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Executive of the Year Watch

A few executive have made strong cases for Executive of the Year. David Yapkowitz breaks down the candidates.

David Yapkowitz

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Every summer each NBA front office is tasked with shaping their respective roster. Some teams are looking for that big trade or free agent acquisition that could vault them into contender status. Those who are already contenders seek to add complimentary pieces to their already established core. And yet others rely on the draft for a much needed influx of talent across the roster. Whatever the motivations are for a front office, the hope is always to make a positive step forward and to execute on a vision that will lead to a high level of success now or in the near future.

Not every team’s moves pan out, however, and some teams end up in a perpetual state of mediocrity. In this regard, the Sacramento Kings come to mind. On the flip side, there are always a handful of teams that make home run moves that vault a team into contention or catch the league by surprise. Often times, these executive are rewarded with the annual Executive of the Year award.

With the 2016-17 NBA regular season approaching the finish line and the playoffs right around the corner, the contenders long ago separated themselves from the pretenders. And with enough of a sample size to judge each team’s roster and success thus far, there are a few general managers who have separated themselves from the rest of the pack this season.

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets

Morey’s offseason moves have not only produced a major turnaround for the Houston Rockets but has elevated them into contender status.

Morey’s first move last offseason was signing Mike D’Antoni to a four-year deal to become the team’s head coach. D’Antoni, who was then an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, has always been regarded as one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NBA. One of the knocks on him since his Phoenix days has been his inability to make it deep into the playoffs. While it remains to be seen how Houston fares in the postseason, there’s no questioning the wonders D’Antoni has done for the Rockets this season.

His move to make James Harden a full-time point guard has resulted in Harden being one of the front-runners for the MVP award as well as making the Rockets the second-best offensive team in the league (115.5 points per game), falling behind only the Golden State Warriors.

A few of Morey’s free agent signings last summer, most notably Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene,  have also helped catapult the Rockets’ offense this season. It wasn’t too long ago when all three players had a hard time staying healthy and staying on the floor. Morey took a chance on them, using cap space that was freed up with the departure of Dwight Howard, and the result has been tremendous.

Gordon has emerged as a top contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaging 16.4 points per game while on pace to play the most number of games since the 2013-14 season. Anderson has played in the most number of games since the 2012-13 season and has become one of the Rockets most reliable three-point threats at just about 40 percent. While Nene is averaging close to career-lows in points (8.6) and rebounds (4.1), he has been a valuable contributor off the bench and is shooting 61.3 percent from the field, just shy of his career-high of 61.5 percent from the the 2010-11 season. The only other time he came close to that was an 11-game stretch after he was traded to Washington in 2012.

Still not done, however, Morey traded for Lou Williams at the trade deadline. In his first three games with the Rockets, Williams averaged 24 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field, and 47.4 percent from three. He has since cooled down a bit but with Williams and Gordon, the Rockets have the two best bench scorers in the league now. Sitting solidly in third place in the Western Conference, it appears as if Morey’s acquisitions are working out.

Bob Meyers, Golden State Warriors

Another possible contender for the Executive of the Year award is Bob Meyers, the general manager of the Golden State Warriors. Meyers won the award for the 2014-15 season, and while the Warriors haven’t been quite as dominant as they were last season, Meyers still made some fantastic acquisitions during the offseason that have allowed the Warriors to remain the favorites out West.

Meyers pulled off the top move of the summer with the signing of Kevin Durant. While much has been made about the Warriors players’ recruitment of Durant, it was still Meyers who made sure the Warriors had the cap space to fit Durant’s salary. Prior to his injury, Durant fit seamlessly into the Warriors offense and was shooting a career high 53.7 percent from the field while leading the team in scoring at 25.3 points per game.

