Stephen Curry’s Contract is a Bargain
Stephen Curry is one of the best players in the NBA, one of the greatest shooters in the history of the league and one of the most electrifying athletes in the universe. The Golden State Warriors point guard was the NBA’s 2014-15 Most Valuable Player and a unanimous selection for the All-NBA First Team. He broke several records this year – making the most threes in a single regular season and in a single postseason – and led the Warriors to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. Curry is a household name and a marketable fan favorite who’s one of the faces of the NBA – as evidenced by the fact that he led all players in All-Star votes this season (with 1,513,324).
But, at the same time, Curry is one of the most underpaid players in professional sports. Curry’s contract with the Warriors is one of the best values in the NBA and he’s an incredible bargain for the organization.
Now, let’s make something clear: Curry isn’t hurting by any means, especially when you factor in the additional money he makes from his various endorsement deals. However, there’s no question that he’s paid relatively little when compared to his superstar peers. And it’s not like he’s on his rookie-scale contract either, like Anthony Davis or other young players. He’s on his second contract and still significantly underpaid.
This season, Curry is earning $10,629,213. While this is a lot of money and many of us would switch bank accounts with him in a heartbeat, keep in mind that Curry is severely underpaid by NBA standards. Yes, Curry’s salary is enormous to most people. But, relatively speaking, it’s far less than what he should be making considering how much money he makes for the Warriors and the NBA, and how much his peers are earning while performing at a much lower level.
Consider this: There were 50 NBA players who had a higher salary than Curry during the 2014-15 season. Among those players were Larry Sanders (before he requested to be bought out and walk away from the NBA after failing multiple drug tests), JaVale McGee (who was waived in March and remains unsigned) and Andrea Bargnani (who is one of the biggest draft busts in recent years). These are just a few of the players ahead of Curry, but there are plenty more who have no business being ahead of the league’s MVP.
Curry isn’t even compensated fairly when compared to players who are at the same position as him. There are 11 point guards earning more than Curry this season, including non-All-Stars like Eric Bledsoe and Ty Lawson. Deron Williams made nearly twice as much as Curry this year, and Rajon Rondo earned significantly more money too. Rondo struggled so badly in the playoffs that the Dallas Mavericks deactivated him, made it clear that he wouldn’t be re-signed this summer and refused to give him a playoff share, yet his paychecks were larger than Curry’s.
And next year, Curry will be ranked even lower compared to the rest of the league’s floor generals since the lucrative extensions signed by Kemba Walker and Ricky Rubio will kick in, and free agents such as Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight may sign deals larger than his this summer (especially since teams are preparing to spend ridiculous amounts of money with the salary cap set to rise in 2016).
Taking a look at all guards, Curry is the 19th-highest paid backcourt player. He made less money this season than players like Eric Gordon and Joe Johnson. And, again, he’ll rank even lower next year.
Perhaps the best evidence of Curry being grossly underpaid is the fact that he’s just the fourth-highest paid player on his own team, despite easily being the Warriors’ most important player. Teammates David Lee ($15,012,000), Andrew Bogut ($12,972,973) and Andre Iguodala ($12,289,544) made more than Curry this year. Next season, when Curry is making $11,370,786, he will drop to the sixth-highest paid member of the Warriors since Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will surpass him. Thompson’s contract extension kicks in (paying him $15,501,000) next year and Green seems poised to ink a maximum-level contract this offseason as a restricted free agent.
The craziest thing is that Curry’s contract will just keep looking smaller (and better for the Warriors) over the next couple of years. Curry has two more seasons on his current deal, as he’s set to earn $11,370,786 for the 2015-16 campaign and $12,112,359 for the 2016-17 campaign.
As previously mentioned, with the NBA’s salary cap set to rise significantly next summer due to the league’s new television deal, NBA teams are going to be handing out enormous contracts this summer (since those deals will soon look like bargains) and next offseason (since every team will have a lot of money to spend). According to agents and executives, many middle-tier 2015 free agents will be asking for more than what Curry currently makes. That means Curry’s deal will be even more of a bargain in two years, when even some role players may be making more than him just because of how much the cap spike will affect the business of the league.
