The Ending Contracts
With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline approaching on Thursday, February 23 at 3 p.m. EST, there is more and more chatter in NBA circles, and the biggest questions facing NBA teams is what to do with their ending contract or possible ending contract players.
The bulk of deals done at the deadline usually involve players on expiring contracts that their incumbent teams feel could walk as unrestricted free agents or get priced out of a range that makes sense for them. While there are more than 70 players that fall into this category, there are some top tier guys worth watching and a few in the next tier that could be attractive in a trade.
Top Of The List
Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors – $12,112,359
If there was any doubt in your mind, let’s set the record completely straight. Steph Curry is re-signing in Golden State. He’ll qualify for the new Designated Veteran contract and will ink for more than $210 million in July. As much as people in Charlotte or New York dream of Curry, it’s not likely to happen.
Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers – $22,868,827 – $24,268,959
The same is basically true of Chris Paul. He’ll opt out of his final $24.26 million and ink a new deal with the Clippers for north of $200 million. While Knicks fan often dream of a Carmelo Anthony-Paul tandem, it’s not going to happen. Sources close to the process said that it’s already been verbally agreed to and it’s simply a function of the calendar and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicking in.
Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans – $11,286,518
Several teams were hoping to pry Holiday out of New Orleans, however, with Sunday’s DeMarcus Cousins deal, the Pelicans have gone all in on this roster and are comfortable with where they stand with Holiday, mainly because they can give him the largest deal in free agency. The Pelicans are prepared to do a max or near max deal for Holiday (according to sources) and that salary value may be too rich for other suitors, especially given Holiday’s injury history. While nothing is done until it’s done, the Pelicans are prepared for the risk of losing Holiday but feel like the outcome of the season post-Cousins trade and a hefty offer could help them sway Holiday back for another deal.
Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – $16,073,140 – $16,736,710
One NBA executive joked recently that it was a two-horse race as it pertains to Hayward’s future, suggesting he’d only meet with the Celtics and Jazz in free agency and if he makes an All-NBA team, then the decision gets easier. Hayward has a $16.73 million player option that he is expected to decline. The Jazz will have to face the facts that Hayward can’t really commit to them long-term until this summer and he won’t know if he’ll qualify for the huge payday of a designated veteran until after the season. The Jazz are, at this point, turning away anything with Hayward attached, but there is a reality to all of what Utah will have to come to grips with. League sources doubted seriously that Utah trades Hayward and concede that although there is a risk, it will be tough for Hayward to get an All-NBA selection this year, despite being named an All-Star.
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors – $12,000,000 – $12,000,000
The recent struggles with the Raptors got some NBA people wondering if Lowry would commit to the Raptors long term. Over the NBA All-Star break, it was said pretty dramatically that Lowry is all in with the Raptors and the team is prepared to get him a huge new deal this summer. It’s one of the reasons they traded for the Bird rights of Serge Ibaka, as they know full well that Lowry will garner a ton of attention, especially from his hometown Philadelphia 76ers—who have nothing but cap space. They also have nothing to lose in throwing a full max offer starting at $30.6 million on the table. Sources close to the Raptors said this weekend there was almost no scenario in which the Raptors wouldn’t pony up the money unless Lowry told them directly that he does not want to be there. Today, though, that is not the case. Lowry does have a player option worth $12 million, but he is obviously expected to decline it.
Derrick Rose – New York Knicks – $21,323,252
The New York Knicks could trade Derrick Rose before the deadline (maybe to Minnesota). League sources have said he is completely available. The problem is that he’s owed so much as a salary cap charge, moving him would be hard. There have been more than a few insiders that wonder if the Knicks would take on some salary in exchange for moving Rose as a mechanism to obtain a player they maybe missed out on signing. However, Knicks sources said they covet the flexibility more than any of the players the Knicks could obtain at the deadline. It’s not out of the question that Rose is ultimately moved, but it’s not viewed as very probable.
Taj Gibson – Chicago Bulls – $8,950,000
Gibson has been in the rumor mill for most of his career, so now that he’s at the end of his deal, the amusing note from Bulls sources is that ultimately, they would like to re-sign him. While on the surface that may seem comical given how long his name has been out there, the Bulls have been reluctant to move Gibson this year (although he is said to be available). League sources said it might be inevitable for the Bulls to move Gibson, mainly because there is a belief he’d like to move on in free agency and could walk from Chicago for nothing in return. While most of the chatter around the Bulls has been about the future of Jimmy Butler, Gibson might be the only guy they seriously move.
Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks – $17,145,838 – $17,884,176
The Monroe situation is one worth watching, mainly because the Bucks have shopped him aggressively for over a year. The fact that he has a player option on his deal makes extracting trade value for him a little tough, but with the deadline upon them, the Bucks need to decide whether to cash him out or risk him walking away for nothing. The Bucks’ stance on Monroe was that they found a groove for him, but with the chance at losing him for nothing, he’s a name to watch as the deadline approaches.
George Hill – Utah Jazz – $8,000,000
The general vibe from the Jazz is they will re-sign Hill in the offseason, but like many of the players on this list, there is a risk that Hill walks away. Sources close to the Hill situation say he’s really happy in Utah and staying long term is not at all out of the question. What becomes real for the Jazz is at what price. While the 2017 NBA Free Agency class has a number of point guards in it, most are likely to stay where they are. That may mean that Hill becomes one of the better options for teams searching for help, which means he could end up at a price point that doesn’t make sense for Utah. The Jazz do not seem open to moving Hill, but his contract situation makes him a name to watch.
Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers – $20,140,839 – $21,373,952
Like teammate Chris Paul, Griffin’s next deal is all but done. One executive who tried to engage with the Clippers on a Griffin package got absolutely nowhere, saying it was not a conversation the Clippers were willing to have. Griffin has some media ventures in Los Angeles that he’s involved with and has expressed a desire to stay near them. While there was some talk of him heading to Oklahoma City, sources near Griffin said he finds the couple of games he plays there as a Clipper to be draining because of all the family and friends commitments. The idea of playing there full time is not desirable, especially considering how much the Clippers are prepared to pay him to stay in L.A.
Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks – $20,072,033 – $21,472,407
The Hawks kicked the tires (now twice) on trading Paul Millsap and found he’d return far less than what he brings to the team. There is a still a chance the Hawks move him before the 3 p.m. EST deadline, but during the All-Star break, more than a few people suggested Millsap may opt out of his $21.47 million option year. If he does, however, a new deal in Atlanta is not out of the question. Given that the Hawks did this same thing last year with Al Horford and lost him to the Celtics, will the Hawks play the same game twice?
Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls – $23,200,000 – $23,800,000
Wade’s future is far from set. If the Bulls pull the trigger on moving Jimmy Butler, there is a belief Wade will be moved, too. Wade has said he may opt out of his $23.8 million option year, but finding anyone in the NBA willing to come close to that number in free agency may be hard, especially with Wade saying he did not want to bounce from team to team. There is no questioning that Wade will be gone via free agency if he’s not traded and Butler is. There is a scenario in which both are back with the Bulls and the big change come at head coach, though, as that’s something several executives believe made more sense than trading Wade and Butler.
Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors – $26,540,100 – $27,734,405
Much like Steph Curry, if you think Durant is leaving Golden State, let’s set the record straight. He’s not leaving. The question is what his next deal looks like. Durant becomes eligible for 30 percent of what’s likely to be a $102 million salary cap in July, but to get there, the Warriors need cap space. To get cap space, it means virtually every expiring contract must go. If Durant opts into his final year of $27.73 million, the Warriors can keep everyone on the roster now if they wanted to. Durant is also eligible for 102 percent of his previous year’s salary, which means he could opt out and sign a new deal starting at $31.8 million. He could also do another one-and-one to get a raise and keep the team together. This is basically what LeBron James did in Cleveland until the combination of a rising salary cap and Bird rights caught up to him. The prevailing thought is Durant plays ball with the Warriors to keep the team together, so the question is: How much and how long?
J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers – $7,377,500
The Clippers have been in the market looking for depth, and while Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker is a prime target for them, one player the Clippers seem unwilling to entertain deals on is J.J. Redick. Several league sources labeled Redick as a non-starter for Rivers and company and there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it. The problem with that is they won’t control it, so things could get interesting at the deadline, but the sense is Redick is staying put.
Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers – $8,800,000
When the Indiana Pacers traded for Jeff Teague, both sides of the equation said the match was about more than just this season. With the Pacers somewhat middling this year, there are some in NBA circles that wonder if the Pacers would blow it up and start fresh around Myles Turner. Some of that is where the Paul George rumors stem from. Pacers sources found the idea of blowing up the team laughable, but admitted they were getting interesting calls that they had to at least look at. If the Pacers do something drastic, moving Teague could factor into that, however, both sides say that Teague leaving as a free agent is not a big consideration because the Pacers knew what it would likely cost to retain him when they pulled the trigger in the first place.
