Five Things In Play?: Today’s NBA AM will be more notebook-like as we hit on the five topics making noise in the NBA.
Bledsoe And The Suns: Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe grabbed some headlines last week when he told a local TV station in Alabama that he felt like the Phoenix Suns were using restricted free agency against him.
While the tone and connotation of the comment seemed negative, it’s hard to say that getting a $12 million per year contract offer is somehow unfair when the rules don’t require it.
The truth of the matter is that while Bledsoe and his camp were seeking a maximum contract from the Suns, the Suns didn’t feel like he was going to command that on the open market and were right. Most teams in the NBA knew that had they tendered an offer in the $13 to $14 million range, the Suns would likely match it anyway, so Bledsoe did not get an offer sheet.
Sources close to the Suns have said privately they expected Bledsoe back either on a new deal or after he signs the qualifying offer they issued worth just over $3.7 million (the caphold is $6.56 million).
If Bledsoe passes on the Suns’ current offer said to be in the neighborhood of $48 million and signs the qualifying offer, he would become eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer in 2015; he would also gain the right to veto any trade.
Sources say there continues to be ongoing dialogue toward a deal and there is some sense that the Suns might increase their offer slightly; there has also been talk that Bledsoe’s camp might agree to a short-term deal that gets Bledsoe into free agency again inside the next three seasons.
A few teams have inquired about a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe, mostly at the urging of his camp. However, the Suns seemed less than interested, according to one team that inquired.
While Bledsoe is arguably one of the top free agents left on the board, it does not look like Philadelphia, who is sitting on $23 million in cap space, is going to set the price for Bledsoe, meaning the best offer on the table is from Phoenix.
There has been some talk that Milwaukee, who could get to roughly $13 million in possible space, has interest in Bledsoe, but sources say they are only interested if they can obtain him in a sign-and-trade and offload some unwanted salary in the deal.
Monroe And The Pistons: Much like Bledsoe, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe finds himself without a market. Sources close to the process say there continues to be ongoing dialogue with the Pistons and that they do want to ink Monroe to a new deal.
The problem for the Pistons is that Monroe and his camp are not overly thrilled with the idea of signing a long-term deal at what they perceive to be less than market valuation.
Much like Bledsoe there is a sense that a deal is going to be reached eventually, the question becomes for how much and how long? The Pistons obviously want to lock Monroe in for as long as they can, especially if they can keep the number in the $10-$12 million per year range.
Monroe’s camp wants a short-term deal or a player option so he can hit the unrestricted market if he agrees to a lower dollar deal.
There is no urgency to get anything done on either Monroe or Bledsoe’s part, especially if it’s a “compromise” deal.
The Pistons have listened to sign-and-trade proposals, which have really gone nowhere, mainly because the Pistons do value Monroe immensely and would want a sizable return in exchange for a deal.
Also like Bledsoe, the Sixers do not seem willing to set a price for Monroe using their cap space, so the Pistons are clearly in the driver’s seat.
While having Monroe and Bledsoe sitting unsigned seems like a negative, both have offers they could accept at any time; however both gain nothing in agreeing to a deal now, except to close the door on their options.
There had been some reports that the PSuns had considered an offer sheet for Monroe, however what the Suns were said to be considering would have been a deal in the $11 million per year range, which would be matched by Detroit.
The only way for Phoenix to get substantially more space would be to rescind their qualifying offer to Bledsoe, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.
There are currently four teams with meaningful room under the salary cap – the 76ers ($23.076 million), the Suns ($11.49 million), the Orlando Magic ($7.45 million) and the Utah Jazz ($6.18 million).
Timberwolves and Love: If you are looking for closure on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Love you better pull up a chair, because it’s going to be awhile.
There is zero urgency on the part of the Minnesota Timberwolves to make a deal. That does not mean they won’t agree to something, but what’s coming out of the process is that while Wolves’ president Flip Saunders and company have their favorites in the various proposals being talked about, they are still playing the bidding game with prospective teams.
Sources close to Love have said they were urging people to dial back the “Cleveland or else” message and that while Love seems open to all three of the situations being seriously considered – Cleveland, Golden State and Chicago, he is not willing to commit long-term to any of them as a first action. The ideal action is to hit free agency in July and ink a new long-term deal. The team that trades for him can give him the biggest financial package since they will have his Bird rights.
