After spending the last two years rebuilding, Dallas came up as one of the biggest winners of the 2018 off-season. They did this primarily by making two moves. First was trading the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft (Trae Young) along with a 2019 first-rounder for European sensation Luka Doncic, a prospect who many believe could be the best player in what was believed to be a very loaded draft. The second was signing big-time center DeAndre Jordan, a walking double-double still very much in his prime.
By adding these two, Dallas once again has playoff ambitions while also building a good future to go off of with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Along with those two, Dallas brought back plenty of familiar faces in free agency, including Dirk, Salah Mejri, and even Devin Harris just months after trading him to Denver. Some of the players they lost included Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, and Nerlens Noel. However, the impact of losing them does not come anywhere close to the potential impact Jordan and Doncic could have on the team.
The one fly in the ointment is that as good as the Mavericks should be this season, they still play in a Western Conference that has many teams hoping to make the playoffs. No matter how Dallas’ season turns out, it’s very admirable of them to go down swinging as the Dirk Nowitzki era comes to a close. That being said, let’s take a look at what the Dallas Mavericks could look like this season.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Will this finally be the year of the swan song for Dirk Nowitzki? After what seems like several straight seasons that could be his last, the legendary German forward will indeed be back for another year. True to form, the Mavericks have continued to toe the line between rebuilding and competing with Dirk still in the league, and their 2018 offseason was much of the same. While they obtained another major core piece for the future in a big draft day trade for Luka Doncic, they also went out and signed DeAndre Jordan for a mammoth one-year deal in the hopes of competing out West once more. If Doncic’s game translates to the NBA right away and second-year point man Dennis Smith Jr. has a leap or two in him, this team could sneak up on a few people and threaten for the final couple playoff spots. More likely, though, is gradual development from the youngsters, some fun games, but another lottery finish for the Mavs.
5th Place – Southwest Division
Following a dismal year in the Big D, all eyes are on the Mavericks to make a quick turnaround. The hype train for Luka Doncic is picking up speed with each day, as the Slovenian sensation looks to find his niche alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and company. Harrison Barnes’ confidence has continued to grow at the power forward position. Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson lured DeAndre Jordan to Dallas to be the team’s interior presence on both ends, as well as a rim runner in transition. Considering their division and that this is the first time we’ll see some of these guys play together, though, it’s tough to say they will get out of the basement of the Southwest.
5th Place – Southwest Division
– Spencer Davies
Dallas got the best of both worlds this summer. Mark Cuban and co. want Dirk Nowitzki’s last year(s) in the NBA to be meaningful while also wanting to build a promising future. Trading for Luka Doncic and signing DeAndre Jordan did just that. With them aboard, Rick Carlisle has more malleable talent to work with. Jordan’s the first rim protector/elite rebounder the Mavericks have had since Tyson Chandler, and Doncic could potentially be Dirk’s heir. Add them to Dallas’ already astute roster, and the postseason is in their sights again. At this point, that’s all they can ask for as Nowitzki’s retirement nears.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Matt John
The Mavericks have kept no secret of their desire to completely rebuild and after two passes through the draft, they have collected two impressive first-round talents that should line up with some the middle tier players they have nabbed during the rebuild. Its unlikely the Mavericks jump into the playoff discussion in the West without one of those guys becoming an All-Star level guy this season, but the Mavericks have a great foundation to build from and that should be overlooked. They may not be in the postseason but they will be significantly better this year.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Steve Kyler
The Dallas Mavericks have at least one more season with Dirk Nowitzki and clearly want to make the most of it. Dallas traded for the rights to Luka Doncic, who projects to be a capable contributor as early as this season. The Mavericks also signed DeAndre Jordan to a large one-year deal. With an interesting mix of veterans and talented youngsters, the Mavericks have a shot of competing for a playoff seed if everything breaks right this season. If Dennis Smith Jr. takes a significant step forward in his development and finds some chemistry with Doncic, Dallas’ offense could be surprisingly potent this season. This is especially true if Jordan meshes quickly and becomes a consistent lob threat for Smith Jr. and Doncic.
