Stay The Course Or Tear It Down?
With the NBA regular season coming to a close in just two weeks, several teams will start their offseason and some of them have big decisions to make about the direction of their franchise, especially with so much economic flexibility coming into the NBA this summer by way of a ballooning salary cap. Here are a couple of teams to watch:
Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns seemed like the surprise team on the rise. Today, they seem like a team lost between ideas. The biggest problem for the Suns is they are heavily invested in some win-now players like big man Tyson Chandler, who has three years and more than $39 million remaining on his deal. Guard Eric Bledsoe, who is recovering from meniscus surgery (his second major knee procedure), is still owed three years and more than $43.5 million. The Suns also have a long-term deal with point guard Brandon Knight that was inked this past offseason, tying up another four years and more than $56.4 million.
In total, the Suns have $138 million owed to those three players. The good news is those players could be the right core to build a winner around, which was the plan.
However, things have fallen apart in Phoenix in a major way.
The Suns have stumbled upon some bright spots in what can only be described as a terrible season. Rookie Devin Booker has been spectacular. T.J. Warren was looking great until he broke his foot. Big man Alex Len has been posting double-doubles more nights than not.
The Suns now face a tough choice – should they stay the course with the more veteran players and try to add more to the team with their projected $37 million in potential cap space, or should they tear down some of the experience and build around the promising youth that has emerged this year?
The Suns were supposed to do a ground-up rebuild, but after finding some early success two seasons ago they went all in on veteran players thinking they had captured the magic only to find is was a desert mirage.
League sources say that majority owner Robert Sarver is planning for a top down review of the team and that changes will likely be made. Current team president Lon Babby is expected to step back into an advisory role and while the future of general manager Ryan McDonough seems secure, there is a sense that nothing is off the table at this point.
The Suns are expected to conduct a pretty thorough coaching search and that could prompt additional organizational changes.
Phoenix is viewed by other executives as a team willing to deal, so look for the Suns to be linked to a lot of scenarios leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft and as the team heads into free agency, especially with so much money committed to aging players.
The Orlando Magic have a message and they are sticking to it. That message is that they are not that far away from the playoffs, pointing to the number of games lost by fewer than five points this season and the progress some of their younger guys have made this season.
The Magic were very competitive in the early months of the season, but have cratered over the last two months. The Magic dumped off some of their longer term money at the trade deadline, setting up what could be more than $45 million in usable cap space while retaining the restricted free agent rights to guard Evan Fournier.
There are several looming questions around the Magic. Are they truly a win-now team? That has been the public-facing message for several months, but is that the case? If so, is Scott Skiles the right head coach? And what is the future of Rob Hennigan as the general manager?
Magic sources say both are more than likely back next season, although there has been some speculation that both the coach and the GM may not see the world the same way, which could simply be the result of a disappointing season.
The Magic are expected to be aggressive this offseason in pursuing some impact veterans and someone that can be the focal point of the team. There have been plenty of reports linking the Magic to former Florida Gator Al Horford and Central Florida native Chandler Parsons.
Magic sources cautioned that they are nowhere close to knowing who they have a realistic shot at in free agency and will not settle for who they feel they can get; rather, they plan to be aggressive in pursuing guys they want.
The Magic were one of the more aggressive teams at the trade deadline trying to swing a major trade, and it’s expected they will pick up where they left off once the season ends.
Unfortunately for Orlando, they are one of more than 20 NBA teams with ample cap space and among the seven NBA teams with the ability to get to a two maximum salary slots. So unlike normal offseasons, the Magic may not be able to win-out by their checkbook alone and not being in the postseason could make the sales pitch a little harder for the Magic.
There is no sense that Orlando wants to blow up their young core. Several teams tried to pry away parts of Orlando’s roster at the deadline only to be turned away. That is not to say the Magic would not be open to moving a core guy if it returned the right impact veteran, but their plan is to add to this group, not subtract from it unless it moves the team forward radically.
The Magic will have to decide whether to extend guard Victor Oladipo this summer, as they’ll have an exclusive window to do a deal. However, the sense from both sides is unless the deal is a max offer, Oladipo won’t be signing and the Magic do not seem ready to put a maximum offer on the table at this point.
This is expected to be a big offseason for the Magic and their stance today seems to be to stay the course.
The Chicago Bulls are a mess. There is no nice way to say it. The Bulls have gone from an all-grit and effort squad to a lackadaisical and lackluster team. There is real talent on the Bulls’ roster, but the new system installed by first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has left a lot of gaps. Most of those gaps surface defensively.
The Bulls have had their usual run of nagging injuries and that derailed a lot of the season, but there is also a very clear gap in how some players want to play and how Hoiberg needs them to play.
The Bulls opted to fire former head coach Tom Thibodeau because he was tough to work with, especially with the front office. The problem is the front office might be the bigger problem.
League sources say it seems unlikely that Bulls majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf would look at making a change at the top, which means this leadership team will oversee the re-tool of the roster this summer.
There has been a long-running belief that the Bulls would entertain offers on All-Star Jimmy Butler, but Chicago has been pretty adamant that Butler is the guy they want to build around going forward. That said, teams see the gaps between what Butler likes to do as a player and what Hoiberg wants him to do in the system. Add in the fact that Butler has been so vocal about the coaching situation and many around the league believe they might be able to tempt the Bulls into a deal with the right offer.
At the trade deadline, the Bulls refused to seriously engage in Butler trade talks, but that does not mean they will keep that stance as teams get aggressive with offers.
One prevailing thought is the Bulls may be open to moving Derrick Rose. There is a growing sense that both the Bulls and Rose would be better off parting ways and given that Rose will be a free agent in 2017, the Bulls have to decide if moving Rose now could return more value than hanging on to him and playing the unrestricted free agent game with him in 2017.
With so little available at the point guard position in the 2016 free agent class, would a one-year rental/try-out on Rose be more meaningful for a team desperate for a point guard than overpaying the likes of Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson?
The Bulls have some free agent issues of their own to work through, namely the future of two of their bigs in Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Both players have been saying the right things – that they would like to be back in Chicago on new deals. The question is, are both players good long-term fits for how the Bulls want to play and at what price?
Noah is eligible for a maximum salary of more than $29 million. It’s highly doubtful he lands that kind of deal. But even at $20 million, is that a good investment for the Bulls considering his fit this year?
Gasol has had a solid season, but is parking $10 to $15 million into Gasol a smart move for the Bulls, who have young guys like rookie Bobby Portis, second-year forward Doug McDermott, veteran forward Taj Gibson and second-year forward Nikola Mirotić all looking for more minutes?
The Bulls have some tough choices to make this offseason, and the sense is that major changes could be headed Chicago’s way if they are indeed going to go all the way in with Hoiberg’s style.
This Bulls front office has a long history of questionable decisions, especially in free agency. It would not be out of the question that the front office opts to keep both Gasol and Noah, because that’s how they have done things before. But if that is indeed the result, it’s hard to see the Bulls making all of this work, given how dysfunctional things have been this year.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .
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.
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.
2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players
Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.
The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.
But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.
The Top Dogs
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).
To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.
Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.
With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.
While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.
Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.
Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.
The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.
Best of the Rest
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.
Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.
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.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau.