The 2014 NBA Draft went about as scripted. There were a few wrinkles, and a few reaches, but for the most part this draft went about how we expected.
Usually, I try to have my draft grades in the day after the draft, but things have gotten a little hectic in the NBA world, so sitting down and really focusing on the draft didn’t happen as expected, but I did want to get them in before the flurry of free agency clouds everything.
Before we get too far into this, there are a few disclaimers:
#1 – The true value of a player plays out over time. There is no way to know what kind of NBA player a guy will be the week after the draft, so we’re not going to try and do that.
#2 – My grades are based on three criteria:
a.) Did the team draft the best possible talent on the board?
b.) Did the team solve an immediate roster need?
c.) Can the player selected contribute right away?
With those criteria in mind, let’s look at how the 2014 NBA Draft grades out…
Round 1: Adreian Payne (15)
Round 2: Walter Tavares (43), Lamar Patterson (48)
This is a really good draft for Atlanta; picking up a ready-to-play big man like Payne and scooping up some interesting prospects in the second round like Tavares and Patterson are very good value picks for the Hawks. Overall they got better. The Hawks added players who can help them now and more importantly help them tomorrow. In terms of getting great value for their picks, the Hawks did that. They filled an immediate need and they got a player in Payne that can play right away. Tavares at 43 is a bonus and Patterson, a Basketball Insiders blogger, has a real chance to contribute in the NBA.
Round 1: Marcus Smart (6), James Young (17)
Round 2: None
This draft is two-part for the Celtics; one, they get a bench in terms of Marcus Smart and James Young being able to come in and contribute right away. It also gives Boston some offensive punch and covers the Celtics at those positions long-term. Also, if Rajon Rondo or Avery Bradley start to become too expensive or are not in the long-term picture for the Celtics at any point, they have capable replacements. Overall this draft really solves a bunch of immediate needs. It gives the Celtics options and more importantly gives them replacements if things don’t work out going forward.
Round 1: None.
Round 2: Markel Brown (44), Xavier Thames (59), Cory Jefferson (60)
Considering Brooklyn entered the draft with no draft assets to speak of, coming out with Markel Brown , Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson is just simply good draft night work. These guys may or may not be in Brooklyn’s big picture but it gives them cheap talent to evaluate, especially for a Nets team that is spending crazy money. Brown is most likely going to make the roster, while Thames and Jefferson may be on the outside looking in. Overall, given that Brooklyn had almost nothing to work with when the draft started, they came out with three interesting prospects, a couple of which will might be on the team in the future. Even though these players were basically bought by the Nets, they got good value for Brown at 44. Thames at 59 and Jefferson at 60 were reasonable gets as well. The only knock you could make is if you were buying players, why not buy some a little higher on the board? They may not have been able to, making their picks solid value given the circumstances.
Round 1: Noah Vonleh (9), P.J. Hairston (26)
Round 2: None
Charlotte got a great value player in Noah Vonleh with the No. 9 pick. This was a huge get for the Hornets as they seemed pegged to take a slightly lesser talent. The fact that Vonleh was there for them is amazing. P.J. Hairston is also extremely good value at 26, although he was part of the Shabazz Napier trade with Miami, he could be the perimeter player they’ve been looking for. There were some red flags on the injury front concerning Hairston and his shoulder, which is why he slipped on draft night. But overall, the Hornets got better. They addressed roster needs and they got real value with their first round picks. They traded their second round pick Dwight Powell to Cleveland in a deal for Alonzo Gee and sold their other second rounder Semaj Christon to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash considerations.
Round 1: Doug McDermott (11)
Round 2: Cameron Bairstow (49)
The Bulls’ biggest need was perimeter scoring and they got it with McDermott. On the surface, it seemed like this move was about cutting costs and getting one player instead of drafting two, however this move really didn’t cut costs. It actually added some in the form of Anthony Randolph’s guaranteed contract in the deal with Denver. In the end, the Bulls showed their commitment to McDermott. In the immediate future McDermott can help the Bulls. The Bulls have not had a perimeter player that can score like McDermott since maybe Kyle Korver and the similarities between the two players are uncanny. McDermott should be able to contribute right away and is very good value at 11. He should fit into the culture in Chicago pretty quickly. Cameron Bairstow is a little more of a project. There’s a chance that he makes the training camp roster, but it’s more likely that he is going to start his Bulls career on another team, likely overseas. Bairstow has some potential, but overall this draft was about McDermott and the Bulls got the guy they wanted.