The Wolves, for their part, are weighing two concepts: The future, which a Cleveland package that includes Andrew Wiggins would win that argument hands down and the present, which a Chicago or Golden State offer that includes Warriors guard Klay Thompson or Bulls forward Taj Gibson would likely win out.
It has been ten seasons since the Wolves made the postseason and there is a real desire on the part of ownership and management to compete for a playoff berth this year, hence why a deal with Cleveland hasn’t been consummated.
The question for the Wolves is would they genuinely be a postseason contender adding players like Gibson and Doug McDermott or David Lee and Thompson to the roster, and the answer is maybe.
However, if the Wolves bet on the future potential of Wiggins, they would surely be stepping backwards and conceding a rebuild, that is the crux of the debate for the Wolves.
The Bulls are reported to have put a deadline on their offer, as they do not want this discussions dragging into training camp, so at least on one front there is a sense of urgency. However, until all the teams involved put the Wolves on the clock, there doesn’t seem to be closure coming, at least not in the immediate future.
Expanding All-Star Weekend: Last week the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman reported that the NBA was looking into the feasibility of a weeklong All-Star break.
Before we get crazy on this topic keep in mind the current All-Star break begins on Friday with players reporting back on Monday, so in essence four days, so what’s being considered is adding three days to that.
To achieve this, the NBA is looking at giving each team an additional back-to-back game to create the space in the schedule to accommodate the extra three days.
In 2011, the NBA scrambled to create a 66 game season that rolled substantially further into June than ever before, as a result the NBA discovered there was a lot more flexibility in their existing arena arrangements than expected and this has brought to the table all kinds of new discussion points, expanding the All-Star break being just one of them.
The NBA is said to be weighing proposals that would move the NBA Draft from the end of June into the first week of July, and move the start of free agency back potentially a full week. This would also move Summer Leagues back and have the NBA potentially having events or activity into August.
The current NBA schedule has a ton of marquee events jammed together from the NBA Draft Combine, to the NBA Finals, to the NBA Draft then to free agency – all happening right after each other.
The belief is the NBA wants to add some time between events to maximize them, and to create a yearlong calendar. The more the NBA is front and center, the better it is for business on every front, including ticket sales.
The expanded All-Star weekend schedule is not locked in yet, however it does appear the NBA is trying to see if it’s feasible for the upcoming season.
The other changes mentioned are still very much in the discussion phase, but clearly on the radar.
The New TV Deal: Much has been made about the possibilities of massive economic expansion in the NBA tied to on-going TV rights negotiations. While all parties involved are keeping these talks close to the vest there are a few things that have come out as these discussions have taken place.
It seems ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports will renew with the NBA, although there are some things that look like they may change.
There is a sense that the NBA Finals will be split up among ESPN/ABC and Turner, giving Turner potential the mid-week games, while ESPN/ABC gets the weekend games.
The current rights package pays the NBA some $940 million per year, with Turner paying some $445 million per year with ESPN/ABC paying and estimated $485 million. Those figures are expected to almost double in a new deal with some estimates pegging the new deals to be worth $1.2 to $1.4 billion annually.
The wrinkle that may really drive the value up is a third partner. There has been considerable talk that Fox Sports 1 may be closing in on securing a rights deal for what insiders are calling NBA Saturday, which is a package of Saturday night games, which could add an additional $250 to $300 million to the total.
There has also been some talk that a new rights package may also include domestic expansion options, should the NBA decide to make that move.
It’s important to take all expansion talk with a grain of salt, but J Bruce Miller a Louisville attorney, who is leading the charge to land a NBA team in Louisville wrote a substantial post for a Facebook campaign geared around bringing the NBA to Louisville. In the letter, Miller immediately denounces the idea of expansion in the immediate future, citing the ongoing mess with the Clippers, however implies that after the Donlad Sterling mess is resolved, potential expansion into new markets could add new value to the TV deal and that Seattle and Louisville are on the radar.
Again, take all expansion talk with a grain of salt.
NBA sources have warned that expansion domestically is something of a pipe dream, mainly because what gets put in terms of an expansion fee is usually never greater than what a new member team takes out of the pie, and that given how long it takes a team to ramp up sales and revenue generation, expansion simply puts one more mouth at the table that usually does not carry its own weight.
Given what a new share of the TV deal could be worth, the existing 30 owners may not be willing to share the wealth to the expand the league, but it does seem like there could be some language in the new TV deal to allow for it and that’s a huge first step.
