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NBA PM: Deadlines Ahead for Teams

Salary cap guru Eric Pincus looks at some of the approaching deadlines for NBA teams.

Eric Pincus

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August is traditionally a vacation month for NBA teams.

Outside of last week’s schedule release, a few late free agent signings and Team USA playing in Rio, the league is relatively quiet.

The NBA starts to rev up for the preseason in September, finalizing training camp rosters, with camps opening at end of the month (or start of October) followed by exhibition games.

Opening night will be Tuesday, October 25, although a few key milestone dates will happen before then.

Stretch Deadline

August 31 is the last day teams can stretch a player’s salary for the 2016-17 season.

For instance, if the Lakers chose to waive Nick Young before September, his two-year, $11.1 million salary would be stretched over the next five seasons.  Should the team wait until after August, his full $5.4 million would stay on the cap for the year, but his second year’s $5.7 million would be stretched out over the following three seasons.

Young fell out of favor under Byron Scott, but the team has since hired head coach Luke Walton.  The team may prefer to find a trade, or even give Young a shot on the roster instead of waiving and stretching him.

Other teams looking at a roster crunch may decide to stretch out unwanted players, although the record $94.1 million salary cap this year may prompt teams (including the Lakers) to avoid stretching altogether.

Qualifying Offer Deadline

On October 1, the Houston Rockets’ qualifying offer of $5.7 million to Donatas Motiejunas expires, presuming an agreement is not reached before that deadline.

Motiejunas would still remain a restricted free agent, but he would lose the ability to accept Houston’s offer, and then try unrestricted free agency next summer.

Technically the Rockets can extend the offer, though that’s not necessarily likely – historically speaking.

Teams can carry up to 15 players, so the Rockets – with 14 guaranteed – still have room for Motiejunas.  Houston also reportedly has verbal agreements to sign Gary Payton II, Kyle Wiltjer, Isaiah Taylor and Bobby Brown, but if Motiejunas does return – no room for others, barring trade.

Opening Night Rosters

The NBA will release opening night rosters on Monday, October 24.  Teams will need to whittle down their rosters to 15 players by then.  Most will make cuts 48 hours prior to the deadline to make sure players clear waivers in time.

A few teams waited past the deadline last year, like the Philadelphia 76ers who were charged $3,089 against their cap for one extra day of J.P. Tokoto and $6,178 for two days apiece for Jordan McRae and Jordan Railey.

The Boston Celtics currently have 16 fully-guaranteed players.  One will have to be cut or waived.  James Young, the Kentucky guard/forward taken 17th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, appears to be the most expendable player on the roster.

The Atlanta Hawks may need to make room for Mike Muscala, whose $1.0 million contract is half-guaranteed.  The Hawks haven’t gotten much out of Tiago Splitter, who has struggled to stay healthy.  Stretching out his $8.6 million salary may not make sense – why hurt cap room in future seasons?

Instead, Atlanta may be better off pursuing a buyout, or looking to one of the teams hoping to reach salary cap floor ($84.7 million), like the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets or 76ers.

What, in terms of future draft considerations, would the Hawks be willing to give up to save $8.6 million?

Since franchises below the floor are required to cut a check at the of the season to their roster players for the shortfall, a team like the 76ers would not be spending any extra money to acquire a player like Splitter.  Under former executive Sam Hinkie, Philadelphia used this exact salary cap mechanism multiple times to acquire draft picks – essentially for free.

Rookie-Scale Options and Extensions

Teams have to decide on the third- or fourth-year options on their first-round picks by October 31.  Those going into their fourth year of a rookie-scale contract are extension eligible through Halloween.

The following list of players have pending option or extension decisions:

Atlanta Hawks

Extension Eligible: Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Boston Celtics

Team Options: Marcus Smart, James Young, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter

Extension Eligible: Kelly Olynyk

Brooklyn Nets

Team Options: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough

Charlotte Hornets

Team Option: Frank Kaminsky

Chicago Bulls

Team Options: Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant

Extension Eligible: Tony Snell

Dallas Mavericks

Team Option: Justin Anderson

Denver Nuggets

Team Options: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris

Detroit Pistons

Team Option: Stanley Johnson

Extension Eligible: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock

Golden State Warriors

Team Option: Kevon Looney

Houston Rockets

Team Options: Sam Dekker, Clint Capela

Indiana Pacers

Team Option: Myles Turner

Los Angeles Lakers

Team Options: Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr.

