On Sunday, Klutch Sports Group announced that LeBron James would be joining the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $154 million contract. With that announcement, the Lakers became the big winners of 2018 free agency. However, it’s now just Tuesday and things have since dampened a bit for the Lakers.
Let’s be clear: coming to terms with LeBron James when he is still performing at historic levels, even without having to lure him in by first adding another star player, is a major coup for the Lakers. This is especially true considering that James agreed to a multi-year deal, which is something he was not willing to do with Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But when a player of James’ caliber joins a new team, there is a general understanding, even expectation that other quality players will flock to that player and try to put together a contender (often at a discounted rate).
That process has started to play itself out for the Lakers, but not as many people in and around the NBA expected. First, it is a bit surprising how quickly the Lakers agreed to terms with Lance Stephenson (one year, $4.5 million) and JaVale McGee (one year, veteran’s minimum) – two players who have talent but are more often in the news for making silly mistakes rather than highlight worthy plays. The Lakers also agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is a quality player that can contribute on both ends of the court.
It was then reported that the Lakers had renounced Julius Randle, making him an unrestricted free agent. This was immediately followed by the announcement that Rajon Rondo agreed to a one-year, $9 million deal with the Lakers. Then, late-Monday, it was reported that the Golden State Warriors came to terms on a contract to replace McGee with DeMarcus Cousins – a move that sent shockwaves across the entire NBA.
While Rondo has demonstrated that he can still contribute, especially as a passer, his defense and shooting are still severe limitations in his game. As it stands, Lonzo Ball is arguably a more competent lead guard as he is bigger, a better defender (by far), a gifted passer and, while he is an inconsistent shooter, he normally draws more defensive pressure from distance than Rondo.
Additionally, with Kawhi Leonard potentially available in trade discussions during the upcoming season, it benefits the Lakers to showcase Ball as much as possible and increase his potential value in trade discussions. If Rondo outplays Ball in any significant manner, it may deflate Ball’s value on the market and make it more difficult to swing a deal for Leonard. While the Lakers could opt to pass on dealing for Leonard in order to sign him in 2019 as a free agent, there are increasing reports that Leonard may be open to signing with the Los Angeles Clippers as an alternative to joining LeBron and the Lakers. As we saw with Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder, there is value in making a deal for a star player before he hits the free agent market.
The saving grace is that Rondo’s contract is for one year, meaning it won’t compromise the Lakers’ cap space for next offseason. The same can be said about McGee, Caldwell-Pope and Stephenson’s respective contracts but it does seem as though the Lakers paid a premium on players that other teams weren’t bending over backward to sign.
At this point, it seems as though there was more upside to trying to keep Randle than making moves for players whose respective reputations don’t match up to their actual production. It was possible for the Lakers to retain Randle on a one-year deal with an inflated salary, exceeding the $9 million he will be making annually on his two year agreement with the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle certainly wanted a deal that went beyond a single season, which the Lakers wanted to avoid, but Randle brings more value to the Lakers than any of the players they signed, which is important to consider when you are trying to maximize the remaining years of James’ career.
Perhaps the Lakers weren’t locks to land quality free agents like Tyreke Evans or DeMarcus Cousins. However, it seems that they could have made more cost-effective and well-reasoned acquisitions. For example, Seth Curry agreed to terms on a two-year, $2.75 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. Curry’s improved playmaking and shooting make him a solid fit for a Lakers team that is in dire need of more shooters and spacing. Furthermore, Evans agreed to terms on a one year, $12 million contract with the Indiana Pacers. Evans is coming off a resurgent season in which he averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds over 52 regular season games. Evans was hampered with injuries at the end of the season but he was also being held out of games as the Memphis Grizzlies fielded offers to acquire Evans mid-season. Evans offers the same sort of skill set as Stephenson but at a higher level and without the on-court antics.