Round 1: Andrew Wiggins (1)
Round 2: Joe Harris (33), Dwight Powell (45)
The Cavs had the top overall pick and did not miss with Andrew Wiggins. They took a solid upside player who fits into their their culture and could be the future star they’ve been looking for. Factor in his relationships with guys like Tristan Thompson and last year’s top overall pick Anthony Bennett and Wiggins should be a good fit for the Cavaliers both offensively and defensively. The late picking up of Joe Harris in the second round and trade for Dwight Powell was just simply good value for the Cavs. They may not be in the big picture for them right now, but overall the Cavaliers did what they needed to do. They drafted a can’t-miss player number one overall and got a great value in the second round.
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
Dallas used their draft assets to make the deal with the New York Knicks. The appeal of those draft assets was the grease to get the deal done to get Tyson Chandler back in the fold. When the Mavs entered the offseason and started looking at draft prospects, they were looking for rim defenders. They clearly didn’t find one in the draft and made the trade to get one instead. Overall, the Mavericks’ roster is better but they did not use those picks so therefore they get an incomplete grade.
Round 1: Jusuf Nurkic (16), Gary Harris (19)
Round 2: Nikola Jokic (41)
By way of a trade with Chicago, the Denver Nuggets turned the No. 11 pick into two picks (No. 16 and No. 19). And they got two really good players. Nurkic could be a very good NBA center. He’s a big body that can play in the post and has a great feel for the game offensively. He had great success overseas and should make an impact from day one. Landing Gary Harris, a great perimeter threat, at 19 is huge value for the Nuggets. Jokic at No. 41 could be a good value pick as well. Overall considering what Denver started the draft with and what they came out with, they did really well. They got value for the two picks they traded for, got roster players that can help them right away and are good long-term building blocks.
Round 1: None
Round 2: Spencer Dinwiddie (38)
The Pistons didn’t have a first round draft pick, but came out of the draft with a really good player in Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie, who tore his ACL last season, doesn’t come without questions. The biggest is how quickly will he be able to join the Pistons and integrate into their system? Given what they have in front of them in free agency and what they did not have coming into the draft, they came out with a quality asset and a very interesting player. This is a good pick for the Pistons.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
The Golden State Warriors traded all of their draft picks to make the move to get Andre Iguodala last offseason. The Warriors sniffed at trading into the draft, but ultimately opted to hold the line. Therefore, they get an incomplete grade.
Round 1: Clint Capela (25)
Round 2: Nick Johnson (42)
With the No. 25 pick Houston drafted Clint Capela. This was a little bit of a reach given the needs that could’ve been solved in the draft. Capela is a very interesting long-term prospect and might be on the roster this year. His ability, or more important inability, to impact the team immediately dings the Rockets’ grade. Getting Johnson at No. 42 is an interesting get, but overall Houston could’ve done a lot better with this draft, therefore their grade takes a little bit of a hit.
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
The Indiana Pacers entered the draft with little interest in being involved. They could’ve traded into the first round, but it came down to the cost being too high. The Pacers, overall, have a loaded roster that’s ready to compete and there’s not a lot of room for young guys. The big improvement for the Pacers will be from last year’s first rounder Solomon Hill. The hope is that he can move into the lineup as the Pacers try to find some energy from the bench. The Pacers did not participate, therefore get an incomplete grade.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Round 1: C.J. Wilcox (28)
Round 2: None
Drafting C.J. Wilcox is a little puzzling considering last year the Clippers drafted basically the same player in Reggie Bullock. Wilcox is an interesting option and does look to have some promise for the Clippers. He can shoot the ball incredibly well from the outside, however you have to wonder with Bullock already a year ahead, does Wilcox really have a role with the Clippers? This is a value pick with No. 28, but given that there were better fitting options on the board and Wilcox may not contribute this year, the Clips get dinged on this one.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Round 1: Julius Randle (7)
Round 2: Jordan Clarkson (46)
The L.A. Lakers did tremendously well drafting Julius Randle No. 7. Not only did they get a future franchise player, they also picked up a value player, buying the rights to Jordan Clarkson later in the draft. Given what the Lakers had to work with, this was great value and an excellent draft the Lakers, who really could not have done any better given where they were positioned. The fact that they got two assets out of this draft class and both of them being possible steals means the Lakers did very well for themselves.
