The 2015 Free Agents: With the 2014-15 NBA season now firmly on tap with the release of the regular season schedule yesterday, there are somethings to think about in regards to next season, especially as it pertains to free agency.
As currently constructed, there are 245 players that have uncertain status beyond the current season. This includes 59 players with team options, which are usually picked up, especially for first round draft picks. There are 41 players who can be issued qualifying offers and have their free agency restricted. There are 30 players with player options for free agency; a large number of those are likely to be exercised in order to secure new long-term deals. Thirty four players have some level of non-guaranteed money owed them beyond the upcoming season. Seventy nine players look poised to be unrestricted free agents barring an extension during the season. There are just two players with early termination options.
There are some notable names to know regarding next year’s free agents class, here are just a few of them:
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – $20,644,400 (option worth $21.57M)
While the conspiracy theorists want to make a big deal out of James’ decision to sign a short-term deal, what he has done is given himself repeated options to cash in. More importantly, it ensures the power stays on his side of the equation.
The plan for James is to re-sign as frequently as possible and stay on the top end of his earning potential. This was discussed with the Cavaliers and they are fully on board, so discussing James as a free agent next year is unrealistic unless things go massively bad.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.744M)
It is commonly believed that the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will trigger a trade sending Love to the Cavs on our about August 23. There have also been reports that Love and the Cavs have had some level of contract discussions about what it would take to re-sign him going forward. The plan for Love is to opt out of his remaining $16.74 million contract year and sign a new max level deal in July; such a deal would likely be worth $120 plus million over five years. NBA teams are not permitted to make future contract agreements with players in Love’s situation, however knowing a player wants a max level deal and agreeing that something like that is workable is not the same as hammering out a completed contract. Love’s potential trade to the Cavaliers is likely going to be scrutinized heavily, mainly because it’s been characterized that the Cavs and Love have a firm commitment in place, something both sides are likely going to deny wholeheartedly. It is important to note that there can be nothing binding between Love and the Cavaliers beyond the terms of his existing contract, so there is a small window to consider Love in free agency, but it’s likely to be a very small one if there is any shot at all.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics – $12,909,090
The Celtics have a dilemma. They seem to be open to keeping Rajon Rondo long-term, but unless he would sign a contract extension – something he is highly unlikely to do – he is poised to be an unrestricted free agent in July.
If the Celtics cannot get a sense of commitment from Rondo beyond this year, they have to trade him or risk losing him for nothing in return.
Rondo is considered the top obtainable free agent in the 2015 free agent class and he is likely going to command a max level, or near max level contract.
It seem inevitable that Rondo is going to be traded, the question is what’s the return going to be for Boston, especially when it’s more likely than not that Rondo explores his options in July?
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – $16,256,000
Two seasons ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that LaMarcus would be leaving Portland. Today it seems unlikely that he won’t be back on a new long term deal in July. Aldridge has said repeatedly that his intention in July is to sign a new max contract with the Trail Blazers.
Like all potential unrestricted free agents, there is risk for Portland, but given that both sides of this have a very open dialogue going, it’s unlikely that Aldridge isn’t back in Portland. But, this one will linger, and Aldridge’s name is going to come up a lot even though it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – $15,829,688
The odds that Marc Gasol is not in Memphis next year are fairly small. The Grizzlies are going to pay Gasol the max level money he’ll command; unfortunately, like Love, in order for Gasol to get all that’s available he’ll have to hit free agency in July.
Gasol could sign an extension, but that would leave money on the table as he is now eligible for 30 percent of the upcoming salary cap projected to be $66 million. Doing the math, that’s a starting salary next year in the $19.8 million range, wherein an extension would be based on a minor increase on his $15.82 million salary this year.
There is always a risk of losing a player whenever they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the sense from Gasol and the Grizzlies is that as long as a max offer is there in June, he’ll re-sign.
Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – $7,500,000 (option worth $7.5M)
It is extremely likely that Afflalo will opt out of his deal in Denver this summer. Afflalo has steadily improved over the last two seasons and hopes to put an All-Star caliber season together this year in Denver.
It is possible that Denver explores Afflalo’s trade value given that he is likely going to command a deal at the top end of his range ($10-$12 million per season). That may be too rich for Denver’s liking.