So, how did this happen? Why is one of the league’s best players making less than he should?
The issue was that Curry signed his contract extension at the worst possible time. Remember, injuries were a huge problem for Curry early in his career. He missed many games due to ankle injuries, to the point that he was labeled injury prone and some people doubted that he could be a star-level player in the NBA. In his third season, right before he was set to negotiate a contract extension with the Warriors, he missed 40 of 66 games (in the lockout-shortened year) and he’d already had multiple surgeries on his right ankle. He had also dealt with other ailments that were relatively minor, but still kept him sidelined for short periods of time or limited him on the court, which led to additional questions about his durability.
With so much uncertainty about his health hanging over negotiations, Curry and the Warriors agreed to a four-year extension worth $44 million on Oct. 31, 2012. It made sense for Curry at the time given what he had been through. Because of his injuries, the safe approach was to lock in a long-term, guaranteed contract. The last thing he wanted to do was delay his pay day and risk having another serious injury that would hurt his value even more or – in the worst-case scenario – end his career and leave him with nothing.
Looking back, had Curry not signed the extension and hit restricted free agency after the season (betting on himself the way Jimmy Butler did this year), he likely would’ve been able to sign a much larger deal. That’s because the 2012-13 season was his breakout year, when he averaged career-highs in points (22.9) and assists (6.9). But hindsight is 20/20, and Curry made the smart choice that guaranteed him $44 million.
Curry got his long-term security, and the Warriors received somewhat of a discount since he hadn’t been able to play to his full potential yet or stay on the floor as much as they had hoped.
But believe it or not, some analysts felt that Golden State made a big mistake when they gave Curry the four-year, $44 million deal. Even though Curry had played pretty well when healthy, some people believed that the Warriors were taking a huge risk and that they may have been able to extend him for even less because of his ankle issues. The day that the deal was announced, Warriors general manager Bob Myers addressed the media and essentially had to defend his decision – answering questions about why he took the risk and why he felt confident Curry’s injuries were behind him. Some articles warned that the extension could potentially be terrible for the franchise and haunt them for years. It’s easy to forget now, but Curry faced plenty of doubt about his ceiling and his durability.
The move has obviously been amazing for the Warriors, who have become one of the NBA’s best teams. While Curry’s incredible talent is a huge part of that, his bargain contract has played a role in the franchise’s ascent too. Rather than having a ton of money tied up in their top-tier player, Golden State has been able to spend elsewhere because of Curry’s team-friendly deal.
If Curry had a huge contract, re-signing Thompson to such a large deal would have been more difficult. Retaining Green this summer would be a challenge too, since he’ll likely get a max offer sheet. Freeing up the necessary cap space to sign Iguodala two years ago likely wouldn’t have happened. Even improving their depth would’ve been tough since they likely wouldn’t have had the significant cap space they used to add key role players like Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in recent summers. Instead, the Warriors likely would have had little flexibility and limited options to improve their roster.
Golden State is a talented and deep team, yet their total payroll is just $72,585,093. That’s the 16th-ranked payroll in the league and they aren’t even in the luxury tax. Their cap situation would be very different if Curry’s contract was on par with his talent and accomplishments.
Fortunately for Curry, he has achieved ridiculous levels of success and will be get a huge contract in the summer of 2017 (when the cap will be much higher). Barring something crazy, his next deal will be the monster contract that he deserves. In the meantime, he’ll just need to keep cashing those endorsement checks from Under Armour, State Farm, Degree, Express, Muscle Milk and JBL among others.
Magic Players Excited About Skiles Hire
The Orlando Magic have hired Scott Skiles to be their new head coach, the team announced on Friday.
Orlando wanted an experienced, defensive-minded head coach and Skiles is exactly that. He has 13 years of coaching experience and has gone 443-433 in the regular season and 18-24 in the postseason throughout his career. The former point guard also had a successful 10-year playing career in the NBA, including five seasons with the Magic.
Basketball Insiders spoke to several Magic players, who were excited about the hire.
“[I’m] happy for our front office,” point guard Elfrid Payton said via text message. “It’ll be great learning from another former point guard.”
