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NBA Daily: Beilein, Cavaliers Set On Steady Rise

The Cleveland Cavaliers understand where they’re at entering another rebuilding season, and staying mentally tough throughout will be imperative to ensure they achieve their goals. Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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One year removed from the second departure of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ shift in course has never felt more comforting.

With players wearing smiles, showing their humorous sides and taking pictures at various stations, it wasn’t hard to tell how clear the air in the building was at Media Day. After all, we’re officially into October, meaning that NBA training camps and preseason have gotten underway.

This time of year signifies a fresh start for all teams and optimism is at its highest. Regardless of what happened in the previous season or during the summer, there are clean slates across the board in the wins and losses column. For a Cavaliers group coming off a discombobulated, injury-riddled 19-win campaign in 2018-19, it’s especially relieving.

“I felt we had almost like three seasons to be honest with you,” Jordan Clarkson said Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts.

Clarkson remembers Tyronn Lue’s firing six games into the year. He remembers Larry Drew taking over as the voice of the team before agreeing upon interim head coaching duties through the finish line. He can’t help but shake his head, snickering at the thought of how many bumps and bruises the team gathered along the way, leaving no choice but to lean on a collection of two-way players and 10-day contracts.

New Cavaliers head coach John Beilein, however, did not go through that tumultuous time with the wine and gold. Instead, he was leading the Michigan Wolverines to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament run in their second straight season with at least 30 wins. Beilein surprised many when he decided to take a stab at making the jump to the pros after 41 years of coaching in the college ranks, but he’s never been more excited to dive right in with his first NBA squad.

“There’s a lot of opportunities here instead of challenges,” Beilein said when asked about what would be the most difficult aspect of his transition.

No longer will Beilein have to live in a suitcase while taking plane rides to various states on recruiting trips, nor will he have to worry about factors outside of teaching his players hands-on. At 66 years old, he’ll be embarking on a new journey with more energy than he’s ever had before in order to turn the tide in Cleveland.

Beilein will have plenty of assistance in all of this. He constantly reminds everyone of how J.B. Bickerstaff, Antonio Lang, Dan Geriot and Lindsay Gottlieb are playing just as important of a role as he is. Still, don’t exclude the guys on the court doing their part either.

“When we have a player-led team, that’s when we’re a really good team,” Beilein said. “Whether it’s Kevin [Love], whether it’s Tristan [Thompson], whether it’s Collin Sexton, whether it’s Darius Garland, anybody can move into that leadership position. So it’s really important that we’re connected with them, so they can take over and we can just adapt to changes we need to make.”

Beilein understands how demanding of an endeavor it will be. He knows that the Cavaliers ranked dead last defensively a season ago, the worst rating in NBA history. Making such improvements on both ends will not happen overnight. He’ll have about one-third of the practice time he’s used to and nearly three times the amount of games to accomplish what he wants.

Whatever lies ahead, he’s prepared for it by having in-depth conversations with Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens — two coaches that also leaped to the pros from Division-I — and his staff as a whole.

“We’re coaching a lot of veterans, we’re coaching a lot of young men. There’s very similar strategy to those,” Beilein said. “You learn from defeat. You get better from defeat. Defeat doesn’t kill you. It’s going to make you better. You don’t want to lose too much, but it’s that same thing. Handling adversity is easier than handling prosperity. You’ve got to be mentally tough to handle a winning streak, too. And so, all those things come into play as you’re reading the pulse of the team.”

Beilein’s top priority in his debut year is to get Cleveland on a steady rise, ensuring development and true growth out of his players, both young and old, with a focus on fundamentals. He maintains if that vision comes to fruition, the wins will take care of themselves.

Needless to say, tied with the Phoenix Suns for the second-worst record in the league, the wins did not take care of themselves last year. There were flashes of progression here and there, and the team was noticeably better when it had healthy players soaking up the majority of the minutes — but there was no hiding the fact that the Cavaliers were a level below everybody else.

