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NBA AM: Grading Out The 2014 NBA Draft

Steve Kyler grades every team and what they did on Draft Night 2014. Find out if your team got an A or an F!

Steve Kyler

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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…

ATLANTA HAWKS

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.

GRADE: A

BOSTON CELTICS

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.

GRADE: A

BROOKLYN NETS

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.

GRADE: B+

CHARLOTTE HORNETS

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.

GRADE: A

CHICAGO BULLS

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.

GRADE: A

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

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.

GRADE: A

DALLAS MAVERICKS

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.

GRADE: INC

DENVER NUGGETS

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.

GRADE: A

DETROIT PISTONS

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.

GRADE: B+

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.

GRADE: INC

HOUSTON ROCKETS

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.

GRADE: C+

INDIANA PACERS

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.

GRADE: INC

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.

GRADE: C

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.

GRADE: A

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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.

GRADE: A

MIAMI HEAT

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.

GRADE: A

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

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.

GRADE: A

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

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.

GRADE: B

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.

GRADE: C

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.

GRADE: B+

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.

GRADE: B-

ORLANDO MAGIC

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.

GRADE: A

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

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.

GRADE: C+

PHOENIX SUNS

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.

GRADE: A

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.

GRADE: INC

SACRAMENTO KINGS

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.

GRADE: B+

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.

GRADE: B+

TORONTO RAPTORS

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.

GRADE: C+

UTAH JAZZ

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.

GRADE: A

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

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.

GRADE: INC


More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

NBA AM: LeBron James’ Quest For Eighth Straight Finals

Despite playing 30 minutes in preseason, LeBron James dazzled in the season opener with an impressive stat line.

Lang Greene

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Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward LeBron James has been known for his durability ever since entering the league in 2003. Despite a heavy annual workload, James has played less than 70 games just twice in 14 seasons. One of those campaigns was the strike-shortened 2012 season, in which in he appeared in 62 out of 66 contests.

Heading into the season opener on Tuesday, there were concerns that James wouldn’t be able to lace them up due to an ankle injury suffered during a preseason in which he logged only 30 minutes. However, James not only suited up, he was the primary driving force in the team’s 102-99 victory over the Boston Celtics.

James finished the contest with 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists on 12-for-19 shooting from the floor. Yet, after the game, James was transparent about his physical conditioning – or lack thereof.

“I’m out of shape, very out of shape for my expectations,” James told the press after the Cavaliers’ defeated the Celtics in Tuesday’s season opener. “Rightfully so. I haven’t been able to play during the preseason. I played one game [and] reinjured my ankle. I don’t like where I’m at right now.”

James has a reputation for going to extreme lengths to keep his body in tip-top shape, but Tuesday night’s performance didn’t appear to be the work of a man struggling to keep up.

While the Golden State Warriors are the favorites to once again hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end, the Cavaliers are expected to make their fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland has plenty of question marks to start the season.

The Cavaliers are still integrating former league MVP Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green into the rotation. Two starters from previous seasons, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, are now adjusting to roles off the bench and presumably reduced minutes. This doesn’t even take into consideration the impending unrestricted free agency status of James, Rose and Thomas next summer, which will become a daily outlet of speculation.

James acknowledged the team is still adjusting on the fly and building chemistry where possible.

“The most important thing is we got the win,” James said. “It’s going to be a learning experience for us because we got seven new guys, putting in a new system and every game is going to be a learning experience.”

James has been able to avoid serious injury throughout his career and the preseason ankle injury appears to be a thing of the past.

“It’s a little sore,” James said about his tweaked ankle. “But I’d figured that much.

“We don’t play again until Friday, so I get a couple of days. But I have to get some conditioning in as well. So it’s going to be a fine line for me—rest my ankle trying to get in healthy or do I continue to get some conditioning in because I need it? We have a great support staff and I’ll be fine.”