Memphis Grizzlies

Team Options: Jordan Adams, Jarell Martin

Miami HEAT

Team Option: Justise Winslow

Milwaukee Bucks

Extension Eligible: Michael Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Minnesota Timberwolves

Team Options: Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones

Extension Eligible: Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng

New York Knicks

Team Option: Kristaps Porzingis

Oklahoma City Thunder

Team Options: Mitch McGary, Cameron Payne, Josh Huestis

Extension Eligible: Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson

Orlando Magic

Team Options: Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, C.J. Wilcox

Philadelphia 76ers

Team Options: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas

Extension Eligible: Nerlens Noel

Phoenix Suns

Team Options: Devin Booker, T.J. Warren

Extension Eligible: Alex Len, Archie Goodwin

Portland Trail Blazers

Team Options: Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier

Extension Eligible: Mason Plumlee

Sacramento Kings

Team Option: Willie Cauley-Stein

Extension Eligible: Ben McLemore

San Antonio Spurs

Team Option: Kyle Anderson

Toronto Raptors

Team Option: Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright

Utah Jazz

Team Options: Dante Exum, Trey Lyles, Rodney Hood

Extension Eligible: Rudy Gobert

Washington Wizards

Team Option: Kelly Oubre

Extension Eligible: Trey Burke, Otto Porter

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NBA

Rookie Of The Year Watch – 01/17/18

Shane Rhodes checks in on a tightening Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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As the old adage goes, time flies when you’re having fun. And this NBA season sure has flown.

Not only has there been some great storylines this regular season, there has been even better basketball and, in recent days, plenty of petty fights or squabbles to satisfy the rowdiest of fans.

Still, nothing is more satisfying than winning. And while most rookies aren’t in a position to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they are in a position to take home another award; Rookie of The Year. The 2017 rookie class has been one of the more fun and exciting classes in a long time. But, at the season’s midpoint, who is leading the pack?

6. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

While the shot still isn’t there, Lonzo Ball pretty much does everything else well for the Los Angeles Lakers. Averaging a solid 10.2 points to go along with 7.1 rebounds and assists per game, Ball has been an all-around contributor for this young Laker squad and has done it all while playing under the crushing pressure of his father LaVar and the city of Los Angeles. He often tries to get everyone involved in the offense and is constantly pushing the tempo. While it hasn’t resulted in many Laker wins yet, it surely will in time.

However, when I say his shot isn’t there yet, it really isn’t there. Ball’s current shooting splits of 35.6/30.3/40.8 from the floor, three and the line, while improved on his early season numbers, are pretty much a disaster; certainly not what the Lakers expected when they took him second overall. While there have been flashes of the player that shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc at UCLA, Ball’s shooting has been streaky at best but those numbers, alongside his form, should continue to improve over time. The Lakers will need it to if they want to have any chance of climbing the Western Conference ladder in the near future.

5. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

Lauri Markkanen has played a major role in the recent surge by the Chicago Bulls. While it may seem strange to say that a 17-27 team is surging, not many people thought the Bulls would win this many games over the course of the whole season after trading star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason.

Markkanen has averaged 15.5 points to go along with 7.6 rebounds per game this season while shooting 43 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three. While those numbers have dipped since the beginning of the season, Markkanen still ranks fifth among rookies in three-point percentage. The return of guard Zach LaVine alongside the emergence of Kris Dunn — both acquired in the trade with Minnesota — should go along way in alleviating the offensive burden on the Finnish forward as well.

Markkanen’s defense is really the only thing holding back his game; 0.6 blocks per game seems a little too low for someone who stands at seven-feet tall, while his 108.4 defensive rating leaves a little something to be desired.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

At this point in the season, Kyle Kuzma is still, by far, the steal of the draft for the Lakers.

Averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, Kuzma ranks third among rookies in scoring while he sits fifth and sixth in rebounding and three-point percentage, respectively. He has certainly forced his way into the Lakers’ future as a building block, but Kuzma needs to do more on the offensive end outside of scoring the ball. His assist percentage of 9.6 is among the lowest of the team’s regular rotation and could certainly stand to improve as the Lakers continue to push to become a more ball movement oriented team.

Kuzma’s defense, while not terrible, could use some improvement as well. Kuzma isn’t overly athletic, so he has trouble keeping up with smaller forwards and guards when switched onto them. Improving his agility and or quickness could go a long way here.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Most rookies in Jayson Tatum’s position — playing on a Conference contender — don’t have much of a shot at taking home Rookie of the Year. That fact alone makes what Tatum has done this season for the Boston Celtics that much more impressive.

Averaging 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, Tatum has played an integral role for the Celtics, who currently sit comfortably atop the Eastern Conference. He remains one of the most efficient rookies on offense, shooting 49.9 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three while maintaining in the poise of a veteran in late game situations. Tatum plays a large part in Boston’s elite, league-leading defense as well, and his defensive rating of 99.1 paces all rookies.

There hasn’t been much to complain about when it comes to Tatum outside his aggressiveness on the offensive end. As the Celtics’ fourth option, Tatum doesn’t really need to shoulder much of a load on offense, but it would still be nice to see him to at least attempt create his own shot on a consistent basis when he is running with the second unit.

2. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

There is no doubt about it, Donovan Mitchell has been the most explosive, if not most exciting, rookie in this class. His 18.9 points per game leads all rookies while his scoring and high-flying athletic ability have created more than a few highlights for the Utah Jazz in recent weeks. Mitchell is also second among rookies in total steals, registering 61 pickpockets on the season.