In terms of potentially available players, Afflalo looks to be one of them.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics – $9,200,000 (option worth $9.20m)
The Celtics have had trade talks regarding Jeff Green for almost two years. With the Celtics poised to have what looks to be a sub-par season there is a strong chance that Green is packed into any trade involving the aforementioned Rondo.
Green has the option to hit free agency. Assuming he plays well this season, the odds are good that he’ll opt-out and re-sign in a situation of his choosing and trade his remaining $9.2 million in for a longer term deal.
Luol Deng, Miami HEAT – $9,714,461 (option worth $10.15M)
Deng turned down a multi-year extension with the Bulls last season valued at roughly $10 million a season, prompting his trade to the Cavaliers. After a ho-hum showing in Cleveland, Deng got considerable attention as a free agent but did not command that upper tier money his camp expected after several All-Star appearances.
Deng needs to have a strong season in Miami if he hopes to cash in. The structure of his deal with the HEAT allows for him to opt-out in July, something he will likely do if he can out-play his contract.
Deng is a 50/50 candidate for free agency in July. Those odds go up if he returns to All-Star form.
David West, Indiana Pacers – $12,000,000 (option worth $12.6M)
West’s deal with the Pacers seemed like the twilight deal; he’d play out the deal make a couple of runs at a championship, however with Paul George out for the season and the Pacers in something of disarray as a result, there is a belief that West might get traded at some point this season. The prevailing thought on the Pacers is that they will open camp and make a go of it and see what they have. If the team starts to fall off, then changes and significant trades are likely.
West will turn 34 this month, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but with this year and a player option year left on his deal, he may be more attractive to teams with championship aspirations. It’s possible that West opts-out of his final year, especially if he is traded to an unfavorable destination. If the Pacers hang on to him, or he is traded to a contender it’s unlikely that anyone is going to offer more than $12.6 million for West. However, there is always the chance that West trades in his final $12.6 million in exchange for a few more guaranteed years in the NBA.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – $9,500,000
There is no doubting that Paul Millsap outplayed his contract last year. The problem for the Hawks is much like Marc Gasol and Kevin Love, the only way for Millsap to reset the finances is to hit unrestricted free agency. This becomes a problem for Atlanta, mainly because that means potentially losing him for little or nothing in return.
Given that Millsap recently choose Atlanta in free agency and that he’s had success there, they may have the inside trade on keeping him, but with so many teams expected to have cap space can the Hawks risk losing such a solid asset?
That’s going to be the question they have to debate this season and one of the reasons the Hawks have been linked to so many trade scenarios.
Millsap looks to be one of the better free agent options in July and unfortunately for the Hawks there is not a lot they can do about it, given where Millsap’s contract is currently priced.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.74M)
It is highly likely that Lopez opts-out of his existing deal, even with the chronic foot injuries he has endured. When healthy Lopez is one of the top centers in the game and with just one-year left on his deal he likely opts for the chance at a new payday and long-term security, even if that means re-upping in Brooklyn.
Like many of the other potential free agents, this puts the Nets on the clock on a number of fronts. There is the threat that Lopez could walk away and the question of what is he really worth in trade?
If Lopez can pick up where he left off before the injury last year there is a really good chance he could be one of the more coveted free agents in the 2015 free agent class and he might be obtainable too.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers – $14,898,938 (option worth $15.51M)
Like Lopez, Hibbert has a decision coming up. The problem with Hibbert is he hasn’t exactly played up to his contract, but elite level big men are hard to find and they are usually overpaid.
There has been some talk that the Pacers would entertain trading Hibbert, although Pacers sources were pretty adamant that was not the case, but with the Pacers’ season is very much up in the air and the risk that Hibbert could opt-out and walk away means the Pacers have to explore their options, especially with the gruesome Paul George leg injury.
Like most players with one year remaining on their deal, it’s likely Hibbert forgoes $15.51 million in exchange for more long-term money. The question is who invests in him given his production as of late?
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – $11,440,123
Like Paul Millsap, Jordan has outplayed his current contract. It’s very likely that DeAndre re-signs in LA with the Clippers on a new max level, or near max level contract. This is where the depths of the new Clippers ownership’s pockets is going to pay off.
