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Lakers Were Creative with Yi Jianlian’s Contract

The Lakers got creative with Yi Jianlian’s incentive-based contract, which is trade-friendly.

Eric Pincus

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On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers finally signed the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, inking forward Brandon Ingram to a $23.8 million rookie-scale contract.

Ingram was the last of his class to sign with a team, outside of the players who will spend at least a year overseas like Guerschon Yabusele (16th) and Ante Zizic (23rd) – both drafted by the Boston Celtics.

For the Lakers, the delay in the Ingram signing was about maximizing their cap space opportunistically.

Unsigned, Ingram took up $4.4 million of the Lakers’ cap space.  Now signed, he’ll make $5.3 million for the coming season.  That extra $880,280 in space marginally helped the Lakers in signing Chinese forward-center Yi Jianlian to a one-year, $8 million contract that is partially guaranteed.

The Lakers might have hoped to use their cap space in trade, but with Russell Westbrook opting to restructure and extend his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, few if any real options surfaced.

Earlier in the summer, the Lakers were able to use cap space to take on the contract of veteran point guard Jose Calderon from the Chicago Bulls along with a pair of second-round picks.

Unable to find a Westbrook blockbuster or another Calderon-like deal, the Lakers invested in Yi, who was the sixth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007. Yi has been out of the league since 2012, but has thrived overseas in China.

Perhaps he can help the team on the floor, or by appealing to a massive Chinese market that held a strong affinity for the now-retired Kobe Bryant.

Regardless, the Lakers’ contract with Yi is very team friendly in structure – almost as if the franchise was looking to preserve the benefit of cap room, even after going over the $94.1 million line with Yi, Ingram and forward-center Tarik Black, who signed on Wednesday.

Black, as a restricted free agent, took up just $1.2 million of the Lakers’ space.  Now signed, he’ll earn $6.2 million for the coming season (the maximum allowed via Early Bird Rights).  He also has a second, non-guaranteed season at $6.7 million – making him another potentially valuable trade chip for the Lakers.

In the case of Yi, his base salary pays just the minimum for a player with five years of experience ($1.1 million).  In fact, his full $8 million salary is only guaranteed for $250,000.

The bulk of Yi’s contract is incentive-based.  The most a team can pay a player in an unlikely incentive is 15 percent of the base salary.  In Yi’s case, his entire salary, including the $6 million in bonuses, is considered likely by the NBA, opening the door for his uniquely-structured deal.

Additionally, teams cannot sign a player with date-based incentives, but the Lakers worked around that limitation by giving Yi bonuses based on number of games played.

If he plays in 20 games, he’ll receive a $2.3 million bonus.  Then at 40 games, he’ll get another $2.3 million, and then again at 59.

As a free-agent acquisition, the earliest Yi can be traded is Dec. 15, which is true of most of the team’s other signings like Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Marcelo Huertas.  Because Black was paid via Early Bird Rights, receiving a raise greater than 20 percent, he cannot be dealt until Jan. 15.

Ingram cannot be traded for until Sep. 22 (30 days after signing with the team as a drafted player).  All other Lakers are trade eligible.

By Dec. 15, Yi’s salary will be guaranteed for $341,737, earning $6,701 a day starting on opening night for the NBA on Oct. 25.

If Yi does not play in 20 games and is traded on Dec. 15, the Lakers would be able to bring back up to $12.1 million in salary.  The incoming team could then waive Yi immediately at $341,737, shaving off $11.8 million off their cap.

Matching salaries in trades can be a challenge during the season, with most teams over the salary cap.

If, for example, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with DeMarcus Cousins – something they are not currently considering – the Lakers would be required to send out $11,957,900 in salary.

Theoretically, the Lakers would be able to reach that number by sending out Julius Randle, Anthony Brown and Yi ($12,141,756 combined).  Sacramento would need two open roster spots to make such a deal legal in-season.

That assumes quite a bit: That Cousins becomes available, that such an offer from the Lakers is a suitable return for the Kings, etc. – but the example is more about understanding the mechanics of Yi’s contract, than guessing specifically what return he might help generate in trade.

If executed on Dec 15, and the Kings waived Yi immediately after this pretend trade became official (upon players clearing physicals), Sacramento would clear over $12.5 million off their books for the current season.

That assumes Yi does not reach his 20-game milestone, which would come on Nov. 30 in Chicago against the Bulls.

If Yi is a regular part of the Lakers’ rotation, playing in every game, his salary would be $2.6 million guaranteed on Dec. 15. – still a $10.2 million savings for the Kings, in the above example.

The earliest Yi can reach 40 games is on Jan. 6, when the Lakers host the Miami HEAT.  By then, he will have earned $489,153 of his base salary, plus $4.6 million in bonuses, for a total of $5.1 million.

On Jan. 10, all non-guaranteed salaries lock in across the NBA.  Traded after that milestone, but before playing 59 games, Yi will have locked in $5.7 million.

The NBA has yet to announce the trade deadline for the 2016-17 season, which is normally the 17th Thursday of the season, or Feb. 16.  Given the All-Star Game is on Feb.19, the deadline could be delayed until Feb. 23.

The earliest Yi’s final $2.3 million bonus can kick in is on Feb. 24, when the Lakers visit the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That doesn’t look coincidental.

It doesn’t mean the Lakers signed Yi to trade him, but it’s certainly a consideration.  If he, instead, can quickly become a positive contributor on the floor, the Lakers will happily take that return on their $8 million investment.

Guessing which of the Lakers’ potential trade targets becomes available is a fool’s errand, especially in August.

The Lakers may also have no interest in dealing Randle.

That said, the Lakers have the flexibility to make deals this season, with Calderon’s expiring $7.7 million contract, Black’s non-guaranteed second year and a number of young, developing players that may appeal to trade suitors before the deadline.

Additionally, the Lakers have yet to sign rookie forward Zach Auguste, who has agreed to terms with the franchise.  The Lakers were happy with what they saw with Auguste in Las Vegas, as part of their summer league squad.

Presently, the Lakers have 15 guaranteed players.  Auguste may be facing an uphill battle to make the roster, unless the team makes room.

To date, the Lakers have not been able to find a taker for Nick Young in trade.  Young, who has fallen out of favor over the past couple of seasons with the franchise, will earn $5.4 million for the coming season with a player option for $5.7 million the following year.

The Lakers have until the end of August to waive and stretch out Young’s $11.1 million salary over the next five years (at $2.2 million a season).

Given the team is already over the cap at $99.3 million, there’s no obvious incentive to stretch Young before September.

If the team chooses instead to waive him after August, they can stretch his final year over three seasons at $1.9 million.  Or the team may just hold onto him to start the season, looking for trade opportunities before the deadline.

The Lakers can also choose to waive him without stretching his salary, eating up that full $5.7 million for next season (less any money Young might be willing to give up in buyout).

The obvious goal is to find a trade that sheds his salary altogether, but to date, the Lakers have not found a market for the perimeter scorer.

Finally, the Lakers project to have as much as $31.7 million in cap space next summer.  That assumes a $102 million salary cap, and that the Lakers do not have their first-round pick, which will go to the Philadelphia 76ers if not in the top three (still owed for the Steve Nash trade).

It also presumes the Lakers pick up rookie-scale options on D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr. and Randle – and that the team can get Young completely off their books before next July.

The options are a lock; the Young salary is a bit more precarious.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins

Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.

Moke Hamilton

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Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.

By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.

Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.

Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.

Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?

That may be pricisely the case here.

Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.

We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.

For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.

In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.

Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.

That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.

* * * * * *

With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.

The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.

At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.

In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.

Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.

Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.

Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.

And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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