It is very likely that Lakers’ front office discussed these deals with James and his representatives prior to finalizing them, which means he doesn’t have the same concerns that many people outside of the Lakers’ organization do. However, there should be concern that at age 33, James will compete against an absurdly deep Western Conference and a Warriors team that seems to be more stacked with talent than ever before. James may have chosen to sign with the Lakers for reasons outside of competing for a championship as early as this season, but maximizing the team’s ability to compete during the final years LeBron’s career should be the main priority. Considering the moves the Lakers made after coming to terms with LeBron, it’s not clear they have done that this offseason. It is especially concerning that the Lakers couldn’t convince Paul George to meet with them before deciding to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Again, we cannot underestimate how significant it is that LeBron James is now a Laker. However, it is a bit disappointing that the Lakers followed up this momentous occasion by adding players that don’t maximize LeBron’s chances of competing for a championship this upcoming season.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division
David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.
We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.
Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.
1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.
However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.
Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.
2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.
The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.
Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.
Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.
The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.
4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.
Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.
He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.
5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets
The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.
He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.
As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.
Tip-ins and Treys from Around the NBA
The Butler Has Arrived in Philly
If you’re a Sixers fan you have to be thrilled that their perennial number one picks, borne of spectacular franchise failure, are finally bearing fruit. Joel Embiid has more than lived up to his lofty billing and is averaging over 28 points per game this season while Ben Simmons is emerging as a young superstar in his own right. Although the jury is still out on Markelle Fultz, it appears that he is beginning to assimilate and trying to contribute to his team’s fortunes. But this group of young guns needed a bona fide All-Star veteran to add a maturity component that the team has been missing and they found the perfect complement in Jimmy Butler.
As we all know, Butler was a disgruntled member of the Minnesota Timberwolves and, at age 29, saw his window to compete for a championship in his prime dwindling by the day. Minnesota understood they had two chances of signing Butler after this season, slim and none, and Slim just left town. Although he has been called everything from feisty to irascible, Butler brings a passion that either turns teammates off or makes them better. It’s a fair assumption that his brand of swagger will have a positive effect on younger players which is why the Philly brass believes he will bring a championship conclusion to The Process.
Of course, it was regrettable that the 76ers had to deal young talent in Robert Covington and Dario Saric but if Philadelphia can lock up Butler to a long-term deal then it will be worth trade. However, if the four-time All-Star decides that the City of Brotherly Love is not his favorite place then it will be a costly one-year rental. Nevertheless, Butler brings the Sixers closer to the NBA Finals if the young blood buys into who he is and what he brings to the table. That question will begin to be answered when he dons a 76ers jersey for the first time on Wednesday night in Orlando.
Sun Setting on Melo in Houston
Carmelo Anthony was brought to Houston as an experienced veteran with enough gas left in the tank to serve in a capacity that is foreign to the 10-time NBA All-Star – role player. But the Houston Rockets have underperformed and underachieved this season as they sit in mid-November as a sub .500 club, a monumental fall from grace after a 65-win campaign last year. After a dismal 1-of-11 shooting night from the field that garnered all of two points in Houston’s 98-80 loss to Oklahoma City, Melo has been a DNP the last two games and it appears that this marriage is headed for an early divorce.
Anthony’s reps are reportedly reaching out to other clubs to see if there will be a taker for the 34-year-old’s services but as of this point, no one is answering the phone. The wheels have come off the wagon and the dynamic in the Western Conference is changing as the best online sportsbooks are dealing the surging Denver Nuggets as 4 ½ point home favorites over the Rockets on Tuesday night. To highlight how far the mighty have fallen, last February these teams met in Mile High and it was Houston that was favored by four and they did not disappoint their backers as they covered the number in a 119-114 victory.
Perhaps it’s just early season jitters for the Rockets and no one would be surprised if James Harden and the boys went on a prolonged winning streak. But right now they are just another struggling group looking to get on the right side of the standings. Whether Carmelo Anthony will be part of that resurgence, if it does indeed occur, is anyone’s guess.
NBA Daily: A Little Bit Of Trouble In Paradise
Even with all their success, the Warriors’ most recent incident may suggest that there’s something ugly going on internally, writes Matt John.
It’s tragic to see an all-time team crumble from within.
When an empire falls because of its own hubris, it’s dead forever. Teams like the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers are a prime example of a fallen empire because of such. As the Lakers won titles year after year, the tension between the two of them became so palpable that their egos surpassed their talent, infecting their play on the court.
It was a shame that the dysfunction came to a head in 2004 because the Lakers had arguably their most talented team in the Shaq/Kobe era that year. Even with all the drama behind the scenes, they still made the NBA finals. We’ll never know for sure what could have been with the 2003-04 Lakers. What we do know was that everything blew up after that season because their superstars couldn’t stand each other anymore.
Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, we must now ask ourselves: Are we seeing the same thing happen to the Golden State Warriors?
If we’re basing this entirely off the incident that happened both during and after the Warriors and the Clippers squared off on Monday night, then absolutely not.
For those of you who don’t know, multiple Warriors – including Kevin Durant – got heated at Draymond Green after his attempt to be the hero at the end of regulation led to him losing the basketball as time expired. This forced the game into overtime, where the Warriors eventually lost. It was a rather questionable decision on Green’s part because, with all due respect to the three-time NBA All-Star, he had more reliable closers in both Durant and Klay Thompson to pass the ball to and he neglected them.
One thing should be made clear: Occurrences like these are pretty common. Teammates get in fights all the time, and not necessarily because they hate the others’ guts. They get into these little confrontations usually for the love of the game. Emotions understandably ran high after Green tried and failed to be the man as time expired. Certain things were brought up that are definitely worth going over, but this could easily be swept under the rug in a matter of weeks.
However, rumors of a potential Warriors’ self-combustion go all the way back to last June. After Golden State won its second consecutive title and third in the last four years, David West had this to say that caught our attention.
Warriors forward David West says there was a lot going on behind the scenes that people will be shocked about when it comes out.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) June 9, 2018
“Y’all got no clue. No clue. That tells you about this team that nothing came out,” David West said https://t.co/VkrrVYX86o
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) June 9, 2018
Perhaps not everything was peachy in the Bay Area. West was calling it quits, so there was no need for him to hold anything back. Still, since he wouldn’t elaborate, all he said at that time could be dismissed as mere gossip.
What we had then was smoke. Now we have fire.
Something that’s also got people’s ears burning has been Durant’s caginess surrounding his upcoming free agency this summer. We can’t take that as proof of discord because it doesn’t prove a thing. Everything surrounding Durant’s silence in regards to his future is purely speculative.
Or, it was.
As Durant and Green had their confrontation in the locker room, Green reportedly brought up Durant’s impending free agency this summer. That is very telling of what might be on the Warriors’ minds, or at the very least, Green’s. It’s bothering him that he does not know what Durant plans are this summer. While Green may not be the most likable player in the league, his concerns are understandable. The uncertainty of a team’s long-term future can easily rattle any players’ mind. Just ask Cleveland.
Green could have made a better case for himself had he not reportedly called Durant an expletive name repeatedly. No matter what conclusions you may draw from this, the fact also remains that -after they got all the dirty laundry out – Green was suspended for one game.
Before all of this happened, all of the talks about the Warriors’ possible breakup was a bunch of hot air. Now, we have confirmation that things have gotten a little uneasy.
It’s also a possibility that this one little quarrel is as bad as it gets. Perhaps Green just had to get his concerns about Durant out in the open, and the two of them will cleanly resolve their issues. If this winds up being the height of the tension in Golden State, then this entire matter will be irrelevant as the Warriors pursue their third consecutive championship.
It also sounds impossible that a team that talented that has experienced that much success in the last several years would get sick of playing together. Some may think that what happened with O’Neal and Bryant was just an anomaly, but in recent years, we’ve seen a few elite players opt to leave their original teams in spite of their success.
Just a few months ago, Kawhi Leonard decided he didn’t want to be the face of arguably the league’s most well-run franchise anymore. The year before that, Kyrie Irving was fed up with being the Robin to LeBron James’ Batman despite a championship and two other finals appearances. Should it be mentioned that King James himself left his two previous teams after making the NBA Finals four consecutive times with both of them? Maybe what we’re seeing from this is that success does not always breed happiness and/or loyalty.
Getting back to the Warriors, say this is the first in a long line of public incidents that will compel Durant to leave. That doesn’t mean the end for Golden State. They still have the Splash Brothers, as well as Green. Managing the team without Durant wouldn’t be easy, but they won over 70 games without him three years ago. They’d probably still be a good enough team that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he left.
That is, of course, going off the notion that Durant is leaving this summer, which is by no means set in stone. As cliche as it sounds, we can only wait to see if things get worse from here for the Warriors.
But if things are actually as rocky as they appear, imagine what they could be like when DeMarcus Cousins comes back.