Don’t Panic, But You Have To Consider It
With the NBA playoffs down to just four remaining teams, there are some franchises that exited the playoffs far too early to think that roster change shouldn’t be considered. In some cases, a few teams have harsh realities to face and some tough questions that won’t be easy to answer.
While no franchise should overreact to a single playoff series, there are some things that surfaced in the postseason that turned into bigger issues than any expected and are going to have to be addressed.
Here are a few of them:
The Miami HEAT continues to say all the right things about disgruntled big man Hassan Whiteside, but with the HEAT season in the rear-view mirror, there is a growing sense that Whiteside wants out of Miami, and the feeling may be mutual.
The challenge for the HEAT is that White has basically two years remaining on his contract, one next season worth $25.4 million and a Player Option in 2019 that he will surely stay in worth $27 million.
Combining the ugly contract money and sub-par play this season, it may be pretty hard for Miami to move Whiteside without including something else of value.
The HEAT have been trying to shed contract obligations since the NBA trade deadline, so how they ultimately handle Whiteside is worth watching.
Much like Whiteside, the Bucks have some tough decisions to make regarding the future of Parker. Fresh off a second ACL tear of the same knee, Parker’s postseason was less than impressive. Some have tried to write that off to the rust associated with missing so much time. However, the Bucks must decide what Parker is really worth and they have to do that in July.
The upside for Parker is he is well-liked by the organization and given where the team is at cap wise; there is no reason for the Bucks not to match any deal that he gets. They will not be a salary cap team at any time in the near future, so matching an offer sheet won’t impact the team’s immediate flexibility.
The question for the Bucks becomes is he worth the commitment, based on what they saw in the postseason.
It’s tough to value players trending downward because a team never knows who might try and poach the talent away. There is no question Parker’s value is down but does a team with cap space like Brooklyn, Phoenix or Indiana pounce and test the Bucks resolve?
The prevailing thought out of Milwaukee is Parker will be back; the question becomes at what price and who sets that line?
Before the playoffs, the idea that Raptors head coach Dwyane Casey could be in trouble was laughable. The Raptors just finished their best season in franchise history, winning 59 games and the Eastern Conference. But after this week’s sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Casey’s future was the primary topic at yesterday’s postseason press conferences.
While the wounds of defeat are still very raw, there is an increasing sense that Casey is the easy change for Raptors president Masai Ujiri to make, mainly because the roster is locked in with so many high-priced guys that didn’t perform.
Is there anyone lining up to take Serge Ibaka or Kyle Lowry off the Raptors hands? If so, for what in return? That’s the puzzle the Raptors have to solve.
There were some clues dropped yesterday when Ujiri said he’d have to look back at the last five years and judge what the next five years need to look like. Those are ominous words for Casey’s future, mainly because the easiest thing for a team to change is the head coach.
It is almost not debatable to say the New Orleans Pelicans started playing their best basketball of the season when big man DeMarcus Cousins went down with injury.
The Pelicans have said all the right things about Cousins’ future with the team, but the real question is how much money and how many years is a new contract for Cousins going to cost? And, does that make any sense considering that best version of the front court was Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic?
The riddle for the Pelicans isn’t just cost. What’s Cousins going to look like after suffering an Achilles tear? Few players have ever been the same after an Achilles injury.
Unfortunately, the Pelicans won’t know how Cousins’ performance has been impacted because his rehab won’t be close to complete before they have to decide on a new contract. In the interim, another team that’s a little desperate may try to poach him.
There was a narrative floating around during the playoffs that said the Pelicans would have been a tougher out with Cousins, but the reality is the team was better without him.
Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is going to win Rookie of the Year in a walk. He posted one of the best all-around seasons of a player classified as a rookie in more than a decade. The 76ers have themselves a gem and that’s not debatable.
The problem for the 76ers is that against Boston, you started to see the flaws of a 6-foot-10 point guard, so much so that the 76ers turned to T.J. McConnell to create a spark for the offense.
Let’s be fair, Simmons is going to learn and grow as a player, and adversity in the NBA tends to be the best teacher. But, for the 76ers, is having Simmons at the point guard spot really the future? Can you be the team you want to be with a point guard that can’t shoot from three?
It’s fair to say that LeBron James runs the offense for the Cavaliers as the lead playmaker. He doesn’t man the point guard spot on the floor, he simply initiates the offense, which is often what Simmons does.
So what is the future for Simmons and the Sixers? He clearly is a franchise cornerstone, but where do you really play him?
With the 76ers season ending, they do have some decisions to make, notably, about McConnell’s future (one more year remaining) and that of guard J.J. Redick (pending free agent).
The 76ers have top overall pick Markelle Fultz waiting in the wings and dreams of free agent spending on a marquee all-star like Paul George or even LeBron James.
However the chips fall in the summer, one thing is clear, Simmons has to evolve in one direction or the other. He can be breathtaking as a playmaker, but his lack of perimeter game may become a bigger problem as the 76ers try and become legit championship contenders.
The Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Paul George underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. His expected recovery is anywhere from six to eight weeks, which would line up with the opening of free agency.
There have been some mixed messages all season about where George’s head is at, but those around the situation continue to say its more likely that George leaves the Thunder than stays as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Thunder GM Sam Presti disputed the idea that George was already out the door during his season-ending press conference, saying he had been speaking directly with George and didn’t get the sense that’s where things were.
The Thunder can win the day financially as they can offer the longest-term and largest-dollar deal. The Thunder continue to say paying luxury tax won’t be a problem to keep the All-Star core together, the question facing George is can he and guard Russell Westbrook be anything more than two players competing for shots on the same team.
If the playoffs has shown anything about the Thunder, it’s that playing with Westbrook can be a blessing and a curse. How does that work for the Thunder? More importantly, how does that work for George?
The narrative around the relationship all season is that George thoroughly enjoyed not having to shoulder the burden of a franchise by himself. Having other elite level players made the season easier both mentally and physically.
The popular narrative is that George is heading to the LA Lakers, and that may very well end up being true, but if the idea of not having to shoulder the franchise is really appealing, the Lakers might be more like Indiana, even with all their impressive young players.
The Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. However, they didn’t compete nearly at the level they were hoping for.
There are big questions for the Wolves, and some of them are financially driven. Guard Andrew Wiggins got his maximum contract extension last year, and former top overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns is due his this summer.
On top of that, this is the first summer in which guard Jimmy Butler can extend his deal.
Suddenly, it’s going to get very expensive in Minnesota for a team that wasn’t very impressive in the postseason.
It’s easy to dismiss the Wolves struggles to their youth, that’s a fair thing to believe, but as the franchise has to start committing $150 plus million deals, is this the right core?
Its hard to argue that Butler isn’t the heart and soul of the team, but if he won’t extend his deal, he has the option to hit unrestricted free agency in July of 2019.
Butler wisely structured his current deal that he signed with the Bulls to front load as much money as possible, knowing he wouldn’t stay in his option year unless he was injured. That option year seems pretty unfavorable to Butler given where the salary cap is situated, which could make an extension tough to get done.
While it seems unlikely that Butler is going anywhere, how extensions talks go could say a lot about his future in Minnesota.
With the 2018 NBA Draft Combine getting underway in Chicago next week, the rumors and chatter about some of these situations are going to pick up. While it’s easy to be a prisoner of the moment, most teams will be deliberate about what they do next, but it’s hard to argue that the results of the postseason won’t warrant at least some of these situations changing.
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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.