Kevin Durant is a free agent this summer, in case you haven’t heard, and while most experts seem to agree that Oklahoma City is still the front-runner to hold onto the former MVP, that doesn’t mean much once the recruiting process gets underway. Just about every NBA player ever interviewed about free agency and trades has said something to the effect of, “The NBA is a business first and foremost,” because they understand that it’s extremely unlikely that a player will spend his entire career in one city. A lot of these guys don’t even buy houses until after they’ve retired.
While the players understand and appreciate the business aspect of the game, fans don’t always take free agency quite so well. Occasionally, a player burns his former city so badly by leaving that it takes years for fans to forgive them, if they ever do. Hell hath no fury like a fan base scorned. We don’t always take breakups well.
Knowing that, here are five of the worst breakups in the history of free agency:
#5 – Tracy McGrady, Toronto Raptors/Orlando Magic – While no Raptor will ever be more despised than Vince Carter, McGrady definitely is up there in terms of fan ire because of how he bolted for Orlando the second his rookie contract ended in 2000, a year that also saw the Raptors make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Fans saw McGrady and Carter as the foundation of a team that could compete perennially for championships, but when T-Mac so hungrily embraced free agency that summer the narrative quickly settled into his heading to either Chicago or Orlando. The Raptors are obviously missing from that list.
To this day, McGrady says he would have stayed in Toronto had he been a little more mature and self-aware at the time, but a 21-year-old dealing with that kind of money doesn’t always make the best decisions. Frankly, 21-year-olds without that kind of money don’t always make the best decisions.
McGrady helped usher the Raptors toward their first taste of credibility, only to skedaddle as soon as humanly possible, right before he hit the peak of his career. Chris Bosh, for what it’s worth, is pretty detested in Canada too, but at least he played out a full post-rookie contract with Toronto before leaving. McGrady was a ghost long before that.
#4 – Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic/L.A. Lakers – It’s always easy to tell just how bitter a free agency divorce is based on the way the player talks about his old city. O’Neal, when he made the decision in 1996 to abandon the team that drafted him in favor of Hollywood, called the city of Orlando a “dried up pond,” which is no way to endear a fan base to you on your way out the door.
O’Neal, despite missing 28 games in 1995-1996, was coming off a monster year in which he averaged 26.6 PPG and 11 RPG and led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. His departure meant Orlando lost arguably the best player in the game at the time for absolutely nothing. That endears a fan base to you even less than petty insults.
#3 – Carlos Boozer, Cleveland Cavaliers/Utah Jazz – Imagine that there’s an NBA team today with a player on the roster who just put up 15.5 PPG and 11.4 RPG, and the team has a $695,000 option on that player to bring him back for another year at a bargain-basement price. That’s what the Cleveland Cavaliers were facing following the 2003-04 NBA campaign, when Carlos Boozer put up a superb season as LeBron James’ sidekick, looking for all the world like the start of something really special in Cleveland.
Boozer and his representation begged and pleaded with the organization to deny that option, which would make him an unrestricted free agent, but with the promise that Boozer would sign right back with the Cavaliers for something in the neighborhood of six years and $39 million. The Cleveland front office, trying to do right by their burgeoning young star, made the handshake deal and turned down the option.
Boozer, however, did not immediately sign the aforementioned deal. How could he with so many other teams showing interest and lobbing numbers his way significantly higher than those offered by the Cavs?
Ultimately, Utah signed Boozer to a six-year, $70 million deal that proved too rich for the Cavaliers to even attempt to match, let alone exceed. It was an immensely painful situation for Cavs fans, and for Boozer and James in particular, who both played in the Olympics together that summer despite the nasty breakup. It was awkward, and for what it’s worth, that Olympic team was the only one not to win gold since 1988.
#2 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers/Miami HEAT – All is forgiven now that LeBron has returned to Cleveland and won the city its first championship in over half a century, but back in 2010 James inadvertently initiated the most public and heart-wrenching free agency burn the basketball world had ever seen.
