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NBA AM: The Cavaliers And Thompson Should Wait

The Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson are not mad at each other, it simply may not make sense to do a deal now… Understanding the window to compete.

Steve Kyler

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Would Be Smarter To Wait On Thompson: There has been a brewing narrative that the gap between what the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered restricted free agent Tristan Thompson and what his camp is seeking has somehow created a divide. While that’s great theater, that’s simply not where things stand.

Thompson and the Cavaliers had reached an agreement early in free agency that was believed to have been centered on a five-year deal worth some $80 million. The problem with doing a deal at that number is that virtually everyone in Thompson’s talent range got substantially more, most receiving the NBA maximum salary, some for less years, but most for the same year one dollar amount.

Thompson’s camp pulled back from the $80 million number, wanting the Cavs to step up with more based on what virtually everyone else in Thompson’s peer range got. This poses a major problem for the Cavaliers, not because they don’t value Thompson, but because of where they are in the NBA luxury tax structure.

The current Collective Barging Agreement has a graduated tax, which gets progressively more expensive the more a team spends. The goal was to make the penalty associated with overspending more aggressive as the numbers go up.

The Cavaliers currently have $88.631 million in guaranteed salary. That’s $3.891 million over the $84.74 million Luxury Tax line. As a result, the Cavaliers are facing a tax bill of $5.836 million. That figure does not include Thompson, pending free agent J.R. Smith or a potential deal for former Cavalier draft pick Sasha Kaun, who is expected to ink a deal before the start of the season.

Every new dollar the Cavaliers spend will be heavily taxed. Hence the delay in reaching a deal with Thompson.

Thompson has options. The first being he can pick up the $6.777 million Qualifying Offer and play out the season and become unrestricted next year. That’s unfavorable to the Cavaliers as they lose the right match offers next summer and could face the prospect of losing Thompson for nothing in return.

If Thompson picks up the Qualifier, the Cavaliers cap situation balloons up pretty dramatically to $95.408 million in guaranteed salary, which is $10.668 million over the tax line, with a $17.921 million dollar tax bill. That figure still does not include Smith or Kaun signing new deals.

If the Cavs and Thompson compromise on a deal that starts just below the $16.407 million maximum allowed under the cap to something like a starting salary of $15 million, the math changes to $103.631 million in guaranteed money, which is $18.891 million over the tax. That would result in a tax bill of $41.396 million, which still does not include Smith or Kaun.

The issue between the Cavaliers and Thompson is not one of value or one of not wanting to retain him long term, it’s one of economics.

The Qualifying Offer route costs the Cavaliers $6.777 million in salary and $12.085 million in tax, or a total expense of $18.862 million. If Thompson gets the full maximum allowed of $16.407 million now, his salary plus what becomes $46.118 million in tax, the Cavaliers are on the hook for a single year cost of $62.525 million.

Looking at those numbers just for Thompson explains why a deal has not been reached.

As much as the Cavaliers value Thompson, paying $62.525 million to retain him now seem insane, even for a team going all in to win a championship like the Cavaliers are doing.

Now comes the next options for Thompson. He takes his Qualifier and hits free agency next July where the Cavaliers overpay for him. The tax line will be substantially higher and the Cavs can shift more of the expense into Thompson’s deal. The NBA maximum next season for Thompson is being projected at just over $20.5 million. It may seem insane to pay Thompson $20.5 million, but doing a deal at even $15 million now costs $56.39 million because of the tax.

It is much smarter for the Cavaliers to wait and overpay Thompson next year when the tax hit is lower. It may also be smarter for Thompson to wait for next season as he may get more annually by being a good soldier for the Cavs.

The fact that a deal hasn’t been completed doesn’t mean much of anything. The narrative of Thompson leaving next summer if he does not get a deal now is good theater, and certainly an interesting negotiating tactic. However, if the Cavs show up on Thompson’s door step on July 1 2016 with a contract package starting at $18-$19 million per year, that’s substantially more annually than he would get today and likely more than anyone in free agency would offer and it’s still cheaper for the Cavaliers in the long run to take the risk.