Going through a rebuilding process takes patience and a strong mind. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is key, often taking the harsh downswings in stride alongside the rarer highs. Such a mentality will be necessary once again this season, as Cleveland has hit the reset button with its personnel and its roster.

“It definitely just kinda changed your mindset in terms of everything and prepared us for this year,” Clarkson said. “I feel like us coming in here, everybody should have an open mind ready to compete and play because everything is new.”

“As a team, I feel like we can’t go backwards,” Sexton said. “We can only move forward and continue to get better.”

Sexton and Clarkson were the only Cavaliers to play over 80 games in 2018-19, with the former featured in every single contest.

Cedi Osman, another crucial piece in this young core, played the third-most amount during his first full year in the NBA. What’s unique about him is that he was a part of that conference championship-winning team as a rookie, so he’s experienced both sides of the spectrum, something the Turkish forward feels has readied him for what lies ahead.

“First two years, it was like white and black,” Osman said. “I saw going to the Finals and not making the playoffs, so that’s why I believe that those two years really made me better. This year, I believe we have a much better team and I think we’re gonna have the chance to surprise a lot of teams . . . I really believe we have a bright future in front of us.”

Love and Thompson played integral roles during championship-caliber seasons at the Cavaliers’ height. They’ve also been on rebuilding ball clubs before in the early days of their respective careers. Larry Nance Jr. is somewhere in the middle has he enters year five. No member of that trio is a stranger to what an 82-game marathon consists of.

“There’s gonna be lumps and bumps. There’s gonna be growing pains and bruises and all of that stuff,” Nance said. “It’s gonna take time to mesh, take time to jell together – and all that takes mental toughness. Especially with me hopefully shouldering more of the leadership load in the locker room this year. Mental toughness is what it’s all about.

“It’s not just gonna be from me. It’s gonna be from Kev, from Tristan, Darius and Collin. It’s gonna be from all of us. This is a unique team. I think that we can be really good, but it’s gonna take a lot of stick-to-it-ness.”

Thompson embraces being an important voice in the locker room. He enjoys taking his teammates under his wing, particularly rookies going from a 30-game season to a much longer one in the pros.

“For us, we’ve gotta tell ‘em, you’re gonna have some nights where you feel like this NBA stuff is easy and you’re gonna have nights where you feel like, ‘Man, do I belong?’ But you’ve just gotta stay the course,” Thompson said. “It’s on us veterans to kinda help their process [and make it] easier. However we can help ‘em be the best they can be, that’s on us. And as a leader of this team, it’s important for me to help these guys transition very smoothly.”

The reality is this: All but five players on Cleveland’s roster have fewer than six years of experience under their belt. Three rookies — and potentially a couple more on two-way contracts — will be carving out their respective niches on the team as things move along. With learning comes lessons. With lessons come losses. And with losses, invariably, comes second-guessing.

Handling everything with a one game at a time approach is a quality some players have trouble with. For those exposed to the league for the first time, it can be even more difficult to grasp. Noise can enter their heads and drive them down. Garland has spoken with his agent, Rich Paul, about this very subject.

“[Rich has] dealt with a lot of guys, so I’ve heard a lot of different stories,” Garland said. “It’s a long season. 82 games is a long season. Coming from college — I only played five — it’s gonna be crazy for me to play all 82. I mean, I’m ready though. I’m ready to just attack the season really hard, play my game, get my teammates involved and do what we have to do to win.”

Beilein has wasted no time in implementing his methods.

Working one week early with rookies such as Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. — along with Dean Wade and Marques Bolden — he introduced the Beilein Ball, a customized, official NBA basketball with a black stripe lasered around it. The concept is to see the rotation of the ball and correct hand positioning on shots and spin on passes.

“He’s really into his craft,” Garland said. “That’s what I like about him. He’s really a gym rat. He’s always in here working or doing something with the guys, so it’s really fun being around him.”

Nance senses Beilein’s eagerness, going as far as to say that his coach has more energy than him. Clarkson is already a fan of his emphasis on ball movement. Sexton, too, has noticed a change in culture with him and his staff in charge.

