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.
Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner
Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.
Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.
After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.
Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.
For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.
Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.
Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.
His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.
Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.
Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.
“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”
Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.
“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”
Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.
Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.
“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”
On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.
When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.
Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.
“It’s turning around,” Turner said. “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”
It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.
“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”
The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”
Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.
“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”
Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.
“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”
NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft
With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft
With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.
So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
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NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court
Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.
In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.
Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.
Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.
But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.
“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”
Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.
For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.
“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”
Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.
For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.
“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”
Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.
To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.
“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”
Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.
Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.
“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”
While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.
This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.
“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”
Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.