5th Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Harrison Barnes
It was difficult to choose between Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. here. Smith had quite the electric rookie campaign last season, and he could very well take this label away from Barnes by season’s end. For now, the reason why Barnes gets the nod is his efficiency. On 15.7 attempts a game, Barnes averaged a team-high 18.9 points a game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from distance. Compared to Smith who, on only one less attempt a game on average, shot 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from distance.
Smith has the higher ceiling than Barnes at this point, but until he proves to be a reliable shooter, Barnes gets the nod as he is the Mavericks’ most proven scorer. It feels so sleazy to say that because for the last 15-plus years, it was undeniable that Dirk fit this label.
Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan
This would seem obvious. Dallas’ defense was slightly below league average – 17th in defensive rating (109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) – so adding someone with the resume that DeAndre Jordan has should give them a boost. However, a closer look at some of Jordan’s stats could say otherwise. Jordan averaged 0.9 blocks a game, his lowest average since his second year in the league when he was playing half as many minutes. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was only slightly better than average at 1.32, and the Clippers’ defense was 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when he was off the court.
So why pick him as the top defensive player? Rick Carlisle. Remember that when the Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler in 2011, his value was pretty low. Hence why they got him for peanuts. When Carlisle was done with him, Chandler got a four-year, $58 million contract the following summer. If there’s anyone who can get Jordan back to his NBA All-Defensive 1st team form, it’s Carlisle.
Top Playmaker: Jose Juan Barea
Surprised? A fair argument could be made for Luka Doncic or Smith. But, until we see how Doncic does at the NBA level and until we see how much Smith improves his playmaking, the team’s top playmaker currently is JJ Barea. Barea is and always has been the glue since donning the Mavericks’ uniform. In just 23.2 minutes, Barea led the team with 6.2 assists a game last year. Better yet, Dallas’s offensive rating was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better when Barea was on the court, which also was a team-best for all players who stayed on the team for the entire season.
By next year, Doncic or Smith will probably supplant Barea in this category, but for the time being, let’s appreciate that Barea continues to be one of the league’s premier bench players even at 34.
Top Clutch Player: Harrison Barnes
Take note that Dallas was not exactly great in the clutch last season. In games decided by five points or less, they only won five of 23 games. In the 41 games that were classified as clutch by NBA.com, Barnes’ net rating was -34.3.
Since Barnes is the team’s most proven scorer at the moment, he currently takes the mantle as its top clutch player. As bad as Dallas was in close games, Barnes averaged 2.2 points in 3.5 minutes on 43 percent shooting from the field in games that were classified as clutch last season. It’s fair to mention that he had that nice buzzer beater against Memphis last season. He’s not ideal, but he’s somebody.
The Unheralded Player: Dwight Powell
Originally a throw-in when the Rajon Rondo trade was completed, Powell has slowly worked his way into becoming a solid rotation player for Dallas as a rim-running energy big. His traditional statistics from this season speak for themselves: 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds on 59 percent shooting including 33 percent from three-point land were all career-highs. However, it’s the advanced metrics that prove how valuable this guy is.
Dallas was overall +5.6 in overall net rating with Powell on the floor, with their offensive rating being +3.2 on offense and their defensive rating being +2.4. Powell had a Real Plus-Minus of 2.43, good for ninth among centers, and totaled 5.82 win shares, good for fifteenth among centers. Now that he’s Dallas’ third/fourth big, Powell’s services should serve the Mavericks very well in their playoff hopes.
Best New Addition: DeAndre Jordan
Long-term, Dallas’ best new addition will probably wind up being Doncic. Presently, DeAndre Jordan will be the more integral part of Dallas’ success. There’s already been plenty said about what Jordan could do for the Mavericks defensively, but the one area where Jordan is going to help the most this season will be on the boards.
Jordan’s blocks may have taken a hit last season, but his rebounding was still as good as ever. Jordan averaged a phenomenal 15.2 rebounds a game last season, a career-high. Last season, Dallas tied for 24th in the league in team rebounding averages, corralling 42.9 a game, while also allowing their opponents to nab a league-high 47.5 rebounds a game. Jordan will solve that problem practically by himself.
