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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 7/24

Basketball Insiders looks at some articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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The Pacers Might Be A Problem

By Moke Hamilton

During last month’s draft, between the Boston Celtics desperately trying to unload their third overall pick and experts trying to predict where Skal Labissiere would fall, somehow, we overlooked the Indiana Pacers dramatically upgrading their point guard position by turning George Hill into Jeff Teague.

Somehow, we missed the Pacers turning the 20th pick in the draft into the versatile Thaddeus Young and, due to the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, overlooked the signing of Al Jefferson. Jefferson, who will turn 32 years old in January, has probably seen better days, but even still, when healthy, he is still a tremendous low post presence.

With newly installed head coach Nate McMillan calling the shots for the Pacers, there are a bevy of unknowns in Indianapolis.

But even still, it’s difficult to imagine them not reemerging as a power in the Eastern Conference.

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Garrett Temple On Kings, Free Agency, More

By Alex Kennedy

After years of playing on minimum contracts, being waived and bouncing around from team to team, Garrett Temple finally has some job security and a lucrative NBA contract. The 30-year-old recently signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Sacramento Kings.

Temple’s contract will pay him $8,000,000 each season (with a player option for the final year), which is more than double what he earned over his first six years in the NBA combined.

When fans think of the NBA lifestyle, they typically imagine enormous mansions, ridiculous cars and full bank accounts. This is understandable, especially at a time like this when NBA teams are handing out some of the largest contracts in league history. While some players live a luxurious lifestyle and most are very comfortable (if they manage their money well), there are plenty of players who make significantly less than you would expect.

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Late-Career NBA Team Changes

By Joel Brigham

Dwyane Wade in Chicago, even after that 2010 Slam Magazine cover that featured him in a Bulls jersey, is one of the most disorientating things current NBA fans have ever seen. After 13 seasons, three NBA championships, one Finals MVP award, 12 All-Star appearances and eight All-NBA team appearances with the HEAT – not to mention a handful of important team records including the most points in Miami history – it’s an odd thing to even imagine Wade in a different uniform, but here we are. D-Wade is a Chicago Bull.

Pat Riley can gripe all he wants to about how sad it is that Wade left Miami, but there was no way he could have paid what he felt was beyond market value for a player who no longer was someone he felt could keep them in the hunt for an NBA championship. Not with LeBron James gone, and certainly not with Chris Bosh’s playing future in jeopardy.

So Riley let Wade go, and now we’ll spend the next nine months adjusting our eyes to one of the most shocking late-career team changes in league history.

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Second-Round Standouts at Summer League

By Cody Taylor

Much of the hype coming into the Summer League is often placed upon some of the top picks from that year’s draft class. Coming into this year’s Summer League, players like Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield (among others) were some of the players who received the most attention.

There was some curiosity surrounding other players scattered throughout the first round as well. While it’s the first-round picks that grab most of the headlines, we tend to forget about some of the second-round players. But there were a number of second-round guys this year who made a name for themselves.

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Can The Thunder Keep Russell Westbrook?

By Steve Kyler

Yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder rescinded their qualifying offer on free agent guard Dion Waiters. While that by itself is notable because he is no longer a restricted player and can leave the Thunder with nothing to show for him, there is a bigger concept that fueled the decision to release the offer.

There is a quirky section of the NBA’s labor deal with the players that allows for teams with salary cap space to use that space to re-work an existing player’s contract. Not all players are eligible and deals can only be worked upwards and not downwards, which happens in other sports like the NFL.

It also can only happen if the team has ample cap space to cover the value of the new deal.

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Should The Lakers Pursue Russell Westbrook?

By Jabari Davis

With the Los Angeles Lakers finally appearing to have turned the corner in terms of fully embracing idea of developing their young core, there are a growing number of fans with understandable concerns over the proposed deadline owner and head of basketball operations Jim Buss famously placed on himself back in January of 2014. Per the Los Angeles Times, Buss made certain guarantees about helping to return the team to the level of contending in a tough Western Conference within a relatively short period to his family and business partners.

The concern from within the fan base isn’t over whether Buss will remain in his current capacity within the front office – he’d remain an owner and person of relative influence, regardless – rather it is whether a man with a proverbial ticking time clock over his shoulder will maintain the patience it may take to see the rebuild through to fruition or if he might be tempted to try to expedite the situation?

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Summer Of Calculated Risks In Free Agency

By Lang Greene

With a billion dollars up for grabs in free agency this summer, it’s no surprise players walked away from the negotiating table – paid in full. For many players, their new contracts represent dramatic raises over what they’ve earned in prior years – many becoming eight-figure guys where in the past the notion would seem to be an impossibility.

However, there remains a group of players who opted buck the trend and chose to take deals seemingly far below their respective market value for an opportunity to compete for a title, get increased playing time or opt for a more comfortable fit.

Whatever the motivation, the fact remains that with so much money flying around this summer, these players signed for deals much lower than they could have demanded.

Let’s take a look at some players who are taking a calculated risk by playing the long game and not cashing out in the short-term.

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Most Creative NBA Deals So Far

By Eric Pincus

The initial barrage of free agency is complete.  While a few stragglers remain, most of the impact free agents are off the board.

LeBron James has yet to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that’s presumed to be fait accompli.  Kevin Durant has relocated to the Golden State Warriors.  The Los Angeles Lakers quickly locked in Timofey Mozgov.

Some teams still have spending power, like the Boston Celtics – who are still hoping to make a blockbuster trade – or the Brooklyn Nets with almost $19 million left in cap space.

A few franchises managed to stay above the NBA’s record $94 million salary cap, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers.

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Terrence Jones On Why He Joined Pelicans

By Oliver Maroney

Since the start of the NBA’s latest free agency period on July 1, many players have received enormous contracts. In fact, some of the largest deals in NBA history were handed out by teams this summer.

But every year, there are always a few surprises in free agency. This year, one of the players who shocked some people was Terrence Jones, who signed with the New Orleans Pelicans on a deal that’s worth the veteran’s minimum for one season.

Jones, a former national champion with the University of Kentucky, had many thinking he was going to seek a big-time contract because of the unprecedented cap rise and his potential. After all, he’s only 24 years old and showed a lot of potential during his time with the Houston Rockets. However, his decision-making process was much different than many would’ve anticipated for a young and hungry player.

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Rockets Take Worthwhile Risks in Anderson and Gordon

By Jesse Blancarte

The Houston Rockets entered last season with high expectations. Houston was coming off their appearance in the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the eventual Champions, the Golden State Warriors. Houston was powered by James Harden, Dwight Howard and the analytically oriented principles implemented by general manager Daryl Morey. The Rockets finished the season with the 6th best defense and 12th best offense in the league.

Following their loss to the Warriors, the Rockets made one of more the interesting moves of the 2015 offseason in trading for Ty Lawson. Lawson was in the midst of several off-court issues involving alcohol, so the Rockets made a shrewd move by trading non-guaranteed contracts and a protected 2016 first-round pick for the speedy point guard. It was a bold move that came with little risk after Morey convinced Lawson to drop the guarantees on his roughly $13.2 million salary for the 2016-17 season.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to “Out of Bounds.”

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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