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NBA AM: Is It Better To Stay In Free Agency?

Is staying as a free agent more beneficial in the long run?… Coaching searches begin in the NBA, but not every coach fits every situation.

Steve Kyler

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Is Staying Better Than Leaving?:  When Rockets center Dwight Howard was in Orlando and rumors of discord began to surface, Magic owner Rich DeVos gave Howard a piece of advice. He warned his star player that if he opted to stay, the fans would reward him and that if he left he might not get that in his next stop.

“The loyalty you develop in a community is always remembered. But if you leave, you don’t pick it up in the next town,” Devos said back in 2012. “It’s not an add-on, you know, because you lose what you had. Maybe you gain some new [loyalty], but maybe you don’t. Maybe the net gain isn’t as good you think.”

Truer words could not have been spoken about Howard’s situation. He didn’t find that loyalty and love in Los Angeles and while Houston has welcomed him, the league as a whole still bashes on him at every turn. Howard played incredibly well last night, but his team still dropped to the Portland Trail Blazers and is now down two games to the Blazers as the series shifts to Portland.

So what’s the point?

Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge will soon find himself in the same place as Howard was two years ago; his contract with the Blazers expires in July of 2015. It’s the same place Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony now finds himself in New York and a similar place that Wolves forward  Kevin Love will find himself in very short order.

»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2014-15

All will be tempted and baited by the lure and possibilities of free agency. NBA careers are short. Windows to win championships are small and like it or not athletic ability fades with time.

There is a cold and harsh reality to sports and specifically free agency. Loyalty can cost you your legacy.

By now you have likely seen Blazers guard Damian Lillard’s Footlocker commercial where he proclaims that “the last thing I want to be is one of those guys that never won a ring.”

The commercial while funny, is true. As much as Anthony may love living in New York and being a Knick, he will turn 30 this summer and is looking at the end of his career with his next contract. Sure he could be like Spurs big man Tim Duncan and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and play into his late 30’s, but the truth of the matter is most players begin to fade after 35 and that means Melo’s next deal may be his last chance to really control whether he’ll get a chance to compete for a championship.

»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2015-16

Love has spent six seasons watching everyone around him compete in the postseason, despite his game becoming one of the more potent combinations of offense and rebounding the league has seen at his position since maybe Karl Malone.

Aldridge is in the driver’s seat in his team’s series against Houston, posting back to back 40-plus point games, but just six months ago there was talk that if Portland couldn’t turn the corner he wanted out. That talk has since died down, but what happens if Portland falls on their face?

It’s easy to say a player needs to stay with his team. Fans in L.A. couldn’t envision Bryant wearing any jersey other than a Laker jersey and he is revered and considered one of the best to ever wear the logo. As Devos said, Bryant’s loyalty has been rewarded, not only in terms of respect from the fans, but in respect from the team monetarily. Duncan and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki fall into the same class as icons of their franchises. While their skills and athleticism have eroded with time, those organizations and fan bases couldn’t imagine those players playing anywhere else.

Their loyalty has resulted in a massive legacy, both have won championships, but its been awhile and both are still revered.

As some of these star level players ponder their future and their free agency options, there is no doubt that each will weigh where their odds of winning and competing for a championship lie, but there is also something to be said about what a player gets back for being loyal.

Historically, players who have pledged unwavering support for their team tend to be valued more positively, even when things go badly. However players that hop from team to team, even once, are often thought of as mercenaries.

Miami’s LeBron James left one franchise, yet his name is constantly mentioned as a player that could be obtainable at some point in the future. No one wants to believe James is happy and content in Miami and plans to end his career there. The narrative is that he’ll keep jumping from team to team to collect as many rings as he can.

Does anyone believe Nowitzki will be anywhere but Dallas next year despite being an unrestricted free agent this summer?

When things went bad for Anthony in New York, the media story was “would the Knicks trade him?” Could you imagine Dallas putting Nowitzki on the trading block because of a bad series or a ho-hum season?

Howard’s stop in L.A. was the perfect example of how a fan base can turn on a player.

