Who Is Selling?
With the NBA regular season schedule set to drop this week, we have started to look forward a little here at Basketball Insiders, taking aim at potential free agents and the players that could be on the move as basketball ramps back up in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, how are some of the teams that are likely sellers this season:
The Orlando Magic’s new front office was disciplined this off-season, they did not spend lavishly or make a bold franchise changing trades, much to the chagrin of their fans. The mindset in Orlando was that last year was so chaotic that seeing first-hand what they really had was more valuable than reacting to what Orlando’s new executives saw from afar.
New leadership has leaned heavily on head coach Frank Vogel in understanding the potential of the roster, and it seems leadership is giving everyone a fairly clean slate to come in and earn their roles and their potential future.
The outcome of all of that is some players are going to play themselves into a future in Orlando and some (likely many) will not, making Orlando an absolute seller this season. The Magic are a team with real roster parts to pawn off as decisions get made on certain players, meaning they are the team to watch as the season unfolds.
Relatively speaking, the Magic have some value-priced contributors: Nikola Vucevic ($12.25 million), Evan Fournier ($17 million), Terrence Ross ($10.50 million) and D.J. Augustin ($7.25 million). None of them are likely franchise changing players, but all have proven to be productive.
The Magic also face some decisions with rookie scale guys like Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, who are each eligible for contract extensions this summer. Former fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja has never lived up to his draft hype and may or may not have a role this season.
The Magic have options if they want to explore them. The question becomes when will they pull the trigger on things, not if they pull the trigger.
The Phoenix Suns have re-committed to their front office, giving them the assurances that ownership will follow through with their longer-term vision. The Suns have, over the years, been collecting quite the treasure trove of young players and may actually have too much youth to really start to break out of the bottom tier in the West.
The Suns are one of the teams linked to Cavaliers’ guard Kyrie Irving, and while many in NBA circles peg them as the team with the assets to win over the Cavs, it does not appear that the Suns are willing to go all-in on Irving just yet. We’ll see as the clock ticks closer to training camp if either side budges on what they would do in a deal.
That does not mean the Suns won’t be active. The Suns explored trades around the NBA Draft, having been involved in talks to acquire Kevin Love from Cleveland. They were approached about being part of Houston’s four-team pitch for Carmelo Anthony.
With so many options, the idea of the Suns being sellers is not only real, it’s very likely, especially if the Suns can find a way to offload Tyson Chandler’s $13 million salary.
The Suns have been linked to rumors on guard Eric Bledsoe for months, and there is no question they have young guys to sweeten a deal, especially if it returns real talent.
That’s going to be the driver for the Suns – they want real talent in return. The Suns technically still have cap space if they opt to renounce the $12.059 million cap hold on Alex Len, so Phoenix has a lot of options if they wanted to explore them.
The Atlanta Hawks are in full rebuild mode. While no-one in Atlanta is going to admit to tanking, there is little doubt that the Hawks this year were constructed to hit bottom. It’s possible that Kent Bazemore can rebound to the form that landed him his four-year $70 million payday in 2016, but can a team anchored by Bazemore and guard Dennis Schroder really compete, even in the East?
The good news for the Hawks is they do not have a lot of long-term cap cash to shed beyond Bazemore and Schroder. The Miles Plumlee deal looks a little ugly in the context of a rebuild, but he was the price to dump off the $47 million remaining on Dwight Howard’s deal.
While the Hawks look like a team open for business, they don’t have much by way of assets others would covet. It’s possible one of the Hawks younger guys blossoms into something worth talking about in trade, but as things stand, the Hawks are a team to watch mainly because they are bottoming out, not so much because they have assets you could easily rationalize taking on in trade.
Like the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets have been amassing a pretty impressive cast of young players. They too have been linked to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, and much like Phoenix, they do possess an interesting combination of older win-now players to combine with significant youth.