Like all potential unrestricted free agents, Jordan could walk away, but considering the Clippers will put the money on the table and the success the team has had as currently constructed, the odds that Jordan hits the market in a real way are slim. The problem is that he has to hit free agency to get the raise his camp is seeking. So, there is risk for the Clippers, but all sides have been fairly clear they want the marriage to continue.
Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers – $6,124,729
Like Millsap and Jordan, Lopez has outplayed his contract, which means he too will likely have to hit unrestricted free agency in July in order to get his contract re-set on par with his performance. This poses some risk for the Blazers, but all indications are that both sides want to continue to the relationship. It’s simply going to cost the Blazers more than the $6.1 million Lopez is set to earn.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets – $13,500,000 (option worth $13.5M)
Like Millsap it’s very possible that Jefferson opts-out of his deal simply to cash in under new terms. Given the success Jefferson has had in Charlotte, it seems unlikely that he’d leave, but whenever a player hits unrestricted free agency there is risk.
Jefferson recently chosing Charlotte in free agency bodes well for a new long-term deal, however with Jefferson’s season last year he might be in line for a hefty new deal and that becomes a question mark for the Hornets on whether they’ll go to near max for a player who will turn 30 this season.
If Jefferson posts another All-Star worthy campaign like last season, the odds are very good he’s hitting free agency in July, if only to cash in again.
Notable Extension Eligible Players
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – $4,660,479 (Qualifying Offer $6,179,795)
The Wolves and Rubio have been talking for most of the summer. As you can imagine Rubio’s camp has some substantial leverage given the Love situation and they are seeking a max deal for Ricky. The Wolves and Rubio have until October 31, as do all of the players and teams listed below, to reach an extension and it seems like the might.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – $3,075,880 (Qualifying Offer $4,210,880)
Thompson was talked about a lot this summer as someone the Warriors were unwilling to part with. The question becomes is he someone the Warriors are willing to pay? Both sides have had some contract talks and that discussion is expected to pick up steam as training camps get closer. There has been a lot of talk that Thompson is seeking a near max level extension and that seems unlikely given the $12 million Steph Curry earns. It is likely that Thompson and the Warriors do not reach a deal before the deadline, unless he comes off his asking price. Restricted free agency seems more likely, especially with all the changes the team has made on the coaching front.
Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks – $3,553,917 (Qualifying Offer $4,790,680)
It is unlikely that the Bucks and Knight reach an extension unless it’s a landslide in Milwaukee’s favor. Both sides have talked and the Bucks say they want to keep him so a deal is very possible. It’s going to come down to the math and that may not get decided until this summer.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets – $2,249,768 (Qualifying Offer $3,257,664)
Its not out of the question that the Nuggets and Faried reach an extension, it just unlikely. Word is Faried wants a monster contract and while he has shown some moments that might justify it, his body of work is not on par with the near max money his side is said to be seeking. Faried’s situation likely gets resolved in restricted free agency if he is not traded first. His name has been kicked around a lot in trade scenarios.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – $2,380,594 (Qualifying Offer $3,394,727)
Harris’ camp wants a new deal this summer and the Magic have agreed to talk about the subject, but given where Orlando is at in their rebuild committing a huge number to Harris seems unlikely. Although, there is a sense that if the Magic make a reasonable market-based offer, Harris might take it.
Word is Harris is atop a number of team’s wish list, so if the Magic don’t want to pay him this summer, there is a strong chance he gets a sizable offer sheet next summer.
The Magic would be bidding against themselves in a deal now, so it’s unlikely an extension gets reached, but it does seem like Harris’ camp is open to one if the Magic will come with the right kind of offer.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – $2,894,059 (Qualifying Offer $4,045,894)
Can you say max offer? That’s what it’s going to take to get Kawhi Leonard signed this summer and that number seems a little unlikely considering the only player the Spurs have ever given the max to was Tim Duncan. That’s not to say that the reigning Finals MVP isn’t worth it, especially consider what guys like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got.
Both sides seem open to a deal, the question becomes for how much? Even if Leonard gets to free agency in July, its fair more likely that the Spurs match offers than let him go, the question is do the Spurs want that in their locker room this year? The Spurs cap position allows them a lot of room with regards to Leonard and his eventual payday. Do they lock him in now or does it have to play out next summer?
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – $2,751,260 (Qualifying Offer $3,865,520)
Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.