Other Opening Night Observations

Boston Celtics (99) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (102)

  • Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, one of the team’s marquee offseason acquisitions, suffered a fractured ankle early in the first quarter
  • Celtics forwards Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds
  • Celtics guard Kyrie Irving recorded 10 assists in his Boston debut. Last season with the Cavaliers he posted just eight games of 10+ assists
  • Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson played 20 minutes off the bench. Last season the forward averaged 29.9 minutes per contest

Houston Rockets (122) vs. Golden State Warriors (121)

  • The Rockets outscored the Warriors 34-20 in the fourth quarter to stole a victory at Oracle Arena on ring ceremony night
  • Rockets role players P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon combined for 44 points on 15-for-25 shooting from the floor in the victory
  • Rockets guard Chris Paul recorded 11 assists in his debut, but shot just 2-for-9 from the floor and totaled four points
  • Warriors forward Draymond Green left the game in the second half due to a knee sprain. At the time of his departure, Green had posted nine points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists
  • Veteran guard Nick Young led the Warriors in scoring with 23 points on 6-for-7 shooting from three-point range in the opener

The gross majority of the league’s teams will open up their seasons on Wednesday, and by Friday, everyone will have played one game.

In it all, though, from here, it still appears that LeBron James is king.

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NBA

NBA AM: Is It Smart To Bet On Yourself In This Market?

Many extension-eligible players opted to bet on themselves and a questionable free agent marketplace next summer.

Steve Kyler

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No Big Surprises On Draft Extensions

The big news yesterday wasn’t a new extension for a 2014 first round draft pick, it was the news that the San Antonio Spurs reached a three-year, $72 million extension with veteran LaMarcus Aldridge.

The news was surprising for a couple of reasons. The biggest being the Spurs had shopped Aldridge in trade scenarios this offseason under the idea that he was a problematic fit for the Spurs.

Ultimately, Aldridge and the Spurs ended up in the same place on his deal. The Spurs were not going to be big free agent players and locking Aldridge in now gives them some security as well as trade leverage later. In Aldridge’s case, his camp saw the marketplace this past summer and all of the mouths that need to be fed in July and realized he wasn’t likely getting more money on the open market come free agency.

One of the things the Spurs found out was that trading a player with a player option is not an easy task as teams that would give up value want to know what comes next, either way. Over the past few years, player options have become almost toxic in trade, mainly because there are two classes of trade partners, one that wants the ending contract and a player for a stretch run in the postseason and teams that want the player for next season. The options make valuing the player sticky at best.

In doing a deal for Aldridge, the Spurs basically lock him into their roster for this season but give themselves a trade chip next summer, if they need it. This was smart for both sides. The Spurs locked in the player and the trade asset, Aldridge locked in money he likely wouldn’t have gotten in the open market.

For those players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, yesterday closed the window on the “Early Extension Period.” While there were talks all the way to the wire on several players, the bulk of the deals that didn’t get done didn’t get close enough to seal the deal.

The Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart frequently talked about an extension, and his camp labeled the talks as getting “close” but ultimately, future luxury tax concerns killed a possible deal before the extension deadline, meaning Smart will hit free agency in July.

The Celtics will have a couple of months to see if Smart continues to evolve before they have to make decisions, and they now know what a deal would take for Smart to sign outright. Given the Celtics tax concerns, there is a window for a team with cap space to poach him in July if they come with the right kind of offer sheet. While the Celtics can obtain the right to match Smart with a $6.53 million qualifying offer, the tax issues won’t go away without a cap dump of a trade. Equally, the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, so the C’s have the luxury of seeing what unfolds in the next three months before the February 8 trade deadline.

The Orlando Magic and their pair of 2014 draftees, Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, talked about extensions, mostly out of courtesy. The Magic would have done deals if it favored the team, but the new front office in Orlando has been open and honest that they are still very much in evaluation mode on the roster and were not going to pay a premium at this point.

The Magic’s reluctance to do a deal wasn’t about valuing either player as both are said to have been very good so far, this preseason. The Magic don’t have a clear-cut direction yet and inking a long-term deal with either would have been counter to their goal of flexibility. Equally, the Magic also know that both players are unlikely to get huge free agent offers unless they blossom this season, which would make matching an easier decision after seeing how they play this season.

