2017 NBA COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT – PRINCIPAL DEAL POINTS
The following is a summary of the principal changes made to the NBA/NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, per the NBA. With limited exceptions, new CBA terms take effect on July 1, 2017.
I. Term of Agreement
The new collective bargaining agreement will have a seven-year term covering the 2017-18 through 2023-24 seasons. Both the NBA and NBPA have the ability to opt out of the CBA after the 2022-23 season by providing notice to the other party by December 15, 2022.
II. Key Unchanged Elements from the 2011 CBA
• The players’ share of Basketball Related Income (BRI) will remain in the 49%-51% band.
• The Salary Cap and Tax structure will remain the same, including the calculation of Cap/Tax Levels, use of Salary Cap Exceptions, Tax rates and transaction limits on teams over the Tax “Apron.”
• The escrow system will remain the same.
• Existing rules on maximum free agent contract length will be retained.
• Restricted free agency will remain in place with certain process-related changes.
Certain System elements will be adjusted upward to maintain their relative position in the overall player compensation system, as set forth below:
• Exception Amounts. The Mid-Level Exceptions and Bi-Annual Exception for 2017-18 will be increased 45% from the amounts in the 2011 CBA. The revised amounts will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.
• Rookie Scale/Existing Rookie Scale Contracts. The Rookie Scale will also be increased 45%, with the increase phased in over three years. The Rookie Scale will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap. As under the 2011 CBA, there will be a new Rookie Scale each season. Going forward, the Rookie Scale for a season will be issued prior to the start of the Moratorium Period for that season to reflect the increase or decrease in the Salary Cap from the prior season. Existing Rookie Scale contracts will be amended to reflect the 45% increase (phased in over the three-year period). The salary increases for existing Rookie Scale contracts will be funded collectively through a league-wide fund.
• Minimum Annual Salary Scale. As with the Rookie Scale, there will be a new Minimum Annual Salary Scale issued each season prior to the Moratorium Period for contracts, including multi-year contracts, signed that season. The 2017-18 Minimum Annual Salary Scale will increase minimum salaries for that season by 45%. The revised amounts will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.
• High-End Spending. In 2017-18, the Tax “Apron” – the amount above the Tax Level that cannot be exceeded by any team that uses the Non-Taxpayer Mid- Level Exception or Bi-annual Exception or acquires a free agent in a sign-and- trade – will be increased from $4M greater than the Tax Level to $6M greater than the Tax Level, and this $6M amount will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at one-half the rate of the increase or decrease in the Salary Cap.
• Maximum Annual Cash Limit in Trades. The 2017-18 limit on cash paid or received in trades will be increased from $3.6M to $5.1M, and this amount will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.
• Annual Increases. The maximum annual salary increase/decrease for “Bird” players (7.5%) and other players (4.5%) will be increased to 8% and 5%, respectively.
B. Extension/Player Retention Rules
1. Veteran Extensions
• Increased Extension Length. Veteran extensions (other than Designated Veteran Player Extensions as described below) will be permitted to cover five total years as follows: four new years if one year remains on the current contract, or three new years if two years remain on the current contract. (Under the 2011 CBA, veteran extensions may cover four total years.)
• Waiting Period to Extend. A player whose contract (other than a Rookie Scale Contract) is a three- or four-year contract will be permitted to enter into a Veteran Extension no sooner than the second anniversary of the signing of the contract. (Under the 2011 CBA, a contract covering a term of three or fewer years may not be extended, and a four-year contract may not be extended until the third anniversary of the signing of the contract.) The waiting period for extending a 5-year contract will remain unchanged (third anniversary of the signing of the contract).
• First-Year Salary. The maximum allowable salary in the first year of a Veteran Extension (other than a Designated Veteran Player Extension as described below) will be increased from 107.5% of the player’s salary in the last year of the original term of the contract to 120% of the greater of: (i) the player’s salary in the last year of the original term of the contract; or (ii) the estimated average player salary for the year in which the extension is signed.
• Timing of Veteran Extensions. If a player and a team seek to enter into any Veteran Extension (other than a Designated Veteran Player Extension as described below) more than one year prior to the July 1 preceding the proposed first season of the extended term, then the extension may only be negotiated and signed during the off-season (i.e., from July 1 through the day prior to the first day of the regular season).
2. Designated Veteran Player Extensions
a. Eligibility and Contract Length
• Years of Service and Performance Criteria. Players with one year or two years left on their contracts who have seven or eight years of service in the league and have never changed teams (other than, if applicable, by being traded during their first four seasons in the league), and who meet certain performance criteria (defined in section B.2.c below), will be eligible to negotiate a veteran extension covering six total years (five new years if one year remains on the current contract or four new years if two years remain on the current contract).
• Waiting Period. Designated Veteran Player Extensions can be signed no sooner than the third anniversary of the signing of the contract.
• Off-Season Signing Period. Designated Veteran Player Extensions can only be negotiated and signed during the off-season (i.e., from July 1 through the day prior to the first day of the regular season).