The Nuggets were the team that was able to poach Paul Millsap, with the idea that Denver was ready to be more than a middling western conference team. The Nuggets, though, become a team to watch as some teams decide to part with veteran players.
It’s hard to win in the NBA with an average roster age under 26 years old, and with Denver having so much youth—especially youth that plays big minutes—moving off some of it for proven players makes a lot of sense.
The Nuggets had explored the trade value of players like Kenneth Faried ($12.921 million), Wilson Chandler ($12.016 million), Emmanuel Mudiay ($3.381 million) and Darrell Arthur ($7.464 million).
The Nuggets have ending contracts on Wilson (Player Option), Arthur (Player Option), Will Barton (Unrestricted) and Jameer Nelson (Unrestricted).
Unlike a team like the Magic, who will inevitably make moves, the Nuggets don’t necessarily need to make changes. If, however, they are going to be the team they sold Millsap on, it’s hard to imagine the Nuggets not being aggressive, especially when real players hit the market.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls are tearing down and starting over. The Bulls are not in a bad way salary cap wise as Dwyane Wade’s $23.8 million salary comes off the books in July. The question becomes, is there a trade the Bulls can construct to get value out of Wade before the February 8th trade deadline?
The Bulls roster is littered with underachieving young guys who will get a real chance this season to show if they are what the Bulls hoped they’d be when they invested in them.
With this season being about the draft lottery and the future, the Bulls are a team to watch in terms of moving off veterans or young guys the Bulls lose faith in. They did something similar with Tony Snell, who blossomed in Milwaukee. The question is whether they do the same with forward Bobby Portis, second-year swingman Denzel Valentine or Cameron Payne.
The Bulls do have Robin Lopez, whose $13.78 million salary this year isn’t crazy, however, the $14.357 million owed next year does clog up the cap a little.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls don’t have much to sell, but with the bottom clearly in their sights for this season, they are a team to watch.
The LA Lakers are going to be sellers. As much as the team wants to talk about a playoff berth this season, there is a bigger picture plan that is going to require the Lakers to dump salary.
It is no big secret that the Lakers want to enter the 2018 offseason with two full max salary slots available to them. To do that, they are going to have to shed some of what’s likely to be $59.479 million in salary commitments.
The latest NBA projection pegs the 2018-19 salary cap at $103 million. Those numbers always fluctuate, but for planning purposes, $103 million cap means two max slots at 35% of the cap is going to cost $36.05 million each or $72.1 million. The quick math says the Lakers have to dump all but $30.9 million in cap dollars committed.
To achieve that, Luol Deng ($17.19 million), Jordan Clarkson ($11.562 million), Corey Brewer ($7.579 million) and perhaps Julius Randle ($4.149 million) are going to have to come off the books.
The good news is Brewer is a free agent in July, so his number falls off, much like the $22.642 million owed to Brook Lopez and the one-year $17.745 million owed to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Randle is a future free agent, so the Lakers could simply renounce him if they need his space and don’t have to make that decision before the deadline. However, Randle may be the piece the Lakers have to include to get anyone to consider the $54 million still owed to Deng.
As much as the Lakers want to talk about them being a potential playoff team this year, they almost have to sell off pieces in season, if they want any shot at the two max salary slots they would need to have to pursue the free agent targets (LeBron James and Paul George) they have been linked to.
All week, we have been looking at future free agents, players on the move and teams to watch as a primer for our upcoming NBA Season Previews that will drop the first week of September. Keep your eye out for new items dropping all week as we try and get you through the doldrums of the NBA’s dormant period.
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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.
It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.
However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.
A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.
Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.
There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.
This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.
But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.
With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.
Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.
Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.
But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.
College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.
NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.
But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.
The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.
So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.
Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up
The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.
The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.
Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.
Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.
Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.
Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.
NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs
The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.
Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.
Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.
“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”
Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.
“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”
Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”
That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.
“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”
In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.
“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”
That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.
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