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: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division
David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.
We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.
It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.
The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.
The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.
The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.
The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.
Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.
The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.
They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.
But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.
Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.
In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.
There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?
Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.
NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division
With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.
Well, that was fast.
With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.
The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.
In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.
Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.
The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.
After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.
If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.
The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.
He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.
Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.
The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.
The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.
The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.
If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.
Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).
Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.
The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.
At least the playoffs should be exciting.
The Pressure Is On Anthony Davis
The Rockets’ and Clippers’ strong commitments to small-ball show that the Lakers’ opponents are zeroed in on stopping LeBron James. If the Lakers want their next title, Anthony Davis has to prove he can take over for a contender. Matt John writes.
LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation and arguably of all-time. No matter how old he is or how many miles he has on those tires — 48,014 minutes total as of Feb. 20, good for eighth-most all-time among NBA players =- he is not to be underestimated. The Los Angeles Lakers know they have a window on their hands, but with LeBron on the wrong side of 30, they know that this window won’t be for too long. Unfortunately, so do their opponents.
This brings us to his partner-in-crime, Anthony Davis. Throughout LeBron’s era of dominance, he’s always had a Robin to his Batman. Dwyane Wade needed time to adjust to it. Kyrie Irving was so perfect for the role that he grew tired of it. Anthony Davis has embraced it since day one.
LeBron and AD have been as good as advertised. Together, the two of them possess a net rating of plus-10.3 when they share the court. They don’t actually run the pick and roll as often as we thought they would – LeBron only runs 26 percent of his plays as a handler while Davis has been the roll man for 13 percent of his plays – but when they do, it’s efficient.
LeBron’s effective field goal percentage as a pick-and-roll handler is 47.5 percent and draws and-1’s at 3.5 percent, which is pretty high for that sort of play. He ranks in the 67th percentile as a handler. Davis’ effective field goal percentage as a roll man is 61 percent and draws and-1’s at 4.9 percent. He ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man.
They may not run this in LA primarily because their old school play of playing big probably eats up the spacing. Since the Lakers have the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, it’s not a problem at the moment. This might change in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that.
Something else to note is that Davis’ numbers have stayed relatively the same since going from New Orleans to LA. His scoring average has gone down just a tick, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing next to LeBron James. Davis’ rebounding numbers have taken a more noticeable dip, but having him play next to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee probably has something to do with that.
He and LeBron have led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th-easiest schedule for the rest of the season, so the odds are in their favor of finishing out on top. Of course, their elite production as a duo is about as shocking as Martin Scorsese’s movies getting nominated for Oscars.
The Lakers are expected to make their deepest run since the last time they won the title in 2010. Even if they are among the league’s biggest powerhouses, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way in the Western Conference. Without going into too much detail about who that is — because you probably already know who that is — let’s focus on the two competitors who have been making major shakeups since the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Both may have executed different trades, but both had the same goal in mind when they made them.
When the Rockets traded Clint Capela — their only traditional center that was playable — for Robert Covington, a two-way wing that they believed they could mold into a small-ball five, they traded their size for switchability and versatility. Not only that, they doubled down on their strategy by bringing in the likes of DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Green, two swingmen who have played some minutes at center in their career but very, very few.
When the Clippers traded Moe Harkless — who was doing just fine for them as their third wing — they opted to go for an upgrade at the wing spot instead of another big by trading him among others and a first-round pick for what’s likely to be a short rental of Marcus Morris. They could have used Harkless to get another big to combat the Lakers’ size, but instead opted to add more grit to the wing department. The deal also opened up a few more spots on the roster, but they too opted not for more size, but for another scorer in Reggie Jackson.
Acquiring those wings demonstrates that they have coined the exact same gameplan to taking down the Lakers should they face them in the playoff — slowing down LeBron James.
Slowing down LeBron is a strategy that just about everyone has been familiar with since 2003, but very few have been successful at executing it because, well, there doesn’t really need to be an explanation when it comes to the subject of LeBron James.
By doing everything in their power to make LeBron’s life miserable, they are in effect going to dare everyone else on the Lakers to beat them, and that starts with Anthony Davis.
We know how good Anthony Davis is, but we don’t really know how good he’s going to be when the stakes are higher. Davis’ numbers in the playoffs should hardly concern the Lakers’ faithful. He’s averaged 30.5 points and 12.7 points on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field. The one number that could be concerning is that those averages come from only 13 playoff games total.
Davis is hardly to blame for the lack of playoff success in his name. Injuries ravaged the Pelicans continuously, and the best players he’s played with in the postseason are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo. The numbers suggest he carries his weight.
He should have less weight to carry when and if the Lakers enter the playoffs, but because their competitors are doubling down on their small ball to make sure LeBron’s covered as tightly as possible, the pressure will be on Davis to keep it going.
Posting up against small lineups shouldn’t be an issue for Davis because he’s been efficient on post-ups this season. On a frequency of 22.8 percent, Davis has a points per possession (PPP) of 0.95 when posting up. Davis is averaging five points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in the post up throughout the entire season. His efficiency in the post up ranks him in the 63rd percentile. He’s not Joel Embiid or even LaMarcus Aldridge in that area, but he’s reliable.
Still, time will tell to see if it translates in the playoffs. In the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets, we got our first sample of how LA will fare against Houston’s new scheme. LeBron struggled with it, putting up just 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting while turning it over six times. The switchability and intelligence that their defenders possessed made life difficult for him.
It was a different story for Davis. He had an excellent game. 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks because he dominated the very undersized center Houston threw at him. Despite that, the Rockets prevailed 121-111.
They were more than happy to let Davis dominate them as long as they took LeBron out of his comfort zone, and it worked. Games like that should make you want to keep your eye on this. Teams know that LeBron James is a nuclear weapon during the NBA playoffs. They have yet to see if Anthony Davis can be the same. If he can’t pick up the slack when LeBron is off his game, then that changes the ballgame.
Davis is an elite player. He has done a lot in his NBA career. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show that he can take over for a contender when the stakes are dialed to 11. When the playoffs arrive, we’ll finally see what he can do.
There shouldn’t be much doubt as to if Davis can do this. There should be much pressure as to if he’ll be able to do enough.
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