Round 1: Jordan Adams (22)
Round 2: Jarnell Stokes (35)
Drafting Jordan Adams with the No. 22 was huge value for the Grizzlies. They addressed an immediate roster need and added some perimeter punch. The Grizz also obtained the rights to Jarnell Stokes later in the draft, another huge get for the Grizzlies. Stokes can play right away and he should be able to fill in nicely behind Zach Randolph. The Grizz got real value in their picks; they got players who should fill immediate roster needs and contribute right away. This was a solid draft.
Round 1: Shabazz Napier (24)
Round 2: None
While there was a lot of talk that LeBron James wanted Shabazz Napier, the move to get him in a trade was more about Miami’s immediate need at point guard than anything LeBron may have wanted. Napier fills that need, is great value at No. 24 and, overall, is a very good acquisition for Miami. The fact that James approves doesn’t hurt either. When you factor in all the things Napier is, he should fit in nicely in Miami, especially if they can keep the core together. He’s a playmaker who has played at a very high level. He should contribute right away. This is a good trade for Miami, even though they were sort of held up at gun point by Charlotte, who knew they wanted Napier at all costs.
Round 1: Jabari Parker (2)
Round 2: Damien Inglis (31), Johnny O’Bryant (36)
Jabari Parker is arguably the most pro-ready player in this draft. He brings everything the Bucks organization needs: Maturity, control, self awareness, great character and tremendous skill. In the second round, the Bucks get two interesting players in Inglis and O’Bryant who could help the Bucks down the line. The Bucks got value out of their picks. They filled immediate roster needs and tapped players that could eventually become contributors.
Round 1: Zach LaVine (13)
Round 2: Glenn Robinson III (40), Alessandro Gentile (53)
Zach LaVine is an all upside player. He has nothing but potential to offer Minnesota. As they will start look at life beyond Kevin Love, LaVine could be a star in the making. Glenn Robinson and Alessandro Gentile in the second round were about quality. Robinson likely makes the roster while Gentile is probably playing abroad next season. Overall, this was a quality draft for Minnesota, they got value out of both their picks in the first and in the second round they got quality talent that helps their roster right away. There is an argument to be made that LaVine at No. 13 might be a little high especially with other options on the board, but overall if he becomes what he could be this is still a solid draft.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Round 1: None
Round 2: Russ Smith (47)
This one is a bit of a head scratcher. The Pelicans tried to get into the first round all throughout the draft process, offering a bevy of players to other teams. When all was said and done, they swapped Pierre Jackson for Russ Smith. Jackson was arguably the better player, so it’s unclear why they made this move unless it was completely financially motivated. Pierre was going to require a significant guaranteed contract given his play last year in the D-League. Smith should add some value to the team, especially after they decided not to issue a qualifying offer to Brian Roberts. The better player in the deal was Jackson, so this move is a bit strange. At the end of the day, Smith should get a chance at the back up spot, so this is not a terrible move.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Round 1: None
Round 2: Cleanthony Early (34), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (51), Louis Labyrie (57)
Given that the Knicks entered the draft with no draft picks at all and came away with three players is fairly impressive. The fact that they came away with two quality talents including Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo gives them two players that could make the roster and provide minutes from opening day. Labyrie is more of a draft-and-stash and it’s unlikely the Knicks do anything with him in the near term. Given that the Knicks had nothing to start this process with, they came out with a lot of value and quality players who could help them right away. This is a good draft for the Knicks, especially considering both of the players can play and are likely on non-guaranteed contracts.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Round 1: Mitch McGary (21), Josh Huestis (29)
Round 2: None
Typical to Oklahoma City, they draft two players who could help their organization, both of which probably in the long-term not the short-term. Mitch McGary at No. 21 and Josh Huestis at No. 29 are quality pick ups for their draft position. McGary is probably someone who can help them some time next year, but is unlikely to see much time this year. The Thunder are typically a year ahead of their needs when drafting, so both players are likely to see more time in the D-League than on the floor for Oklahoma City. This is quality value for the picks. The players fit the culture and fill needs down the road. Overall this is a very good draft; it just may not offer much help next season.
Round 1: Aaron Gordon (4), Elfrid Payton (10)
Round 2: Devyn Marble (56)
On the surface, this is a bit of a puzzling draft for the Magic, especially at No. 4 with Aaron Gordon. However, when you look at the draft in its entirety and what was available to the Magic at No. 4 and No. 12, the Magic come out with two really good players. More importantly, those players really fit the future of what they’re trying to do. The Magic may have gotten a gem in the second round with Devyn Marble, acquiring his draft rights in a trade. When you look at what Orlando came into the draft with and what they came out of the draft with, they used both picks to solve immediate needs. They got quality value for their picks and both first round players should solve an immediate need. Payton and Gordon as a combo were relentless during the draft process; they should be very good in Orlando.
