Maybe It Was Brooklyn?: While it is still very early in the season, there is something that sort of jumps out at you in the NBA standings. The Milwaukee Bucks are doing pretty well for themselves and the Brooklyn Nets are still under achievers.
Much was made about Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, especially as things came unglued at the end in Brooklyn. From listening to the Bucks players and staff and watching how things are imploding in Brooklyn, you have to wonder: Did Kidd bear the brunt of the problem unfairly?
Many versions of the Kidd story have been told, but the one that seems most likely is that Kidd, like most around the NBA, had heard that the Nets were thinking about firing him after a dreadful start last season. Can you really blame the guy for going into self-preservation mode when his front office allegedly turned on him?
In talking with several of the Bucks players last week, they all sort of had the same story. Kidd was challenging them in practice. He was forcing them into a defense-first mind set, and the guards were really embracing how much he was helping them prepare and execute. Kidd has a solid coaching staff and their young guys are really taking to his process.
There wasn’t a typical rolling of the eyes you get when you ask some guys about their coach. There wasn’t the typical well-rehearsed line guys manufacture to gloss over their coach. There was a genuine, lean-into-the-question answer.
One veteran Bucks player admitted that he was curious about Kidd as a coach and reached out to players on last year’s Nets team, and said he was told that Kidd started out rocky but got better as the season progressed. There was no animosity about him, which was reassuring to this particular player.
The Bucks may not stay in the .500 club, they have lost two straight, but the one thing that is clear is Kidd might be a better coach than he’s given credit for, and that a lot of the Brooklyn mess might not have been entirely his fault.
The Bucks are pretty happy with how the situation turned out; we’ll see if that changes as the season rolls on.
Get Them When You Can Get Them?: As The LA Lakers continue to struggle, a common question asked by Laker fans is, when will the team make a trade to right the ship?
Now for the non-Lakers fans, don’t snicker, this is a fan base that is used to being able to trade their way out of problems or gloss over mistakes with their checkbook and that might be how this season plays out too.
Before we get too far, keep in mind a lot of things have changed in the NBA since the lockout in 2011.
The Lakers as a franchise used to carry one of the largest payrolls in the NBA, which allowed them to trade into large unattractive contracts, as it does take contract money to trade for contract money.
The Lakers also don’t have very many attractive contracts to trade, at least not yet any way. Most of the deals the Lakers signed this summer do not become trade eligible until at least December 15.
Laker big man Jordan Hill is not trade eligible until January 15, and because of the structure of his contract has the ability to veto a trade. Hill is owed $9 million this year and has a team option worth $9 million for next season. If traded, he would have to agree to the deal.
Swingman Nick Young, who might be the most tradable player, cannot be traded until December 15, but also has three fully guaranteed years on his contract. Young is owed $4.99 million this year, $5.21 million next year and 5.443 million in 2016-2017. Young holds a player option worth $5.66 million for the 2017-18 season.
Laker forward Carlos Boozer cannot be traded at all, as he was an amnesty claim.
Rookie Julius Randle has a broken leg, which make his trade value extremely low.
Laker bright spot Ed Davis cannot be moved until December 15, but is making just $915,000 this season, which won’t return much even when he can be traded, unless he is paired with other contracts.
The Lakers have already traded their own draft pick to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash deal. The pick is top five protected, so there is a chance the Lakers can keep it, but as a trade tool that asset is off the table. They do possess the Houston Rockets’ first round pick, which is lottery protected for taking on the contract of guard Jeremy Lin. That pick is a tradable asset, but given how the Rockets are playing, it does not look like a very attractive draft pick, likely something in the mid-to-low twenties.
The Lakers do have the expiring contract of guard Nash, which is worth $9.7 million, along with Lin’s ending deal, which is worth $8.3 million against the cap.
Nash is not expected to play again, making him only valuable as a cap clearing tool, while Lin, who could contribute to a team, has an awkwardly structured contract. To land him in Houston back in 2012, the Rockets used a salary cap concept called a “poison pill”, where they back loaded the cash payment of Lin’s contract. The salary cap value of the deal was spread out evenly over the three-years of the deal, but the actual cash paid was $5 million in year one, $5.5 million in year two and roughly $15 million this season.
While Lin only counts as $8.3 million against the salary cap, the debt owed to him is much higher, making his contract unattractive in a trade. Most teams look for reverse scenarios where the cap value is higher than the actual cash owed.
Even at the trade deadline in February, Lin’s cash owed will be closer to $5 million, which is a ton for the final 30 percent of the season. Most teams, especially smaller market or cost conscious teams would steer clear of that kind of structure without receiving some kind of inducement, like a draft pick or young talent.
So is a trade the answer for the Lakers? It does not seem like they have much to offer. The days of teams valuing ending contracts has passed unless you are taking back an ugly contract and frankly the last think the Lakers need is another ugly contract.
While you never say never, the Lakers do have what amounts to $18 million in tradable salary between Nash and Lin. The odds that the Lakers are getting their coveted would-be free agent for just that bundle of assets are pretty slim. However, in the NBA you are always open for business and if you can get the player, you get the player.
Green Sets The Record Straight: After some reports surfaced suggesting that Boston forward Jeff Green might be easier to trade than Rajon Rondo, Green took issue with that concept saying that he hasn’t asked for a trade and wants to remain in Boston.
“I just want to clear the air about some B.S. rumor that came out,” Green said to Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com. “I don’t know if the person who made this article is in this here, but the rumor about me wanting to get traded is definitely false. I said that I was frustrated with losing, not frustrated with the team. So if the words didn’t come from my mouth, I’d appreciate if you do not write a dumb— article like that.”
Green has vented a few times about the losing that the Celtics are enduring, and some have translated that to mean he is seeking a trade, and while its remains very possible that Green is traded, for his part he is trying to make it clear that he’d like to stay.
“I want to stay here,” Green said. “I love this team. I love being here.
“If I didn’t [want to be here], I wouldn’t have signed [his most recent] contract to come back here. I’m happy where I’m at, happy with the coach, management, front office, everybody. I haven’t been happy like this in years. It’s a good place for me.
While Green went on the offensive to try and quell the notion of a trade, there is no doubting that Green, forward Brandon Bass and guard Rajon Rondo are viewed as players that are not part of the long-term plan in Boston and could be had at some point this season in trade if the price were right.
Green is currently the Celtics’ leading scorer at 18.4 points game despite shooting 43.3 percent from the field and just 27.3 percent from the three-point line.
The Celtics are currently 4-8 on the season and have lost seven of their last ten games.
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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.