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2017 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement – Deal Points

Here are the specific deal points to the now signed NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed this week and takes effect July, 1 2017.

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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.

III.    System

A.    “Right-Sizing”

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.

b.    Salary

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.

5.    Stretch

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.

V.    Scheduling

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

A.    Testing

Baseline levels of testosterone will be established for each player to increase the accuracy of testing for performance-enhancing substances.

B.    Penalties

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.

VIII.    BRI

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.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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