Gay Finds A Home with Kings?
By Bill Ingram
Sometimes what seems like the most unlikely of pairings winds up working better than anyone could have imagined. The Sacramento Kings made an aggressive move midseason when they acquired Rudy Gay from the Toronto Raptors, and while the trade has not resulted in a ton of wins in the short-term, there are indications that Gay might be a big part of the Kings’ rebuilding plan going forward.
Are The Wolves Keeping Kevin Love?
By Steve Kyler
With a small handful of games remaining for most of the NBA, several teams are heading into the offseason with looming doubts and daunting questions; none may be bigger than the Minnesota Timberwolves’ and their future with star forward Kevin Love.
Love’s name has been kicked around in trade rumors for most of the season and it’s expected that Love-mania will resume in full force this summer.
Time For Pacers’ Frank Vogel To Feel The Heat?
By Lang Greene
If you haven’t been following the league closely over the past two months and just decided to pick up the morning paper and look at the standings, you might be fooled when evaluating the Indiana Pacers.
On paper, the Pacers have the league’s fifth-best record, have already clinched the Central Division crown and own one of the best home records (34-6) in the NBA this season. Dig even deeper and you’ll notice the team’s 53 wins this season is the franchise’s most since 2000 when they lost in the NBA Finals.
So things are trending up for the emerging Pacers heading into the playoffs, right? Unfortunately the situation in Indiana has gotten progressively worse as the season trudges along.
Al Jefferson Deserves MVP Consideration
By Alex Kennedy
Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson deserves to be in the Most Valuable Player discussion. This sentence would’ve seemed like a joke before the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, but that was before Jefferson had the best season of his career and transformed the Bobcats from the laughingstock of the league into a playoff team.
Jefferson won’t finish ahead of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant or Miami HEAT forward LeBron James in MVP voting, but he certainly belongs in the conversation and deserves credit for his remarkable season. He also has a strong All-NBA argument.
NBA Power Rankings: One Week Remaining
By Moke Hamilton
With the NBA going dark on Monday night in order to give the NCAA national championship all of the basketball-loving eyes that this country has to offer, there are only nine days remaining in the NBA’s regular season. That means this is the final full week of the regular season and these are the penultimate Power Rankings from Basketball Insiders.
Over the course of the season, we have seen the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Miami HEAT all possess the top rank for multiple weeks, but as we said in our Sunday dialogue with Bill Ingram and Joel Brigham, it’s not who you are at the beginning of the season that matters, it is who you are at the end.
Rumors Surrounding the Lakers
By Yannis Koutroupis
There are only eight days left in the NBA’s regular season. Once April 16 rolls around, the offseason will begin for 14 teams. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to be one of those teams for just the third time since 1994. It’s not something they’re accustomed to as an organization and as a result, talk about potential changes they could make have surfaced left and right.
Last night was supposed to be about UConn and Kentucky, two teams who persevered through tough seasons (two in UConn’s case), facing off for a national championship. Instead, with one tweet from Rex Chapman, a former NBA player and a member of the Kentucky broadcast team, the biggest story prior to the tip was that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was set to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers regardless of the outcome. Calipari’s Wildcats went on to lose the game to the Huskies, although it’d be unfair to blame the loss on anything other than their poor free throw shooting and just how good the Huskies are. Still, it was an unnecessary distraction that really became amplified due to the followings that the Lakers and Kentucky have and the way that rumors can now spread like wildfires with today’s technology.
Kevin Durant Is Already An All-Time Great Scorer
By Jabari Davis
“KD [Kevin Durant] is a special player,” head coach Scott Brooks said when asked about Durant earlier this season. “Some nights he’s going to have a high-scoring game, but I just like the way he thinks. He thinks about the team. He [takes] great shots and everybody else gets involved.”
That’s particularly what’s so “special” about Durant, as even though he is the most lethal scoring force in the NBA, he still maintains the team’s best interest in mind while out there dominating on most nights. It just so happens that on many nights, his scoring prowess is precisely what the team needs; whether pacing the offense over the course of the action or picking moments to assert himself for a lightning-quick 15-point personal blitz Durant is prone to do at the drop of a hat.
Fixing the New Orleans Pelicans
By John Zitzler
The New Orleans Pelicans were very aggressive last offseason in an attempt to upgrade their talent and make their squad more competitive immediately. The team traded the sixth overall draft pick in the 2013 draft, which became Nerlens Noel, and a top-five protected 2014 first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Jrue Holiday and the 42nd pick in the 2013 draft, which became Pierre Jackson. Next, the Pelicans acquired former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans along with the rights to Jeff Withey in a three-team sign-and-trade deal that Greivis Vasquez to the Sacramento Kings and Robin Lopez and Terrel Harris to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The two trades would be the Pelicans’ most noteworthy moves of the summer, but wouldn’t be their last. The team stayed active in free agency, bringing in a number of under the radar players such as Greg Stiemsma, Anthony Morrow and Alexis Ajinca as well as re-signing Al-Farouq Aminu to fill out the team’s roster.
2014 Cap Space Projections – Northwest Division
By Eric Pincus
Twelve teams have officially clinched playoff berths as the 2013-14 regular season heads into its final week.
The league’s early projections for next year’s salary cap is $62.9 million, up from this year’s $58.7 million. The luxury tax threshold is also expected to climb to approximately $75.7 million from $71.7 million.
In the final entry of a six-part of a series, where do the five teams in the Northwest Division stand this offseason?
Life After Basketball: The Next Chapter for Powe
By Jessica Camerato
He sat courtside, legs barely fitting within the boundaries of the baseline and eyes glued to the game being played on the parquet where he helped win a championship. The banner hanging in the rafters above served as a reminder.
The visions of falling confetti flashed into his mind. He imagined the sights and sounds of triumph, the loud bellows of celebration from his teammates and the raw emotions of attaining the ultimate goal. It happened six seasons ago, but it might as well have been yesterday.
Leon Powe returned to TD Garden last weekend for the first time in three years. He had taken on many roles there since 2007, first as a Boston Celtic, then a member of the opposing team, and this time – most dramatically different – a former NBA player.
Fixing the Denver Nuggets
By Jesse Blancarte
The Denver Nuggets are an interesting team. They are currently 34-44 and 11th in the Western Conference. This is not the way this season was supposed to go after the Nuggets secured the third seed in the Western Conference last year. However, some key changes from last season’s team set the groundwork for a letdown season.
During this past offseason, the Nuggets fired long-time head coach George Karl even though Karl had just won Coach of the Year. Then, the Toronto Raptors managed to pluck away the Nuggets’ general manager, Masai Ujiri, who had just won Executive of the Year. The Nuggets hired Brian Shaw, who had no prior head coaching experience, to replace Karl. Shaw had long been considered an up-and-coming assistant coach who would inevitably be hired as a head coach. Tim Connelly was then named the new general manager to replace Ujiri.
Phil Jackson’s Carmelo Anthony Conundrum
By Tommy Beer
When he accepted Jim Dolan’s incredibly lucrative offer, Phil Jackson was well aware he’d have to wait roughly 16 months before he could begin re-shaping and upgrading the New York Knicks’ roster. Jackson’s hands are essentially tied until July of 2015 because, regardless of any moves he may make this offseason, New York will be well over the salary cap during the 2014-15 campaign.
The triumvirate of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler will account for $50 million in salary next season, which means it is essentially impossible for Jackson to get under the cap prior to these contracts coming off the books. However, that doesn’t mean Jackson won’t have the opportunity to make an immediate imprint on his new franchise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
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.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
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