Getting through to Love and Thompson is arguably the most imperative for Beilein as he tries to gain respect and set the tone; but so far, so good. Thompson has had conversations with former teammate Nik Stauskas and friend Darius Morris, hearing rave reviews about the offensive guru from two former Wolverines.

“He kinda wants to see what can you bring to the table instead of just boxing you up before knowing who you are as a player,” Thompson said of Beilein. “That’s what you want from your coach, especially a new coach.”

Beilein treats practice as seriously as he does a game — with tempo and intensity. He has a daily mantra in which everybody on the floor participates before the two-and-a-half hour session begins.

How are we gonna practice? “Hard!” How are we gonna practice? “Smart!”

Day one featured a lot of station work, with the team sorted into rotating groups of three by jersey color: red, white and green. Each of those were assigned to assistants. Lang worked with the big men, Bickerstaff and Geriot took defensive responsibilities with the guards and Gottlieb assumed a role centered around development. The morning finished off with 5-on-5.

Following the first practice of training camp, Love referred to Beilein’s ways as “old school” with an attention to detail and getting back to the basics.

“I think it’s his enthusiasm, just in how he talks and how he approaches every day,” Love said after the first day. “But [old school] was what I was around when I grew up. My dad [Stan Love] put the ball in my hands and he talked about every era, even before he came into the league. So maybe a breath of fresh air is the wrong terminology, because I’ve played for some great coaches, but just a different look.”

Day two was a bit more rough around the edges. There were moments of slippage in defensive stances and sporadic bad passes. There were no sour attitudes or any signs of apathy, but rather just not doing the simple things.

“They don’t have a lack of discipline,” Beilein said Wednesday. “They probably have a lack of knowledge of how to play efficiently. That’s what discipline is. You have discipline, you’re efficient.”

That’s why Beilein intends to really emphasize the instructional side of practice, showing the players specific mistakes that were made and assuring they grow and learn from those.

“Many of the young players have probably been able to get by with talent and still win the game without a lot of discipline. They’re so good – sometimes their team wins by 30, 20, all these things – and they don’t really know what wins and loses games,” Beilein said.

“And now as they get into college and now from here, they start to really realize, ‘That was really boring when coach taught it to me, but it’s really important now.’ It takes time. Everybody will have a different learning curve. But it takes time for some more than others to put some significance, put some more importance [into] some simple things that are really easy to do, but in the middle of action, they’re hard to do when you’re thinking about something else.”

There are three weeks of training camp until the regular season gets underway later this month. As of today, 30 teams in the NBA are even at 0-0.

While everybody technically has a fresh start, the Cavaliers have undergone a true facelift. The building is filled with hope. The demeanor around the organization is loose. There is really no pressure on them outside of the maturation of the franchise as a whole.

Beilein drew a comparison to the newly-renovated Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to paint a picture of how he looks at the upcoming campaign.

“There’s a lot of new things going on down there, just like with our basketball program,” Beilein said. “They didn’t have to knock it down and build another one. They had to repurpose, refinish, rebuild different areas to keep up with the times, and we’re going to be doing the same thing.

“I think you’ll embrace the product. Be patient with it. And as we go along, hopefully you’ll see steady improvement, both in the wins and in the losses.”

Cleveland’s ascension is set to begin with Beilein at the helm.

It’s up to the rest to buy-in.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free-agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind-bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked within the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5-year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of an NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two-part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also a side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the sideshow that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick, the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick, the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20 is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks’ selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably affect the NBA game beginning on Day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot-blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented frontcourt and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game-changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdanović add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, the free agency period went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be a good value for the Sixth Man of the Year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanović will be a great get, maybe on the high side money-wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of the direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assumed he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30-year-old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did manage to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career-high in rebounds (6.7), but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets’ future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bogdanović slipped through their fingers.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head-scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly-average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted in to a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering from an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One Move We’d Like To See:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go with Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. This is why if Houston wants all the Nets’ and Wizards’ cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless of which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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