A Few Names Need to Come Off the Board
The 2015-16 NBA trade deadline gets closer – 24 days and counting if you are keeping track at home. The trade market has been relatively quiet, and that does not look to be changing any time soon. However, with the lack of trade chatter around teams, fans eager to see movement have started flooding social media with speculation and trade combinations that are simply not based in reality. They also continue to include names that are not going anywhere.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
When Carmelo Anthony opted to stay in New York with the Knicks, one of the things his camp pushed for was a no-trade provision in his contract. Anthony wanted control of his future, and the Knicks were willing to give him that in exchange for his signature on a deal. As a result, the Knicks have zero influence on trading Anthony, and unless he made it clear he’d want a change, the Knicks can do very little about it going forward.
Knicks sources were adamant that there have been zero conversations internally about trying to convince Anthony to consider a trade, and that as things stand the Knicks are pleased with where they are with Anthony and with the emergence of rookie Kristaps Porzingis. There is a growing sense that adding the right point guard either in trade or in free agency could turn the team in the direction they want to go and that’s competing in the playoffs and maybe competing for a championship.
Anthony has a large number of the off-the-court business ventures in New York, and given how much his side pushed for the no-trade clause, no one in the equation believes Anthony would consider a trade. Until that changes, there is no point in even contemplating what Anthony could return in trade as he isn’t going to agree to a trade anyway.
That might change at some point in the future, but as things stand today Anthony is about as unobtainable as they come.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have won five straight games, seven of their last 10. So far in 2016, DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 32.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, logging arguably some of the best basketball of his career.
If that’s not enough reason for the Kings to laugh at incoming trade calls involving Cousins, let’s add this: Ownership, specifically majority owner Vivek Ranadive, has made it clear internally that Cousins is untouchable in trade.
As the Kings continue to move toward the opening of their new downtown arena the Golden 1 Center in October, Cousins is a central figure in their marketing and sales plans around the new building.
League sources continue to say that Kings president Vlade Divac shuts down conversations about Cousins at ‘hello,’ and that a Cousins deal is a complete non-starter in Sacramento.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
As much as Dwight Howard’s name was kicked around earlier in the season, league sources continue to say that Houston is not looking at Howard trades and that the odds of Howard being moved are so incredibly small it’s not worth exploring.
Let’s be clear if the Oklahoma City Thunder showed up with a Kevin Durant deal, the Rockets would move Howard in a heartbeat, but that deal is not coming and neither is a Howard trade.
The Rockets have known since the day they landed Howard that he would be a free agent this July, and they have been planning for a new contract for Howard since they acquired him. That does not mean the Rockets will give Howard the expected $30 million maximum salary that he is eligible to receive as a free agent, but the Rockets are prepared to do a new long-term deal with the big man this summer.
Trading Howard at this point is not in the plans. There is a risk that Howard could walk away for a more lucrative package elsewhere, but there continues to be a sense around the Rockets that Howard wants to remain a Rocket and that there is a deal to be reached in July.
Trading Howard now ensures the Rockets take a step backwards, and league sources say because of the huge financial commitment it will take to secure Howard in July, his value in trade is extremely low and that’s before you consider his team-high $22.359 million salary.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Like Howard, Al Horford will be an unrestricted free agent in July. Horford also becomes eligible for a salary starting at what could be north of $25 million per season, which becomes a tough decision for the Hawks.
As things stand today the Hawks are the four seed in the East, but not nearly the dominant and cohesive team they were this time last year. Horford is posting reasonably strong numbers this season, but is off his career averages in a pretty significant way, posting 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds so far in 2016; not exactly max-contract type numbers.
Hawks sources found the notion of trading Horford laughable, pointing to how important he was to the team dynamic in Atlanta and that he’s a core guy in Mike Budenholzer’s system.
There is a sense among NBA insiders that a hefty offer could steal Horford away from the Hawks, especially if the team continues to regress from their record setting form from last season.
As things stand today, the Hawks have $52.717 million in 2016 salary cap commitments, which means they could have $38 million in useable cap space in July. Horford’s salary cap hold is $18 million, so the Hawks could have roughly $20 million in cap space to spend and then exceed the cap to retain Horford.
The question facing the Hawks is do they want to pay market value for a long-term max level contract with Horford in July? As things stand today, it seems the Hawks are staying to course with Horford and believing they have the means to retain him in July – making him a name you can take off the board.
