Before You Get Too Far
Both the NBA and the Players’ Association have said recently that talks toward a new labor deal in the NBA were progressing in a good and productive way. That should be good news to NBA fans who have endured lockouts over the last two labor deals and are used to a continuous and combative process that historically has cost the NBA games.
This time around, not only does it seem like the NBA and the Players may be able to reach a new deal without the bloodshed of a lockout, they may actually reach a deal before the December opt-out deadline both sides have in the current deal.
Sources involved in the process say the NBA and the Players have been meeting fairly frequently for months, and that both sides have approached this in a very business-like manner that has yielded a lot of positives – enough positives for many to believe a deal is around the corner.
While there are things everyone in the equation does not like about the current system, there is hope that a new labor deal could solve some problems without up-ending the so-called apple cart.
Here are some ideas that both sides should consider before inking the new deal:
Super Max Contract
In the NBA now, there are situations where what a team pays to a player is actually different than how that contract is booked against the salary cap. Some time ago, the NBA installed an incentive for teams to sign older players by eating a portion of a minimum deal, making signing a 10-year player basically the same cost as signing a two-year player. The player’s deal is subsidized by the NBA.
A better example might be how Poison Pill offer sheets like the one the Nets gave to Tyler Johnson. Had the HEAT not matched that deal, Johnson’s deal would have been booked against the salary cap as an average amount, higher than the first year he was actually paid in the offer. That would have allowed the Nets to pay Johnson a huge third and fourth year salary, with a much lower cap hit.
The current labor system does not incentivize a star player to remain with their current team. Sure, proponents of the current system say the fifth contract year and higher annual raises matter, but the truth of the current system is that Kevin Durant will earn $26.540 million playing for the Warriors this season, which was exactly what he’d have earned had he remained in Oklahoma City.
There wasn’t a day-one incentive for him to stay. Sure, he could have done a longer-term deal, but the reality is other than taxes, he gets exactly the same leaving as staying.
Here is a possible solution: Grant each team one “Super Max” contract. This deal is only available to a player who chooses to stay with his current team. The deal must be for five years and is never tradable. Also, no team can have more than one “Super Max” player on the roster at a time.
The deal pays 40 percent of the salary cap in cash, but is booked against the cap as a normal maximum contract.
So take Durant, for example. In this “Super Max” scenario, he’d have earned $37.6 million this year versus the $26.5 million he was offered by the Warriors.
For the player, it is immediately more money than he could get anywhere else; at 40 percent of the cap, he would stay way ahead of even the craziest balloon in the salary cap system.
For the team, most would gladly pay the extra money to ensure they retain their very best player. There is risk in the long-term for sure, but ask yourself, would the Thunder have blinked at a five-year deal for Durant?
As for the non-trade concept, many players want that in their deal anyway.
There has been talk of a Franchise Tag system or some type of disincentive for top-level player movement. Doing a Super Max contract solves the biggest gripes in the current system: Top-level players are not paid enough, it’s too easy for top-level players to change teams, and it likely hinders the formation of super teams.
The Third Round
The NBA is investing and expanding the D-League pretty aggressively; there will be 22 NBA D-League teams heading into the 2016-17 season and there are more on the way as the NBA continues to see the importance of a true minor league system.
The problem is how do you stockpile talent there, and how do you make it attractive so would-be players go there, especially given the economics of the current salary system?
So with that in mind, how about a Third Round to the NBA draft? Agents hate this idea, but hear me out on this.
Each team gets a third-round pick, that pick comes with a guaranteed $100,000 salary and is for one year. The third-round pick will play Summer League for the drafting team, attend training camp for the drafting team, but spend the entire season in the D-League with no call up. This player does not count against the 15-man roster limit.
After the one-year deal, the home team either signs the player to at least a one-year fully guaranteed NBA contract or releases him as an unrestricted free agent.
Here are the two caveats. The one year played in the D-League as a third-round pick counts as a year of NBA service and the NBA home team provides some level of pre-arranged loss prevention insurance in case of a career ending injury.
Adding 30 more picks on draft night might be too much for the TV audience, so like the NFL that could be a Day 2 process that’s not done on the podium at midnight.
If NBA teams are going to spend $6-$7 million in expansion fees to own D-League teams, creating mechanisms for them to get players at a competitive salary needs to be considered.
The Two-Way Contract
Speaking of the D-League, the NBA is pushing pretty aggressively for the adoption of a two-way contract. These deals would have specific values for when a player plays in the NBA and when they play in the D-League.
Currently, teams are giving players partially guaranteed money to come to training camp only to cut them and subsidize the D-League salary system and park them in their D-League program.
The problem with that is while it really is a “wink-nod” arrangement, teams are not protected from losing a player they gave money to.
For example, last year the L.A. Lakers gave guard Michael Frazier $50,000 to come to camp, under the agreement he’d play in the D-League for them. The only problem is the Lakers had to waiver Frazier and lost any rights to him.
The two-way contract prevents teams from losing a player they like, but may not yet be ready to put on their major league roster.
Building a smart two-way contract would offer some security to the NBA team and potentially get more players signed to deals.
Maximum Salary Criteria
This summer was arguably the craziest spending spree we have seen in the NBA. While the players side of things will argue there should be no limitation on what a player can earn and many teams would agree that they should be able to offer a player whatever value they feel is fair to them, is there any doubt that not everyone is a maximum-salary player?
No offense to Harrison Barnes, but is it good for basketball for everyone to be able to earn a maximum deal?
There are some that would like to see maximum caps done away with all together; however, if the NBA went that route, you’d have two classes of players: guys making $20 million and guys making $1 million and there would be no middle class.
The middle class is important, because that’s where the bulk of players play, and having some sort of equality in salary only helps that idea.
With that in mind, shouldn’t there be some minimum qualification to earn a maximum contract?
The NBA in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement added a rule tied to rookie-scale extensions called the Rose rule that was meant to reward players on rookie-scale deals who exploded into the NBA as superstars.
Under the Rose rule, a player is eligible for a larger contract if they are named to the All-NBA First, Second or Third team at least twice, get voted as a starter in the All-Star game at least twice or named the NBA Most Valuable Player at least once.
While that criteria might be a bit extreme, having some level of qualification seems smart.
Some will argue that there is no question Miami’s Hassan Whiteside should have gotten a maximum deal and he would not have met anything close to the criteria mentioned, but shouldn’t there be some level of criteria?
The NBA and Players seem to have a positive dialogue going. Both sides remain very optimistic that a new labor deal could get reached this year, well in advance of the doom-and-gloom of a July lockout.
Nothing is done at this point, but the more both sides talk about where things are in the process, the more likely it seems a new deal is coming. The question is, how much will the system change?
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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.
— 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.