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Cleveland Cavaliers 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to look like a team rebuilding, could this be the year they shed their big contract and really tank? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Cleveland Cavaliers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the 2019-20 campaign with a whole bunch of questions. There’s new head coach John Beilein coming in to take hold of the team’s direction and a trio of rookies being added to the mix of – for the most part – a youthful group of guys looking to make the most of the opportunities presented to them.

On the player and coaching front, this will be a season of development and growth more than one set out on the final results, though we will probably see the maturation over the course of the year. At the end of the day, this team is likely lottery-bound once more, but the players in the locker room want to show that they’re for real and can get into the postseason picture. Unfortunately, they’ll have their work cut out for them in a quickly improving Central Division.

One year removed from the start of another project without LeBron James, let’s see where this new era of Cavaliers basketball is headed.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Cavaliers are still in the beginning phase of a rebuild. They haven’t identified a go-to player around whom a playoff team can be built. They do have some nice young pieces; however, there is some redundancy in their rotation. First-year head coach John Beilein will have his hands full in trying to identify which point guard – Brandon Knight, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – will be their lead guard of this year and the future. Ultimately though, the narrative of the season in Cleveland will be what they do with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. But to be clear, the Cavaliers are making strides, but there’s a lot of rebuilding left to do.

5th place – Central Division

– Drew Maresca

The Cavaliers had themselves a solid draft night. They picked up a few intriguing players in Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler. One of the biggest question marks heading into the season is can Garland coexist in the backcourt with Collin Sexton? Both are undersized guards who aren’t really true playmakers. Expect to see new head coach John Beilein experiment with that pairing this season. This team is clearly in full rebuild, so don’t be surprised if Kevin Love’s name comes up in trade talks quite often. It’s going to be another tough year for the Cavaliers, but the name of the game for them is development. If the younger guys show improvement and consistency throughout the year, it will be a successful season for Cleveland.

5th Place – Central Division

– David Yapkowitz

It was difficult to watch the half-LeBron, half-young-guy roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. The remnants of the championship years were frustrated and it wasn’t helping the player development side of things, so the team underwent major changes throughout the season. This one coming up is essentially a clean slate under head coach John Beilein and a trio of rookies joining Kevin Love. There will be plenty of ups and downs with an extremely inexperienced bunch collectively but, at worst, they’ll push forward in the culture shift focusing on growing their young duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, amongst others. Unfortunately for them, the wins won’t come easily and that will show with a second straight ending in the Central Division.

5th Place – Central Division

– Spencer Davies

The Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhat in limbo with an expensive roster and insufficient talent to be a viable playoff team. However, outside of Kevin Love, the Cavaliers’ other big contracts either expire after this upcoming season or decline each year moving forward (as is the case for Larry Nance Jr.). Thus, the main focus right now is adding assets and young prospects and building a culture that the players can develop in effectively. The Cavaliers, despite some mixed opinions, added some nice prospects in this year’s draft. Cleveland drafted Darius Garland (5th), Dylan Windler (26th) and traded 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2024 second-rounders and $5 million to the Detroit Pistons for the rights to Kevin Porter Jr. (30th). Garland plays the same position as Collin Sexton, whom Cleveland drafted eighth overall in last year’s draft. However, I am a firm believer in drafting the best talent available even if there is some overlap on the roster, so I am generally a fan of this move. This season is mostly a bridge to next year when Cleveland gets a lot more flexibility and another year of development for their younger players.

5th Place – Central Division

– Jesse Blancarte

The Cavaliers are in a rebuild, and rebuilds suck.

The upcoming season for Cavaliers fans will likely be more about watching Darius Garland and Collin Sexton figure each other out, more so than anything meaningful in the win-loss column. Sure there are veterans on the roster that have been to the NBA Finals, like Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, but neither are going to anchor Cleveland as a playoff contender — it’s more likely they play themselves into trade bait. That’s just the sad reality of the rebuild.

The good news is that Love and Thompson may return value in a trade, same as veteran John Henson, who is on an expiring deal. As the Cavaliers try to re-make themselves, how much those veterans return will tell the story of how long the rebuild will take, especially if the Garland/Sexton pairing is more like John Wall/Bradley Beal than Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum.