Neither player entered the process expecting to reach a deal, so there is no ill-will about not getting an extension. Both players have said publicly and privately they knew they had to earn their next deal and came into camp with that mindset.

The Utah Jazz and guard Rodney Hood engaged on an extension most of the summer. The Jazz are very committed to Hood, but would not commit to a deal at this point for a bunch of reasons, the biggest being they don’t really know what the team is yet. Hood is going to get a big opportunity this year, and the Jazz want to see if he can handle the increased load and stay healthy. Injuries have ravaged the Jazz lately, and they were reluctant to lock in a big number to a player that hasn’t been durable.

Of the bunch, Hood is the most likely to get a deal without the restricted free agent offer sheet process next summer—the Jazz may simply pony up and pay him if he can fill the void they hope he can for the team.

The Milwaukee Bucks and injured forward Jabari Parker did talk about an extension despite him having torn his ACL for the second time. The Bucks looked at the idea of locking Parker in at a value, but ultimately, neither side got close enough for it to be realistic. Parker is expected to return to action sometime in February, meaning he may log enough games for a big deal in July to be realistic, especially if the Bucks are as good as they project to be this year and land home court in the postseason.

The big hurdle for all of the players that did not get an extension is that the free agent marketplace in July does not project to be as robust as it was even last year. A number of agents urged their clients to take the security of money on the table this summer, and many players opted to bet on themselves, which always sounds like a great idea until the reality of restricted free agency sets in.

Nerlens Noel and JaMychal Green were both causalities of a shrinking marketplace this past summer. It will be interesting to see if some of the players that got close this week get less in the open market in July.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton@jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_ and @Ben__Nadeau.

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NBA

NBA AM: 50 NBA Predictions for 2017-2018

As he always does, Joel Brigham makes 50 predictions for the forthcoming NBA season.

Joel Brigham

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If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making NBA predictions that end up being correct right about half the time. Every season for as long as I’ve been writing about basketball, I’ve made 50 predictions about the forthcoming season, only to return to those predictions in the spring and berate myself for believing the things I believed back in the fall. It’s an annual emotional rollercoaster.

Well, it’s the fall, which means regardless of whether or not readers agree with these predictions, most can at least see how a good deal of them could come to fruition. Flip a coin, though, because last season I only went 21-for-42. Here’s to hoping I do a little better than that this season.

On to this season’s NBA predictions:

Individual Predictions

1. James Harden will lead the league in scoring this season.

2. Both he and Russell Westbrook will top 30 points per game.

3. DeAndre Jordan will lead the league in rebounds.

4. John Wall will be the only player in the league to average 10.0 or more assists per game.

5. J.J. Redick will be among the top eight players in the league in terms of three-pointers made.

6. Rudy Gobert will lead the league in blocks.

Team Predictions

7. Once again, the Boston Celtics (not the Cleveland Cavaliers) will post the best record in the Eastern Conference.

8. Last season the Houston Rockets broke the record for most three-pointers attempted in an NBA season. They’re going to break that record again.

9. The Golden State Warriors are going to win a ton of games in 2017-2018, as they always do, but once again they will fall just a touch shy of 70 wins.

10. The Northwest Division (Denver, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Portland and Utah) will have more collective wins than any other division in basketball.

11. The Minnesota Timberwolves will win at least 20 more games than they did last season.

12. The three top scoring teams in the league all will be in the Western Conference.

Rookie Predictions

13. Dennis Smith will be Rookie of the Year.

14. He also is going to lead all rookies in scoring.

15. Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball both will average more than 6.5 assists per game.

16. Simmons and Philadelphia teammate Markelle Fultz both will be on the All-Rookie First Team.

17. John Collins will lead all rookies in rebounds and blocks.

18. Lauri Markkanen will lead all rookies in made three-pointers.

19. Jordan Bell will be this year’s most successful second-rounder.

Playoff Predictions

20. One game or fewer will determine which team will be the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs and which team will have the least ping pong balls in the lottery that year.

21 Milwaukee will be a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and will have homecourt advantage in the first round.