The Warriors did have to sacrifice some of their depth to sign Durant, losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, but Meyers looked to free agency and the draft to address those concerns. Picking up both Zaza Pachulia and David West on relatively cheap contracts were great moves. Pachulia has started all 59 games he’s played this season and while his numbers don’t jump out (6.4 points and six rebounds per game), he is shooting a career-high 54.1 percent from the field and has provided the Warriors with a solid inside presence. West, on the other hand, is long past his peak New Orleans days, but the veteran big man is still a nice option to have off the bench as the playoffs approach.

In the draft, Meyers selected UNLV’s Patrick McCaw in the second round with the 38th overall pick. McCaw saw sporadic playing time early in the season, but since getting more consistent minutes in the latter half of the season, he’s looked more and more like a second-round steal. He’s started the last nine games for the Warriors and he’s looking like a guy who could eventually become a major cog in the rotation both offensively and defensively.

Perhaps the most underrated move Meyers made in the summer was the signing of JaVale McGee. On the verge of being out the league, Meyers took a chance on McGee, who made the team out of training camp on a non-guaranteed contract. Despite his on-court antics, which have made him a permanent fixture on TNT’s Shaqtin’ A Fool, McGee has emerged as a solid contributor for the Warriors front court while shooting a career-high 64.5 percent from the field.

Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz

Another possible candidate for the award is Dennis Lindsey of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz missed the playoffs last season, but this season they are fighting for home court in the first round due in large part to the additions made by Lindsey.

Lindsey’s first move of the offseason was to trade Utah’s lottery pick to the Atlanta Hawks in a three team trade with the Indiana Pacers that netted veteran point guard George Hill. Hill has been a solid addition, averaging a career high 16.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting to go along with 4.1 assists. Hill’s provided the Jazz with a much needed floor general and tw0-way impact from the point guard position.

Lindsey followed that up by trading the draft rights to 2015 draft pick Oliver Hanlan to the San Antonio Spurs for Boris Diaw, another veteran who has added needed leadership and guidance to the young Jazz. He also managed to bring in veteran Joe Johnson to bolster the bench and give the team yet another veteran mentor and contributor.

He also signed Rudy Gobert to a contract extension right at the beginning of the season, and Gobert responded by having a near All-Star season while possibly becoming Utah’s best and most important player.

Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors

Another executive who deserves consideration for this year’s award is Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors who won the award in 2013 when he was working for the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri deserves serious consideration due to a couple of late additions he made at the trade deadline, as well as his offseason re-signing of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has helped lead the Raptors to an 11-5 record while fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry remains sidelined due to a wrist injury. That stretch includes three 40 point games, each of which resulted in a win for Toronto. DeRozan is also averaging a career-high 27.1 points per game, which is good for fifth in the league.

But perhaps it was Ujiri’s acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline that has really bolstered the Raptors, specifically on the defensive end. Prior to the All-Star break, the Raptors were in a free fall, dropping to fourth in the Eastern Conference and in danger of losing home court in the first round of the playoffs. Currently on a five game win streak, the Raptors have been doing their damage on defense, holding their opponents to 91.2 points per game during this stretch. The Raptors have a lot of competition in the Eastern Conference, but with these trade, Ujiri addressed the team’s biggest weakness and has given Toronto the tools it needs to make a strong push in the upcoming playoffs.

Honorable Mention:

R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs

A case could probably be made for San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, the winner of last year’s award. Buford brought in Pau Gasol and David Lee, who for the most part have revitalized their careers a bit after stagnating last season. Buford also brought in Dewayne Dedmon, a seldom used reserve in Golden State, Philadelphia and Orlando, who is now the Spurs starting center and is enjoying a career-year.

One name who does not appear on the list is David Griffin of the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Griffin has made attempts to bolster the Cavaliers by adding Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and now Larry Sanders, the Cavaliers have under-performed this season and now appear in danger of possibly losing the top-spot in the East to the up and coming Boston Celtics. Griffin has made some nice moves with little flexibility, but the results have not been as significant as some of the marquee moves made by the executives listed above.

Ultimately, Morey should be considered the favorite based on how significant of a turnaround the Rockets have made this season. However, these other candidates are deserving of consideration as well.

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NBA

Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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