Round 1: Joel Embiid (3), Dario Saric (12)
Round 2: K.J. McDaniels (32), Jerami Grant (39), Vasilije Micic (52), Jordan McRae (58)
Philadelphia is getting killed over the selection of Joel Embiid and then the trade for Dario Saric. Both are really moves not motivated for this year but more the long-term. The Sixers could’ve drafted other players at No. 3 and gotten better right away, however in the long-term the Sixers may have ended up with better players overall, certainly if Embiid can get healthy. K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant and Vasilije Micic in the second round were steals. They traded Nemanja Dangubic for Jordan McRae and Cory Jefferson, who they immediately flipped to Brooklyn. Overall, Philly is in acquisition mode, trying to re-stock the cupboard. Looking at this draft from the long-term vantage point is exactly what they did.
Round 1: T.J. Warren (14), Tyler Ennis (18), Bogdan Bogdanovic (27)
Round 2: Alec Brown (50)
The Suns did really well with their draft assets. Nabbing T.J. warren is a huge get for the Suns, and the fact they were able to get Ennis at No. 18 and Bogdanovic at No. 27 were value selections as well. The Suns now have a ton of options, especially with Eric Bledsoe hitting restricted free agency. The Suns exited the draft with lots of very trade-friendly assets and a ton of future cap space, so their offseason could be very interesting. Alec Brown at No.50 may be on the outside looking in simply because Phoenix is jam packed with young guys. Overall, the Suns got value out of their picks, adding players that can help them right away and and in the future. This is a quality draft.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
The Portland Trail Blazers looked at buying into the draft, however with first round assets fetching a very high price, the Blazers sat this one out. Given the loaded nature of their roster, it is unlikely that anyone the Blazers could have obtained would have really mattered in their big picture. Since they did not participate, they get an incomplete grade.
Round 1: Nik Stauskas (8)
Round 2: None
The Sacramento Kings targeted perimeter scoring in this draft, looking at guys like Stauskas and Doug McDermott. They looked at some point guards too, but at the end of the day Stauskas’ ability to play both guard positions and really shoot the ball well from the perimeter swayed the Kings in his direction. Overall, this is great value for the Kings. It solves an immediate need. Stauskas at No. 8 might’ve been a little high but there was a real belief that he would be gone at No. 9 or at No. 10. The Stauskas pick does open some questions around Ben McLemore’s future but overall the Kings got a quality player that fills immediate needs.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Round 1: Kyle Anderson (30)
Round 2: Nemanja Dangubic (54)
The Spurs, in very typical fashion, caught the guy who fell. Anderson is a great addition for San Antonio. It’s doubtful he plays a big role right away, but he is a quality talent with the last pick in the first round. Overall, given where the Spurs were drafting and the sense they were going to go with an international player, this is a good pick that should make the roster. It does not necessarily fill an immediate need and he may not contribute right away, but this is a solid selection. Dangubic is someone they’ll monitor for a season or two before seriously considering bringing over.
Round 1: Bruno Caboclo (20)
Round 2: DeAndre Daniels (37)
The Raptors are getting killed for their first round selection of Bruno Caboclo at No. 20, but this is a player many scouts and teams were very high on. There was a sense that while he was a second-round talent, he wouldn’t be on the board when Toronto got there a second time. Much like Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo last year, Caboclo could be a stud in a couple of years. DeAndre Daniels in the second round is a tremendous get and is a first round talent who should be able to make the roster right away. The first pick was about future, the second pick was about the present. Overall, the Raptors did well in acquiring talent, although they may have reached for Caboclo. In the short-term, the Raptors could have gotten a talent who filled an immediate need at No. 20, but in the long-term they may have gotten a very special player. Their draft grade gets dinged for the deferred nature of the Caboclo pick, but in a few years this grade might look better.
Round 1: Dante Exum (5), Rodney Hood (23)
Round 2: None.
The Utah Jazz did extremely well in this draft. They got a future star in Dante Exum who fits in nicely with their overall roster plans. In the short-term he can play with Trey Burke; in the long-term he may supplant Burke as the starter. With the No. 23 pick, the Jazz got a steal in Rodney Hood, a knock down shooter that gives the team options at the small forward spot, especially with Gordon Hayward headed into restricted free agency. The Jazz got great value out of their picks. Both players fill immediate needs and both should contribute right away. This was a stellar draft for Utah.
