level.
Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers — Unrestricted — $734,025
Jackson may have the most to gain of nearly any player from the NBA’s restart.
Bought out by the Detroit Pistons back in February, Jackson was afforded the opportunity to aid the Clippers in their quest toward the NBA Finals. In doing so, he also has the perfect opportunity to recoup major value he had lost in recent seasons with Detroit.
In recent years, poor play, injury and a bad Pistons roster had relegated Jackson to the scrap heap, knocking him down from a once-promising (or breakout, even) player to an overpaid stat stuffer that didn’t necessarily help the team win games. Yes, on paper, Jackson’s Detroit tenure looked strong — 16.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 35.4 percent three-point percentage in his four full seasons with the team.
But, when you take into account that the Pistons managed to finish with a winning percentage above .500 just once in those four seasons and never finished higher than eighth in the Eastern Conference, those stats start to feel empty.
If nothing else, Jackson needed a change of scenery and looked strong in his few games with Los Angeles prior to the shutdown. In nine games with the Clippers, Jackson averaged 9.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and shot a blistering 52.5 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three in 19.4 minutes per game.
He certainly wasn’t going to earn anything close to the 5-year, $80,000,000 deal he signed back in 2015. That said, Jackson, 30, is young enough that — if he can turn that mini-resurgence into an even stronger postseason performance — he shouldn’t have any trouble finding a long(ish)-term deal next season (and could maybe even play himself back into a prominent role).
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks — Unrestricted — $19,000,000
Teague isn’t the “flashy” move. He certainly won’t swing a series or push a team into title contention.
That said, he’s still capable of solid production. Split between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks this season, Teague averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and shot 43.6 percent from the field — not great, but good enough in spot duty and limited minutes off the bench.
Teague also shot 36.8 percent from three, making him a solid addition for any team that has struggled with their shot from the outside.
That said, most interest in Teague may come in his veteran presence. A quality leader, Teague also has plenty of playoff experience, having made the postseason in nine of his 12 seasons. With Vince Carter now retired, the Hawks may opt to bring him back to serve in a similar role, albeit at a massively reduced salary.
These five may prove the best of the bunch, but the point guard group set to hit the market is deep. Expect more than a few to prove solid additions capable of some serious impact. And with that, make sure to keep on the lookout for the rest of our positional Free Agent Watch series later this week.