Dallas should also be excited for Jordan’s improvements from the charity stripe. Jordan shot 58 percent from the free throw line last season, which isn’t good, but a major improvement compared to his entire career. It may, in fact, be good enough to not force Dallas to bench Jordan in crunch time. Even if it’s been three years in the making, Jordan should make Dallas very happy this season.
WHO WE LIKE
1. Rick Carlisle
It’s been a rough couple of the years for one of the league’s best coaches. From all the drama behind the scenes with Rajon Rondo and Nerlens Noel to DeAndre Jordan reneging the team, both Carlisle and the Mavericks have been through a lot, but that’s over now. With Jordan and Doncic onboard, Carlisle now has plenty of lemons to make lemonade with. Now that his roster has both talent and depth again, don’t be surprised that, if and when the Mavericks find themselves in the playoff hunt, Carlisle will be making another run at Coach of the Year.
2. Dennis Smith Jr.
Everything that Dennis Smith did last year was exactly what many expected from him, as both his strengths and his weaknesses were on full display. Smith is a super athlete with good passing instincts and fantastic energy, but his spacing leaves much to be desired. A fair amount of Dallas’ success hinges on his improvement this season, a challenge that Smith appears to relish. DSJ doesn’t have to be Stephen Curry for both he and Dallas to succeed. All he needs to do is capitalize on such a promising rookie year under the tutelage of Coach Carlisle.
3. Wes Matthews
Matthews has done everything he can to regain his form after his devastating Achilles injury three years ago. He hasn’t been able to get it back entirely, but he has tried his best since arriving in Dallas. At 32 years old and on the last year of his contract, you better believe Matthews will be playing his heart out this season. Matthews is still a reliable floor spacer – 38 percent from three for his career – and he still tries his best on defense. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, his efforts should fit well with Dallas’ goals.
4. Dirk Nowitzki
You thought we’d forget about good ol’ Dirk? No chance in hell would we forget about the best Maverick of all time! At 40 years old, Dirk won’t be much more than a role player for Dallas. That’s all that can be expected of him at this point. Dirk stands out because he’s one of the few players in the NBA that stuck with his team through the thick and thin in a league where loyalty is going extinct from both players and general managers alike. That’s what makes Dirk’s final years so riveting to watch. With any luck, he’ll also have a great influence on Luka Doncic’s future as a pro.
This is the most well-rounded roster the Mavericks have had since the one they assembled in 2014 (before they acquired Rondo). The Mavericks have a team that is built to compete both now and in the future, led by one of the league’s best basketball minds in Rick Carlisle. They have young talented building blocks in Smith and Doncic. They have star talent and pseudo-star talent in Jordan and Barnes respectively. They have experienced vets in Dirk, Matthews, Barea, Powell, and Devin Harris among others. Ironically, Dallas’ biggest strength may be that they don’t have a weakness to exploit. If all goes right, they may be the one team nobody in the West will want to face in the playoffs.
As well-rounded as they are, the Mavericks’ weakness is that they don’t have an elite player on their squad. They had one in Dirk, but he’s way past his prime. They could have two in Smith and Doncic, but their primes are years away. It took Dirk a few years to become a star, and it took a few more years for him to evolve into the legend he is today. This is a league where talent rules supreme no matter what changes are made. Dallas has admirably done what it can to build a winning team in Dirk’s last ride, but their absence of a star could really hurt their chances in the postseason.
THE BURNING QUESTION
What is Dallas’ long-term plan?
It appears that this is the team that Dallas wants to run with as Dirk fades into the sunset. Whether this team is what Dallas wants past Dirk’s retirement is another story. That’s the impression I got when they gave Jordan a one-year deal instead of a long-term contract. A lot of Dallas’ future rides on how they do this season. If this experiment works, then Dallas should do everything in their power to keep the team together. If it fails, Jordan and/or Matthews may not stay. If the Mavericks can’t replace them, they may opt for a full rebuild, which could affect Carlisle’s desire to stay as head coach. This team is more likely to succeed than it is not to, but after this season, the future is up in the air.