As for Thompson, some point to the threat of injury as a reason to ink right away, and while there is nothing like knowing your future is 100% secure, there are loss prevention insurance policies available to players in Thompson’s situation.

Last year a number of the players that passed on early extensions secured one year policies based on the offer they passed on. One player who was offered four years and more than $40 million, insured that value for less than $200,000. If that player had missed more than ten games and could not get a deal for at least four years and $40 million this summer, insurance would have paid the difference.

Thompson isn’t at long-term risk due to injury, so there is really no reason for him to worry about his future. If Thompson wants a MAX level deal, he may have to wait until next July to get it, and for the Cavaliers, getting Thompson to wait saves them a tremendous amount of money, even if they go all the way to MAX next summer. Everyone in the equation understands the math on this and there isn’t animosity as some would try and paint the situation. This is simply the business of being a tax team.

Understanding Your Window: Fans want to see their team’s compete. The dream of the playoffs and ultimately a championship should be the goal every season, and most teams try to foster that mindset as much as their fans do. No one wants to be the losing team or have the worst record in the NBA. That’s never the goal, even for teams that are trying to rebuild, but when it comes to spending money, pursuing free agents and trading away assets, there is a concept that’s easy to overlook and the realistic window to win.

The Philadelphia 76ers get a lot of heat for their rebuild. They have not fielded a very competitive team, as their goals were to grow young talent, obtain high level draft picks, try and build a young foundation and not spend a ton of money doing it. What gets lost in the commentary on the Philadelphia is a simple, but important question. Even if the 76ers were to spend every dollar they could in free agency, and field every veteran they could sign, would they really be in a position to compete for a championship?

The answer is no. The 76ers were never going to be on the same level as the Miami HEAT or the Indiana Pacers when the current leadership took over the team, nor would they be on the same level as the Cavaliers or the Chicago Bulls. Those teams have windows that are wide open for a championship.

So as a team, is it smarter to throw money at being average, or is it smarter to reload with young players and build for your own window? The Portland Trail Blazers have decided that Damian Lillard is their foundational star and that they will surround him with players that are his age so that as a group they can grow together.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the more consistent winners in the NBA, mainly because they built around a young core and have continued to keep the average age of their roster aligned with their perceived window to compete for a championship.

Timing your team’s window to compete is almost as important as having the pieces. Having great players matters, but even with great players some teams will struggle to overcome teams that have been together longer or have transcendent stars.

If the 76ers, or the Blazers for that matter, spent every nickel this summer and drafted four of the best players in the draft class, none of that would matter this year since neither would beat the Golden State Warriors or the Cavaliers in a playoff series. Neither team’s window is open right now, so wasting resources trying to force the issue isn’t very reasonable.

Now in three seasons, the landscape should be very different for both franchises, simply because time and free agency tend to change the landscape. Unless a superstar shows up as a gift on your doorstep, understanding the timeline you have to win is vitally important.

It’s not fun to lose or to support a losing team, but sometimes it’s smarter to rebuild and take your lumps, because when your window comes open, it could stay open for a while, especially if the team is built the right way.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @JCameratoNBA, @iamdpick, @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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 Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division

Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.

Drew Maresca

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As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.

Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.

  1. Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)

The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.

Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.

  1. New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline

This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.

But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion).  The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.

  1. DeAndre Jordan

Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.

The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.

In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.

  1. Spurs need help at point guard

The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.

The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.

The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.

  1. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol

Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.

Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.

In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.

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NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success

In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.

Jordan Hicks

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In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.

But does this apply to everyone?

The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.

Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.

To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.

After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.

To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.

Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.

Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.

Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.

Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.

Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.

Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.

Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.

The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.

We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.

Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.

Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.

Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.

1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves

There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.

However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.

Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.

2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves

A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.

The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.

Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting

The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.

Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.

The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.

4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers

It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.

Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.

He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.

5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets

The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.

He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.

As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.

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