What’s Next For Dwight Howard?
The Houston Rockets are currently 35-35 on the season with 12 more games to play. If the standings hold true, the Rockets should end up in the postseason and what was supposed to be a title contending season will at least end in another playoff run.
There is no questioning that the Rockets have regressed this year from last year, and while there have been moments when they’ve looked very good, it’s clear that this core in Houston has probably run its course.
The Rockets have kept no secret of their desire to be flexible this offseason – with dreams of landing a major star like Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant or even Memphis’ Mike Conley.
In order to get that kind of cap space, the Rockets would have to part with Dwight Howard,H who is not expected to pick-up his $23.29 million Player Option for next season, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.
Even if Howard declines his option, the Rockets will carry a $24.446 million cap hold on Howard, until they either renounce his rights, he signs a new deal in Houston worth less than that amount or he signs a new contract with another team.
Howard will enter his 12th season next year and is eligible for the next tier of maximum salary, which would be roughly 30 percent of the expected $90 million salary cap, pegging him as eligible for a first year salary north of $29.5 million.
There was no shortage of suitors for Howard at the trade deadline, with teams like Milwaukee, Charlotte and Boston logging significant interest in trading for Howard. However, all three wanted Howard to opt-in to his final contract year before parting with assets. Ultimately Howard was unwilling to do that, but understands there are teams that want him outside of the Houston situation.
For the Rockets, Howard is something of a fall- back option if they don’t get the attention of a major free agent. They can and likely would offer more money to Howard if the bigger options fall through.
From Howard’s perspective, those close to him say it’s far more likely Howard goes shopping rather than re-upping at a discount in Houston. Given Howard’s declining production in Houston and the Rockets’ desire to play more of a perimeter-oriented game, Howard may go shopping not only for a bigger payday, but a team willing to play more inside out.
The Rockets say all the right things about Howard and wanting him to remain in Houston, but the economics of the situation say it will be hard for Houston to add significant pieces without subtracting Howard’s cap hold.
As things stand, there looks to be at least 17 teams that will have a maximum salary slot, and a handful of teams could have at least two maximum salary slots. With what looks to be more than 24 max slots available in July, Howard may have more possibilities than most want to accept, mainly because there is so much salary cap money and so few impact players to give it to.
The Rockets could still be the winner in the process because of their ability to offer more money than any outside team, but it does look like Howard will be elsewhere next season. The question is: will it be a situation like Milwaukee or Boston, or will a contender a little further along turn to Howard if they miss on other free agent options?
The Spurs Could Have Space Too
Several weeks ago, the good folks at The Vertical introduced the scary concept of how the Golden State Warriors could create enough cap flexibility to go after another max contract player, specifically Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.
With the NBA salary cap swelling by more than 20 percent this July, the Warriors won’t be the only title contender with the ability to get under the cap. The San Antonio Spurs could too.
The Warriors have the means to get to a full maximum salary slot if they can give away some contract dollars, namely that of Andre Iguodala. The Spurs can’t get a full maximum slot without giving away someone like Danny Green.
As things sit now, the Spurs could get to about $17 million without parting with their future core guys: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili did the Spurs a favor last season and crafted their current deals to give the Spurs flexibility; they both hold player options that they could decline and they could do that again this summer.
While the Spurs won’t likely be one of the max salary slot teams in July, they could have some significant cash to play with if they opted for it. If a major player like say a Kevin Durant wanted to be a Spur, they do have the means to get to a max slot, but it would mean basically gutting the roster. With that said, considering how willing some Spurs players have been in helping the franchise, it would be interesting to see how much the Spurs could retain while also getting to a max salary slot.
With so much cap space available this July, could the Spurs off-load Green’s contract with, say, the rookie-scale contract of Kyle Anderson to a team that might not get a free agent audience with a bigger fish?
The Spurs could end up being a free agent player too; they just are not as fun to talk about in that way as the Warriors.
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Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17
Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.
It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.
Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.
Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.
Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.
His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)
While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.
Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.
Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.
The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.
Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.
While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.
It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.
Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.
So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.
NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.
Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.
The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.
A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.
The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.
This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.
There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.
As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.
So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland
The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.