It started off the way Kevin Durant’s free agency is shaping up this summer, with a list of potential teams and plans to interview with each of them, but as the wooing process lingered on, the decision quickly became “The Decision,” an impromptu half-hour television special that turned LeBron’s choice into a major prime-time event. There, with millions of people watching, Cavaliers fans waited with baited breath as James announced, after 20 minutes of televised stalling, that he would be taking his talents to South Beach.
Looking back now, with two rings and four Finals appearances to show for his time in Miami, we can understand why he made the choice he did. He, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were a formidable trio there. What hurt Cleveland so badly was the public and humiliating way with which he abandoned ship. Dan Gilbert took a lot of grief for his Comic Sans opus of an owner scorned (the eventual sign-and-trade earned Cleveland only a traded player exception and a couple of bum draft picks), but he spoke for a lot of Cavs fans at the time. They were mad, and rightfully so.
They’re less mad now, and LeBron righted his wrong when his free agency reoccurred four years later, but that doesn’t change just how brutal his exit was back in 2010.
#1 – DeAndre Jordan, Dallas Mavericks/L.A. Clippers – Perhaps this wound is the most painful because it’s the freshest, but history will probably prove this to be the harshest free agency burn the game has ever seen.
The Mavericks heavily, heavily wooed Jordan in the summer of 2015, making him feel like the belle of the ball with trips to fancy restaurants, exclusive clubs and talk of transforming him into the best center in the NBA. They promised him an increased role in the Mavs’ offense, something he would never see as a member of the Clippers, and Chandler Parsons took it upon himself to be the team’s biggest recruiter, relentlessly hounding Jordan with the fun and entertainment that could be berthed from a career working for Mark Cuban.
It all worked, too, as Jordan agreed to terms on a contract with the Mavericks during the seven-day free agency moratorium, that long week between when teams can negotiate with free agents and when they can actually sign them, which means it would be a few days before he could actually sign on the dotted line.
In the days before the expiration of the moratorium, Jordan talked with people close to him and realized that maybe he wasn’t suited for a larger role in the offense. He didn’t like the idea of taking double-teams every night, of shooting even more free-throws as poorly as anybody in the NBA this side of Andre Drummond. Clippers boss Doc Rivers eventually reached out and persuaded Jordan that he’d gotten caught up in the process, and that L.A. was still the best fit for him as a professional.
And then Jordan changed his mind. He ended up signing with the Clippers, leaving Cuban and the Mavericks with zilch entirely too late in the free agency process to pursue any backup plans. Dallas ended up having a much better year than anybody expected, but that summer gut punch would have made a lost year completely understandable. Dallas’ hate for DeAndre isn’t anywhere near as strong as Toronto’s hate for McGrady and Carter and Bosh, but that spurn was so nasty that it may eventually prompt changes to that moratorium system.
A spurn that changes the rules is an epic one. Jordan broke hearts all over Central Texas.
Kevin Durant has a fantastic opportunity to jilt a committed Oklahoma City fan base and join this list of harsh free agency burns, and if he does leave there’s very little reason to believe those people won’t be deeply, deeply upset, no matter how it happens.
For now, though, it looks like there’s a good chance that Durant stays off of this list. For the sake of his likeability and Oklahoma City’s ability to enjoy basketball, let’s hope so.
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?
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.
Tyler Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Bucks, still with no plans for an MRI on his sprained left ankle sustained Monday in Chicago. He remains with the team, which did not practice Tuesday.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) January 16, 2018
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.
NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?
Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?
Is It Time To Sell?
Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.
Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!
The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.
Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.
That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.
While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.
The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.
The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.
The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.
The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.
For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.
The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).
That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.
If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.
The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.
It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.
League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.
The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?
It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?
Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.
It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.
At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.
If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.
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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal
Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.
Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.
So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.
You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.
With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.
He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.
But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.
Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.
These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.
Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.
The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.
Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.
The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.