There’s no mystery or range of expectations whatsoever for the Golden State Warriors this year. A team already in the conversation for best of all time before a few crazy weeks in May and June went out and added one of the best players of a generation squarely in his prime, instantly transforming the letdown of history slipping through their fingers into a whirlwind of excitement at fielding the most dominant on-paper squad ever assembled.
Even if title-or-bust is the obvious mantra surrounding this team, the path toward glory will have plenty of intrigue along the way. Which lessons, if any, should be drawn from last year’s eventual shortcomings? How will a combination of offensive talent never before seen on a single roster coalesce and adjust to the Xs and Os of a virtual All-Star team? Will defense or depth in certain areas be a realistic problem minus a couple key contributors, or will the overall skill level simply overwhelm these kinds of concerns?
With all this and more, Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.
FIVE GUYS THINK
The Warriors are super good. What else really needs to be said? They’re basically an All-Star team set to play against a field of proles all season long. Kevin Durant was a huge acquisition, Stephen Curry is so in the zone and Klay Thompson is the best shooting guard in the league. Draymond Green can guard all five positions at an elite level, the bench is still stacked and Steve Kerr is a great coach. We expect big things, but that’s only because big things seem inevitable. Anything can happen (just ask the 2003-2004 L.A. Lakers), but “anything” also can include a championship.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
Adversity builds character. The heart of a champion is often determined by how well they respond to challenges that would break normal spirits. The Warriors were within one victory of capping off a historic 73-win regular season with a repeat championship, but the club dropped three straight games in the Finals and watched the Cavaliers celebrate on their own court. In many ways that setback was the first true test for the Warriors who had begun to run roughshod on the league with little resistance. The club was already built to make another trip to the Finals in 2017, but the addition of All-Star Kevin Durant essentially makes this a lock – barring major injury. See you in June.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Lang Greene
The Golden State Warriors were already elite and then they added Kevin Durant. And this isn’t the same as when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. The Warriors already have really good chemistry and Durant is going to fill in the starting position that Harrison Barnes held. The dynamic will have to change on offense somewhat since Durant and Stephen Curry both need the ball in their hands, so it will be up to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to adjust accordingly. Another scary part about this team is that Durant flashed defensive versatility in the postseason that reminds us of Draymond Green. If Durant can continue defending at that level, this Warriors team will basically be unstoppable. It should be noted that some key contributors from the last few seasons are now gone, but the Warriors did a nice job of plugging in the holes that were left after adding Durant. This team is stacked and should make it back to the NBA Finals this season.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the Warriors aren’t the favorites to win their division, their conference and the 2017 NBA Finals. What I will say, though, is that it’s not every day that you see a team that wins 73 games and take a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals radically redesign itself. Of course, adding Kevin Durant to the already big three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green seems worth it, but let’s take a moment to recognize that Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Marreese Speights are all gone. Those six guys were among their top 11 rotation players last season, and they have effectively been replaced by Durant, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Phil Pressey and (perhaps) JaVale McGee. I obviously like the Warriors to win the Pacific Division, but for me, there is enough intrigue with the new core in Oakland to keep me watching all season long. I doubt Steve Kerr even entertains the idea of allowing his team to chase down 70 wins again, because losing the Finals last year probably changed the perspective of everyone associated with the team. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about these guys this coming season, so I’ll end this here and just state the obvious: they’re the clear favorite.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Moke Hamilton
Anything less than a championship will obviously be a disappointment for this Warriors squad. I know a lot of NBA fans were upset about the Kevin Durant addition because they believe the 2016-17 season will now be pretty anticlimactic. However, as we saw in last year’s NBA Finals, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. Injuries, chemistry issues and more can change the landscape of the NBA in an instant. We’ll see if the Warriors can live up to the ridiculously high expectations. My guess is that they will – mainly because their star-studded squad is full of unselfish players who are versatile and complement each other well. But titles aren’t won in the offseason, so we’ll have to see how they come together.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Kevin Durant
Honestly, how is one supposed to support a single candidate here for a team that now boasts two of the five most devastating offensive players in the game? There can be absolutely zero argument against either Kevin Durant or Steph Curry here, but the nod goes to KD primarily for this reason: He’s slightly more matchup-proof.
Don’t fly off the handle, Chef Curry fans – no one’s doubting Steph’s ability to bend physics and break defenses on a night-in, night-out basis. He’d have won this category going away over Durant and any other player on earth last season.
But while some of it was surely due to lingering injury issues and other context, we saw smart defenses poke tiny holes in his preferred methods of dominance in the postseason. In particular, opponents began stationing a wing player on Draymond Green and negating the deadly Curry-Green pick-and-roll by switching it between two guys capable of hanging with Steph off the dribble for a possession at a time. Not everyone has the defensive talent or discipline to pull this off – and Curry at his full powers can often abuse these switches himself – but the theme certainly looked primed to become a blueprint for those with the right personnel.