5th Place – Central Division

– Steve Kyler

FROM THE CAP GUY

The Cavaliers have whittled down their salary for the 2019-20 season below the NBA’s $132.6 million luxury tax line. Provided the team stays below, they’ll reset their repeater tax clock (earned from massive payrolls through the more recent LeBron James era). That means they’ll probably leave their exceptions unused (Mid-Level, Bi-Annual and a few small trade exceptions).

Cleveland is not a contender this season, which probably makes several expiring veterans available in trade (or bought out later in the season) like Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, John Henson and Matt Dellavedova. The team still owes $120.4 million to Kevin Love. While the Cavaliers may find a market for the former All-Star in a trade, not every team will be able to easily match his $28.9 million in salary for 2019-20.

Collin Sexton and Ante Zizic have team options for the 2020-21 season that need to be picked up before the start of November. Cedi Osman is eligible for a contract extension, at least until the season begins.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Love

There isn’t any question as to who the go-to guy is for the Cleveland Cavaliers, nor is there a question about who this team’s leader is. Kevin Love’s impact on the games themselves and the young players around him was clear in the overall confidence of the group, as the wine and gold won seven games between mid-February and mid-March. He helped instill self-belief in rookie Collin Sexton and an inexperienced Cedi Osman, while also providing the spacing necessary for each player’s success.

Love’s value comes from forcing opposing big men out to the perimeter to clear the lane for Cleveland’s offense to operate. Whoever initiates the offense will be able to attack the basket, leaving a choice to either finish, draw a foul or kick it out for a shot. There wasn’t much good from that last season with a lack of shooting, but Love certainly shined as of the few who consistently converted on those opportunities. He also showed a versatile side as an impressive passer when the Cavaliers utilized the inside-out game by playing through the post. It will be interesting to see how head coach John Beilein takes advantage of the 31-year-old’s talented skill set.

Top Defensive Player: Larry Nance Jr.

Today’s NBA requires adaptability on both ends of the floor. Larry Nance Jr. is the furthest thing from a one-trick pony. With a wide wingspan and impressive mobility, it really is a matchup nightmare for anybody he defends. Against guards on the perimeter, he’s quick and steady. In the paint versus bigs, he’s strong and has a nose for the ball, evidenced by his 2.8 percent steal percentage last season, good for fourth-best in the league.

What isn’t said enough about Nance’s activity on the defensive end and on the glass is how smoothly it starts transition opportunities. He’s crashing the boards after misses to immediately outlet the ball, or he’ll force a turnover and bring it up himself. We’ve seen flashes of his shot-blocking capabilities, too, but the rim protection and use of verticality are certainly improving.

Top Playmaker: Larry Nance Jr.

While the term Swiss Army knife may be cliche, it’s probably the most fitting to describe Nance. We knew how much potential was there when we watched him play in Los Angeles, yet we didn’t know how many different areas of the game he could affect. He got the opportunity last year to expand his game, and he did not disappoint.

With Nance assuming the role of point forward, Cleveland often played through the middle. He would get the ball at the top of the key, where guards and wings would cut either behind or in front of him. Palming the ball high with one hand, he’d typically find a teammate off ball by the rim with a flashy pass. If there wasn’t a lane, he’d settle for a dribble hand-off and set a pseudo-screen to open up a look just long enough for the shooter on the receiving end. With a few more three-ballers added to the mix now, Nance’s ability to make plays will be a key asset to Beilein.

Top Clutch Player: Collin Sexton

Perhaps the most endearing quality about Sexton is his refusal to quit. Time and time again last year, there were plenty of moments in which he could’ve thrown in the towel. He never did. His work ethic didn’t allow him to. He’d be out on the floor two hours before every game – studying film, working with assistant coaches and shooting with the two-way contract players and G-League guys. It’s pretty rare for a lottery pick, the former eighth overall selection in an NBA Draft, to go to such lengths to improve.

Those hours of work showed up in games, especially in crunch time. It’s like Avery Johnson, Sexton’s former coach at Alabama, told the media – he just loves when the lights are brightest. Last year’s Cavaliers’ coaching staff fawned over the rookie’s marked improvement in shot selection and decision-making down the stretch. His 70 percent three-point conversion rate in the clutch partially shows it, but it’s really the fearlessness of having the ball in his hands and the progression of making the right play that stands out here.

The Unheralded Player: Ante Zizic

Isn’t it curious that when people bring up who won the Kyrie Irving – Isaiah Thomas trade, they usually forget that Ante Zizic was a part of the deal? This is a man who was picked 23rd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. All it takes for somebody to gain some confidence is a little playing time. With injuries to Love and a fluctuating roster, the Croatian center received an opportunity. He didn’t let it go by the wayside.

