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Harshest NBA Free Agency Burns

Which free agent decisions stung the worst? Where does DeAndre Jordan’s change of heart rank?

Joel Brigham



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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.


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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers



This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies



After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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