“I’m excited about a new beginning,” small forward Moe Harkless said. “I’ve heard a lot about Scott Skiles and am looking forward to meeting and working with him. Everything I’ve heard about him has been good. I’ve heard he’s a hard coach and he expects a lot out of his players, and that’s the kind of coach we need as a young team. We need to be held accountable and he’s the guy that’s going to do that for us. It’s a new opportunity for me to earn some more playing time too. Last year, I feel I didn’t really play a lot so it’s a opportunity to earn some minutes back and just be able to play my game. I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to working with him.
“Also, he’s a defensive-minded head coach, which I think is perfect for me because I love playing defense and practicing hard. I love all that stuff so having him coming in with his mindset to this team is a great opportunity for myself. Coming into the league, my goal was to be on the All-Defensive Team and that’s still one of my goals. With Scott Skiles coming in and his emphasis on defense, I definitely think he can teach me a lot and help develop me to be that guy.”
Last season, the Magic went 25-57, which was the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. The front office fired Jacque Vaughn in February after the team failed to live up to expectations and he lost much of the locker room. The organization hopes to make a big leap this season and they’re entering the 2015-16 campaign with playoff aspirations.
NBA PM: The Bright Future Watch – Eastern Conference
Matt John looks at the Eastern Conference’s brightest futures.
“They’ve got a bright future!” Has there ever been a more vague statement in the NBA? Not to mention, something pretty cliche on top of it? The future could mean anything because, well, it depends on what is meant by the ominous ‘future’. Like next year’s future or the far-future five-to-seven years from now?
These days, more NBA teams than not have a bright future. whether it’s immediate or distant, because teams are generally run better now. Teams aren’t spending money just for the sake of spending money like they did five years ago. The best franchises are hiring personnel that actually might be the first steps towards changing their fortunes for the better. And, perhaps best of all, they’re actually treating patience like a virtue.
Take Detroit, for example. The Pistons have predictably been one of the worst teams in the league this season and, to add insult to injury, they’re paying Blake Griffin over $60 million to not play for them. Yet, the newly added Jerami Grant has been stupendous and they’re going to get a high lottery pick in a loaded draft. No one likes to be among the worst of the worst, but they have to feel good about themselves long-term.
The same goes for New York. The Knicks have been mocked for years over incompetent management, but they’re living proof that all they needed was the right guy to flip the switch. Tom Thibodeau changed everything. They now have an elite defense. Julius Randle earned his all-star nod. RJ Barrett looks like a potential franchise player. This is the longest they’ve stayed in the playoff race since 2013. Making the postseason remains in question, but it won’t matter if they reach it or not.
Both of them have promising futures, but we may not see them reach their ceilings for some time. Today, we’re taking a look at the Eastern Conference and teams that project to make an extended run if they play their cards right.
The Time Is Now
Fun fact about Brooklyn: James Harden or not, they were contenders already. They already had a fair shot at the title with the core they had surrounding two of the league’s best scorers of their generation. Then they added a third. One could have called it overkill in the beginning but, in light of Kevin Durant’s injuries this season, the trade prevented what could have been a major turn for the worse. Even if Durant managed to stay on the court, it’s still a no-brainer to acquire Harden, duh.
Now the Nets are at the top of the conference and they’re only now starting to get back to full health. They brought in some stellar reinforcements to round out the edges with Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. Maybe their defense won’t be good enough to be considered the overall favorites right now, but their offense should be legendary enough to compensate.
Brooklyn’s loaded for this season and beyond. Unless their three-headed monster suddenly disbands, it’s going to be like this for the next few years.
The Bucks should feel pretty good about their immediate future. They have the reigning two-time MVP locked in for the next half-decade when many perceived that was not going to be the case last fall. They re-upped Jrue Holiday for the rest of his prime. Khris Middleton’s still as good as ever. They also have no assets left thanks to the Holiday trade, so this is it.
Now that their final form is in plain view, it’s time to see if the Bucks can get over their playoff demons once and for all. Somehow, Giannis Antetokounmpo is not enough. Holiday’s better than any playmaking guard they had last year on both sides of the floor. Whether or not he and Middleton, among others, can help rise past their spotty postseason efforts remains to be seen.
