Mythbusters – NBA Style: Yesterday in this space we covered some of the misguided thoughts surrounding the Miami HEAT and their Big Three. As Miami inches one game closer to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, there are other topics that have some questionable storylines surrounding them, so let’s jump into some of those:
Kyrie Irving’s Extension: For whatever reason there is this prevailing thought that the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t offer Irving a maximum contract extension and that he wouldn’t sign it if they did.
Neither one of those concepts is completely true, but they are fun concepts to kick around.
Let’s look back a little. First and foremost the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows an exclusive window for teams and players to reach an early extension without free agency and other teams being involved. This window usually produces a few things: massive contract commitments or bargain deals that favor the team.
When you hear that there may not be an extension for Irving this summer, that’s not all together surprising at this point, because the Cavs would be negotiating against themselves and they really can’t have those kinds of discussions until this summer.
Last season six of 18 eligible players signed early extensions – John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors, Larry Sanders and Quincy Pondexter. Of those six, Wall, George and Cousins received max deals.
The season prior eight players signed early extensions – Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Taj Gibson and Ty Lawson. Of those deals, only two were max contracts – Griffin and Harden. In 2011, five players reached early rookie scale extensions and the year prior to that is was also five players.
Not signing an extension in the early window really does not mean much, except that the Cavs may be unwilling to open their wallet and tell Irving to take as much as he wants.
Curry, Holiday and Lawson all signed early extension deals that started in the $11-$12 million per season range. Today those few extra million saved are what’s allowing their respective teams to add more talent in free agency.
Irving’s camp likely points to his top pick status and Wall’s max deal as the starting point guard for his team, but the truth is Irving’s value might be closer to that of Curry or Lawson at this point.
Because a max extension is being debated in and of itself is not a bad thing, is Irving truly a max player? Some would say he is not, some would say he is almost a max player and that’s clearly something the Cavaliers have to decide.
The other part is that do you really give a max deal to someone who may or may not be committed to your team? There have been enough stories of Irving not being happy to make that a talking point in a new deal. If Irving is totally buying in, then back up the Brinks truck, but if he has his eyes elsewhere and this deal is simply a placeholder until he can get where he may ultimately want to be, the Cavs need to know that.
The lesson to be gleaned from all of this is that a small number of early extensions get done each year. The ones that do get done are the no-brainer deals and the deals that are just below market value and usually in the teams’ favor. Deals that have doubts associated or questions surrounding them often get pushed into restricted free agency where someone else sets a price and the home team has the option to match it.
The Cavs not reaching a deal this summer means very little except that they may not be willing to just blindly throw money at Irving.
Sources close to the process say it is more likely than not that a deal gets reached, but there will be conversations and a process that plays out which would need to involve Irving being all-in for the Cavs game plan. If he is not, then playing out the season and seeing where things land could very well be outcome.
If the talks go badly, being traded could be one of those outcomes too.
The Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat here. They do not have to do anything this year unless it makes sense for them in the long-run, and given how the team itself has underperformed, taking their time on who stays long-term might not be a bad idea, even if the final answer is a long-term deal for Irving.
»In Related: Team By Team: NBA Salaries At A Glance.
Carmelo’s Free Agency: There are two numbers to think about as Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony prepares to enter free agency: 30 years old and $22.5 million.
The first is Anthony’s age. The second is the amount of money he is eligible to receive as a first year salary in a new deal. That figure is not exclusive to the Knicks; he can receive that from any team he signs with either as an unrestricted free agent or in a sign and trade deal.
To run the numbers, Anthony can get a maximum five-year, $129 million deal from the Knicks, or he can get a four-year $96 million deal from another team. For most players that fifth year is somewhat moot as the expectation is they’d get that money in their next deal; however in Anthony’s case that fifth year might really matter as its unlikely anyone is giving a 35-year old another $25-$28 million, although crazier things have happened.
There are a few teams that get linked to Anthony the most – the LA Lakers and the Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers look like they’ll have something in the neighborhood of $24.8 million in maximum salary cap space. They would have the chance to make a run at Anthony, but even if he shaved a little cash of the deal to be a Laker, landing Anthony at even $18 million a year (a $16 million total contract discount), leaves the Lakers married to Bryant and Anthony as their core players with little else to work with in free agency. It all but removes the Lakers from free agency in 2015 unless the salary cap goes way up next year.
The Lakers’ stance on Anthony all year has been that he is not a primary free agent target and that the idea of blowing all their free agent money on him is not the goal. If he shows up on their door step willing to talk $14-$15 per year they’d absolutely sign him, but getting Anthony a deal anywhere close to what he can and likely will get offered from the Knicks may be too rich for the Lakers’ taste, especially as they look towards life without Bryant.
The Bulls are another team that gets mentioned and the fact that Chicago is now sitting on a best case salary commitment figure of $63.95 million means they have zero cap space to work with even if they renounced everything they can renounce.
The Bulls do have the option of using the one-time Amnesty roster cut on the final year of Carlos Boozer’s contract ($16.8 million) but even paying him to go away does not get the Bulls anywhere close to $22.5 million. It might get them to $16 million. The Bulls could try and trade away a contract like Mike Dunleavy Jr ($3.32 million) and get themselves to $19 million, but then the team is locked into Anthony, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson with little else.