• Maximum Allowable Number. A team cannot sign a player to a Designated Veteran Player Extension if at any point in time in a current or future year the team has or will have included in its Team Salary more than two contracts (i) extended pursuant to this section, and/or (ii) signed pursuant to section B.4 below.
Designated Veteran Player Extensions will be required to provide for a first- year salary of at least 30% and no more than 35% of the Salary Cap (under the 2011 CBA, such players’ applicable maximum first-year salary is 30% of the Salary Cap).
c. Performance-Based Criteria
For purposes of qualifying to negotiate for the Designated Veteran Player Extension described above or the maximum salary for certain free agents described in section B.4 below, a player will have to meet at least one of the following performance criteria at the time of signing:
• the player was named to the All-NBA first, second, or third team, or was named Defensive Player of the Year, in the immediately preceding season or in two of the immediately preceding three seasons; or
• the player was NBA MVP during one of the preceding three seasons.
Any player who is extended pursuant to these criteria (or signed as a free agent pursuant to section B.4 below) cannot be traded for one year from the date of signing.
For any player who previously met the Designated Veteran Player performance criteria, has not yet reached unrestricted free agency, and, but for signing a Veteran Extension in 2016-17 prior to the execution of the new CBA, could or would have been eligible to sign a Designated Veteran Player Extension or a free agent contract as a Designated Veteran Player during the term of the new CBA (beginning in 2017-18), the following rule will apply: such a player will be permitted, in the off-season after his 8th or 9th season (as applicable), to negotiate a Designated Veteran Player Extension, provided that the player meets the applicable eligibility rules (but for the extension in 2016-17) and performance criteria at the time the Designated Veteran Player Extension is signed.
3. Rookie Scale Extensions
a. Maximum Annual Salaries in Rookie Scale Extensions
The rule allowing a team and a player who meets certain performance criteria to negotiate a maximum salary of up to 30% of the Salary Cap in Rookie Scale Extensions (or certain free agent contracts) will remain in effect, but the performance criteria will be changed so as to be the same as the performance-based criteria described in section B.2.c above. In addition, for Rookie Scale Extensions where, at the time the extension is signed, the player has not already met the performance-based criteria, a team and player can agree upon various percentages of the Salary Cap (between 25% and 30%) based upon how and whether the player satisfies the criteria. For example, a team and player can agree that the player’s salary in the first season of the extended term will be 30% if the player wins the MVP award, or 27.5% if the player is named to the All-NBA first or second team in his fourth season.
b. Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions
The number of Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions that a team can sign (and have included in its Team Salary at any point in time) will increase from one to two. A team will continue to be limited at any point in time to a total of two Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions (one of which could be acquired by trade).
c. Rookie Scale Extension Deadline
The deadline for entering into Rookie Scale Extensions will be changed from 11:59 p.m. (ET) on October 31 to 6:00 p.m. (ET) on the day prior to the first day of the regular season.
4. Designated Veteran Player Free Agents
Free agents who have eight or nine years of service in the league who have never changed teams (other than, if applicable, being traded during their first four seasons in the league) and who meet certain performance-based criteria (defined in section B.2.c above) will be able to sign with their own team for a first- year salary of up to 35% of the Salary Cap (under the 2011 CBA, such players’ applicable maximum first-year salary is 30% of the Salary Cap). Under this provision, any contract that provides for a player’s salary to be more than 30% of the Salary Cap will be required to be a five-year contract. A team will not be permitted to sign a player to a Designated Veteran Player free agent contract if at any point in time the team has or will have included in its Team Salary more than two contracts (i) signed pursuant to this section, and/or (ii) extended pursuant to section B.2 above.
C. Moratorium Period
The Moratorium Period has been shortened and will now end each season at noon (ET) on July 6. The Salary Cap and Tax Level will be set each season by June 30.
D. Restricted Free Agency
The following changes will be made to restricted free agency:
• Match Period. The period for a team with a right of first refusal to match an Offer Sheet will be shortened from 3 days to 2 days.
• Offer Sheets During the Moratorium Period. A player will be able to sign an Offer Sheet during the Moratorium Period. A team holding a right of first refusal will have from the conclusion of the Moratorium Period until 11:59 p.m. (ET) on July 8 to match such an Offer Sheet.
• Qualifying Offer Withdrawal Deadline. The July 23 deadline for a team to unilaterally withdraw a Qualifying Offer will be changed to July 13.
E. Other Changes
1. Additional Trade Rules
• Traded Player Exception. The 150% Traded Player Exception for non- taxpaying teams will be increased to 175% (still subject to a limit of the salaries of the players being traded plus $5M).
• Trade Exceptions/Protected Salary. For contracts entered into or extended beginning with the 2017-18 season: (i) in circumstances where a player’s salary protection is less than full, Traded Player Exceptions arising from the trade of such contracts will be calculated based upon the amount of the player’s protected salary in the applicable season (rather than the sum of the player’s protected salary and unprotected salary); and (ii) with respect to trades conducted following the last day of a regular season, Traded Player Exceptions will be limited to the amount of the player’s protected salary for the following season.
2. Salary Cap Holds
• Rookie Salary Cap Holds. Salary Cap holds for unsigned first round draft picks will be 120% of the player’s applicable Rookie Scale amount (increased from 100% under the 2011 CBA).