Serge Ibaka – Toronto Raptors – $12,250,000
Much like Teague, the Raptors knew the price range Ibaka is going to seek this summer and did the deal with Orlando knowing full well they had the inside track on keeping him. Ibaka is not someone to consider as a re-trade candidate. The Raptors feel like he and Patrick Patterson are going to be a potent tandem together.
Here are some of the next tier ending contract players, and their current NBA salary:
|Amir Johnson||$12,000,000||Patty Mills||$3,578,948|
|Andre Iguodala||$11,131,368||Shaun Livingston||$5,782,450|
|Andrew Bogut||$11,027,027||Shelvin Mack||$2,433,334|
|Brandon Jennings||$5,000,000||Terrence Jones||$980,431|
|Deron Williams||$9,000,000||Thabo Sefolosha||$3,850,000|
|Ersan Ilyasova||$8,400,000||Tony Allen||$5,505,618|
|James Johnson||$4,000,000||Tyreke Evans||$10,203,755|
|Jeff Green||$15,000,000||Zach Randolph||$10,361,445|
|Jodie Meeks||$6,540,000||Willie Reed||$1,015,696|
|Jose Calderon||$7,708,427||Marreese Speights||$1,403,611|
|Kyle Korver||$5,239,437||Luc Mbah a Moute||$2,203,000|
|Patrick Patterson||$6,050,000||Dion Waiters||$2,898,000|
|Michael Beasley||$1,403,611||C.J. Miles||$4,583,450|
|Omri Casspi||$2,963,814||Danilo Gallinari||$15,050,000|
|P.J. Tucker||$5,300,000||Pau Gasol||$15,500,000|
All trades must be completed and submitted to the NBA for validation by 3 p.m. EST on Thursday February 23. Basketball Insiders will drop our annual Trade Deadline Diary featuring the latest NBA news, notes and rumors all in one constantly updated page.
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NBA Daily: Tank Tracker 2018
Basketball Insiders looks at the NBA’s race to the bottom as teams jockey for lottery position.
With the NBA All-Star game behind and the home stretch of the regular season ahead, this is the time of year when contenders contend and pretenders stop pretending. It’s time for the NBA’s annual race to the bottom with a crowded field featuring four teams from each conference with better odds of getting help through the draft than making a playoff run.
Although Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA for saying the Mavericks should tank, the assumption here is always that players play to win. Every year the NBA Draft brings 30 new first round picks with guaranteed contracts into the league (minus any players that opt to play overseas). That’s 30 NBA jobs that will be taken away from veterans and given to rookies, not counting second-round picks and undrafted free agents who will take still more jobs. Rank-and-file players are playing for their place in the league, not to help their team get in position to draft a potential replacement.
Here we’ll look at teams that are clearly out of the playoff race and factors that could impact draft position as the final stretch of the season unfolds. Below is a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from September showing odds to land a top-three pick. This is the final season under the old lottery system (odds in parenthesis) before the new system takes effect next season.
Here is an ESPN graphic on how NBA Draft lottery odds change in 2019 pic.twitter.com/Jk8X7q0J3Z
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 28, 2017
Starting next year, the four worst teams will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick. Since this is the last year in which teams dramatically increase odds of landing a top-three pick the more they lose, the race for lottery position could be as fun to watch as the race for playoff position. With a deep talent pool for the upcoming NBA Draft, the plot gets even thicker.
The Playoff Contenders
Before we look at teams that are clearly not contending for a playoff spot, we’ll mention teams that are out of playoff position but fighting to get in. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin before the trade deadline and are only 1.5 games behind the Miami HEAT for the eighth playoff seed. If Detroit can get point guard Reggie Jackson back healthy — a big if — then the Pistons could get into the playoffs and constitute a scary match-up in the first round.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweeted Wednesday that Jackson has been cleared for light running and shooting as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.
The Pistons have announced an update on Reggie Jackson's status. He's been cleared to begin light running, shooting and continued ankle strengthening exercises, and his progress will be monitored this week. No timetable for a return to practice.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 21, 2018
Also in the East, although the Charlotte Hornets appear headed nowhere, it’s a veteran-heavy squad that will do all it can to claw its way to a playoff spot. With point guard Kemba Walker making a second All-Star appearance and veterans Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum uninterested in building through the draft this late in their careers, expect Charlotte to do everything in its power to close the five-game gap with the HEAT.
In the West, although the Clippers moved on from Griffin, the team remains just one game behind the eighth-seed Pelicans with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games. The Clippers are another veteran-laden squad with too much pride to play for lottery balls. However, the Clippers’ hopes of being a playoff spoiler are complicated by the league’s hottest team, the Jazz. Utah owns a league-best 11-game win streak and sits a half game behind the Clippers.