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
Much like the Portland Trail Blazers, the Wizards sniffed at the draft and ultimately opted to sit this one out. The Wizards are loaded with young guys. There was not much available to them that mattered, so they stayed away. Because the Wizards did not participate, they get an incomplete grade.
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NBA Daily: Don’t Sleep on Fred Hoiberg
With the team the Bulls have assembled this summer, Fred Hoiberg finally has the chance to run things the way he always wanted.
Fred Hoiberg hasn’t exactly had the best start as a head coach in the NBA.
In the three years that Hoiberg has coached the Bulls, the team has only gotten to the playoffs once as an eighth seed, where they were eliminated by the Celtics in six games.
Since taking the reins as coach, Hoiberg has tried to implement a pace-and-space system with Chicago. This approach would be hard to execute on a team like the Bulls over the last several years since Hoiberg’s best players weren’t exactly sharpshooters.
In the last four years, Hoiberg’s marquee players have included Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Taj Gibson, and Robin Lopez, all of whom ranged from putrid to “meh” floor spacers. Hoiberg’s system was not well-received by the team, specifically by Butler, which created much tension that escalated to the point of Butler issuing an “it’s him or me!” ultimatum to Bulls management.
Unlike almost every other team who’s been through similar conflicts between players and coaches, Chicago sided with the coach. Again, Hoiberg has not led the Bulls to much success, but the glimpses of excellence that have shown themselves from the system that he’s designed may very well show that the Bulls made the right choice.
It wasn’t too long ago that Hoiberg was holding his own against Brad Stevens in a playoff series, who many believe is one of the best coaches in the game at the moment. In the first round of the 2017 playoffs, the Bulls stole the first two games from the top-seeded Celtics while in Boston. Many point to the brilliance of Rajon Rondo for why the Bulls pulled ahead, which is mostly true, but the Bulls’ hot shooting in both games gave them an edge.
Between individual performances—Bobby Portis shot 8-for-10 including from 3-for-4 from three-point land in Game 1—or all-around team performances—the team shot 10-for-25 from three in Game 2, the shooting gave the Bulls an edge, which fueled hope for a potential upset.
Of course, it was all fluky given that Chicago shot 34 percent from three in the regular season, good for 24th in the league. Nonetheless, their spacing sent the Celtics spinning. The tides inevitably turned once Rondo went out with a thumb injury, effectively dooming the Bulls. Still, for a brief moment, Hoiberg’s strategy proved successful.
The Bulls later went full rebuild when they got rid of Butler, Rondo, and Wade, but somehow, we got yet another glimpse of Hoiberg’s brilliance. Record-wise, the Bulls were nothing to brag about, as their 27-55 record tied for sixth-worst record in the league, lowlighted by their 3-20 start. However, once Nikola Mirotic returned from injury, the Bulls went on a tear.
In a 12-game span, the Bulls had gone 10-2, beating half of the East’s playoff teams, including Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. Mirotic’s return catapulted the Bulls’ three-point shooting, as they shot 38 percent from deep while shooting an average of 26 shots per game. It didn’t seem possible given all they got rid of, but the Bulls were rolling.
At that point, it didn’t matter because the Bulls were already in too big a hole to dig themselves out of, but Hoiberg’s system yet again got some results.
The rebuild is in full swing in the Windy City. but after the moves that the Bulls have made this summer, Hoiberg may finally show the NBA what he’s made of this upcoming season.
First, they drafted Wendell Carter with the seventh overall pick in the draft. Fans were understandably furious that the Bulls’ surprising albeit pointless 10-2 run midseason played a part in killing their chances of getting a top-5 pick in a loaded draft, but Carter put their anger to rest with his brilliant all-around play in the summer league.
Second, they re-signed Zach LaVine. The Bulls raised some eyebrows when they matched the very expensive offer sheet that LaVine signed with Sacramento, but LaVine looked like he hadn’t missed a beat when he came back late in the season. Now that he’ll have a full training camp under his belt, LaVine should be able to better acclimate himself into the Bulls’ game plan by the time the season begins.
Third, they added Jabari Parker. Parker will be one of the bigger question marks coming into this season given his injury history, but his potential as a dynamic scorer in this league is still untapped. Better yet, being a Chicago native and having a team option next year, Parker may be extra motivated to show why he was the second overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Factor in these guys with the exciting youth movement that Chicago already has in place, and the Bulls have formed a team that can only be described as “not good, but fun.”