While historically there have been some franchise-changing deadline deals, most of the deals that have gotten done over the last five years have been more cap management in nature. It’s possible a big-name player hits the trade market, but the general consensus from league sources is that if there are a flurry of deals, they will be smaller in nature and that the odds of a franchise-level player becoming available are fairly small.
It’s Not Us
If you watched the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls game on Saturday (and based on ratings many of you likely didn’t – 1.4 rating in adults 18-49 for 3.69 million viewers), during the second quarter ESPN commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson took issue with the editorial coverage of fired Cavs coach David Blatt.
The jist of the rant was that unnamed sources are bad, and that when coaches get fired reports try to gain favor by blasting the outgoing coach.
“Nothing is more predictable than after a coach is fired that soon after, sportswriters who are trying to curry favor with those people and trying to gain more access and more information that they immediately attack that coach’s character and competence,” Van Gundy said.
If you have followed Van Gundy’s broadcasting career, he has made a big name for himself speaking outlandishly about subjects he knows very little about. Van Gundy is a heck of a basketball coach, but listening to him talk about subjects outside the realm of basketball coaching, he often makes comments that are at best half-baked and are usually massively uninformed. That’s his broadcasting shtick and it’s worked out well for him.
The point in this space is not to try and comment on the mindset of an individual writer or reporter, but to explain – as Van Gundy does about coaching – what really happens in the process.
Let’s start with sourced materials.
Every writer in the world would love to name their source. Doing so would end debate on the veracity of a news piece and close the door on any challengers to the material being discussed. The problem is it just does not work that way.
Let’s say for example that a writer prints, “LeBron James told me he wanted David Blatt fired.” What happens next?
James gets surrounded by reporters looking for a comment on his comment. Then there are reporters who will surround James looking for a comment on the comment about the comment and the next month is about a single statement.
People with information are usually willing to share it, if they don’t have to deal with the horde that follows.
What’s amusing about Van Gundy’s chastising of the media is as a head coach, he would often share his thoughts about things in an off-the-record setting, so it is curious to see him blasting a process he himself has been part of.
There are a large number of people who talk on what is called “background,” that’s non-sourceable material to help the writer understand the dynamics of something they are writing about.
As a writer, you sometimes need to have things explained to you so you get the details right and a large number of people in the decision-making process want the details right, without being a “character” in the story.
“Background” is where a lot of the inside politics come out. The writer is not having things explained to create gossip or to be a focal point of a story, but rather to help ensure that what’s being put out there is accurate.
There are two options for people with information. They can help shape the story or they can let the story run wild. Most understand that helping shape the story on background is better than getting hit with something that’s not accurate.
So let’s get to the rumor portion of the program.
By and large rumors, do not originate from the teams that are directly involved. That’s not to say it never happens, but for the most part rumors come from sources around the process, whether that be teams that are trying to get in on a deal, agents that have players in a deal or league sources that are talking to the people making the deals.
Most credible news outlets require two independent sources before they will allow someone to run a trade rumor. Over the last few years, that process has relaxed a lot in major media because rumors are fun and they draw fan attention and the mentality is, ‘In a page view world, what’s the harm if it’s coming from a credible place?’
Van Gundy and Jackson’s criticism of sourced materials is partly fair. It would be great if every writer could name the people they are talking to, but if that happened fewer and fewer people would talk. As a writer you have a choice: You can withhold the names and get the information, or you can print names and get no information.
It’s pretty safe to say that most people want the information, assuming it was gathered in a credible and responsible way and by and large that’s exactly what the bulk of writers do. There are always outliers, voices that have a track record of not being credible, but for the most part, especially as it pertains to the Cavaliers and David Blatt, the voices involved in explained the firing are as credible as they come, as informed as they come and as connected as they come.
There were no vendettas being settled and no agendas being served, and nothing said was done to curry favor. Sometimes what’s unflattering is what happened, and if you think about it, the Cavaliers paid David Blatt roughly $10 million to go away, while having the top record in the East coming off an NBA Finals appearance. Something like that does not happen without a lot of thought and some pretty serious issues that the team felt could not be resolved. That’s unflattering. That does not make it any less true, whether it was sourced or unsourced.
That’s simply the nature of the news business.
As they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. If more people were willing to stand behind their words, more people would be quoted.
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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.