The Window’s Opening
Philadelphia has gained national attention ever since they started cashing in on The Process in 2017 – but combining last season’s disastrous results and this season of redemption, the 76ers now have a much clearer vision of utilizing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Turns out, it’s pretty simple. They needed shooting – and having it now has done a complete 180.
As Embiid and Simmons continue to progress, floor spacing that won’t compromise the defense should be the point of emphasis from here on out. Putting Tobias Harris back at his natural position as a power forward, while inserting Seth Curry and Danny Green as complementary guards, does just that. If the Sixers want The Process to reach its maximum potential, the team they have right now is the template for how to get there.
If the star pairing is given the necessary room to operate, Philly should be right there with the best of them, year in and year out.
Simply put, this was their most exciting year as a franchise since Buzz City actually got a professional basketball team. Then, in what feels like one swift motion, they lose their two best players for an extended period, which might very well kill their playoff chances.
That’s tough cheese to swallow, but Charlotte’s put the league on notice. They are young. They are fun. They’re only going to get better. This was just Year One for LaMelo Ball, the new face of the franchise. Gordon Hayward should have a fair amount of good basketball left in him, provided he stays on the court. Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham have all made strides as players too. There’s reason to believe that this team has only scratched the surface of its potential.
No matter what happens this season, the Hornets are not going to be a team to take lightly anymore.
Coming into the season, Atlanta had one of the deepest collections of talent in the league. Somehow though, no one was quite sure what to expect. Trae Young and John Collins were a nice, young pair, but, in spite of De’Andre Hunter’s jump this year, the results were mixed. That was until Nate McMillan took over.
The Hawks soon rattled off an eight-game winning streak, then one of four games not too long after that. With players coming back from injury, the pieces started to fit, showing themselves to be a functional operation.
They have young talent coming into their own now and they have veterans who have been there before. As long as they make it their goal to keep Collins, the Hawks could potentially be a powerhouse as soon as next year.
Don’t Count ‘Em Out
This season’s been a mess for Boston. Kemba Walker hasn’t been able to play on back-to-backs. Jayson Tatum has struggled on those very same games. No team has missed more games than Boston has thanks to COVID-19. For a team that has come so close to getting over the Eastern Conference Finals hump, this was about as disastrous of a season as Boston could have endured.
At the same time, they still have the best combination of two-way wings in the league with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Seasons like these help young stars grow when they’re hitting their primes. Plus, the biggest positive is that Robert Williams III has asserted himself as their center of the future.
They definitely have some roster issues to fix when the season’s over, but Boston should be in for a major rebound next season.
Miami’s skeptics screamed from the hilltops that the finals run last season was a fluke. Miami set out to prove them wrong and… they haven’t really done that. The HEAT have been erratic, to say the least. They’ve had extended winning streaks, all evened out by extended losing streaks. Now, they’re just fighting to return to the playoffs.
Even so, the winning streaks they’ve had demonstrates that they’re capable of consistently winning basketball. They still have pretty much everyone from last year’s roster, only with more reinforcements with Victor Oladipo, Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelica. If by chance the HEAT don’t succeed, they honestly don’t have much to fret about.
They lost their Plan A when Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed in Milwaukee, but they’re still going to be heavy players in free agency. Knowing Pat Riley, this season will at worst will only be seen as a momentary setback.
Regardless of where your favorite franchise lands in the current conference hierarchy, there’s plenty of things to like across the board. From up-and-coming rookies to promising draft futures, the Eastern Conference is stronger than ever. While the Nets, Bucks and 76ers appear to be the biggest threat’s to the Lakers’ immediate throne, even the bottom feeders are on their way up in today’s modern NBA landscape.
NBA Daily: A Bright Future is Building in Oklahoma City
Tristan Tucker takes an in-depth look at what makes the Oklahoma City Thunder click and which players can emerge as future stars of the league.
34 draft picks from 2021-27.
A staggering treasure chest of assets, something that means nothing if the team that owns those assets can’t draft well.
Thankfully for fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the franchise has already shown that it can build a competitive and fun roster no matter the circumstances.