Up Close With Darington Hobson: The Milwaukee Bucks selected Darington Hobson with the 37th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, while his NBA career never got going due to a nasty hip injury, Hobson is back on the NBA radar having just finished summer league with the Toronto Raptors and is hoping to find his way to a NBA training camp in September.
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, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.
Fixing The Chicago Bulls
Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.
Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.
In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.
Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.
There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.
What Is Working
If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.
The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.
Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.
Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.
What Needs To Change
Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.
Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.
As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.
Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.
Focus Area: The Draft
Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.
Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.
If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.
Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.
Focus Area: Free Agency
Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.
The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.
Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.
Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.
There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.
All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.
NBA Daily: 76ers’ Ben Simmons Enters Rarefied Air
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second in rookie triple-doubles.
As the Philadelphia 76ers continued their playoff push with a come-from-behind victory over the woebegone New York Knicks Thursday, rookie Ben Simmons joined some NBA legends in the record book. With his eighth triple-double of the season, Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second all-time in triple-doubles among rookies. According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, Simmons is only the third rookie to record 1000 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists.
After the win over the Knicks, Simmons told reporters that the process for him has been to disregard the expectations thrust upon him as a scorer and focus on his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.
“I try not to get carried away with what people say,” said Simmons. “People want me to be a scorer or a player that I’m not right now. I can score the ball, but I can also rebound and pass the ball. I’d rather do that and do what I’m pretty good at than force things.”
Simmons was clearly aware of the gravity of what he had accomplished in the postgame locker room. He spoke with reverence of the legendary players his name will always be associated with, including Oscar Robertson, whose record of 26 triple-doubles as a rookie may never be challenged.
“It’s surreal knowing the game’s been played for a long time,” said Simmons. “So many greats have been through. I’ve set a record with Magic and Oscar Robertson, which is surreal to me.”
Before the game, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek described how Simmons’ combination of size, speed, and court vision make him especially difficult to guard.
“He’s got the speed, he’s got those long strides and he’s got the vision as a passer to pick you apart,” said Hornacek. “You’ve got to kind of collapse and kind of create a wall to not let him get in [the paint], but then he goes ahead and throws it out to the shooters that they have on his team.”
Begley also quoted 76ers coach Brett Brown during the pregame discussing how Simmons’ assignment to the point guard position was debated within the organization.
“I’m so pleased that the organization, he, the coaching staff, had the courage to try him as a point guard,” said Brown. “Because, let’s face it, that was highly scrutinized.”
It seems it was the right decision, as Simmons’ 507 assists easily leads all rookies. Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is second with 325 while Dallas’ Dennis Smith follows with 289, De’Aaron Fox of the Kings has 262 and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz has 236. Simmons leads the 76ers with 7.7 assists per game and is third in scoring with 16.2 points, trailing leading scorer Joel Embiid (23.6) and veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick (16.6). His 7.8 rebounds per game trails only Embiid (10.9) for the team lead.
The 76ers are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, but could easily move up with only three of its final 15 games coming against teams in playoff position. Philadelphia trails the third-seed Pacers by a mere two games, so home court advantage in the first round is definitely in play. Meanwhile, Simmons said at a practice over the weekend that he hasn’t experienced a rookie wall.
“I don’t think there’s a wall,” said Simmons. “I wake up every morning and I love what I do. You’re going to have great games and you’re going to have some bad games, but that just comes with it.”
With history notched into his belt and no signs of slowing with the playoffs looming, Simmons’ All-Star snub could look even more ridiculous as time passes. Magic posted an eerily-similar 18 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game as a Lakers rookie. He was an All-Star starter and became the first rookie to be named NBA Finals MVP.
Fixing the New York Knicks
How can the Knicks build a contender around Kristaps Porzingis?
The City That Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The World’s Most Famous Arena. All home to the New York Knickerbockers.
When the Knicks are competitive, the basketball world is better for it. The NBA thrives when the Mecca is packed night in and night out. However, that’s not the reality of this rendition of the Knicks.
Sitting at 24-44, the Knicks are without their best player for the rest of the season, and are plummeting down the standings. On the bright side, with a star player already in-hand, a home run in June’s draft could move past the Knicks’ misfortunes into the next era of competitive New York basketball.
So, without further ado, let’s fix the New York Knicks.
What is Working?
To reach the point the Knicks have this season, it means not much of what they planned coming into this campaign is working. Granted, New York didn’t account for a season-ending injury to Kristaps Porzingis.