Honorable mention goes to the Lakers, which sit a dismal eight games behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have almost no chance to make the playoffs but won’t be participating in this season’s tank-a-thon since either the 76ers or Celtics will own its first-round draft pick. L.A. traded two future firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 but has yet to convey the final pick due to protections in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The pick will go to Philly if it’s first overall or lower than fifth, but will otherwise convey to the Celtics. The 76ers used the pick with added protections to move up last year and draft Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick.
Additionally, the Nets do not make the list since the Cavaliers own their unprotected first round pick from the Kyrie Irving trade with the Celtics. The Nets aren’t tanking, they just lack the talent to compete and currently hold the league’s fifth-worst record.
New York Knicks, 24-36
The Knicks are the last entrant into the NBA’s annual race to the bottom owing to Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending ACL injury. Prior to the injury, the Knicks were doing everything in the team’s power to start the post-Carmelo Anthony era with a playoff appearance. With Porzingis now sidelined for an extended period, the goal shifts to improving the talent around him.
Chicago Bulls, 20-38
The Bulls recently announced that Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup. Both received a DNP-CD in Thursday’s one-point loss to the 76ers. This is a team in naked tank mode, but it has the most games remaining against other teams on this list. Chicago has its tanking work cut out for it, but the recent lineup decisions show that the Bulls are serious about getting the job done.
Memphis Grizzlies, 18-38
While the Bulls are shameless in pursuit of lottery balls, you can’t blame the Grizzlies for the horrendous injury luck that put the team in this position. It’s a lost season for Memphis, and help in the lottery could be difficult to find since only the Bulls and Magic have more games remaining against teams on this list.
Orlando Magic, 18-40
The Magic have the second-worst record in the East but are matched by the Kings and Mavericks. Counting the Grizzlies, this makes six teams with only 18 wins. This is the heart of the tanking field, and the Magic fully committed when it traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick, for a future second-round pick. Orlando has a six-game stretch against teams in playoff contention that should help, but it also has a large number of games remaining against lottery contenders.
Sacramento Kings, 18-40
The Kings did well to get out of the $19 million owed to George Hill next season in a pre-deadline trade with the Cavaliers. Losing the team’s starting point guard also has the benefit of more minutes to develop De’Aaron Fox while upping the odds of adding a quality piece next to him in the draft. Unfortunately, the Kings had a recent stretch of four wins in ten games.
Dallas Mavericks, 18-40
No caveats or disclaimers are needed here since Cuban has gone public with his desire to lose as many games as possible. Aiding Cuban’s cause is that the Mavs are tied with the Hawks and Suns for fewest remaining games against teams on this list.
Atlanta Hawks, 18-41
Equal to the Suns for the league’s worst record, the Hawks come out of the All-Star break in pole position for the Tank 500. However, the team is 4-6 in the last 10 games and lost a ton of close games this year. The Hawks are literally better than the record suggests, and join the Magic and Kings by insisting on shooting themselves in the foot with late-season wins that could poison the lottery well.
As NBA.com’s K.L. Chouinard noted, the Hawks have a net rating of +9.1 in minutes Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon share. Only John Collins and Isaiah Taylor have out-performed this combo among two-man units that have shared at least 200 minutes.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wisely opted to limit the pair to 227 minutes together this season, but the Hawks seem like a team in danger of tumbling out of position for a top-three pick despite how well-positioned the team is currently.
Phoenix Suns, 18-41
When it comes to the gold standard in tanking, nobody tops the Suns. The team shares a league-worst record with the Hawks, has a tough remaining schedule and is showing how it’s done with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games. With the team’s litany of poor draft selections and disastrous trades and free agency decisions, the lottery is the only place Phoenix can turn to for improvement. The prediction here is that nobody out-tanks the Suns the rest of the way.
Second Half NBA Story lines
With the All-Star break in the rearview, here are the key storylines to keep an eye on for the home stretch of the season.
The long winter has ended.
Ok, not really. But the break after All-Star weekend has finally come to a halt, and the second half of the NBA season is ready to get underway.
Each team has around 25 games remaining on the schedule. February is in its last week, and March and April will truly define how the May schedule aligns. The first leg of this season provided more than enough entertainment, combating the narrative that the regular season is a bit of a bore nowadays.
Because of some unexpected turns through the 50-plus games already played, this final stretch that will bring the regular season to a close should be more than entertaining for the fans that think the NBA season is just a six-month placeholder for the inevitable.