NBA Daily: Grading the Offseason – New York Knicks
Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the New York Knicks.
The NBA offseason is dramatically different than it was as recently as a decade ago. In the past, the offseason began following the conclusion of the NBA Finals. And save for a few exciting happenings (e.g., the NBA Draft), the sports world moved on to other items of interest.
But presently, the first half of the summer is still very much the NBA’s. Until mid-July, that is. With the NBA finally ready to enter a lull in activity, we can safely begin assessing teams’ offseason moves. And with that, Basketball Insiders continues its “Grading the Offseason” series.
Spencer Davies kicked things off by assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers and David Yapkowitz graded the moves made by the Chicago Bulls. Next up is possibly the most polarizing team in the league – the New York Knicks.
The Knicks entered 2018-19seaason with low expectations. However, there was hope for the future with 7’3” unicorn-esque center (Kristaps Porzingis), their three rookies (Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier) and a boatload of projected cap space on the books.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2019 and the Knicks are in a surprising spot relative to last year. Their assumed core of the future was dealt a blow when it became clear that Porzingis wanted out of New York, resulting in a trade to Dallas. And while they failed to land a major free agent – despite freeing up the cap space for two max free agents – there is actually reason for optimism for the Knicks.
Despite finishing the 2018-19 season with the worst record in the NBA, the new lottery structure led to the Knicks landing the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Fortunately, the third pick in the draft was a no-brainer regardless of who was making the selection. RJ Barrett – guard/forward from Duke – is a talented scorer and playmaker who will instantly become the best Knick at drawing fouls and creating off the dribble. Barrett can struggle with his efficiency and other aspects of his game, but he will show flashes of greatness throughout the upcoming season.
But that’s not all the Knicks did on draft night. As I discussed last week, the Knicks traded up in the second round to select Ignas Brazdeikis, a forward from Michigan. Brazdeikis entered NBA Summer League with a lot of questions around him, most notably his lack of foot speed and athleticism, and he answered them in a big way.
Brazdeikis proved he can contribute to an NBA team immediately. His shot-making, shooting ability, strength and motor all shined through in many of the team’s Summer League games. The Knicks may have hit another home run in the second-round, which makes them two-for-two in as many years (Mitchell Robinson was selected by the Knicks with the 36thoverall pick in 2018).
Speaking of Robinson, he flashed his potential throughout Summer League, too. He demonstrated good progress, posting 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 25 minutes per game — and winning first-team All-Summer League honors. Robinson has a lot to prove this season, as expectations have changed dramatically for the 21-year-old, but at least the Knicks have their center of the future.
Free agency didn’t go quite as well for the Knicks. Many experts felt that the team had a good chance at signing Kevin Durant and a second major free agent. But the Knicks struck out on superstar free agent signings.
And what’s more, the Knicks signed a number of players shortly after the start of free agency, which prevented them from absorbing unwanted salary in exchange for future picks (e.g., the Los Angeles Clippers received a future first-round pick for taking back Maurice Harkless from the Portland Trail Blazers). The narrative quickly became that the Knicks failed at free agency.
But perception and reality are not always one and the same. Ultimately, the Knicks were able to attach a second-year team option and/or signed free agents to one-year deals for six of their seven free agent acquisitions (with the seventh free agent being Randle, for whom the Knicks own a third-year option).
This means that very little – if any salary – is guaranteed beyond 2019-20, making all of the aforementioned players attractive additions to contenders come the trade deadline – many were likely attractive as of June 30, but most contenders didn’t have the requisite cap space to sign players like Portis, Payton or Morris after making major investments in superstars.
All of the Knicks free agent additions can contribute at a relatively high level – save for Bullock, whose health is still in question following a recent back surgery — for both the Knicks as well as a contending team down the line. And the Knicks can liquidate most of their roster and free up significant cap space to chase the likes of Anthony Davis and others in 2020 if so desired – and they may even get themselves additional assets in the process. So the Knicks’ 2019 free agency period could be viewed very differently at this time next year (or 2021), depending on if they are able to convince a star player or two to join their young core.