In essentially his first season (he sporadically played in 2017-18), Zizic put his footwork on display with his back to the basket. More often times than not, he’d have a feathery touch on his jump-hook shot and showed he could work the pick-and-pop game from mid-range. He’s got to work on conditioning, his foot speed still needs to get better and his reactions defensively must be sharper, but we’ve got to remember Zizic is only 22 years old. Cleveland has an intriguing young talent on its hands.

Best New Addition: Darius Garland

The Cavaliers desperately needed anything and everything to accelerate this organization’s rebuild from a talent standpoint. Drafting Darius Garland and two more dynamic rookies only adds to that pool and, for the Vanderbilt standout, could give him the keys to the castle. Beilein and his coaching staff are envisioning a dual-guard set between Garland and Sexton a la Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland.

Both will be able to handle the ball and orchestrate the offense. Vice versa, the two backcourt partners will play off the ball and switch roles when necessary. Following his introductory presser at Cleveland Clinic Courts, a league source raved over Garland’s potential. If his track record before his short college stay translates to the pros, there’s a bright future in store for him.

– Spencer Davies

WHO WE LIKE

1. Cedi Osman

Elected to the Rising Stars Game at NBA All-Star Weekend this past year, Osman was another young player that exhibited the advancement in his development. Thrust into the starting forward role right away, there were ups and downs partially due to playing out of position. When Love was hurt, then-head coach Larry Drew played him up a slot at power forward, where he was often overpowered and outmatched on the defensive end.

However, it was a good learning experience for the Turkish swingman to reveal the hardships of being depended on night-in and night-out with a rigorous schedule. He pushed through and, like Sexton, passed with flying colors when playing with a healthy roster. Per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, here’s the most notable stat regarding Osman: His points per game average increased by 8.1, the second-most in the NBA from 2017-18 to ‘18-19 – right behind Pascal Siakam, the Association’s Most Improved Player.

According to Fedor, the Cavaliers and Osman have had preliminary talks regarding a contract extension, but the 24-year-old’s main priority at the moment is representing Turkey in the FIBA World Cup.

2.  Tristan Thompson

Though he only played for a bit over half of the season total, Tristan Thompson had a career year. It was the first campaign that the veteran big man put together a double-double average, proving to the masses how skilled he has always been if not for the setbacks and injuries. Before any of that, he’d been Cleveland’s iron man to always make the hustle plays, pull down the big-time rebounds, throw down high handoffs and bring the energy. We saw that version of Double T last season. With a contract year coming up, it’s likely he’ll turn on the jets even more – regardless of whether he remains with the team that drafted him or not.

3. Jordan Clarkson

It’s understandable that little attention was paid to the Cavaliers last year, so not too many basketball enthusiasts saw the display Jordan Clarkson put forth as a sixth man. When you look at the totals – a career best 16.8 points per game – it was arguably his best season as a pro yet. The instant offense is the name of JC’s game. He’s as streaky as they come, but when he gets it going, he turns into a microwave at the snap of a finger. Although when he doesn’t have it going, there’s a lot of forcing and bad possessions. It’s just the type of player he is. Similar to Thompson, Clarkson is entering a contract year and could draw plenty of interest around the league from those teams in need of bench help. If he continues to pack a powerful punch off the pine, Cleveland could receive an offer it can’t refuse. We’ll see if general manager Koby Altman decides to hang on to him.

4. Kevin Porter Jr.

The wine-and-gold brass is such a believer in Kevin Porter Jr. that the franchise bought the 30th overall pick for a league-record $5 million in addition to trading four second-round picks to the Milwaukee Bucks. 2018’s Mr. Basketball in Washington has a multitude of tools in his bag. It’s getting the 19-year-old to focus and hone in on being a professional that will be the challenge – for both sides. According to Chris Fedor, the Cavaliers saw Porter as a top-10 talent. If their talent evaluators turn out to be right, this could be a steal of an addition.

5. Dylan Windler

The first of two late first-round picks, Dylan Windler is a sort of “do everything” player. He can pull up from distance, pass the ball to set up teammates and sniff the ball out on both sides of the court. With an unorthodox style of ambidextrousness, Windler could earn advantageous situations by keeping defenses on their toes. The shot’s going up lefty, but he’s right-hand dominant, can make plays with both hands and is always around the rim looking to find extra possessions for his team.

