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This Summer’s Most Creative NBA Deals

Salary cap guru Eric Pincus looks at some of the most creative contracts signed this summer.

Eric Pincus

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The initial barrage of free agency is complete.  While a few stragglers remain, most of the impact free agents are off the board.

LeBron James has yet to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that’s presumed to be fait accompli.  Kevin Durant has relocated to the Golden State Warriors.  The Los Angeles Lakers quickly locked in Timofey Mozgov.

Some teams still have spending power, like the Boston Celtics – who are still hoping to make a blockbuster trade – or the Brooklyn Nets with almost $19 million left in cap space.

A few franchises managed to stay above the NBA’s record $94 million salary cap, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in an either/or situation, presently over but capable of dropping under by as much as $14.4 million.

Of the many completed deals, a number jump out as particularly creative:

Short-Term Rondo

The Chicago Bulls invested in Rajon Rondo, but with a relatively cheap escape clause.  The veteran point guard will earn $14 million for the coming season, then $13.4 million for 2017-18 – but only $3 million of that second year is guaranteed.  Should the Rondo experiment go south, the Bulls can cut him, stretching out his salary over three season at $1 million apiece.

Rondo could also prove to be a trade asset, should a team want to come off a more expensive salary, looking for a cheap partially-guaranteed player to acquire and cut to clear cap space.

James Harden Renegotiate and Extend

The Houston Rockets had hoped to make a bigger splash in free agency than Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, but the team is happy with their summer acquisitions.  More importantly, the team used their available cap space to restructure Harden’s contract from $16.8 million for 2016-17, to a maximum salary of $26.5 million – locking in an additional year (or two, giving Harden a player option for 2019-20) for their generosity.

The mechanics of Houston’s move was covered in May.  The Utah Jazz still have just about enough cap room to do the same with forward/center Derrick Favors.

Moving Quickly Under Pressure

The Brooklyn Nets gave significant offers to restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe.  Both the Miami HEAT and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, opted to match – but they made sure to use up as much cap room as possible before they did.

The HEAT rushed to add in Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Luke Babbitt (via trade) and Udonis Haslem.

The Blazers made sure they locked in Evan Turner, Jake Layman and Festus Ezeli, before using Crabbe’s Bird Rights (with just a $2.7 million cap hold) to match his deal starting at $18.5 million.

Ezeli on the Cheap

While the Lakers gave Mozgov $64 million over four years, the Blazers landed Ezeli with a scant two-year deal worth $15.1 million.  Ezeli’s second season at $7.7 million is only guaranteed for $1 million – potentially one of the best bang-for-the-buck contracts signed this summer.

Arenas Rule Offers

The Nets were not successful luring Johnson away from Miami, but their offer – which would have hit their books at a flat $12.5 million a year for four seasons – will cost the HEAT $5.6 million and $5.9 million over the first two years, then $19.2 million each over the final two.

Johnson was a restricted free agent with Early Bird Rights, making him an Arenas-rule free agent.

The Detroit Pistons also made a similar, albeit smaller, Arenas-rule offer to Boban Marjanovic.  The San Antonio Spurs didn’t have Early Bird Rights for Marjanovic, and not enough cap room to match.  The second-year center will earn $21 million over three years in Detroit.

Lakers’ Checkmark Contracts

Whether or not the Lakers invested wisely in Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson and Mozgov is subjective, but the team clearly has an eye on cap room next summer.

The Lakers gave the trio of signings higher salaries for 2016-17, which then descend a year before rising again in seasons three and four.  The team could have nearly $32 million in cap space next summer.

Los Angeles also used their cap room to add on a couple of second-round picks, and a veteran reserve point guard in Jose Calderon from the Chicago Bulls.

The team has held off on signing Tarik Black, Marcelo Huertas and second-overall pick Brandon Ingram, keeping an eye on what could be $13.6 million in cap room (assuming the team also waives and stretched Nick Young).

The Lakers do have an unnamed trade target in mind, but are also preserving space for another opportunistic Calderon-like deal.

Additionally, Los Angeles chose to give Clarkson a $50 million contract over four years, instead of letting the third-year guard find an Arenas-rule offer, which would have nearly doubled the salary cap hits in the third and fourth years of his contract.

Warriors Clearing Room for Durant

While it can be important to plan for future cap space, the Warriors showed that room can be generated on the fly.

To land Durant, the team shed a number of free agents, including Harrison Barnes and Ezeli, but the key move was finding a taker for Andrew Bogut in the Dallas Mavericks.

Conley Got Paid

Hats off to the Memphis Grizzlies for giving Mike Conley the biggest contract in NBA history.  Right or wrong, it was a bold, unprecedented move with Conley benefiting from the unique economic circumstances of the summer.

Conley’s has an early termination option on his final season (2020-21) and, should he decide to finish his contract, “only” $22.4 million of his $34.5 million is guaranteed.  Conley can lock in that full salary if he played in 55 games in either of the 2018-19 or 2019-20 seasons.

Ramping Guarantees

Both the Mavericks and HEAT got a bit extreme in the guarantees with rookies Dorian Finney-Smith and Rodney McGruder, respectively.

Finney-Smith has $100,000 of his three-year rookie deal locked in, but will get $150,000 if he can last to opening night, then $200,000 by Dec. 15.  His salary for 2017-18, should he get through his various cut-down dates this year, has a similar schedule.

McGruder has even more milestones to get through, starting at a similar $100,000.  He then steps up to $150,000 on Aug. 1, $300,000 by Miami’s first game and $400,000 on Dec. 1.

Both Finney-Smith and McGruder will earn minimum salaries over their three-year, $2.5 million deals.  Both will be fully guaranteed for 2016-17 on the league-wide cut-down date of Jan. 10.

Rookies on Three-Year Deals

The New Orleans Pelicans have agreements with a number of free agents, but have held off on signing, making sure the franchise has the cap room first to ink Cheick Diallo (33rd overall pick) to a three-year deal.

The Houston Rockets made sure they had enough room to agree to a three-season contract with Chinanu Onuaku (37th pick).

In most cases, teams should have cap room to sign at least one rookie free agent for three years instead of two, establishing Full Bird Rights before inking their summer’s free agent haul.

The Warriors could have with Pat McCaw (38th pick), but either neglected to or McCaw’s agent wasn’t open to a longer contract.

Kings Win with Afflalo, Tolliver

Sacramento signed Arron Afflalo to a two-year, $25 million contract.  Anthony Tolliver will earn $16 million over the same period.

Afflalo only has $1.5 million of his 2017-18 salary locked in, while Tolliver’s is slightly higher at $2.0 million.

Should the Kings look to package the pair in trade, the combined outgoing salary of $20.5 million, guaranteed for just $3.5 million combined, might be especially attractive to other teams in trade.

Honorable Mention

The Cavaliers paid $200,000 to the Milwaukee Bucks to generate a trade exception for Matthew Dellavedova, which they immediately used to take on Mike Dunleavy from the Bulls – enabling Cleveland to keep their $9.6 million trade exception for Anderson Varejao, which doesn’t expire until Feb. 18.

Cap room isn’t all about free agency.  The Jazz were able to add on George Hill and Boris Diaw with cap room via trade, although the team did give up the 12th pick in June (Taurean Prince) to the Atlanta Hawks to bring on Hill (from the Indiana Pacers in a three-team deal).

Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers signed a favorable deal with Gerald Henderson, who will earn $9 million flat for two straight years, but his second season is only $1 million guaranteed.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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