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Head to Head: Biggest Free Agent Mistake

Which teams made the biggest mistakes in free agency last offseason? Tommy Beer, Eric Pincus and Alex Kennedy discuss.

Basketball Insiders

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Oftentimes when a notable free agent signing or trade is made, NBA fans and members of the media offer quick opinions on whether the deal was good or bad. However, there are a lot of deals that initially seem like home-runs, but turn out to be crippling for teams. In today’s Head to Head, Tommy Beer, Eric Pincus and Alex Kennedy discuss the biggest free agent mistakes that teams made this past offseason.

Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder

On the first day negotiations between teams and free agents was allowed this past offseason, it was announced that the Oklahoma City Thunder had agreed to a five-year extension with Kyle Singler worth approximately $24 million.

There were far more expensive contracts handed out this past summer. However, there were no deals that were longer, as five years is the maximum number of years allowable under the current collective bargaining agreement. Still, with the salary cap set to spike, this deal certainly won’t break the bank in Oklahoma City. Singler will account for only a fraction of their cap going forward.

The young forward out of Duke had played decently over his first three seasons in the NBA, so OKC was assuming that they would lock up a serviceable, reliable rotation player for the long-term at a fair price.

However, the issue in Oklahoma City is that Singler has been anything but reliable. In fact, Singler is struggling mightily. The numbers are downright right scary. He’s not just having a rough season, Singler is enduring a historically bad season.

Over the 292 minutes he’s played during the 2015-16 campaign, he is shooting just 29.2 percent from the floor, 22.2 percent from three-point territory and 50 percent from the free-throw line. Consider this: Per Basketball-Reference.com, Singler is on pace to become the first NBA player in 55 years to average over 10 minutes per game, yet shoot below 30 percent from the floor and post a True Shooting Percentage south of 37 percent. He also may become the first qualifying player in NBA history to ever shoot below 24 percent from three-point territory and below 30 percent from the field in the same season.

His assist to turnover ratio sits at 6:15, which means he has 2.5 times as many turnovers as assists.

His PER right now sits at at roughly 2.2, which is an unbelievably low figure since the league average is 15. Per Basketball-Reference.com, never before has an NBA player finished a season with a PER below 3 when they appeared in at least half of their team’s games and averaged at least 10 minutes per game.

His individual Offensive Rating (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) is just 75. No other Thunder rotation player has an offensive rating below 97.

Singler’s On/Off splits are similarly remarkable. The Thunder are averaging 114.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the bench. That number drops all the way down to down to 101.2 points per 100 possessions when Singler is in the game.

Maybe this is just an awful slump that Singler will bust out of in the second half of the season. The Thunder have to hope so.

Although Singler will “only” make in the neighborhood of $5 million per season, and the cap is set to jump, the Thunder will still obviously need all the salary space they can muster. As we know, Kevin Durant will be an free agent this upcoming summer. Then, in July of 2017, both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will hit the open market. Will that $24 million committed to Singler come back to bite OKC?

– Tommy Beer

Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans’ initial mistake was trading a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik, which turned into the 18th pick and ultimately forward Sam Dekker.

Asik contributed to the Pelicans’ 45-37 season, just enough wins to reach the eight seed in the Western Conference, but the frontcourt paring of All-Star Anthony Davis and Asik wasn’t nearly as dominant defensively as it should have been.

Instead of letting Asik go in free agency, the Pelicans doubled-down, giving the big man a five-year, $53 million contract.

Through 28 appearances this season, Asik has averaged a team-low 2.8 points a game.  He’s collecting 4.5 rebounds a night while playing just 16 minutes a game.

Asik is a particularly bad fit with new Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who was an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix with the Suns, which only makes the signing more perplexing – other than trying to justify the wasting of a draft pick.

The Pelicans (11-24) are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference and Asik, with his unnecessary long-term salary, hasn’t made enough of a contribution.

Bad fit, bad contract.

– Eric Pincus

Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns

By signing Tyson Chandler, the Phoenix Suns nearly landed one of the biggest free agents on the market this past summer. Shortly after inking his own deal, Chandler attended the Suns’ free agent meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, who liked the move and admitted that his decision came down to Phoenix and San Antonio. 

While adding Chandler certainly helped the Suns’ pitch – since it showed knew that Aldridge wanted to play alongside a defensive-minded center and that they were determined to win now – Aldridge still decided to sign with the Spurs.

Now, because the Aldridge gamble didn’t pay off, the young Suns squad is stuck with a 33-year-old Chandler on a four-year contract worth $52 million.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if Chandler was contributing at a high level, but he has struggled mightily early in his stint with the Suns. As of this writing, Chandler is averaging 5.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and .6 blocks – the worst stat line of his 15-year NBA career. 

While hindsight is 20/20, it’s not like this is a huge surprise given Chandler’s age and the fact that he has always played his best basketball in contract years and then come back down to earth shortly after.

The fit is also strange, since Phoenix is still trying to develop Alex Len into their center of the future. Because of this, Chandler has come off of the bench for a number of games and he’s playing just 22 minutes a night.

In other words, Chandler hasn’t been the big offseason acquisition that Phoenix hoped they were landing. If anything, he has been a shell of his former self and is drastically overpaid since he’s making $13,000,000 this season. 

Rather than taking Phoenix to the next level in the Western Conference, the team has played poorly. They are currently 13-26 (worse than last year), which puts them in 12th place in the Western Conference. After entering the year with playoff expectations, now it seems Phoenix’s best strategy may be trading off their veterans and taking a step back in their rebuilding plan.

There’s no question that Chandler has been a disappointment on the court and the fact that he’s owed so much money for three more seasons after this one makes him, in my opinion, one of the worst free agent signings of the summer.

– Alex Kennedy

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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team

Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.

Joel Brigham

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When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)

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