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NBA AM: Contract-Year Player Watch – Revisited

Today we revisit 15 contract-year players and how they’re faring down the stretch. Did they maintain, improve or decline?

Lang Greene

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Contract-Year Performers to Watch

Back in November, we took a look at 15 players who were on the verge of free agency this summer. Some guys were struggling on the floor to start the season with free agency looming in the near future, while others were putting together some of their best work under the pressure.

Today we take a look at these same guys and how they’re faring headed down the stretch. Did they maintain, improve or decline?

Hassan Whiteside, Center, Miami HEAT
2015-16 Salary: 
$981k
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
15 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 64% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 13.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 61% FG, 54 GP 

The summer of 2016 will be loaded with talented big men and Whiteside’s name will undoubtedly be among the top mentioned. Whiteside has battled numerous injuries throughout the season and is currently coming off the bench for the HEAT, but the center has consistently produced upper tier results for a team leading the Southeast Division.

 

Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.5 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats:
14.9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, 54% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 12.1 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 49% FG, 27 GP

Jefferson entered the season after shedding significant weight to improve his conditioning. However, the veteran has appeared in just 27 contests and is currently working his way back into form while coming off the bench behind Cody Zeller. It is safe to say Jefferson is no longer the franchise changer the Hornets invested in when he first arrived to town, but if healthy he can still be a difference maker on the low block in an ever changing game.

 

Kevin Durant, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Salary: 
$20.1 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 50% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 28.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 51% FG, 56 GP

Durant will be this summer’s marquee free agent available. The veteran entered the campaign attempting to shake off the injury woes from a season ago and has delivered the goods, getting better as the season has progressed. The Thunder appear to be a step behind the league leading Golden State Warriors, but potentially facing Durant in a seven-game series is a difficult task for any team.

 

Rajon Rondo, Guard, Sacramento Kings
2015-16 Salary: 
$10 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 42% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 12 assists, 45% FG, 58 GP

Rondo was a huge question mark entering the season based on his tumultuous ending in Dallas. But the veteran has put together a stellar campaign running the show in Sacramento. There were questions on how Rondo would fit in the changing league, being a guard without a consistent three-point shot, but the guard has proven to still be one of the best playmakers in the game today.

 

Andre Drummond, Center, Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Salary: 
$3.2 million
Summer Status: 
Restricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
19.4 points, 19.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 53% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 16.7 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 52% FG, 63 GP

Detroit cannot seem to fully get over the hump as a team, but Drummond snagged his first All-Star appearance and appears poised to earn his first rebounding crown at season’s end. The future is bright for the big man who has maintained a high level of play throughout the campaign.

 

Joakim Noah, Center, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.4 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
2.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 32% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 4.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 38% FG, 29 GP

Noah is out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury. But before then, the veteran appeared in just 29 contests and averaged only 22 minutes per game, which is a far cry from his All-Star days. It remains to be seen if Noah is part of the Bulls’ long-term plans, but with the injuries piling up, a move to a bench role and his expected asking price this summer, it’s more than fair to wonder if he’ll return to Chicago.

 

Mike Conley, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
2015-16 Salary: 
$9.6 million 
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6 assists, 39% FG, 8 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 42% FG, 56 GP

After a slow start to the campaign, the Grizzlies are once again in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. With center Marc Gasol out for the rest of the season, Conley takes over the primary scoring role for Memphis down the stretch.

 

Zaza Pachulia, Center, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16 Salary: 
$5.2 million 
Summer Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
9.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 9.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 47% FG, 58 GP

Tough. Hard-nosed. Unselfish. These attributes still apply for the veteran center. Pachulia spent the majority of the campaign averaging a double-double for the Mavericks who were desperately needing an inside presence to emerge.

 

Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Salary: 
$12 million
Summer Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
16.7 points, 8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49% FG, 9 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks, 51% FG, 63 GP

Another All-Star campaign for one of the game’s most consistent and steady players.

 

Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
2015-16 Salary: 
$5.7 million
Summer Status: 
Restricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
22.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 49% FG, 6 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 45% FG, 41 GP

Beal is oozing with All-Star potential and was off to a breakout campaign before injuries arose – again. So heading into the offseason, the question that continues to hover over Beal is whether the guard can stay healthy. His minutes are currently being managed by the franchise very tightly to keep the young guard healthy.

 

Marvin Williams, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$7 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
10.7 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block, 46% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1 block, 44% FG, 61 GP

Williams will always be known as the guy selected before All-Star guard Chris Paul back in 2005, but the veteran has carved out a solid career. The veteran has also been one of Charlotte’s most consistent performers this season while anchoring the club’s power forward position, averaging nearly 30 minutes per night.

 

Joe Johnson, Guard, Miami HEAT
2015-16 Salary: 
$24.9 million (bought out by Brooklyn, league minimum rest of season with Miami)
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
10.3 points, 5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 33% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Miami Only Stats: 14 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 60% FG, 5 GP

Johnson is no longer an elite player capable of carrying a team to the playoffs on his shoulders, but he figures to be an important member of Miami’s rotation once the playoffs begin.

 

Nicolas Batum, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary: 
$13.1 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 42% FG, 52 GP

Batum was hobbled by a variety of injuries last season in Portland, which impacted his production and stock. The veteran also battled injuries earlier this season but heading down the stretch, Batum is clearly showing why the Hornets believe he should be a building block for their future.

 

Eric Gordon, Guard, New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Salary: 
$15.5 million
Summer Status: 
Unrestricted Free Agent
(As of November 10, 2015) Stats: 
17.7 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP
(As of March 7, 2016) Stats: 15.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 42% FG, 45 GP

Another year, another season filled with injuries. Gordon is out for the remainder of the season after suffering a finger injury. No doubt Gordon has game, but his next team will have to assume the injury risk for the veteran.


End of the road in New Orleans for Eric Gordon?

Speaking of Gordon, it seems fitting that his tenure in New Orleans may end with the veteran guard watching from the sidelines – in a tailored suit. Gordon is in the final year of his current deal and will enter the summer as an unrestricted free agent for the first time of his career.

The guard was traded to the Pelicans prior to the 2012 campaign, in the Chris Paul blockbuster, after spending his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers where he was emerging as a potential star. But his run in Pelicans has been filled with ups, downs, flashes of potential and injuries. At one point, he even signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent and asked New Orleans to let him leave, but the Pelicans matched anyway.

New Orleans officially announced Gordon would miss the remainder of this season after undergoing successful surgery to repair his fractured right ring finger. During Gordon’s five seasons with the Pelicans, the veteran never appeared in more than 64 contests in any campaign and played in just 221 out of a possible 394 games since arriving to town.

While Gordon and the Pelicans’ brass have maintained a public vow to explore a long-term relationship this summer, it is widely expected that the guard will fully explore all of his options.

In 221 contests (five seasons) with the Pelicans, Gordon has averaged 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds. In 196 contests (three seasons) with the Clippers, Gordon averaged 18.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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