In a season that’s over before it’s actually over, the most important thing for that particular club is evaluating what they have for the next season. In that regard, certain players for the Knicks are helping their case as being fixtures for the future in New York.
After signing Trey Burke from the G-League, the former lottery pick is proving himself more than capable of contributing quality NBA minutes off of the bench. In-season finds and rediscovering talent like Burke is a positive note for new Knicks brass Steve Mills and Scott Perry can hang their hat on during an otherwise disappointing season.
Along with Burke, the development of last year’s lottery pick Frank Ntilikina is crucial. Ntilikina’s season has had its ups and downs, as most teenagers experience in their first go around with an NBA year. But the Frenchman currently leads his team in steals and has shown flashes of being a future elite wing defender in this league.
Jeff Hornacek, despite not having a full arsenal of talent at his disposal, is still taking this season to implement his system. Predicated on winning the rebounding battle and moving the basketball, two of the lone categories the Knicks actually rank in the top half of the league, Hornacek’s style of play should become more effective upon Porzingis’ return (much like their early season success).
It’s been a rough year in New York, but take away the franchise player from almost any team in the NBA and the results would surely be disappointing. Not all hope is lost for the Knicks.
What Needs to Change?
The Knicks need to evolve with the rest of the NBA.
Simply, they take too many two-point jumpers. That’s not where the rest of the league is trending. Today’s game is based on the three ball, and simple math proves three points beats two points every time.
A lot of that comes down to personnel. The Knicks only have three players who attempt three shots from deep a game — Porzingis, Courtney Lee, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Porzingis is effective when he’s on the court, Lee shoots 41 percent from downtown, but Hardaway Jr. shoots below the league average at 31 percent.
While the Knicks aren’t built right now as a team who can fire away from beyond the arc, they need to address that the best they can moving forward, or risk getting left behind in the rapid change of the game.
Equally, learning to take care of possessions needs to be a point of emphasis for New York as well. In fouls and turnovers, the Knicks rank 20th and 22nd in the league, respectively. For a team that doesn’t possess the firepower that many of the teams around the league do, making the most of their chances is going to go a long way.
Focus Area: The Draft
Thanks to Phil Jackson, the Knicks already have their franchise player in Porzingis.
And because of Porzingis’ injury this year, the Knicks have another chance in the draft lottery to add a big piece next to their star.
Ntilikina has shown signs of growth this season, but there’s no indication thus far that he’s a star caliber player capable of being Porzingis’ second option. If the season ended today, the Knicks would be picking ninth in the draft (barring some lottery magic). But New York is just two games out of jumping into the top-seven and having a chance at nabbing one of the projected elite talents in the draft.
Because of the Knicks’ situation of having just one star player, they aren’t in a position to be drafting for fit. Their game plan heading into the draft process is to identify the best talent available for where they will be drafting, and take that player regardless of position.
In other words, despite drafting a point guard last year in Ntilikina, should a talent like Trae Young or Collin Sexton be available when the Knicks are on the clock, they should take a long, hard look at selecting a player of that caliber.
To take the Knicks to the next level, Porzingis needs star caliber help. New York’s next best chance at getting their unicorn that player is in June’s draft.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The biggest elephant in the room this summer comes in the shape of Joakim Noah’s contract.
On the hook for $18,530,000 next season, the Knicks need to figure out how to shed the big man’s even bigger cap hit.
Back in January, the team and Noah came to an agreement that he would no longer be involved with the club in any basketball-related activities. While that’s a plus for the on-court production, Noah’s still collecting a paycheck. If the Knicks want to have cap flexibility to make productive moves when it comes to filling out the rest of their roster for the future, addressing Noah is the first priority in doing so.
After Noah, the Knicks have a few boisterous contracts that don’t allow them much maneuverability come summertime. Lee is on the hook for over $12 million, and Hardaway Jr. is going to cost over $17 million. While Lee has been productive this season, he’s 32 years old, and that type of price at that age isn’t ideal for a team that’s rebuilding.
Shedding some of the bigger cap hits with an eye on future summers to use the New York draw as a pitch to free agents may be a crucial decision Knicks’ brass will have to make if they want to field a more talented roster around Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever college star they come away with in June’s draft.
While this season is a wash for the Knicks, they have a star player already on their roster, which is more than a lot of teams in a similar position can say. That alone could help speed up their rebuild should they execute the other areas they need to effectively.