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NBA AM: Free Agent Dollars Drying Up

There’s not a lot of cash left in the free agency pool. Which teams still have money to spend?… Setting a value for Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe.

Steve Kyler

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The Cash Is Drying Up:  Most of the teams that had major cap space have basically spent it. While there are still a few teams with sizable exception money remaining, the big money available in free agency has basically dried up.

Here is what the current cap picture looks like:

Here are the teams with real money to play with:

The Atlanta Hawks currently have about $2.08 million in space and could open up an additional $6.75 million more by renouncing the cap holds on Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon, giving them a possible $8.83 million to spend. The Hawks are still very much engaged on the free agent front so spending their cash is likely.

The Charlotte Hornets have roughly $1.41 million remaining under the cap and still have Brian Roberts’ deal to finalize. Roberts’ deal is valued at the “room exception” so Charlotte appears to have structured things to get at the cap number, meaning they should have one more transaction up their sleeve.

The Detroit Pistons have $1.43 million in space, but are carrying a $10.216 million cap hold on their qualifying offer to Greg Monroe. Pistons president Stan Van Gundy has labeled retaining Monroe as the team’s top offseason priority, but it’s clear they are not willing to give a max offer. With almost no money left in the market, they are simply playing the waiting game. There were reports that the Phoenix Suns may make an offer to Monroe, but it’s likely that Detroit matches an offer sheet.

The Milwaukee Bucks technically don’t have cap space by virtue of the $11.173 million cap hold they carry on free agent Ekpe Udoh. If they were to renounce it, they could open up roughly $10.3 million in space. The Bucks are believed to be one of the suitors for Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe, but landing him would require a sign-and-trade as it’s likely Phoenix would gladly match a $10 million offer sheet. Because the Bucks are still technically over the cap, they still retain their cap exceptions.

The Orlando Magic have roughly $8.34 million in cap space and could free up an additional $2.81 million by renouncing the cap holds on E’Twaun Moore and the draft rights to Fran Vasquez. The Magic are roughly $5.66 million away from the NBA‘s required minimum salary of $56.759 million, although they have until the end of the season to meet that number. The Magic for the most part seem finished in free agency and are more likely to use their space later in the season given that they have basically 13 players under contract for the upcoming season.

The Philadelphia 76ers lead the NBA with the most available cash under the cap with a whopping $23.58 million available, with an additional $2.646 available by renouncing the cap holds on Byron Mullens, Charles Jenkins and Adonis Thomas. The 76ers are the lone remaining team with massive cap space. However, they do not seem overly engaged with anyone on the free agent front. Last season, the 76ers carried a massive amount of space all season, ultimately using it at the trade deadline to acquire Danny Granger in a cap clearing move with the Indiana Pacers.

The Phoenix Suns have roughly $12.759 million available under the cap and could free up an additional $915,000 by renouncing the cap hold on Leandro Barbosa. The Suns do have a $6.56 million qualifying offer out to Eric Bledsoe. There have been reports that the Suns might issue an offer to Pistons free agent Greg Monroe, and could do a deal starting at $13.6 million and still be able to retain Bledsoe using his Bird rights. The Suns and Bledsoe remain somewhat apart on a deal,with reports suggesting that a four-year, $48 million offer was made by the Suns and turned away by Bledsoe.

The Utah Jazz still have cash remaining under the cap to the tune of about $3.636 million. The Jazz have basically fleshed out their roster, but do have cash to spend. However, they have 15 players on the roster, including several non-guaranteed contracts. The Jazz’s core seems to be in place, although there has been continued talks that a third guard is on their wish list and with $3.6 million to spend they should be able to secure one.

There are currently four teams already over the $76.829 million luxury tax line: The Boston Celtics ($1.937 million over), Brooklyn Nets ($16.202 million over), L.A. Clippers ($2.850 million over) and New York Knicks ($14.586 million over).

The teams with notable cap exceptions remaining include: The Boston Celtics ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Denver Nuggets ($5.305 million mid-level), Houston Rockets ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.077 bi-annual), Memphis Grizzlies ($1.393 remaining from their mid-level), Milwaukee Bucks ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Minnesota Timberwolves ($5.305 million mid-level), Oklahoma City Thunder ($2.105 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual), Portland Trail Blazers ($505,000 remaining on their mid-level exception), San Antonio Spurs ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual) and Toronto Raptors ($2.80 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual).

