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Lakers Face Complications in Acquiring Thibodeau

Through the lens of a theoretical Lakers trade for Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls signing of Nikola Mirotic, Nate Duncan looks at how the minutiae of the Collective Bargaining Agreement provide a window into the detail required to run an NBA team

Nate Duncan

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Lakers Face Complications in Acquiring Thibodeau

With the Los Angeles Lakers job open, it has been reported that the team might attempt to trade for Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who remains under contract with the Bulls for another three years.

Such a deal is very unlikely even if there were some interest on the part of both parties because figuring out compensation that makes sense for both franchises is difficult, so this is a bit of an academic exercise. The Lakers would be fools to part with a cost-controlled top-three pick for Thibodeau and are so bereft of talent that even giving up a top-six pick (where the Lakers will fall if the lottery does not boost them into the top three) to get a win-now coach for a barren roster seems a poor idea.

For the Bulls team with championship aspirations and hopes of acquiring another star to pair with Derrick Rose for next season, Thibodeau is almost certainly more valuable than the raw sixth or seventh pick that the Lakers probably don’t want to give up anyway.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting exercise to determine exactly what the NBA could do. The first, as we saw during the Doc Rivers saga last summer, provides that a player cannot be traded for a coach. It was for this reason that the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics were prohibited from trading any players this season after it was reported that Celtics players such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce might be included in a package deal for DeAndre Jordan as part of the Rivers transaction.*

*Incidentally, Clippers fans have to be pretty happy that trade did not go through. It is amazing what a season under Rivers has done for Jordan’s value.

So, only a draft pick can be traded for a coach. However, the Lakers face complications on that front as well due to the Ted Stepien* rule, which states that a team cannot make a trade that would leave it without a future first-round draft pick in any two consecutive years in the future.

*The exact language from the NBA’s newly released By-Laws, Section 7.03:

7.03. First Round Draft Choice. No Member may sell its rights to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft for cash or its equivalent, or trade or exchange its right to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft if the result of such trade or exchange may be to leave the Member without first-round picks in any two (2) consecutive future NBA Drafts.

Therefore, any trade involving a Lakers’ first-rounder is complicated by this:

  • 2015 — Owe first-rounder (top-five protected, top-three protected through 2017, unprotected in 2018) to Phoenix Suns (Steve Nash).
  • 2017 — Owe first-rounder (top-five protected through 2018, unprotected in 2019) to Orlando Magic (Dwight Howard). If 2015 first-rounder not sent to Phoenix by 2017, pick to Orlando converts to 2017 and 2018 second-rounders.

Therefore, the earliest future first-rounder the Lakers can trade is their 2019 pick. However, if the Lakers were really desperate to surrender yet another draft pick to the Bulls, they have two potential avenues open. The first would be a pick swap with Chicago for either the 16th or 19th pick in this year’s draft. This would be legal, because the Stepien rule merely requires that you not be without a first-round pick in consecutive future years, not that the retained pick necessarily be your first-round pick.

Another potential option would be making a trade of rights to their drafted player after the draft is over. This too would avoid running afoul of the Stepien rule, as it only applies to future first-rounders. Once the pick is made, it no longer counts. However, it is unclear whether the rights to a draftee would count as a “player” under the rule prohibiting the trade of a player for a coach, as the rule does not specifically address that situation.

To me, it would seem to violate the spirit of the rule if a player’s draft rights could be traded for a coach. But our CBA guru Larry Coon is of the belief that the league would likely allow it, although it would require a ruling if the situation ever arose.

Of course, as we’ve noted, it is exceedingly unlikely to do so in this case. Perhaps the greatest complication is that Thibodeau might not want to coach the Lakers. While “trading for” a coach is often discussed, coaches cannot be traded against their will under their existing contracts the way players can. The deal is structured so that the team receives the draft pick in exchange for simply letting the coach out of his contract. This is what happened last year, when the Celtics let Rivers out of the remaining three years and $21 million on his contract and he then signed for an identical figure (although with much more organizational power) with the Clippers. From a basketball standpoint, there is little reason for Thibodeau to leave a Bulls team that could conceivably compete for a championship next year and resides in the weaker Eastern Conference. This is especially so when the alternative is to coach a Lakers team saddled with Kobe Bryant’s albatross extension and little in the way of draft picks in the much more difficult West.

Even More Minutiae on Nikola Mirotic

This space has previously discussed the possibility of 2011 draftee Nikola Mirotic coming to the Chicago Bulls this offseason. He will no longer be subject to the rookie salary scale, easing buyout concerns. Mirotic must sign a minimum three-year deal under such an arrangement, per Article VIII, Section 2. In that piece, one option suggested to sweeten the pot for the Montenegrin was the idea of giving him a player option for a fourth year on the contract, which would assure him additional compensation in the case of injury or underperformance. However, upon further investigation it is unclear whether such a contract would be legal.

Article XII(2) puts limitations on when player options are allowed in contracts.

A Player Contract shall not contain any option in favor of the player, except: (a) an Option that: (i) is specifically negotiated between a Veteran or a Rookie (other than a First Round Pick) and a Team.

(Emphasis added.) Per Article I, Section (y), “‘First Round Pick” simply “means a player selected by a Team in the first round of the Draft.” There is no distinction listed between whether the rookie is being signed to a rookie scale contract or is signing the non-rookie scale VIII(2) contract. Therefore, it seems pretty clear that a player option* is not allowed in such a contract.

*Article XII(1) has similar language regarding team options.

However, the language of Article VIII(2) indicates that perhaps an option year can be included in such a contract. The exact language states that it is “a Contract covering no fewer than three (3) Seasons (not including any Option Year)…” The “not including any option year” implies that such contracts can have options. On the other hand, perhaps this was just included in case the rules on options elsewhere in the CBA are changed later on. Either way, the two appear somewhat inconsistent. My personal interpretation would be that team or player options on Article VIII(2) contracts are not allowed, but the league might certainly rule to the contrary.

It bears repeating that people have to write these CBAs under enormous pressure while being pulled in a million different directions. The process is usually to start with the previous CBA and make changes, and those changes are dependent upon what is collectively bargained between the parties ad hoc rather than as part of a coherent strategy. If a change is made, then the writers need to go back through the rest of the document to make sure nothing conflicts with the change, and/or that the change does not unintentionally alter the effect of any other provisions. With more than 500 pages of CBA to deal with, it is very understandable that potential contradictions like this can be missed.

Who Cares? This Will Never Happen.

It is almost certainly the case that neither of these exercises will prove the least bit important. Only a few first-rounders sign Article VIII(2) contracts; how often is an option year on such a contract really going to come into play? By the same token, coaches (or front office personnel) almost never get traded, and in this case the deal really doesn’t make sense for either side.  But these exercises provide a window into the jobs of NBA decision-makers.  If you are running an NBA team, you need to know the answers to these obscure questions – and perhaps hundreds of others like them – even if the scenario appears unlikely.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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