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NBA AM: Teams Have To Understand Their Window

Not every team is going to compete for a Championship, so going “all-in” may not make sense, especially with the Golden State Warriors not going anywhere for a while.

Steve Kyler

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Understanding Your Window

With the Golden State Warriors championship parade set to get underway this afternoon, the big question circling the NBA is how anyone can beat them?

Let’s address a few things about the Warriors first… They will pay their free agents.

Steph Curry is going to get a brand new five-year $205 million deal. Kevin Durant will opt-out of his Player Option and sign a new one-and-one deal worth 105 percent of his current $26.540 million deal.

Andre Iguodala will get offered a new contract, maybe not at his current $11.13 million rate but something respectable for the Warriors sixth man; he’ll get a new deal. Shawn Livingston will get an offer, but of the bunch, he might get bigger money elsewhere. The Vets like Zaza Pachulia and David West will be asked to come back. JaVale McGee might cost the Warriors their taxpayer exception, but he’ll get asked to come back.

In short, the core of the Warriors will be back — that’s a pretty safe bet.

So the question of how do you beat the Warriors is not an easy one, especially because all of these guys want to be back and they are all still drinking the “team-first” Kool-Aid.

When you talk to executives in the NBA, most have a sense of the timing of things, often referred to as the “window.” That time when your team should be at its best for a chance to compete for a title. This is unlike, say, the NFL, where a really good single season tied to a favorable schedule could get you in the hunt for a Super Bowl in a single season. The NBA, by way of the best of seven playoff format, makes a Cinderella team in the Final a big fairy tale. In the NFL, two postseason wins could put you in the dance; that’s not the case in the NBA.

Because a team must be sustainably good, knowing and understanding when you have a real chance is important. That’s not to say teams are not trying to build and gain experience towards that goal, but the reality of basketball is not everyone is going to be equipped to compete for a title, even if they drafted a great player or swing an amazing trade.

This concept will drive a lot of the thinking in the NBA this summer, specific to older teams that have less road in front of them and a closing window.

For example, the Toronto Raptors have to decide if spending what could be $300 million on free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson is really worth it to be the second-best team in the East on paper. Is there enough room for internal growth of that group to move into the top spot in a Conference owned and dominated by LeBron James?

There is value in being the second-best team. Boston proved that this year; they hung around long enough to win the East, and for a young team like Boston that’s was a huge step forward for their franchise, and it will help them this summer in Free Agency.

Washington is well situated going forward; they have a very young core of star talent that in the next two years could be positioned to take over the East if things come unraveled in Cleveland. But there is not a likely combination of trades or free agent additions that are going to push Washington into the top seat in the East, let alone overtake the Warriors, so going all in on this next season likely does not make a ton of sense. The Wizards have one or two more seasons to build their winner.

The same is true of Boston, as much as fans want to see the future mortgaged for instant gratification. The Celtics are well positioned for the future, and with their young core and the addition of the top pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Celtics should be right there in the next two years, maybe with enough firepower to challenge the Warriors.

There is value to a team to just get to the Finals. Coaches and General Managers get a contract extension and add value to their careers. It’s easier to attract bargain free agents when you have a chance to be on the biggest stage. So even if you can’t win against the Warriors, there is a value in getting there.

But for some teams, there is a harsh reality that no matter how much they do, they won’t be there. As much as people bemoan the 76ers’ rebuilding philosophy over the last six years, they knew that no combination of moves was going to get them into the championship hunt. Why not tear down and reset the clock and give yourself a chance to be in a position when the changing of the guard happens?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are well positioned with their talent. The Lakers could be too if they play this draft class right. The Phoenix Suns could be one of those teams too. So, when you wonder why not just trade and get an All-Star, would that really do anything in the grand scheme of winning a championship, especially given that the Warriors are not going anywhere for maybe four of five years?

There are some teams like the Clippers, Raptors, and Spurs that may have no choice but to go all in because of what they have on their roster right now. Those teams have to decide to double down on what they have or sell it off for pennies on the dollar.

That’s the Chicago Bulls dilemma — they have a promising All-Star in Jimmy Butler, but unless one of their young guys really emerges as a second star, is there a future for the Bulls that’s more than just some playoff games and continuing their sell out streak before Butler’s contract is up?

There is value in the NBA in winning 45 to 50 games and getting into the playoffs. For fans that may seem like treading water, but that’s the consolation prize while a team waits for its chance. General Managers are going to spend countless hours figuring out the right sequence of deals for today and tomorrow to trying and line up to when things in the NBA maybe change. LeBron won’t play forever, and you want to be in a position to strike when his star starts to fade or worse yet when he has his first serious injury.

Loading up now might sound fun to fans, but what’s it mean if all you do is run into the Cavaliers or Warriors? Understanding when you have a chance to win is vital in team building. That does not mean it has to be the two extremes of all-in or all-tank. The Rockets seemed trapped in the middle, and then things changed in one season and they got in the hunt; there is value in being right there if you can get there without mortgaging your future. Getting their organically if how the Warriors assembled this group, then augmented it with trades and free agents.

As the Warriors celebrate their championship with their fans today, there is a reality that not everyone will be in a position to compete for a title next season, and maybe that’s a flaw in the NBA. But the rules are what they are, so now it’s about strategic planning and hoping when your young stars start to bloom that your team will be ready to capitalize on it, and that’s understanding when your team has a real window to win.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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