PLAYERS IN: RJ Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Marcus Morris
PLAYERS OUT: Kadeem Allen, Mario Hejonza, Noah Vonleh, Luke Kornet, Emmanuel Mudiay, DeAndre Jordan, Lance Thomas, Henry Ellenson and Billy Garrett
The Knicks’ offseason is probably over considering they added nine players and will return six – with one exception being potentially working on a reunion with the recently-waived Lance Thomas.
The Knicks signed seven quality free agents who can all hypothetically be traded for assets or waived following the 2019-20 season. They also added two NBA-quality rookies, both of whom should carve out a role on the team. The team’s challenge will be picking a direction. Scott Perry recently scoffed at the notion that Knicks will tank in 2019-20. Thus, they may hang onto most of their signees for the entire season in hopes of getting their young nucleus playoff experience.
While playoff experience is great for any young player, it will be challenging for David Fizdale and the rest of the coaching staff to carve out a rotation that features all of the team’s young players. The Knicks will have to create lineups very deliberately, pairing youth with veterans so they don’t experience too much falloff when shifting from one lineup to another.
Another unresolved item remains: Frank Ntilikina. Rumors circulated in the lead up the 2019 NBA Draft that the Knicks were going to trade their former lottery pick, but Ntilikina remains with the team. Ntilikina’s time in New York might be nearing an end unless he shows significant improvement early this season. It is worth mentioning that Ntilikina showed up earlier in the offseason on social media sporting a smoother and more natural-looking shooting form.
One final improvement the Knicks will look to build on is their leadership. Credibility trickles down from the very top of an organization. While James Dolan has made questionable decisions over the years, the rest of the Knicks’ management is operating more thoughtfully than it has in years.
The team’s leadership and coaching staff remained entirely intact for the first time in what feels like decades – the Knicks have had five coaches (six tenures) and three Presidents (four tenures) in the past eight seasons. And while players win games, they are attracted to situations that appear stable and supportive. The Knicks and Scott Perry, Steve Mills, and David Fizdale began laying the foundation for this type of situation. They now need to demonstrate progress on the court to take the next step and possibly start to build themselves up as a free agent destination (outside of simply being the Knicks). Lastly, they need Dolan and the team to remain out of the news for negative reasons as much as possible, such as being in the news for a lawsuit against the City of Inglewood around contractual issues pertaining a new Clippers arena.
This wasn’t the offseason that Knicks fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t the disaster some portray it as either. The Knicks have the means to take a positive step forward this season and set the stage for bigger things in the future.
Offseason Grade: B-
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Wins Big In Vegas
Jordan Hicks had the chance to catch up with Summer League MVP Brandon Clarke, who discussed his transition into becoming a pro, his play during the tournament and skills he’s been working on.
No player had a better Summer League than Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Not only did his team win the Las Vegas Summer League championship, but Clarke was the Finals MVP and MVP of the tournament. In six games of action, he averaged 14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.8 blocks. He dropped 15 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the championship game. He was dominant on both sides of the ball throughout the tournament. and there wasn’t really anyone playing that was capable of stopping him.
Accolades aren’t anything new to Clarke. In his lone year at Gonzaga where he transferred to after playing two years at San Jose State, Clarke was First Team All-West Coast Conference, WCC Defensive Player of the Year and WCC Newcomer of the Year. His play during Summer League could have very well earned Clarke significant minutes for the upcoming season.
So why did Brandon Clarke drop so low in the draft? Many had him pegged as a sure-fire lottery selection, but to the surprise of many dropped all the way down to 21 before Memphis traded up to get him.
Most point to the fact that he’s the size of a traditional wing in the NBA, but plays the four or even the five. He stands 6-foot-8 and matches that with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. In college, length doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does in the NBA. Still, after the way he showed out in Las Vegas, many teams are likely scratching their heads wondering why on earth they didn’t pick him up.
