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: Five Storylines to Watch Down the Stretch
Shane Rhodes breaks down five storylines to keep an eye on as we approach the postseason.
The NBA was as active as ever prior to All-Star Break. Multiple trades (some of the blockbuster variety) were made as Anthony Davis rumors swirled, players butted heads with the media, and buyouts were made. There was news abound.
And there should be even more to come with teams prepped for the stretch run.
The last push toward the postseason has always been a tense one, for teams in and teams out alike. But what could be the biggest stories as we head into the last weeks of the regular season?
The Eastern Conference Arms Race
The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy has shown to be a hard fought one.
With LeBron James gone, there has been power-vacuum in the East, with multiple teams vying for the spot of best in the Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks have had the upper hand for much of the season – and should be considered the favorite to end the regular season in the top spot – but just 7.5 games separate them from the fifth-seed Boston Celtics, with the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers sandwiched in between.
While the NBA as a whole may seem cut and dry – the Golden State Warriors and everyone else – the East is not so simple. The Bucks, Celtics, Pacers, Raptors and 76ers all have talented rosters, but there is, effectively a deadlock between them. No one roster in this group is significantly more talented than another and no one team has shown that they can get the better of the other four on a consistent basis; every game between them has been competitive, and that should only reach another level as they square off against for the right to go to the NBA Finals.
Aside from the postseason positioning, the stretch-run for these individual teams could prove crucial to their offseason. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are all expected to hit the market and, if their respective teams fade, the chances of retaining their services may fade as well.
The Competitive Postseason Bubble
There are a number of teams, both Eastern and Western Conference, that have found themselves on the post-break postseason bubble.
In the East, just five games separate the sixth-seed Brooklyn Nets and the 11-seed Washington Wizards. While it may not be the cream of the crop going at it every night, these last few games will almost certainly be more competitive as players watch the standings and teams look to make up ground and push their seasons onward through April.
Out West, it’s more of the same.
Just four games separate the fifth-seed Houston Rockets and the 10-seed Los Angeles Lakers. Likewise, an uptick in competitive energy should be expected. However, there may be a bit more fireworks out West, as the Sacramento Kings, who have surprised everyone this season, look for their first postseason-berth since 2006. Meanwhile, the Lakers, in their first season with James, may miss the postseason altogether after they were pegged as a near-lock before the season.
The Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers all present their own interesting scenarios as well.
Regardless of the final outcome in either Conference, expect an exciting, if not frantic, end to the regular season.
The Three-Man Race for the MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Paul George have each put forth superhuman effort this season. In a neck-and-neck race for the Most Valuable Player award, these three have proven to be invaluable to their respective teams and shown on a nightly basis that they belong among the NBA elite.
But, only one of them can win the award. So, who will take home the hardware?
Each player has made a compelling case so far; what Antetokounmpo does for the Bucks — and what he does to the box score (27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, six assists per game) — on a nightly basis is self-explanatory; James Harden has willed the Houston Rockets into the postseason picture with some historic scoring numbers; and Paul George has shown that he is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and shouldered the load in Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook has struggled.
As teams inch closer to the postseason, most will take the opportunity to rest their stars. If anyone of these players fades down the stretch — whether it be because of rest, fatigue or otherwise — the others could almost certainly use it to their advantage. If none of them slow down, however, the race between Antetokounmpo, Harden and George could prove one of the tightest we’ve ever seen.
The Anthony Davis Situation
The New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Anthony Davis doesn’t want to continue his career in New Orleans, but he does want to continue playing this season. However, the Pelicans have the right to protect themselves from a potential Davis injury, one that could irreparably damage his trade value and New Orleans’ future. Meanwhile, the NBA will almost certainly not want Davis, a premier player, languishing on the bench.
So, where do things go from here? Well, they get pretty awkward.
The Pelicans, Davis and the NBA need to come together in agreement on the best path forward for all parties involved and, with a handful of games remaining, they don’t have long to do so. At the very least, expect Davis to play far fewer minutes than he is accustomed to as the Pelicans look to minimize any and all injury risks.
The Battle for Zion
Not every team has the chance to make the postseason. But, with a generational talent like Zion Williamson on the line, not every team wants to make the postseason this year.
The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have wallowed near the bottom of the NBA barrel for the entire season, all with their eyes fixed on Tuesday, May 14: the NBA Draft Lottery. While the NBA instituted a new lottery system to discourage tanking — the bottom three teams share the best chance at the top pick — it hasn’t stopped these teams from losing as many games as possible in a bid to make Williamson the first player off the board in the 2019 NBA Draft.
In a weird, backward way, it could be fun to watch these five teams “compete” for the bottom three spots and, eventually, the rights to Williamson.
As we inch closer to the postseason, don’t expect the NBA to wind down. While it may not seem as eventful trade season, these last few weeks of the regular season have a chance to be some of the most eventful of the entire year.
NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders
Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.
The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.
“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”
It’s notable that the Lakers are currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?
Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.
It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.
In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.
The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2
They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5
Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.
MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7
We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.
MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3
The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.
MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?
Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.
With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.
If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.
Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.
NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?
As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.
Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.
For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?
The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.
Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.
What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.
Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.
While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.
Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.
One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.
As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.
The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.
Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”
Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.
As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.
Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.
Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.
But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.