In comes Durant, and out goes that theory.
Want to switch the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? Fine with them. Go right ahead and switch a smaller guy onto Durant, who shot an unreal 61 percent in the post last year and was the league’s most efficient per-possession volume player on the block, per Synergy Sports. The opponent is clogging the block and denying the entry? Cool, either they’ll rotate to another knockdown shooter for an open three or simply give Durant the ball in isolation, where he was also a top-10 efficiency player last year among volume guys (in a less spacious offense and more commonly against guys closer to his own size, at that).
None of this even gets into KD’s numerous other prodigious skills, most of which fit like a glove within what was already the league’s most dominant offense. With Durant’s ability to rip up the one meager trump card the league had finally managed to conjure against them, this group could be primed to set records.
Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green
Ah, much easier. Green is already among the most versatile elite defenders in the history of the game – seriously, how many other guys ever have been capable of locking down all five positions on the floor individually, from running with jittery guards to protecting the rim against giants and LeBron James? The list of players who have done so at a consistently elite level while also playing a large role on the other end of the floor is probably limited to one hand, maybe even with a couple fingers to spare. Green will have even more defensive responsibility after the departure of guys like Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli in the frontcourt, but he’s proven more than up to the task.
Top Playmaker: Steph Curry
There’s an under-the-radar case to be made here for Green, a fantastic passer who actually averaged more nightly “assist opportunities” (passes which either became an assist or would have if the shooting player had made his resulting shot) than Curry last season, per SportVU data. On a deeper level, though, even Draymond himself would likely admit that many of these were simply a trickle-down result of the way Steph’s magic forces teams to contort themselves. Many of those four-on-three chances where Green is free to rumble down the lane and take his pick of open shooters evaporate with any other ball-handler in the world as his partner.
Curry makes those plays possible while also maintaining his own strong passing numbers. His percentage of passes which led to a positive team event (assists, free-throw assists or secondary “hockey” assists) – a Holy Grail-type category topped consistently by consensus elite creators like Chris Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook – fell in the league’s top 10 last season, decimals behind LeBron James and Ricky Rubio. Curry remains the distributing engine that powers this offensive machine, and could even be in for an uptick with another elite offensive player in the lineup next to him.
Top Clutch Player: Steph Curry
This is another category likely to end up in a split of some sort between Curry, Durant and the general sort of team scheme that the Warriors have generally done well at sticking with during rare clutch moments the last couple seasons. Curry took about a third of the team’s regular season shot attempts during these minutes last year, with Durant right in the same neighborhood with OKC, albeit in a far different team context. Curry was more efficient than KD, particularly from deep (he shot 38.1 percent from three compared to 32.4 percent for Durant in the clutch), and who can forget that legendary game-winner on Durant’s own floor?
The Unheralded Player: Andre Iguodala
Iguodala should have won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, but his remarkable importance to his team continued to fly under the radar in favor of more traditional metrics. He doesn’t post flashy box score stats or make many highlight-reel plays, instead contributing in exactly the sort of ways that go overlooked. He was a constant presence in crunch time lineups last season (appearing in nearly 90 percent of all such minutes while healthy), and his on court-off court impact on variations of Golden State’s “Death Lineup” was comparable to or even perhaps greater than any other member besides Curry himself. He’s the most important defensive player outside Green and a vital locker room presence, and shouldn’t be looked past as part of the heart of this team.
Top New Addition: Kevin Durant
Yeah, the contrarian pick might be a bit difficult to sell here. We covered much of Durant’s potential impact, but a couple other summer signings will be meaningful as well.
Zaza Pachulia took a huge pay cut to chase a ring, and should take over for Andrew Bogut in the starting center spot. He’s not the passer, defender or overall basketball savant Bogut is, but he’s a more durable body who brings consistent effort and performance. David West brings another veteran voice to the locker room as a solid backup who can play both big positions, though it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank at 36 years old. Neither are stars, but with so much skill at the top of the roster there’s no need – these guys will provide solid complementary skills and depth.
– Ben Dowsett
WHO WE LIKE
- Klay Thompson
Oh yeah, him. It’s a little insane that a truly legitimate case can be made for the second-best shooter in the entire NBA as just the fourth-most important piece of the equation for his team, but here we are.
Concerns about Thompson’s usage and involvement are at least partially valid, but questions about his role aren’t: It’s the same. He’ll use wildly underrated conditioning (almost certainly best on the team and among the tops in the league) to continuously rocket around picks and open up space with his gravity offensively, then spend most of nearly every game locking down the opponent’s top guard defensively. Thompson is prone to the sort of shooting barrages even Curry can’t match, and we should see even more of these with Durant around to draw attention.