It is easy to say a player should leave via free agency. Certainly teams that need talent want to see those players hit the market in some capacity either in trade or in free agency. For the players, they have to weigh where they can win simply because their careers and capacity to earn maximum money are short.

However as DeVos said to Howard – leaving does not always get you a better situation. Leaving usually paints you as a mercenary and that’s fine when things are good, but when things turn south, that love fans have for the stars they built, that respect stars get from the media for being the anchor of a team simply isn’t there.

»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2016-17

Look at how Bulls fans treat forward Carlos Boozer. Rewind to how Lakers fans treated Dwight Howard when he struggled.

There is a cautionary tale there. Be careful what you wish for. The grass is not always greener on the other roster.

The Phases Of Coaches:  As many teams begin their search for their next head coach, there is a concept to keep in mind: not every team needs the same kind of coach.

Take the Utah Jazz for instance. Their team president Randy Rigby says their search will be “exhaustive” and they plan to talk to maybe 20 different candidates. Why? They are looking for a coach that can be one part teacher, one part motivator and someone who can steer the team to the playoffs. The Jazz are not delusional about who they are. They are not a title contender in the next three years, so they are not hiring a “win-now” coach.

When you look at Philadelphia’s decision to hire Brett Brown last year, it was because he was a known talent developer. They did not hire him to bring Philly to a title game.

That’s just not where they were as a franchise.

Jacque Vaughn was not hired in Orlando to win a playoff game. He was hired to bring a positive team-first attitude to a young team that by design was going to lose games. Vaughn was hired to install a program, to help develop and showcase and to keep everything together and on message. The hope is as the team grew up so would Jacque and he’d be in a position personally and with his team to fight for a postseason berth next year.

Not every team is hiring the same kind of coach. Some teams need teachers. Some teams need veteran leadership.

Look at the LA Clippers and the growth they have made as a franchise under Doc Rivers. It’s not that Vinny Del Negro was a terrible coach. It’s that he was not the right kind of coach to lead a veteran team deep into the postseason.

Why is Mark Jackson on the hot seat despite being one of the best coaches record wise in Warriors history? Because there is a belief that he’s not the right coach to win a championship. Mike Woodson isn’t out in New York because he’s a terrible coach. He’s just not the coach that could get a veteran team into a championship.

As teams start interviewing candidates and names start floating around, understand that not every good coach fits every situation.

Lionel Hollins is a great NBA coach, however he’s not a one-size fits all candidate. That’s true of George Karl and Stan Van Gundy.

»In Related: NBA Transactions

Teams have to grow and evolve and that sometimes means a coaching change along the way. There are very few coaches that will have their jobs as long as they want them, most coaches are going to be measured and evaluated based on whether they can get their respective teams to the level that their management/ownership expects.

If a head coach can’t keep up with expectations, that’s usually when he’s gone; that’s where Indiana’s Frank Vogel finds himself today.

Equally there will come a time for Jacque Vaughn when the expectations overcome his ability. It happens to every coach at some point.

As teams like Minnesota and Utah look for a new leader, keep in mind where they are as a franchise when trying to determine who the right fit is. The Wolves have experienced players that need to be focused towards the playoffs. They don’t need a teacher of the game type of guy.

The Jazz on the other hand, do need that teacher of the game type personality, but one that has the ability and capacity to get them winning games.

Both teams need two very different things from their next head coach and it’s all based on where they are developmentally as an organization.

The kind of structure and coaching a roster of 20-somethings needs, is very different from the kind of structure and coaching a roster full of 30-somethings need.

Why does it take interviewing 20 candidates to find the next guy? Because it’s about matching the next guy to where the team is at today and where they hope to be inside the next three to five years, which is what a typical coaching contract looks like. After that, it’s usually about meeting expectations.

Six Things:  Basketball Insiders produces a lot of material throughout the day so we try and keep you up-to-date with things you may have missed. The best way to insure that you are not missing anything is to get on our e-mail newsletter list (no ads or spam, just headlines). Here are some of the things you may have missed:

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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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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