So, as we get ready to bounce back into action Thursday night, let’s focus on what needs to be monitored down the homestretch.
Houston Rockets can make the Finals
When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a narrative swept across the league that everyone not in the Bay area should just wave the white flag. Game over.
After dropping just one game through the entire postseason last year, completely decimating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the assumptions were proved correct.
But things may be different this year.
The Houston Rockets are trying to end the Warriors’ Durant-Era dynasty before it starts. After trading for Chris Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are in a legitimate position to pose a threat to Golden State.
At the moment, the Rockets have the best offense in the NBA. But, not just for this season, for every season. Their efficiency is revolutionary and unprecedented. Their defense is improved, too. Ranking 18th in defensive rating last season, Houston is eighth this season, and proving to be competent enough on that end to get a few stops of their own against the Warriors. In fact, Houston has won two of the three meetings between the two Western Conference powerhouses so far this season.
For all of the damage Houston put on the league pre-All-Star break, and even leaping Golden State in the standings, the oddsmakers are taking notice.
Take a look at how drastically the Rockets’ odds at contending for a title have changed from the summer to present day. According to this odds tracker on Sports Betting Dime, Houston has almost entered the same realm as Golden State in the bettors’ mind.
Postseason basketball is a different beast, and Durant and Steph Curry are as formidable a tandem as any (not to mention their supporting cast), but the growing pile of statistics that says Houston has more than a puncher’s chance is becoming hard to ignore.
These last 25 or so games will be telling as to if the Rockets are truly a team that can go shot-for-shot with the mighty Warriors.
LeBron’s new teammates
The trade deadline in Cleveland was basically a mass upheaval of the roster the Cavaliers had struggled with for the first four months of the season.
Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Channing Frye were all shipped from The Land in hopes to bring LeBron James new players that could help him back to his eighth straight Finals appearance.
So far, so good.
The return that brought George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into wine and gold gave the Cavaliers a much-needed boost heading into the All-Star break. Since the trade, Cleveland has won three straight games, the last two including a blowout victory against the Boston Celtics, and a road win in Oklahoma City.
But, before the roster turnovers, the Cavaliers were one of the league’s worst defensive units. Their lack of consistent effort on a nightly basis was beginning to spread doubt in the basketball minds across the league that the team would be equipped enough to beat the Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the postseason.
Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers will take on another playoff contender in the Washington Wizards. Another strong showing from the new-look Cavs could further the belief that the team is now in a better position to make their way to a fourth straight Finals.
As the regular season comes to its final stages, close eyes will be kept on Hood, Hill, Nance and Clarkson. They’re the key to any real postseason success Cleveland hopes to have. We know LeBron will be there at the end, at this point, and it’s worth watching to see if it teammates can join him.
Tight Playoff Races
For all the talk that surrounds the lack of disparity and entertainment around the league, the playoff races in both conferences appear to be coming down to the wire.
In the West, the 10th-seed Utah Jazz is just two and a half games behind the 5th-seed Oklahoma City Thunder. In between the two clubs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and the L.A. Clippers are all clawing for spots in the postseason.
Over their last 10 games, every team besides the Thunder is at least .500. The Jazz have won 11 straight games, the Clippers are 7-3 and surging, Denver is hoping to return Paul Millsap to their lineup soon, the Trail Blazers have the luxury of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and while the Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins, their three straight wins suggest they’re learning to live without Boogie.
That’s six teams fighting fiercely for four playoff spots. Each is deserving and well-equipped enough to make it to the postseason happen.
The West isn’t the only conference with a wild bunch at the bottom of the playoff standings. The Eastern Conference contenders also find themselves in the midst of a playoff battle post-All-Star break.
Just outside of the playoff picture at the moment, the Detroit Pistons, with new star Blake Griffin, are just four and a half games behind the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee are all also vying for their spot in the playoffs.
At the moment, the Miami HEAT seems to be on the verge of being the odd man out, losing two straight before the break and seven of their last 10 games. As the Pistons begin to find new life with Griffin, they could bump Miami right out of the picture if their slide continues as games pick back up.
With a limited number of games remaining, each of these teams in both conferences cannot afford to fall into a rut. Coming down to the final weeks of the season, watching the playoff carousel develop will be entertaining and worthwhile.
In the blink of an eye, the 2017-18 regular season is almost over. Be sure to keep an eye on these unfolding storylines as the league charges towards playoff basketball.
NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On
At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.
Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.
“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”
Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.
But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.
“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”
Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.
Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.
Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.
“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”
But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.
“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.
But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.
“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”
Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.
Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.
Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.
“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.
“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”
For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.
“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.
From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.
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*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.