If the number of mouths to feed in the offense becomes a problem, the Warriors will cross that bridge when they come to it. For now, they’ll simply plug even more talent into his lineups and turn Klay loose with the exact same mandate as last season. A not-so-bold prediction: He leads the NBA in three-point percentage among volume shooters next season.
- Steve Kerr
Whether you do or don’t believe Kerr had his share of correctable errors at various points last season, there’s little doubt the year will serve as a vital learning experience. Even the best of us make our share of mistakes, and failure is necessary before success can truly be attained for most in the NBA. Kerr has had the summer to reflect on his bigger picture (when he’s not fist-pumping at the team’s offseason acquisitions at least), and should have more perspective for a group almost certain to chase some more history. He’s already proven himself times over as one of the most adaptable and player-friendly coaches in the league, with strong tactical chops and a willingness to critique himself. It’s easy to forget he’s only entering his third NBA season at the helm – he’s still likely improving as a coach.
- Shaun Livingston
Livingston has put a catastrophic injury well behind him in becoming a key bench cog for the Warriors, one with the skills to prop up an offense for a few minutes a game (his midrange post game felt unstoppable for long stretches last season) plus the size at the point to maintain the Dubs’ switch-everything defensive identity. His size makes him capable of fitting in alongside starter-heavy units when there’s a need, and he may have been the single Warrior most capable of exploiting a one-on-one size mismatch in a pinch until Durant came along. He’ll continue to do important work behind the scenes.
- David West
West brings experience, savvy and guile as the team’s new elder statesman, and more importantly might save Kerr from his maddening tendency to trot Anderson Varejao out at strange times. He’s physical enough to help make up for a general lack of size at the big positions, and could be a great mentor for someone like Green.
– Ben Dowsett
SALARY CAP 101
Once Kevin Durant agreed to join the Warriors, the team renounced the rights to free agents Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and others, then traded Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks. Once they had enough room under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, they signed Durant to a two-year, $54.3 million contract. Durant can opt out next season, and either re-sign with Non-Bird Rights at $31.8 million — or push Golden State to use cap room to pay him a maximum salary that projects to be $33.5 million with a $102 million projected salary cap. The former makes a lot more sense for the team, and is probably a necessary sacrifice for Durant.
Meanwhile, the team has 14 guaranteed salaries, with five players vying for one spot (Elliot Williams, JaVale McGee, Phil Pressey, Cameron Jones and Elgin Cook). The team has until the end of October to pick up Kevon Looney’s rookie-scale option. Next summer, the Warriors can get to about $60 million in cap space, but that number assumes Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Durant move on as free agents. Naturally, the Warriors would seriously prefer to not drop under next year’s cap.
– Eric Pincus
Barring catastrophe, the Warriors will contend with some of the most dominant offenses in league history. They’re the most talented group of shooters ever assembled by a wide margin, and Durant brings them one of the league’s most efficient one-on-one options for the brief stretches where gravity within their team scheme isn’t enough. Expect them to once again be near the league lead in transition chances and efficiency, plus overall pace – no one is more comfortable trading quick possessions. They could be in for some amount of defensive slippage, but it’s possible this still remains a strength with a number of talented, like-sized guys in the rotation and Green at the helm. Green was also the linchpin for strong team rebounding figures, which should likely continue this year.
– Ben Dowsett
Depth concerns are probably overstated among those simply trying to find something negative about this team, but Green could be the exception here: Where guys like Durant, Curry and Thompson at least have some of the same overlapping skills and gravity, no one else on this roster does what Draymond does or even comes close. Any prolonged absence or slippage from Green is the only semi-realistic regular season scenario that really casts doubt on the team’s depth, but that scenario could be scarier than most assume. Age and durability are concerns for basically the entire frontcourt outside of Green. It’s also fair to wonder whether the likes of Pachulia and West are as capable on either end of the ball as Bogut and Festus Ezeli, particularly defensively, and whether the season-long trickle-down might be enough to drop the Warriors out of the league’s top 10 for defensive efficiency.
– Ben Dowsett
THE BURNING QUESTION
Do the Warriors win a ring or not?
Every team has an abundance of smaller queries that add up to this big one, but few others in recent memory have been in a situation where that all-important question is so singularly prominent. This is arguably the strongest collection of talent to ever share a court in this league, and anything but the ultimate prize will, right or wrong, be considered a failure. What the Warriors do during the regular season is about as close to irrelevant as it gets – their entire year will be sculpted with that couple-month stretch from April to June solely in mind. Expectations are sky-high, but so is this group’s confidence and, of course, their skill level. Only the hardware will represent a successful season this time around.
– Ben Dowsett
NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers
The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.
Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers
While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.
It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.
So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.
Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.
The Potential Future All-Stars
DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players
Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs
The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust
Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs
Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.
If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.
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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years
CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.
Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.
Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.
Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.
But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.
Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.
After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.
From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.
“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.
“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”
Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.
Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.
The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.
But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.
“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”
And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.
Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.
“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”
The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.
To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.
Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.
But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.
“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”
It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.
“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”
Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.
“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”
In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.
If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.
“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”
But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.
Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.
“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.
“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”
Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?
Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.
And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.
“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.
“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”
NBA Daily: This Might Be the Spurs’ Final Stand
The bizarre Kawhi Leonard situation won’t resolve itself cleanly, which means the Spurs may have to pull the plug, writes Matt John.
“All good things must come to an end.” – Chaucer in 1374
If there is one team that has been the closest to replicating the Boston Celtics’ dynasty from the Bill Russell days, it has been the San Antonio Spurs. Over the past two decades, the Spurs have established a consistent model of winning thanks to Hall of Fame talent, legendary coaching and other-worldly scouting.
The only other team in the entire world of sports that has rivaled the Spurs’ prolonged success in the 21st century has been the New England Patriots. However, much like the Patriots, there have been more and more reports recently of dysfunction behind the scenes, with superstar Kawhi Leonard front and center to all of it. If things really are as bad as they appear to be, then Kawhi’s days as a Spur are numbered, and by the same token, so are the Spurs’ days of contention.
No one knows what exactly is going on with Leonard at the moment. There have been reports that, physically, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is fully capable of returning to the floor, but he chooses not to. Now, his rehab is expected to sideline him for the entirety of the playoffs. Leonard technically isn’t doing anything against the rules, but his actions have made both his team and the league take notice.
Leonard and the Spurs could hypothetically reconcile and put this all behind them, but given all that’s happened throughout the course of the season, that ship seems to have sailed a long time ago. Through the duration of the season, Kawhi’s teammates have called him out, his coach has been steadfastly candid when asked about what’s going on, and now, players around the league are already predicting who his next team will be.
This all spells out a potentially ugly divorce between the Spurs and their franchise player.
So, the Spurs’ obvious next move would be to trade Kawhi for as much value as they can get this off-season. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, the Spurs won’t be able to acquire nearly as much value for Kawhi now as they could have in years’ past. It is true that when Leonard is 100 percent healthy, he is one of the league’s best players. But this bizarre situation, along with his player option after next season, has demolished his trade value.
These days, teams don’t give up valuable assets for star players if there’s a risk that said star player could leave the team after only one year. Teams saw what happened to the Lakers after the Dwight Howard trade blew up in their face, and they saw how crippled the Nets became after they gave away the farm for Paul Pierce among other Celtics that they acquired. If a superstar whose contract is potentially expiring goes on the market, teams will lowball in trade discussions for him.
Case in point: last summer, pretty much everyone agreed that the Thunder acquired Paul George for peanuts when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That may have worked out for the best for Indiana, but that was sheer luck because Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ value was much lower than it is now. Kawhi could fetch a half decent player and maybe a late-lottery pick given his reputation, but that would probably not fill the large void that he would leave behind.
It’s for that reason that the Spurs’ reign may be coming to an end. If they trade Kawhi this summer, they’re not going to get equal value for him, which means they won’t be able to remain among the best in the Western Conference. It’s quite a shame, because Leonard’s apparent fall-out with the Spurs has overshadowed one of the better under-the-radar stories in the league: The Spurs’ perseverance.
The fact that the Spurs still made the playoffs in the Western Conference, which required 47 wins this season, is remarkable. Thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge’s rejuvenation, who has averaged his best numbers as a Spur this season by far, and Coach Pop’s brilliance among other reasons, the Spurs have kept the ball rolling without Kawhi. Alas, without him, the team is firmly not in the title discussion, and the Spurs can’t do much about it.
The Spurs could ride it out by keeping the rest of the core together along with what they would bring back for Leonard, but there wouldn’t be much point. Guys as impactful Leonard are not easily replaceable in this league, and the Spurs’ competition in the West will be as strong as ever next season. As unappealing as it might sound, the Spurs may have to just start over.
That wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Aldridge’s phenomenal season has probably skyrocketed his trade value, so the Spurs would get a good haul for him. The Spurs aren’t in a bad salary cap situation either. Besides Pau Gasol, the team doesn’t have any bad contracts. Tony Parker’s deal is up after this season while Rudy Gay and Danny Green have player options, but both are likely to opt-in given the lack of money on the open market this summer. The team even has some intriguing young talent, such as Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. Re-building wouldn’t be the worst option for San Antonio.
With all of that considered, it would still be very disappointing to see such a glorious era end so anticlimactically. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to lead the new era of Spurs basketball, but now it looks like he may be the Spurs’ undoing, which they may have no choice now but to accept.
Many were looking forward to San Antonio’s demise, but for a team that has remained in the title discussion since the days of President Clinton, the Spurs didn’t deserve an ending like this.