22. Philadelphia does make the postseason, but as a seventh or eighth seed.

23. For the fourth season in a row, it will be the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers playing in the NBA Finals.

24. The Golden State Warriors will (once again) win the NBA championship.

Awards Predictions

25. Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the MVP award this year. With LeBron James likely being more restful than ever in the regular season and Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden deferring more often to other superstars on their respective teams, Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard have the clearest road to individual dominance this year. Something tells me Giannis is on the precipice of doing some truly amazing things, both physically and statistically.

26. Kawhi Leonard will win Defensive Player of the Year. His streak was broken by Draymond Green a year ago. He’ll get it going again with a win in 2018.

27. Brad Stevens will win NBA Coach of the Year.

28. J.R. Smith is going to win Sixth Man of the Year. This award typically values scorers on good teams, and that’s exactly what J.R. is to going to be this year. If he had to get booted to the reserves, he may as well be the best one, right?

29. The Most Improved Player typically is someone who goes from being good to being elite, and that guy this year looks like it will be Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis or Nikola Jokic. For the sake of settling on one, I’ll say Porzingis.

30. Danny Ainge will win Executive of the Year. Getting his hands on Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward without giving up much and landing a top rookie prospect in Jayson Tatum is about as good as it gets.

Trade Predictions

31. After finding himself in just about every single Phoenix Suns trade rumor over the course of the last three seasons, this is the year Eric Bledsoe finally gets moved midseason.

32. There are big questions surrounding New Orleans’ roster, which likely will lead to some DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors. The Pelicans will not, however, trade the All-Star big man.

33. In the midst of their rebuild, Atlanta will try to move Kent Bazemore, the most expensive player on their roster. They will not succeed in this.

34. There has been a Kenneth Faried mention in the trade predictions section of this article seemingly every year, so let’s keep it going. This is the year Faried finally gets shipped from Denver.

35. Jahlil Okafor will be a Chicago Bull by the end of the season.

36. Portland’s frontcourt is absolutely loaded. As such, at least one of their big men will get shipped by the deadline.

37. At least one of the Lopez twins will not finish the season on the same team he started the year playing with.

38. Cleveland’s “Brooklyn Pick,” despite being a hot commodity with the potential to bring in another star player for a championship run, will not change hands. That pick stays with Cleveland.

Miscellaneous Predictions

39. The Chicago Bulls have led the league in attendance for years, but not this season. If the Chicago Bears still are going to have tickets available on game day, so are the Bulls. This season, Cleveland leads the league in attendance for the first time ever.

40. The Atlanta Hawks will win the draft lottery.

Insiders Predictions

For the second year in a row, my fellow writers at Basketball Insiders will bear the burden of making these predictions, and they too will be held accountable when we revisit these in the spring. Here’s a look at some of their bold predictions:

41. Joel Embiid will play at least 70 games this year. (Dennis Chambers).

42. Joel Embiid will not play 60 games. In the games he does play he will look awesome and put up amazing stats, but his absences will ultimately cost the Sixers the playoffs. (Steve Kyler).

43. Marcus Smart will shoot at least a league average percentage on deep balls this season. (Shane Rhodes).

44. Giannis Antetokounmpo will become the first player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in back-to-back seasons (Tommy Beer).

45. This will be the first time in Carmelo Anthony’s Hall of Fame career that he will not average 20 points per game. (Lang Greene).

46. The Wizards will finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Brian Fritz).

47. Blake Griffin and Danillo Gallinari both will play in at least 60 games this year. (Jesse Blancarte).

48. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons each will have at least ten triple doubles this season. (Michael Scotto).

49. Bogdan Bogdanovic will finish among the top three in Rookie of the Year voting. (Benny Nadeau).

50. The Memphis Grizzlies will miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. (Spencer Davies).

***

You’re going to read a lot of predictions articles this time of year, but I’m the only one who will come to these predictions at the end of the season to gauge how smart (or, more likely, how completely and utterly stupid) I was in making some of these. Check back in June for the wrap-up, and here’s to another great season of NBA basketball!

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