But there’s more to it than that. This isn’t just about the talent that Chicago has accumulated since trading Jimmy Butler. The fact of the matter is, they’re now building the team that Fred Hoiberg always wanted to run after all these years.
Look at the three-point percentages from the Bulls’ young rotation from this past season:
Jabari Parker: 38 percent
Denzel Valentine: 38 percent
Lauri Markkanen: 36 percent
Bobby Portis: 36 percent
Zach Lavine: 34 percent
Kris Dunn: 32 percent
They may not have a Kyle Korver or a Ray Allen type, but that is all-around a step up compared to the shooters they had before. Factoring in Wendell Carter’s floor spacing in college (41 percent from three) and their other first-rounder Chandler Hutchison (35 percent), the Bulls youth movement can finally give Hoiberg the spacing he wants.
As for pacing, the Bulls are also on the up and up.
In Hoiberg’s first year, the Bulls ran at a pace of 95.7, which tied for 15th in the league. In his second, they ran at a pace of 95.3, good for 20th in the league. This past season, they’ve bumped themselves all the way to 10th as they played at a pace of 98.3. Now that Parker and LaVine are anticipated to play this season with a clean slate of health, their pace should continue to go up as Hoiberg has wanted from the beginning.
There will most definitely be some hurdles for the Bulls this season. Besides the fact that they are a very young team, nobody will be exactly intimidated by the Bulls’ defense. The Bull ranked 24th in defensive rating last year, allowing 110.8 points per 100 possessions, and there’s not much they can do to improve that outside of the addition of Carter. Dunn and Robin Lopez are more than solid, but LaVine, Parker, and Markkanen aren’t making an all-NBA Defense team anytime soon.
All of that, however, is part of the learning process for both Hoiberg and these Baby Bulls. Once again, the bar for them is set at “not good, but fun.” The Bulls had the worst point differential in the Eastern conference at -7.0, so there’s plenty of room for improvement for them, especially now that there is nothing holding back their coach.
With Hoiberg’s vision coming to fruition, and the Eastern Conference having quite a few iffy teams, this is an opportunity for the fourth-year coach to prove once and for all that he was the right man for the job when the Bulls hired him to replace the well-esteemed Tom Thibodeau.
In other words, for Chicago to succeed, Hoiberg must take the bull by the horns.
NBA Daily: Who Could Be The Next Star On The Move?
With the 2018-19 NBA Season approaching, the big question being asked is who is the next star player on the move, Steve Kyler takes a look at a few of the names to watch.
Who Is Next?
Twelve months ago, the idea that former Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard would be anywhere but San Antonio seemed laughable. But as history has shown in the NBA, it doesn’t take much for a seemingly untouchable star to ask for a trade out of even the greatest of situations.
With that in mind, how are some of the guys to watch in 2018-19 that could end up in a similar, albeit not nearly as awkward, situation.
Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
It is easy to forget that Wolves All-Star Jimmy Butler did not choose Minnesota, it was chosen for him. And while the situation was ideal for Jimmy in being reunited with head coach Tom Thibodeau, he didn’t pick the Wolves, they picked him.
Butler made the most of his first season in Minnesota, but for most of the year and all of the off-season there have been stories about Butler being frustrated with how the young players on the roster compete and look at the game, and that maybe he’s not all the way on board with the direction of the franchise.
Butler has a long history of being a tough guy to play with, mainly because of his competitive nature. Butler has not qualms about laying into a teammate both publicly and privately, and that can wear thin on young guys who may not be as thick-skinned as Butler wants them to be. Tough love doesn’t work with everyone.
The Wolves have been trying to get Butler to agree to a multi-year extension, but the problem is extensions are based on the final year of a player’s contract. That’s not in Butler’s best financial interest, meaning he’ll likely hit unrestricted free agency in July, if only to re-set his deal and ensure he gets as much money as possible.
The uncertainty of pending free agency combined with roster frustrations makes Butler a name to watch as the season gets underway.
The narrative from Minnesota is they won’t trade him. We’ll see how steadfast they remain if frictions between Butler and the young guys pick up where they left off, or worse yet, if the Wolves struggle to get out front in a loaded Western Conference.
Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
Anyone that has spent time with Blazers guard Damian Lillard will tell you he is loyal to a fault. For the Trail Blazers, that’s a good thing because he’ll likely give them a runway longer than maybe they deserve based on how the roster and the salary cap has been managed. The additional upside for Portland is Lillard is under guaranteed contract for three more seasons, including the upcoming one.