A couple of housekeeping notes:

NBA teams carefully manage how and when contracts are submitted in order to maximize their flexibility. A large number of deals have been agreed to but have yet to be filed with the NBA as it would impact a team’s flexibility in free agency.

Meeting things like the NBA minimum are not required until the end of the season, meaning teams like Philadelphia and Orlando are under no obligation to spend money now, but would face a minor penalty if they do not meet the so called “floor” at the NBA Trade Deadline in February.

Equally, the luxury tax is computed based on what’s on the roster at the end of the season, so teams like the L.A. Clippers and the Boston Celtics could trigger cap clearing deals before the deadline and avoid the luxury tax.

Of the four tax paying teams, the New York Knicks are looking at the stiffest tax bill due to the “graduated tax” system and the new repeater penalty that kicks in this season. The Knicks are $14.58 million over and are looking at a tax bill of $42.302 million. The Knicks will become the first “repeater” tax payer this season, having been over the tax line in all three of the last three seasons. The Celtics are also looking at the repeater penalty on their $1.97 overage, which will cost them $4.84 million in tax. The Nets are currently $16.02 million over the tax line and are looking at a tax bill of $32.656 million, but have one more season before being designated a repeat tax payer.

Bledsoe and Monroe:  Arguably the top two remaining free agents in the marketplace are Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe; both are likely going to have offer sheets matched, so the fact that both sit unsigned is not altogether surprising. What might be a little surprising is that in a market that saw Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Dallas’ Chandler Parsons get basically maximum level offer sheets is that neither Bledsoe nor Monroe saw that kind of love in free agency.

Surely if Hayward can get $14.76 million next season, Bledsoe and Monroe should get something similar right? Well, not exactly. Here is the thing about valuations: it requires two competing bids.

The reason Parsons got such a hefty number from Dallas is that the Mavericks knew that’s the number it would take to steal Parsons away from the Rockets. It’s not that Dallas believes Chandler to be worth $14.7 million, it’s that is what it costs to steal him. The Mavs needed a win in this free agency class and overpaid a little to get one.

The Hornets tried to do the same with Hayward, hoping that a maximum deal would scare the Jazz away.

The problem for Bledsoe and in many regards Monroe is that neither player seems to be garnering the same “over pay to get him” mindset from other teams.

The L.A. Lakers had cash to spend and did not make offers. The Miami HEAT and Houston Rockets could have made offers and didn’t. The Philadelphia 76ers have more money than anyone and are not at the table.

The Suns offered Bledsoe a four-year, $48 million package. Considering Stephen Curry signed a four year, $44 million in 2012, is $48 million for Bledsoe so crazy? Sure, Curry would command a lot more today than he would have in 2012, but are Bledsoe and Curry’s situations that much different? Both do have a long history of injuries.

In order for Bledsoe to be “worth” more, someone has to be willing to pay a bigger price. With almost no money left in the market place, Bledsoe is somewhat stuck.

It is clear his camp is trying to drum up a sign-and-trade deal; however, the Suns don’t have to entertain anything on that front if it’s not in their best interest.

So would Bledsoe sign the qualifying offer of $6.5 million and take his chance as an unrestricted free agent next year? Bledsoe is coming off a nasty knee surgery; do you really turn down what amounts to $12 million per year in his situation?

There is no question that players hate restricted free agency. It ties them up and limits their free market earning potential, but the one thing restricted free agency is supposed to do for teams is help them avoid overpaying.

The market place sets what a player is worth and unfortunately for Bledsoe and Monroe, the market place wasn’t nearly as kind to them as it was to Hayward and Parsons. That doesn’t mean they each won’t get a very good contract offer. The Pistons have had a number on the table for Monroe since July 1. The Suns have a number on the table for Bledsoe now.

Both players can try to wait out the process and see if a better offer surfaces, but with almost no “interested money” in the field, the odds that either are going to get a max offer sheet now seems fairly slim and that’s simply how valuations go.

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NBA AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?

Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?

Steve Kyler

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Set Up To Fail? Maybe

The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.

Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.

It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?

Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.

It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.

So What Next?

The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.

Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.

With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.

It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.

“I Dont wanna be here.”

As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”

Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.

The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.

With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.

Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?

$41.11 Million

Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.

The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?

The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.

Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.

As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.

The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.

Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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