There are three ways for a franchise to improve in the NBA – the draft, free agency and trades. With the draft and free agency period now fading long in the rearview mirror, the only option left for teams over the next few months is rummaging through the trade market.
As we approach trade season, there are a couple of dates worthy of note.
December 15 marks the day when the NBA trading season truly opens up. This is because players that sign with a team as a free agent cannot be traded for up to three months after signing, or until December 15 – whichever is later. With the majority of free agency around the league taking place in July and August, there will be plenty of guys that become available to be dealt. Most league executives wait for this type of flexibility, as it gives them added wiggle room to be creative in sculpting out potential moves.
Another date to remember is the annual trade deadline. This season it is February 23 at 3 p.m. ET.
So even though we’re just under three months away from the actual deadline, we’re only three weeks away from when the doors of trade season truly open.
As expected up until this point, there has been little movement, but here are some situations around the association worth keeping an eye on.
Is Tom Thibodeau Growing Impatient In Minnesota?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the most intriguing young cores in the league spearheaded by former No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The team hired veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau during the offseason to provide their youth movement with an experienced sideline general who has previous success in the playoffs.
While there were some that picked the Timberwolves as a trendy potential playoff team this season, the reality is young NBA cores take time to develop and win at a high level. The Timberwolves (4-10) are currently 13th in the Western Conference, but only three games outside of a playoff berth if the season were to end today.
According to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Thibodeau has already grown impatient with the team’s losing and is considering trading one of his young players, not named Towns or Wiggins, for an experienced veteran to help them win now.
More from Bucher’s report:
“Tom Thibodeau is not exactly a paragon of patience, which is why league sources expect that he is only a few more losses away from dealing one of his young stars for a veteran who can help him win now. His first look will be for a player he already knows and trusts because he’s already had that player in his system. Would the Lakers consider advancing their youth movement and dealing former Bull Luol Deng? Would the Bulls consider parting with Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson? Where Thibs looks is not certain, nor is who he’d be willing to move. But those in the league who know his hunger to win and win now are convinced he will begin calling around soon, if he hasn’t already.”
While the Timberwolves have a nice collection of talent, there’s no guarantee that young promising cores ever will develop enough to match expectations. When dealing with players under 25, maturity, focus, money, ego and a host of other potential pitfalls can stunt development. NBA history is littered with once-promising young cores that ultimately didn’t develop.
There were numerous reports this past summer about Minnesota’s interest in All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, but both sides refused to admit any advanced talks. In regards to Luol Deng, while he hasn’t looked good on the court, word is the veteran’s presence around the Los Angeles Lakers’ young collection of talent has been an added benefit.
The Timberwolves may ultimately make a move here, but after just 14 games under Thibodeau any movement will likely come closer to the trade deadline than the December 15 opening stanza.
Are the Knicks Already Having Buyer’s Remorse on Joakim Noah?
There was an interesting bit of news from Marc Berman of the New York Post earlier this week. According to Berman, there are some beginning to believe the four-year, $72 million contract team president Phil Jackson inked Noah to this past summer may become a haunting one if the veteran center’s productivity doesn’t increase.
At 31 years old, there have been numerous signs of Noah’s decline over the past few seasons and his inability to remain healthy scared off a few teams in free agency. With an Amnesty clause provision not likely to be included in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Knicks could have an immovable piece on their hands if early returns hold consistent.
The Always-Changing Climate Surrounding DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento
Here’s the deal: The Sacramento Kings have a big decision to make regarding their talented All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his future with the organization. Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2018.
There are many who believe the Kings will have no shot at re-signing him once he hits the open market – despite being able to offer him more cash. But trading away arguably the best center in the game, in his prime, is a tough pill to swallow for an organization that hasn’t had luck luring elite talent to town. In fact, the unsteady relationship between Cousins and the Kings actually diminishes what Sacramento could demand in a deal. This is because teams around the league know full well the franchise’s unsteady ground and could play a bit of hardball.
According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the Kings are reportedly growing weary of the Cousins era.
“I’ve had a couple of guys from other teams tell me they’re hearing the Kings are starting to get sick of Cousins,” Lowe said. “Whatever that means. I mean, no one knows who’s making the decisions from the ownership level, not who’s making the decisions, but there’s just so many voices among ownership. They have a million minority owners, Vlade [Divac] and Ken Catanella.”
Trade winds have been swirling around Cousins for years now, so this isn’t exactly a new development. However, with the Kings (6-9) trending toward another season under .500 and Cousins’ free agency looming, more than ever it may be time to tune into the state of the Kings.
The Status of Brandon Knight in Phoenix
Last season, Brandon Knight averaged 19.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds over 52 games in an injury-shortened campaign. The guard averaged 36 minutes per contest in the process. This season, the Phoenix Suns have relegated Knight to the bench in favor of their youth movement – namely Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. To date, Knight is currently averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 16 appearances (three starts) in just 25 minutes per game.
Knight is under contract through the 2020 campaign so any team seeking his services would have to assume the long-term financial obligation ($43 million over the next three seasons, $55 million total). While Knight has freely admitted to struggling while adjusting in his new bench role, the front office hasn’t wavered with their public support and consistently reiterate his importance to their rebuilding plan.
“We’re certainly not looking to move Brandon, we haven’t been close to trading Brandon,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told the Burns and Gambo show. “I think he’d love to be starting, we understand that. He’s accepted the role very well. I think you guys will see him go on a run here. As you know, watching him play the last couple years, he has the ability to get hot and put up a lot of points in a hurry and take over stretches of games — he hasn’t done that yet for us consistently but I think it’s coming.”
Booker currently leads the Suns in scoring, but has struggled with his shot to start the campaign with declines in overall field goal and three-point percentages compared to his rookie season. Warren has missed a few games due to injury. The presence of Knight on the roster is like a security blanket for a team trying to see how their young guys mesh.
But as we approach the trade deadline, don’t be surprised to hear Knight’s name mentioned more often. Then it will be interesting to see if McDonough, faced with lucrative assets, can remain firm in his plans not to deal the talented guard.
NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft
With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.
A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.
Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three boxes checked off.
“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”
During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.
Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.
From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?
“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”
Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even aspects outside of his offensive ability.
“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”
Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to be “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.
A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.
“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”
VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.
“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.
“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”
However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.
“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”
Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.
But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”
The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized
After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.
On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.
Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.
This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.
And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.
When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.
It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.
Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.
The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.
Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.
Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.
Promising Youth Movement
Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.
That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.
Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.
Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.
Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.
In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.
NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man
Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.
Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.
In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.
Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.
“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”
In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.
He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.
“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”
It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.
“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”
Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.
While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.
“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”