In the absence of Rudy Gobert, Mitchell has managed to keep the Jazz somewhat afloat in the tough Western Conference. The two should certainly form an interesting pick-and-roll tandem when Gobert returns and, sitting at 10th in the West with a 17-26 record, they are capable of making a late-season push into the bottom of the playoff picture.

The only problem with Mitchell, as it has been all season, is his efficiency. Mitchell is shooting just 44 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three, but a lot of that has to do with his 28.4 percent usage rate. As the Jazz return Gobert and others, Mitchell’s usage rate should drop, which should coincide with a drop in field goal attempts and an uptick in his shooting percentages.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

For better or worse, this award is still Ben Simmons’ to lose. He hasn’t been the dominant player he was in the early season for the Philadelphia 76ers, but Simmons still has a leg up on most rookies thanks to his athletic ability, court vision and ball-handling skills. Simmons and his 16.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.1 assists per game are still a matchup nightmare against most teams due to his sheer size when compared to the average point guard as well.

Simmons is not without his faults, however. Whether it’s because he is shooting with the wrong hand or something else, Simmons’ jump shot needs plenty of work. While he’s shooting 51.3 percent from the field, most of his attempts are dunks or hooks close to the basket. He still has yet to make a three-point attempt, taking just 10 on the season. Simmons’ lack of shooting means defenses can almost completely ignore him outside the paint while the offense goes into a pit when fellow star Joel Embiid is on the bench; that will need to change if the 76ers want to be the powerhouse The Process has led them to believe they will become.

Again, Rookie of The Year is Simmons’ award to lose. However, if he is unable to adjust his offensive game — especially when Joel Embiid sits — he will begin to feel plenty of pressure from his fellow rookies who are on the rise.

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NBA Daily: Jayson Tatum: Boston’s X-Factor

Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum speaks to Michael Scotto about his early adjustments and success.

Michael Scotto

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When All-Star Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia five minutes into the season, the outlook changed drastically for the Boston Celtics this season.

“I think our group, going into the season, there were a lot of expectations with Gordon [Hayward] and then the injury happens, and a lot of our younger guys had to grow up a lot quicker,” Celtics center Al Horford told Basketball Insiders on January 6 before facing the Brooklyn Nets. “It has given our team an opportunity to develop, to embrace the challenge that we have in front of us, and it’s opened up a lot of playing time for guys.

“I feel like we’re taking advantage of it. We’re growing as a group and, really, I feel like there’s no ceiling for our group. As long as we keep defending and keep doing the things that we need to do on the defensive end, I think it’s going to put us in a position to be successful.”

Those expectations included challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown and potentially a championship.

In Hayward’s absence, the youngest player had to grow up the quickest: third overall pick Jayson Tatum.

“It just gave me more of an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders in a video interview. “It’s definitely unfortunate that it had to come the way it did with one of our best players getting hurt, but we’ve all just had to contribute more, step up more losing him on the first night. We had 81 more games left, so we couldn’t make excuses for that.”

The 19-year-old forward has made the most of his opportunity as a full-time starter in his rookie campaign. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points while shooting 50 percent from the field, a league-leading 46 percent from beyond the arc, and 82 percent from the foul line as of January 16.

The 6-foot-8 forward has shown a penchant for coming through in the clutch halfway through the season. According to Basketball-Reference, Tatum has shot 60 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter.

The Eastern Conference December Rookie of the Month has taken some notes in the clutch from four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.

“I grew up in high school and college seeing him on TV and now seeing it live on your own team,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “He’s one of the best players in the world, and he puts on a show each and every night.”

Tatum and Irving, both Duke alumni, played for coach Mike Krzyzewski and are in their first season under Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

Tatum notices differences between the two coaches who have molded the talented teenager.

“They’re both great terrific coaches,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “Coach K has been coaching for a long time, but they definitely both know a lot. Brad is a lot more chill, Coach (K) is a lot more fired up, slapping the floor and yelling at guys. I definitely respect them both, and it’s an honor to play for both of them.”

Stevens’ defensive system has helped Tatum realize the defensive potential that drew comparisons to Paul George from scouts and executives before the draft. According to Basketball-Reference, the rookie is tied for third in defensive win shares with George (2.5) and ranks eighth in defensive rating (101.5).

On offense, Tatum has put in time with trainer Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat Basketball to work on his isolation moves and improve his 3-point shooting. Tatum shot a pedestrian 34 percent from 3-point range at Duke, but now leads the NBA shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Thus far, Tatum has shown encouraging flashes of becoming the player he ultimately wants to be on both sides of the court.

“Just being in the All-Star game as many times as possible, win MVP, win a championship,” Tatum told Basketball Insiders. “Everyone wants to win a championship. Just play as long as possible. Hopefully, I can do that.”

If Tatum continues to be near the top of the Rookie of the Year conversation, rise to the occasion in the fourth quarter and remain a lockdown defender and 3-point shooter, maybe he and the Celtics can realize those heightened expectations after all.

Is that a lot to ask of a 19-year-old?

Absolutely.

However, as the NBA has learned, Tatum is no average teenager and the x-factor towards how far Boston can go this season.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

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

Buddy Grizzard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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