If we learned anything from free agency over the last couple of years, it’s that the obvious free agency destinations seem to be the most unlikely.
In 2010, it seemed all but decided that LeBron James was either staying in Cleveland or heading to New York. That was the story for months. Almost no one talked about Miami as a destination, and surely not for all three of Miami’s current All-Stars Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James.
Steve Nash’s free agency was supposed to land him in either New York or Toronto. The Los Angeles Lakers were barely in the discussion, yet they came away with the two-time MVP.
No one had Paul Millsap on Atlanta’s radar last summer nor did anyone have Charlotte on Al Jefferson’s radar, and let’s not even talk about the Golden State Warriors, who last summer not only got serious consideration from Dwight Howard, but landed Andre Iguodala.
Which brings us around to the point – free agency is unpredictable.
This weekend, while having a casual conversation with Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the topic of Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony came up. And while we both agreed that all signs point to Anthony staying in New York, there are some interesting options that he will likely consider, especially if the master plan laid out by the Knicks in July is underwhelming.
The L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls get mentioned the most, mainly because both will be in a position cap-wise to make offers that might be attractive to Anthony.
Sources close to the situation in Chicago say it’s highly unlikely the Bulls would meet the MAX-dollar asking price Anthony would likely be seeking. As things stand, the Bulls have $63 million in committed contracts for the 2014-15 season. There is a common belief that Chicago would use their one-time amnesty provision on the final $16.8 million of Carlos Boozer’s contract, which would get them to $46.2 million, or roughly $13.8 million under a projected 2014-15 salary cap of $60 million. If the new cap figure comes in a little higher, the Bulls would have more to play with.
The general sense of things is that Chicago would only consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer if they were able to land a major free agent and surely Anthony is that. The problem is that a first-year salary of $13 to $15 million would be a massive pay cut for Anthony, who is eligible to receive a first-year salary of 105 percent of his current $21.388 million salary in his new deal regardless of who he signs with.
»In Related: The Chicago Bulls Team Salary Page
Would Anthony leave some $7.45 million per year on the table to be a Bull? The only way Chicago could get enough cap space to sign Anthony to a full MAX-level deal would be to basically give away forward Taj Gibson and his $8 million 2014-15 salary. Are the Bulls willing to pay Boozer $16.8 million to go away, give Gibson away for basically nothing and pay Anthony $100 million?
The Lakers will have the cap space to be a major player for Anthony as well. They would be able to offer Anthony a full MAX-level offer, but given how little the Lakers have to work with on the existing roster, are the Lakers really any closer to a title than the Knicks? Would they get any closer with $23.5 million locked into guard Kobe Bryant and another $22.45 million to a soon to be 30-year-old Anthony?
There is no doubting that adding a star of Anthony’s caliber is a Laker kind of move, but is that the best use of the Lakers’ salary cap space and does a Bryant-Anthony duo really have a shot in the West? The Lakers can create a little more breathing room under the cap by using the new stretch provision in the Collective Barging Agreement on guard Steve Nash, but even the extra $6 million the Lakers can secure in that move gets off-set by the $23.5 million owed to Bryant, $900,000 owed to Robert Sacre and a player option on Nick Young worth $1.227 million. In total, the Lakers are looking at roughly $28 million before $22.45 million to Anthony, leaving them with just $9.55 million to flesh out the rest of the roster. Anthony could agree to a little less in a deal with the Lakers to free up room for other guys.
»In Related: The L.A Lakers Team Salary Page
Which bring us to the firestorm Frank tossed this way yesterday.
According to @stevekylerNBA Carmelo could join Miami if LeBron, Wade, Bosh & Melo all sign for $14 million. That is the Heat media's dream.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) February 17, 2014
If Anthony has to take less to be in Chicago or has to take less to fill out the roster in Los Angeles, would he take less to be a lot closer to a championship in his first year?
The Houston Rockets have $56.983 million in salary cap commitments in 2014-15. If they can off-load Omer Asik and/or Jeremy Lin’s $8.374 million contracts, they could get under the cap and offer Anthony the opportunity to play with James Harden and Dwight Howard.
»In Related: The Houston Rockets Team Salary Page.
The Miami HEAT have just $2.038 million in guaranteed contracts next summer. All three of Miami’s major stars can opt out and create massive flexibility for Miami, not only in re-setting the luxury tax clock for the HEAT to continue their run at championships, but making it possible for Miami to make a run at Anthony. Depending on what each is willing to re-sign for, the HEAT could have anywhere between $57 and $60 million to work with in free agency.
»In Related: The Miami HEAT Team Salary Page
In 2010 all three of Miami’s star players agreed to first-year deals just under $15 million each. They all sacrificed a little money so that Miami could re-sign Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. Would they do it again to add Anthony to the mix and make sure they can deliver on their initial promise of “not one, not two…” championships?
With the Indiana Pacers closing the gap aggressively, would the HEAT need another major guy to off-set what’s coming at them from Indiana?
Would Wade trade in his remaining two contract years worth a combined $42.6 million in exchange for a new three- or four-year deal? Wade left the most money on the table in Miami to create the current situation, would he do it again in July?
The HEAT have cap issues of their own to manage. Haslem has a player option worth $4.62 million that would eat into what Miami has to play with if he opts in, but given that all three of Miami’s stars would have to buy into a “take less plan” would Haslem do the same in exchange for a seat at the table on the next evolution of the HEAT? Miami big man Chris Andersen has a $1.44 million player option for next year, but would he cash that in for another deal around the same minimum-level money to remain on the roster awhile longer?
There are a lot of interesting options for Anthony to consider.
The first and most obvious option is to remain in New York, sign a massive new contract and try to build his own winner with the projected cap space the Knicks will have in the summer of 2015. A summer where Anthony could recruit guys like Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love to form his own Big Three in New York.
»In Related: The New York Knicks Team Salary Page
Anthony clearly shifted the onus onto his current team this weekend in New Orleans. He made it clear then that he wants to retire as a Knick and that he wants to hear the plan for a championship run from New York before making his free agency decision. So clearly the Knicks are on the clock and have the means to secure Anthony going forward.
But in free agency, the expected outcome is rarely what happens. For Anthony there are a number of options to consider, even if staying in New York is the most likely outcome.
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.