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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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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team

Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.

Joel Brigham

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When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)

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