That said, does anyone believe the Blazers are serious contenders?
This will be the problem the Blazers have to battle. Not the fact they won 49 games last season and nabbed the third seed in the West; it’s the perception they are second tier.
Some would say that’s on the Blazers players to evolve in their contracts and star status in the NBA, and that might be a fair criticism, but how often in the modern NBA has the potentially disgruntled or unhappy player taken ownership of the situation?
Given how differently Lillard is wired, he might be the first to shoulder the blame for his team’s limitations in a genuine way, but there is a reality: the Golden State Warriors are not going anywhere in the short term. At what point does management in Portland simply sell high on the roster they have and try to reload or rebuild?
That’s the real question to watch in this situation, because Lillard may never be the guy that askes out. The real question is, how long do the Blazers stick with what they have and end their season in May?
Does anyone believe Blazer’s owner Paul Allen will be happy being the third seed every year of Lillard’s contract?
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors
Tick-tock. Kyle Lowry is on the clock.
When the Toronto Raptors opted to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, they made a big bet that not only would Leonard put them over the top in the East, but that his two-way style of play would yield more to the team than DeRozan.
The problem for the Raptors is Lowry and DeRozan were incredibly close, and the manner in which things were communicated has undoubtedly created a real and tangible awkwardness to the team dynamic.
Let’s be real for a minute. Lowry is a pro; he’ll come in and do his job and do it well. That’s how Lowry is wired, so to think he’d be petty because his best friend was traded is misplaced, so let’s make sure to table that idea.
There is, however, a reality that if Leonard and Lowry don’t mesh on the court, Lowry could be moved. Equally, if things don’t come together by the deadline, the Raptors could be in fire sale mode, not only with Lowry but with Leonard.
The Raptors made a big bet on Leonard; if that bet doesn’t look like it will pay off, all bets are off in Toronto, and the roster could get flipped on its head at the deadline, and that makes Lowry a name to watch.
Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
Amusingly, the guy that sings the praises for his current team is the one most people talk about when they dream about the next big fish to switch teams, and that’s Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis.
It’s important to point out Davis has never hinted at being anything but thrilled with the Pelicans and his trust in his team.
Skeptics will point out virtually every star player that changed teams said basically the same kinds of things at similar points in their contracts. Davis has two fully guaranteed years left on his deal in New Orleans, and a Player Option in 2020-21.
This will be a big year for the Pelicans and Davis. They had an amazing run in the post-season last year and may have finally found the right kinds of players to play with Davis in a way that could yield post-season success. The fear in all of this is that even with the Pelicans’ window being fairly open right now, do they have enough to be elite in the West?
Davis continues to say all the right things, and he will soon be eligible for a Super Max contract extension from the Pelicans worth some $220 plus million. The question becomes, will he sign it or put himself front and center in the rumor mill?
At this point, Davis seems thrilled with his team, and that’s a huge positive for the Pelicans. The question is, will he stay happy if they don’t gain ground?
At this point, none of these guys seem ready to bail on their team, but like Leonard a year ago, no one saw the distrust brewing or the desire to exit as being even a remote reality. One thing that has been true in the current iteration of the NBA is that even the biggest of stars will look for the door if their teams are not moving towards a championship, and that’s the biggest reason to watch some of these names, because they are all crossing into that point in their career where being a star with a lot of money may not be enough to justify being home and not deep into the playoffs in May.
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NBA Daily: Celtics Retain Glue Guy in Marcus Smart
The Celtics are going for gold this season, which is why keeping Marcus Smart long-term was absolutely the right move.
Every championship team needs its glue guy.
Without Andre Iguodala, the Warriors proved to be quite vulnerable when the Rockets pushed them to the brink in this year’s conference finals. Without Shane Battier, the Lebron-led Heat teams would have never had that extra gear to push them to a championship. Without Lamar Odom, the Kobe-Pau Lakers never regained their status as title contenders.
The most distinguished glue guy to ever step foot on a basketball court was one Robert Horry. “Big Shot Bob” never came close to being a star when he played, but he will always be remembered for his consistent abilities to come through in the clutch for seven championship teams over his 16-year career.
Stars are without a doubt the main ingredient to any championship team in this league, but the glue guys are the ones that add the finishing touches.
There aren’t set criteria for what makes a player a “glue guy”. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a dead-eye three-point shooter. He doesn’t have to be a top-notch athlete. He doesn’t have to be a defensive guru or a scoring spark. What qualifies a player for the title of glue guy is his ability to give his team an extra edge.