Due to the nature of the trade, Clarke wasn’t able to join the Grizzlies until it became official after July 6th.
“It’s getting off all the rust that I kind of had on me,” Clarke said. “Like I’ve said previously, it was tough at the start because I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t really do much with the team, but now I can play again and get used to playing team basketball.”
The rust wasn’t as obvious to the onlooker. There wasn’t really a single game during the 10-day event where Clarke looked fatigued, but his play definitely improved as the tournament went on.
The semi-final game against the New Orleans Pelicans was a tough matchup and eventually went into overtime. Clarke sealed the win with a go-ahead dunk in the closing seconds. When asked about the end of that game compared to a big, close college game, Clarke responded: “It felt pretty similar. The crowd really got kind of loud there in the end. I feel like it was pretty similar to what I’d feel in a big-time college game.”
Shortly after, Clarke was asked about his desire to actually win the tournament.
“It’s just basketball,” he said. “Every time that I play basketball I want to win so I think that we all feel that as a team. Even though it’s not a real NBA tournament, well it is, but it’s not [versus] the big-time NBA dudes. We all still want to win.”
He wasn’t just messing around, either. Clarke went back the following day and led his team to a W.
One thing that really differentiates Clarke from most other rookies drafted in the first round is his age. A lot of players that get drafted early on are younger. Teams draft them as projects based on their playing profile, size, abilities, etc. Clarke – thanks in part to his two years with San Jose State and one redshirt year with Gonzaga – will turn 23 this fall.
When asked if his age gives him an advantage, Clarke agreed.
“Yeah, I would probably say so. If I was playing right now and I was only 18 or 19 I could see why it would be tougher,” he said. “But me being almost 23, I feel like I played in many games that were just like this one tonight.”
There’s no doubt that Clarke’s large volume of collegiate experience will give him an advantage during the long NBA season. He’s played against high-level talent for three seasons in total and had almost four years to develop his various skill sets.
Clarke talked a bit about the process of ending his college career, the draft, and then summer league.
“It’s been a long journey really,” he said. “Lot’s of workouts, lot’s of time put in. But I’m here playing, it’s been super fun and I’m just really happy to get this feel of what NBA games are actually like. Just trying to get that feel back and get better at playing team basketball for the Grizzlies.”
Clarke could truly be considered the ultimate anomaly in today’s NBA. Sure, he’s super athletic, smooth around the rim, and has elite finishing abilities (he led the NCAA in field goal percentage last season). But he’s a big trapped in a wing’s body. There’s one skill that, if developed, could really bring his game to the next level.
“My shooting. That’s been something I’ve been working on a lot. If I can add that to my game I feel like I’ll be a much, much better player,” Clarke said. “There’s just so much I’ve added, but I’d probably say shooting is the biggest part and there’s still lot’s of steps I need to take.”
The fact that Clarke understands that already puts him ahead of the pack. Many players spend too much time developing skills that won’t give them longevity in the league. Clarke really has almost a complete package skills-wise, but becoming a better shooter would take his game so far.
The Memphis Grizzlies are 100 percent in rebuild mode. They have special pieces in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, but don’t sleep on Brandon Clarke. He could very easily emerge as a central piece to any success the Grizzlies have down the road.
Athleticism aside, it is clear that Clarke has all the intangibles of a great leader, and that alone could pay huge dividends to both himself and the Grizzlies organization in the seasons to come.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul
Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.
It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.
What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.
And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.
Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.
Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.
But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.
So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?
Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.
The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?
But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.
And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.
The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.
While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.
The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.
But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.
Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.
And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.
Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.
Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?
The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.
The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.
But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.
Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.
And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.
So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.
But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.
2019 Free Agency Diary6 days ago
Sources: Multiple Teams Interested in Andre Iguodala
2019 Free Agency Diary7 days ago
Sources: Thunder Trade Russell Westbrook to Rockets for Chris Paul
NBA3 days ago
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
2019 Free Agency Diary7 days ago
Sources: Marcus Morris, Knicks Agree to Deal