– Spencer Davies

STRENGTHS

Cap guy Eric Pincus already addressed this surely, but how about the job Koby Altman has done in just two years of work? He started a rebuilding process halfway through LeBron James’ last season in Cleveland and continued it further a year ago. The road map from what he’s acquired and sent out, plus what those moves have turned into in the present, deserves more praise than he’s gotten — especially with the fact that the team is now under the luxury tax amount. Asset accumulation mode has been prioritized in the last year or so, and that won’t be changing in the upcoming season.

The Cavaliers have a boatload of expiring deals – Tristan Thompson ($18.5M), Brandon Knight ($15.6M), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4M), John Henson ($9.7M) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6M) – and that could lead to even more draft capital in the future. It’d be hard to see every one of those players traded, but there’s little chance Altman doesn’t strike when the iron is hot with at least two of these valuable contract assets. And that’ll open up floor time for the younger players and potentially affect the long term picture in a positive manner.

– Spencer Davies

WEAKNESSES

The inexperience on and off the floor is quite concerning. You can argue how much better the team is from the “on-paper” perspective. Until we see it in action, what can we really say? John Beilein hasn’t coached in an NBA game and he’s an integral part of pacing a rebuild with a bunch of young pieces. This roster currently has nine players with four years of experience or less, four of which are rookies and three of them have two or less. Now, having the players who have seen the floor time and been through the wringer is huge leadership-wise – but this combination of a lack of exposure to the pro level between the head coach and the team is something the Cavaliers will have to go through together.

Defensive breakdowns were maddening a season ago, so we’ll see if the staff addresses that first and foremost. Shooting, obviously, was not the strong suit of this squad either, but new personnel could help change that trend. An overlooked element in all of this to keep an eye on – staying healthy. It just seems like the injury bug bites just a little harder than most in The Land. It screws up rotations, makes things more difficult and demands adjustments.

– Spencer Davies

THE BURNING QUESTION

Does Kevin Love Get Traded Away?

For most pundits and national news outlets, we’ve seen “Trade Kevin Love?” float about since he came to Cleveland. Most of the time, it’s been a clickbait headline in an effort to get a rise out of people. This offseason, it’s been a legitimate inquiry.

Love is a hot commodity at the moment. When he is on the floor, his impact on the game supersedes most stretch bigs around the league. He cans three-pointers, hits the glass hard and has an All-Star-level skill set — and, best of all, he’s in the best shape of his life. There’s plenty left in the tank. The phone is going to be ringing in Koby Altman’s office early and often. The Cavaliers know where they are in their timeline and, obviously, know where Love is in his. The obvious answer to the question of whether he is moved should be a defiant “yes.”

However, it’s more complicated than that. Love has a hefty contract that goes through 2022-23 and will require a ton of salary to match it in a potential deal. There are also questions of whether or not that price is worth it for some teams hesitant about his injury history. On the other side of the spectrum, the Cavaliers likely won’t be “shopping” Love. He’s the face of the franchise right now. His locker room leadership is invaluable. He signed a lengthy extension last summer knowing the road ahead might be rocky.

Love won’t be one to complain behind-the-scenes to force his way out. He’s been nothing but the consummate professional since his arrival, and that’s not going to change. In fact, he’s already got a team mini-camp planned out in New York prior to training camp.

The only way Cleveland sends Love packing is if a team comes with a home run offer. There’s a reluctance in the front office to part ways with him not only because of his meaning to the franchise but also because there may not be an offer deemed good enough to get the proper return on his value.

Where that ultimately leaves the Cavaliers in 2019-20, we can only wait and see for now.

– Spencer Davies

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off on in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked with in the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5 year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdon Bogdonovic (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of a NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also the side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the side show that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20, is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft, Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably effect the NBA game beginning on day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented front court and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdon Bogdonovich Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdonovich add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, free agency went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be good value for the reigning sixth man of the year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanovic will be a great get, maybe on the high side money wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assume he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30 year old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did mange to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career high in rebounds (6.7); but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bodganovic slipped through their fingers. Like getting a bogey on the final hole. Or, in the Bucks’ case, a “Bogi”.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted into a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering form an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One move we’d like to see:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. Which is why if Houston wants all the Nets and Wizards cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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