There’s no sugarcoating it, the Thunder is truly awful this season. The team boasts a truly atrocious 104.7 offensive rating, good for 30th in the league while pushing out a less-than-stellar 112.8 defensive rating, good for 22nd in the league. The team is dead last in SRS, a stat that factors point differential and strength of schedule while owning a league-worst -8.1 net rating.
But this team is so much fun to watch. So much so that it’s easy to neglect its horrible rankings and record.
The Young Stars
The team already boasts one of the game’s best young stars in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander is enjoying career-best numbers of 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor and 41.8 percent from beyond the arc. “SGA” is out indefinitely, but the team can rest assured in the development it’s seeing from its other young pieces.
Look no further than the team’s 2020 draft class composed of Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon, two players already making an impact. Entering the season, neither player looked to be significant contributors coming from overseas play and needing time to develop. In fact, “Poku” is the youngest player in the NBA, while Maledon is the sixth-youngest.
Maledon has 30 starts under his belt already at the age of 19, averaging 9.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Maledon’s shooting splits don’t jump off the page but his instincts do. The point guard isn’t the type of player to give up on a play and it’s easy to see the offensive instincts carry over from his time with ASVEL in France.
Meanwhile, Pokusevski is on fire as of late. Since March 11, “Poku” is a full-time starter, averaging 31.4 minutes, 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. The Serbian power forward only turned 19 in December and it’s already clear to see his potential is nearly limitless.
Fan-favorite “Poku” has shooting potential, connecting at a 35.9 percent rate from deep on over six attempts per game. He can make plays, rebound, gather blocks and score at all three levels. He isn’t a marksman, he’s far from it at this stage of his career, but there’s no denying the finesse he puts on every shot. Pick-and-rolls featuring Pokusevski and Maledon is something Thunder fans have to look forward to.
The Thunder’s young talent doesn’t end there, the team is already proving it can find gems on a whim.
Two-Way Contract Development
Moses Brown played out last season as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers on a two-way contract and was mostly an afterthought. Brown spent most of his rookie season in the G-League before getting an opportunity with the Thunder in training camp, an opportunity he used to pick up another two-way contract opportunity and then a multi-year deal after stellar play.
In a game against the Boston Celtics on March 27, it was clear to see Brown had established himself as a staple of the Thunder’s young corps. In that game, Brown picked up 21 points and 23 rebounds, both of which are career highs. Shortly after, the Thunder converted Brown to a standard deal.
Since March 14, Brown has 12 starts under his belt in 14 games, averaging 11.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
Oklahoma City has 10 players on its roster that have three or fewer years of experience, not including Pokusevski, Brown, Maledon or Gilgeous-Alexander.
Shortly after converting Brown, the team moved to sign Jaylen Hoard, who was on a two-way contract opposite of Brown in Portland last year. Like Brown, Hoard spent training camp in 2020 with the Thunder but was ultimately cut, unlike Brown. However, if early signs are any indication, Hoard already looks like another keeper.
In just three games, Hoard is averaging 11.7 points per game while limiting his fouls and playing with his head down.
The other two-way contract slot is held by Josh Hall out of Moravian Prep, a young player that is very raw but has limitless upside. Don’t hold his numbers against him, he has the athleticism to make fans regret that. Watching Hall is always a thrill because there’s always a risk of an explosive play to come. It’s clear to see that the end-of-roster development is just as skilled as the rest of the roster.
Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley became household names for NBA fans in the Orlando bubble last season and have continued their strong play into this season. Dort’s been a full-time starter this season while averaging 12.6 points per game. His shooting is pitiful but he’s a hard worker and he’s made strides as both a playmaker and a scorer. Bazley is also a full-time starter with poor shooting numbers but he’s close to being a nightly double-double. While these two haven’t jumped off the page this year, they’ve both already proven that they can contribute to winning basketball, as seen last season.
Isaiah Roby is another interesting case, he’s a big player that can play the three through the five on a dime. Roby was traded to the Thunder from the Dallas Mavericks for pennies on the dollar — and he’s making Oklahoma City thankful for their doing so. Roby’s averaging 8.9 points on very efficient shooting.
As if the OKC frontcourt wasn’t loaded enough, the team went out and acquired Tony Bradley from the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade that shipped George Hill away. The move looked great at the time and looks even better now, as he’s making the case to be considered a long-term piece.
Bradley is still just 23-years-old and looked like a suitable replacement for Joel Embiid on the 76ers when the MVP candidate went down. The center’s best game came in a win over the Golden State Warriors in which he recorded 18 points and 11 boards.
If that wasn’t enough the team also has Svi Mykhailiuk, Ty Jerome and Kenrich Williams, who have all proven their worth in one way or another. Mykhailiuk and Jerome have the potential to be some of the best shooters in the league while “Kenny Hustle” is exactly that, the ultimate glue guy.
One of the most underrated traits a developing team can have is the ability to negotiate with overseas players and leagues and pick up professional stars. The Thunder is quickly showing its fans that it is more than capable of doing so.
Firstly, the team drafted Vit Krejci in the second round of the 2020 draft. Krejci didn’t come over this season but has the potential to be a good role player for the Thunder if he’s ever brought over. He also got experience playing in the NBA G League earlier this year.
Then, the team recently signed Gabriel Deck, who isn’t super young but is a winning player. Literal hours before the move went down, Deck scored 19 points to lift Real Madrid to the Euroleague playoffs.
The team is also reportedly bringing over Vasilije Micic next season, a star in Euroleague averaging 16.4 points and 5 assists per game in those games. Keep in mind that it’s much more difficult to notch assists overseas. Micic isn’t young either, but he’ll bring a lot of professional experience both on the court and in the locker room to aid a young Thunder team.
While Oklahoma City is constantly touted for its future draft picks, its current roster isn’t something to look over either. Combine that with the fact that, despite his massive deal, the team might be able to actually get something of value for Al Horford and has a roster spot to use once Justin Robinson’s current 10-day deal runs up.
In the NBA not many things are certain, but the Thunder’s bright future and strategic front office surely are.
NBA Daily: Executive of the Year Watch
Front offices around the league have had their hands full trying to make the right moves in order to steer their organizations towards a championship. With one month of regular season basketball remaining, Basketball Insiders examines the intense race for the Executive of the Year Award.
There are three main areas where NBA executives face extreme pressure and scrutiny. Free agency, the draft and the trade deadline are all different avenues for teams to improve as they pursue the ultimate goal of a championship. Under ordinary circumstances, there are sleepless nights, make-or-break decisions and countless “what if” scenarios that run through their heads. During two seasons amid a pandemic, things somehow get even more hectic.
With a shortened offseason and limited access to players, executives were given the impossible task of drafting the right player, signing the best free agents and making the perfect trade just before the deadline. Some teams have done well while others — like Danny Ainge in Boston — have struck out looking. With the regular season heading towards the finish line, five contenders have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in terms of winning the Executive of the Year Award.
Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets
Technically the biggest move of Marks’ career came two seasons ago when he signed Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan and traded for Kevin Durant. This set the table for everything else and, while some view it as Brooklyn simply lucking out, Marks still had to put the team in a position to make the deals work. He began collecting key role players like Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, Tyler Johnson and kept Joe Harris with a new contract.
Sean’s next move was to put together a package to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets. The deal had been rumored for quite some time but once it became official, Marks had put together arguably the greatest trio of superstars the league has ever seen. The Nets were also able to add Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge via the buyout market to bolster their already impressive roster.
Brooklyn has only had all three of their star players on the court for six games but they have also had the luxury of one or two guys carrying the load while the others get healthy. When you factor in the deals for guys like Nicolas Claxton, Landry Shamet, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alize Johnson, it is easy to see why Marks is the clear frontrunner to win the award this season.
James Jones, Phoenix Suns
As a player, Jones was always associated with winning teams. Now, the same can be said for his career as an executive. When Jones was able to put the trade together for veteran point guard Chris Paul, he knew exactly what he was doing. The move was successful in three ways. The veteran leadership and talent acquisition is obvious, but it also prevented them from having to overpay Kelly Oubre. The third and probably most important, was proving to Devin Booker that they were serious about winning – and winning now.