• First Round Draft Picks. Beginning with the 2018-19 Salary Cap Year, Salary Cap holds for players finishing the second option year of their Rookie Scale Contract will be 250%/300% of the player’s prior salary if the player’s prior salary is above/below the average player salary (increased from 200%/250% under the 2011 CBA).
3. Maximum Salaries
Maximum annual salaries will be calculated using the actual Salary Cap. (Under the 2011 CBA, a separate (lower) salary cap is used to calculate players’ individual maximum annual salaries.)
4. Over-36 Rule
The Over-36 Rule will be modified to be an Over-38 Rule.
A team that elects to stretch a player’s salary for Salary Cap purposes will be not be allowed to re-sign or re-acquire the player prior to the July 1 following the last season of the player’s contract.
6. Signing Restriction
If a team and player agree on a buyout of the player’s contract to reduce the amount of protected compensation in connection with the team requesting waivers on the player, the team will not subsequently be permitted to sign the player to a new contract (or claim the player off of waivers) before the later of one year following the contract termination or the July 1 following the last season of the player’s contract.
7. NBA Minimum Roster
• 14-Player Rosters. Teams will be required to carry 14 players on their rosters, subject to the ability to carry fewer players for limited periods of time (under the 2011 CBA teams are generally required to carry 13 players).
• Potential 15-Player Rosters. If, beginning in the 2017-18 regular season, the league averages fewer than 14.5 players per team in any two consecutive seasons (not including Two-Way Players), then the above roster requirement would be increased to generally require teams to carry 15 players on their rosters beginning in the following season.
IV. Player Development and Eligibility
A. D-League: Two-Way Contracts
• Two-Way Contracts. Each NBA team will be permitted to have on its roster up to two players under “Two-Way Contracts.” A “Two-Way Player” will provide services primarily to the NBA team’s D-League affiliate, and can be on the NBA team’s Active or Inactive List for up to 45 days during the NBA regular season, as well as on the NBA team’s roster prior to the start of D-League training camp (including during NBA training camp) and after the conclusion of the D-League regular season.
• Exclusive Rights. During the term of a Two-Way Contract, a Two-Way Player will be eligible to sign a standard NBA contract only with his current team.
• Right to “Convert”. A Two-Way Player’s team will have the right to “convert” the Two-Way Contract during its term to a standard NBA contract at the player’s applicable minimum salary and for the same term.
• Transition Rule. Until all NBA teams have a one-to-one affiliation with a D- League team, a process similar to the current “flexible assignment” process will be used to determine the placement in the D-League of Two-Way Players who are signed by NBA teams that do not have a one-to-one affiliation with a D- League team.
B. Career Opportunities for Former Players
A D-League apprenticeship program will be established in the league office and with D-League team coaching staffs to provide business and basketball operations training for former NBA players. In addition, a D-League assistant coach program will be established to provide additional coaching training and experience for former NBA players.
A. Training Camp, Pre-Season, and Regular Season Schedule
The period for training camp and the pre-season will be shortened by 7 days, and the maximum number of exhibition games per team prior to any regular season will be reduced to 6 (from 8). The regular season will be played over approximately 177 days (rather than 170 days).
B. Days Off
The number of days off that teams provide players during the Regular Season will increase to 18 (from 16).
V. Player Benefits
The agreement includes significant enhancements to player pension, health, and other benefits. Among other things, beginning this season and for the term of the new CBA, the NBA will equally fund with the Players Association, outside of the players’ share of BRI, the cost of a new health insurance plan and increased pension benefits for eligible currently-retired players who helped pave the way for the game’s current popularity and success.
VI. Anti-Drug Program
Baseline levels of testosterone will be established for each player to increase the accuracy of testing for performance-enhancing substances.
Penalties will increase for positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs – a 25- game suspension for a first violation (from 20 games) and a 55-game suspension for a second violation (from 45 games). A third positive test will continue to result in the player’s expulsion from the NBA.
VII. Domestic Violence Policy
A comprehensive policy will be put in place that includes, among other things, education, support, treatment, referrals, counseling, and other resources.
Changes will be made to the BRI calculation and to the BRI audit process that include, among other things: (i) adjusting certain BRI inclusion and deduction rules; (ii) resolving recurring BRI audit open items; and (iii) clarifying and updating audit procedures.
IX. Group Licensing
The Group License Agreement will terminate following the 2016-17 season. There will be a transition period through September 2017.
NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On
At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.
Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.
“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”
Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.
But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.
“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”
Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.
Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.
Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.
“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”
But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.
“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.
But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.
“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”
Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.
Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.
Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.
“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.
“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”
For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.
“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.
From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.
* * * * * *
*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.
Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?
Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.
While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.
March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.
So who could still become available?
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
This seems almost too obvious.
The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.
After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.
Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.
Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.
Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.
Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.
But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.
Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.
Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings
Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.
Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.
As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.
So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.
If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.
Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers
Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.
He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.
Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.
But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?
With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.
Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos
There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.
NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor
James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor
The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.
But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.
All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.
The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.
While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.
Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.
“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.
When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”
Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.
“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”
Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.
In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.
The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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