It is absolutely do-able, if the Bulls want to eat those costs, but Bulls sources have said from the beginning that they doubted ownership would approve paying Boozer $16 million to go away and then paying Anthony close to $100 million.
If the Bulls could find a way to trade Boozer in a deal that returns Anthony, or Anthony would sign for something in the $15-$16 million range they would do that, but does Anthony really give Chicago a $21 million discount on a four-year deal?
There are a couple of dark horse suitors that could gum all this up and those are Dallas and Houston.
Dallas has the cash to go after Anthony straight up. Dirk Nowitzki has already told the team he’ll work with them to get them the cap space to sign another significant player. So Dallas could get to the $20-$22.5 million number the Knicks are expected to offer. They could present a team built around Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Nowitzki with a proven coach in Rick Carlisle.
Houston would trade almost anything not named Dwight Howard and James Harden to get at Anthony and they would go all in on a contract too. There has been talk that Houston has offered up Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a “give away” trade that could include their draft pick in the first round or a roster player like Terrence Jones to get those salaries off the books.
If the Rockets can find a taker for those contracts they’d go from a best-case $56.9 million in salary commitments to $40.2 million, which means $22.7 million in cap space. That’s more than enough for Houston to get into the game in a serious way for Anthony.
With three teams offering what could be full max contracts, it’s hard to imagine Anthony leaving $16-$20 million in total compensation on the table to be a Laker or a Bull, especially when New York is likely offering a fifth year and Dallas and Houston may be offering better fitting rosters.
It seems the Bulls and Lakers have eyes on other guys too (read that to be Kevin Love), and that may play into how aggressively they go after Anthony, if they go after him at all.
»In Related: 2014 NBA Mock Draft: Consensus Ver 3.0
Boozer And The Bulls: As mentioned above, as much as Bulls fans would like to see the team write Boozer a check and be done with him, there is a real sense that is not going to happen. It might, but the sense among teams is the Bulls would be far more willing to give up a young guy on their roster or the lesser of their two first round picks in the 2014 Draft as a sweetener to trade Boozer rather than eat his contract.
There just does not seem to be a willingness to pay Boozer off. As much as Chicago would like to get into free agency, using the Amnesty provision on Boozer seems to be the last option and that almost everything else will be considered before paying him off.
Boozer’s production this season plummeted, so finding a taker for his remaining $16.5 million is not going to be easy, but given how many teams project to have cap space the question becomes would someone like Philadelphia or even Orlando trade a roster player for Boozer and the 19th pick?
The 76ers may likely find themselves stuck with Jason Richardson’s $6.6 million player option this summer; would swapping him for Boozer work for Chicago?
The Orlando Magic have the partially guaranteed $8 million contract of Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who would be a perfect addition for the Bulls. It’s doubtful the Magic trade Afflalo for so little in return, but the Magic do have the means to be a player in this department if the return is right.
Unlike some of the bad contracts that get moved, Boozer is in the final year of his deal, so it may not be nearly as hard to find a trade partner as some of the other Amnestied contracts and with the Bulls seemingly adverse to a buyout, it’s more likely the Bulls make a trade than write a check unless there is simply no other recourse, even then it seems 50/50 at best.
»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.
Icing Out The Bucks: There has been a lot of speculation that agents for players in the 2014 NBA Draft might be trying to freeze out the Milwaukee Bucks in terms of access to and workouts with their players. The biggest is of course Joel Embiid, who has concerns about the long-term status of his back.
Bucks sources said that reports of them having issues with players is completely untrue and they expect to meet with and workout the players projected at the top of the draft. They also feel like they have enough information today to make a solid and informed decision, but that it’s still very early in the process, especially for the top tier prospects who usually don’t work out for a lot of teams.
On the subject of getting medical information on a player in the draft, the source said is not overly difficult as teams do often share information as no one likes to see agents steer and control the process. While clearly there is some tactical advantage to having information others don’t have, there is a reason its important to have a well-connected general manager and front office.
There is no doubting that some situations are more desirable than others and being bad enough to have a top three selection means there are generally bigger issues at play, but the sense that Milwaukee or even Philadelphia is being “iced” out by agents is not exactly true.
There does seem to be a sense that the agents for Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are trying to control the process, but there is not a sense from either the Bucks or the 76ers that they won’t get to look at the players they have on their board.
»In Related: Who Should Go No. 1?
Up Close With Tyler Ennis: The race to be the third point guard taken in the 2014 NBA Draft might be one of the more heated races in the draft. Syracuse’s’ Tyler Ennis looks to be the front runner, but he knows he has a lot to prove.
Six Things You May Have Missed: Every so often we like to map out some of the things from the previous couple of days that may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Make sure to give these stories a look:
- Who Is The Best Head Coach Available?
- Erik Spoelstra: The Fire Behind the HEAT.
- Can Miami Keep The Big Three?
- Is it Time to Trade Russell Westbrook?
- Insiders Video: Zach LaVine Pro-Day.
- What Is The Future Of Deron Williams In Brooklyn?
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.
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.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— 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.