With Booker under contact through the 2023-24 season, it removed any potential desire to request a trade in order to play for a winning team. This was becoming more apparent at the end of last season when the Suns went 8-0 in the bubble down in Orlando. The pieces were nearly in place, but Jones still had to work around the edges to make everything stick.
Jones got busy in free agency, signing Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, Dario Saric and E’Twaun Moore. Crowder provides more playoff experience that their young nucleus can digest. Jones even picked up a talented young player like Torrey Craig for next-to-nothing at the trade deadline. From reclamation projects like Jevon Carter, Cameron Payne and Frank Kaminsky, to the player development of Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson, the stars have aligned for Phoenix, who own the second-best record in the league.
Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers
While the award is seemingly a two-horse race between Marks and Jones, Daryl Morey has quietly revamped the 76ers into serious title contenders. It began with drafting Tyrese Maxey, trading for Seth Curry and signing Dwight Howard. His biggest move was shipping out Al Horford and adding Danny Green. Morey, who won this award in 2017-18, has raised the ceiling on their offense by surrounding Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with capable shooters.
Embiid has been one of the top candidates for MVP this season, though his most recent injury may hurt his case. When he plays, he is the most dominant player in the league. Though he and Simmons have both missed time this year, Tobias Harris has been able to step in and lead the team. Morey has his three stars under contract for the foreseeable future and Doc Rivers has this team playing exceptional defense.
Morey was able to acquire George Hill at the trade deadline, giving the team another ball-handler and an outstanding three-point threat. He has addressed their weaknesses and essentially turned them into strengths. By tweaking the roster since his first day in Philly, Morey has put his stamp on this team as they battle with Brooklyn for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Rob Pelinka, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been sliding down the standings as they continue to play without their two superstars. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis still sidelined for weeks to come, the team has had to rely on their bench to fill the void. This is where Pelinka has improved the roster the most from last season’s championship team.
Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol have provided the depth and talent needed to make another title run. They upgraded at nearly every position while retaining key pieces like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris.
Signing Andre Drummond after his buyout should provide dividends in the postseason as they face guys like Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. This means Davis can play his more natural position at the four spot. Pelinka’s biggest move was signing Davis to a multi-year extension, keeping the big man in a Lakers jersey through at least the 2024-25 season.
Jon Horst, Milwaukee Bucks
After a brutal exit from the playoffs last season, the Bucks decided to reload their roster. Horst was able to complete a deal to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans. Much like the Paul trade in Phoenix, this move convinced their franchise player to stay. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his five-year, $228 million supermax extension to stay in Milwaukee.
The failed trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic did not set this team back one bit. Horst signed a couple of key free agents in Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis, who have been solid contributors for the Bucks. The signings of Craig and AJ Augustin didn’t pan out but they did use one of them to acquire PJ Tucker in a deal with Houston.
Tucker is a perfect fit with this group, providing them with another outstanding defender that has led the league in corner three-point shooting each of the last two seasons. The Bucks had been one of the worst three-point shooting teams from that spot. Milwaukee should have no problem in tight games come playoff time. A closing lineup of Holiday, Khris Middleton, Tucker, Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez should give opposing offenses nightmares.
The popular pick before the season was Travis Schlenk, who assembled quite the roster in Atlanta. The Hawks stumbled out of the gate, as they navigated through injuries and a lack of on-court chemistry. After firing head coach Lloyd Pierce, Nate McMillan has guided this team to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Other notable names to mention are Tim Connelly of the Denver Nuggets and Dennis Lindsey of the Utah Jazz. Denver lost Jerami Grant in the offseason but the recent trades to acquire Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee have turned Denver’s season around. While the Jazz didn’t make any significant signings before the season, this cast is one that Lindsey assembled and now is thriving with Mike Conley finally settling into their system. Lindsey should get more credit and praise for the Jazz continuing to own the best record in the league.
Winning this award is special, but the ultimate goal for each one of these individuals is to win a championship. Since 1996, only three executives (Ainge, RC Buford, Bob Myers) have won this award and the NBA Finals in the same season.