Since joining the league in 2014, Marcus Smart has become the NBA’s ultimate glue guy, which primarily comes from him being one of the league’s most unique players.
In the past four years, Smart has been the living embodiment of a mixed bag. From the very get-go, Smart has been one of the league’s best, most versatile defenders, capable of holding his own against just about any player of any height. Better yet, his effort and hustle for loose balls really set the tone for the Celtics’ defense on a nightly basis. Anyone who has watched him would tell you that Smart would put his life on the line if it meant bettering his team.
That, unfortunately, has been evened out by Smart’s offensive shortcomings, specifically shooting-wise. Smart’s shooting percentages are not just bad. They’re historically bad. Smart has consistently shot in the 35-36 range percentage-wise from the field, including only breaking through the 30 percent from three-point barrier twice in his four-year career.
But that’s what makes watching Smart so entertaining. He’s never been afraid of the moment. It doesn’t matter if he gets blocked in embarrassing fashion as he drives for a layup or if he airballs a wide-open three-pointer. If given the chance, Smart will try those exact same actions again without a second thought.
Even if his shooting numbers are flat-out egregious, metrics have proven that the Celtics offense has been better with Smart on the floor than off. This year, the Celtics were +1.1 points per 100 possessions on offense with Smart on the floor during the regular season and were +0.7 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor in the playoffs as well.
Those aren’t the most impressive numbers, but for someone who shoots at an impressively bad rate as Smart, those stats show that he can still be useful offensively. Smart’s versatility, as he can play positions 1-3, as well as his passing abilities, as his assist averages have gone from up from three to five a game, may have something to do with that.
Smart’s tenacity on both sides of the ball, for better or worse, makes him a winning player in this league, which effectively made him the first building block of the Brad Stevens era.
Smart technically wasn’t on the Celtics when Brad Stevens first took over as head coach, but he joined the team just as the wheels started turning in the Brad Stevens era. From the last days of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to the brief but productive days of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the potentially glorious of days of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum among others, Smart’s been there to do his fill for the Celtics. Judging off of the agreement that he and the Celtics came to, it sounds like the role he has is the one he wants for a long time.
A few months back, I had written about Smart’s upcoming free agency, believing that his best course of action was to take the qualifying offer, but the agreement between Smart and the Celtics showed that both sides truly wanted Smart to be a Celtic long-term.
On the Celtics side, they could have ridden out Smart’s restricted free agency, lowballed him even less or have him take the qualifying offer so that they could avoid the luxury tax. On Smart’s side, with the market dried up, Smart could have taken the qualifying offer, played out the season then see who would be interested in his services next summer in a free agency that’s expected to have a lot more available money.
Instead, the two came agreed because both wanted Smart to remain a Celtic, and why wouldn’t they? There’s a fair argument that without Smart, the Celtics could have been eliminated as early as the first round. The Bucks had the Celtics right where they wanted them when they tied them 2-2 in the first round, but when Smart came back from his wrist injury the following game, he gave the Celtics another dimension that sealed the Bucks’ fate.
Though Smart’s contributions played a key role in avoiding the upset against the Bucks, it was Smart’s play against the Sixers in the second round, specifically in the last minute of the series-clinching win in Game 5, that showed not just how important Smart is to the Celtics, but also summarized the Marcus Smart experience as a whole.
In the last minute of Game 5 with the Celtics down a bucket, Smart did the following:
-Tipped in a missed lay-up by Jayson Tatum to tie the game
-Forced Dario Saric to turn the ball over on a risky no-call
-Found Tatum in the post for the go-ahead layup
-Missed a free throw he was trying to make
-Made a free throw he was trying to miss
-Intercepted Ben Simmons’ hail mary heave as time expired
Did Smart win that game by himself? No, but he was the catalyst to the Celtics’ victory. If it hadn’t been for him, the Celtics could have very well gone back to Philadelphia with only a one-game lead and all the momentum shifting to the Sixers’ side. Instead, Boston went on to their second consecutive conference finals in a gentleman’s sweep.
Smart may not be a star, but his impact on the Celtics is undeniable. Fans have been wondering for years if Smart was the right pick when the Celtics took him sixth overall in the 2014 draft. To answer that, they must know that Brad Stevens has valued versatility above everything else since becoming the Celtics’ head coach. Smart’s style isn’t the prettiest, but he fits Stevens’ versatile way of thinking to a T, meaning that, in the end, he helps his team win.
Even if he’ll give everyone a heart attack first.