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.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.