ALERT: THIS IS NOT A DRILL. FREE AGENCY BEGINS IN FOUR DAYS.
With that being said, Basketball Insiders is kicking off a new series ranking the free agents by position. This first piece will rank the top 10 free agent point guards in terms of ability and the contract they will receive.
In this series, we will provide: a player summary, an overview of their 2018-19 salary, a projected 2019-20 salary and an opinion on where we feel they fit best and/or sign.
For context, here is a comprehensive list of all notable 2019 free agents.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.
The point guard position is at least as important as any other position in basketball. And while basketball has taken strides to become more positionless, there is still significant value in having a floor general to direct the offense and maintain a preferred pace and playing style.
2019 free agency features lots of talented point guards, many of whom seem open to the idea of joining a new team.
Let’s explore the 10 best free agent points guards and project where they’ll sign and the length and value of their new contracts.
Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $20,099,189
Irving is the definitive best point guard available. Everyone may not love his approach on and/or off the court, but he is the only player on his specific list of accomplishments, including leading a championship team.
Furthermore, Irving is only 26 years old and is the only point guard on the list capable of being the best player on a playoff team.
Irving made approximately $20 million last season. He chose to not opt-in to the final year of his contract, thus enabling him to enter unrestricted free agency.
He is eligible for the Supermax by Boston having been selected to an All-NBA team this season.
Where Does He Fit: The Clippers, Knicks, Lakers and Nets are all viable options – many of whom are in need of a point guard. The Nets are viewed as the favorites to land Irving, and ironically so considering the Nets could just as easily forge ahead with the younger D’Angelo Russell. But as good as Russell is, Irving is a clearly superior player at this stage of their respective careers. Irving can be cut and pasted into the Nets lineup and he instantly improves the team.
New Deal: Irving will ultimately sign with Brooklyn for 4 years/$140 million– especially following rumors that he hasn’t enjoyed living in Boston.
D’Angelo Russell* – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,019,698
This ranking might surprise some considering that Kemba Walker is the more talented of the two and has yet to be listed. But we’re ranking free agents and not players, and since luring Walker out of Charlotte will require paying the 29-year-old the full max, Russell is the more appealing of the two.
Russell’s 2018-19 salary was the final year of his rookie deal, which netted him $7.019 million. He is due for a major raise.
Russell is only 23. He will cost approximately $23 million in his first season – significantly less than Walker’s Supermax He will continue to improve over the course of the next few seasons, and it seems that he now understands the work and dedication required to maintain success in the NBA.
Where Does He Fit: Russell’s perfect fit is Brooklyn; but unfortunately, it seems as though the Nets are content to chase Irving. And Russell has apparently moved on quickly himself. While the Suns and Timberwolves are rumored to have interest in Russell, there is no better landing spot for the young lead guard than his former team – the Lakers. Rumors began circulating earlier this week that there is mutual interest between the two, and the Lakers are projected to have enough cap space to swing a deal.
New Deal: Russell may not fit the Lakers timeline as well as Walker, but he’ll fit in their salary cap better. Let’s say Russell signs a 4 year/$100 million deal with the Lakers.
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000
Walker is definitely a special point guard and player in the NBA. He gets buckets, makes his teammates better and operates without much of the drama that has surrounded Irving or Russell for the majority of their careers, respectively.
And Walker will probably be the second-best point guard signed this offseason in the 2019-20 season. But he is also two years older than Irving and six years older than Russell. He turned 29 last month, which means he has limited time remaining in his prime – especially for a guy listed generously as 6-foot-1; smaller guards are highly reliant on their quickness, and once that begins to wane, so too does their effectiveness.
Walker made only $12 million dollars in 2018-19 and is due for a hefty raise. Look for Walker to either cash in and sign a full max or give Charlotte a slight discount and remain with the Hornets on a five-year contract.
Where Does He Fit: While his age is prohibitive for teams looking to build around a younger core (e.g., Phoenix and Dallas), his timeline syncs up nicely with the Lakers and Celtics. Both teams would be ideal landing spots for Irving, but the Celtics are projected to have enough cap room to offer Walker a max. LA appears unable to free up enough space.
New Deal: Walker is eligible to sign a five-year, $231 million Supermax deal with Charlotte, but the allure of chasing a title will be too much to pass up. Walker may ultimately flee to the Celtics with a 4-year/$140.6 million deal.
Near Max Guys
Terry Rozier* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,050,390
Rozier took a step back in 2018-19. But he still put up relatively strong numbers – he ended the season averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. And he can still hang his hat on his 2018 NBA Playoffs performance.
Where Does He Fit: Rozier just turned 25 years old and he should be a main target of teams like the Knicks, Pacers, Suns and Bulls. Rozier made only $3 million in 2018-19, and he is eligible for a significant raise. He rejected a deal last year that would have paid him $12 million per year.
New Deal: It sounds as if Rozier’s camp is excited about going to Indiana in a starting point guard role; Rozier and Pacers star Victor Oladipo share an agent. His contract with the Pacers could come somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years/$45 million.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Ricky Rubio – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $14,975,000
It feels like Rubio has been in the NBA forever. But in reality, Rubio is still only 28 years-old. This will be his first go-round in unrestricted free agency. Rubio’s coming off of a nice season in which he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 assists per game.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rubio’s 2018-19 salary was $14.9 million. The Suns have become the favorites for Rubio’s services next season. As previously noted, the Suns have only $14 million in cap space. Be on the lookout for Rubio signing with Phoenix for 3 years/$50 million.
George Hill** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $19,000,000
Hill was an important part of the Bucks’ rotation He is an above average defender and shooter. And he doesn’t command many touches, nor does he disrupt continuity or chemistry. But he is also 33-years-old, which will limit the teams that chase him in free agency.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hill made $19 million last season. His contract technically runs through 2020-21, but his contract allows the Bucks to buy him out for only $1 million if it’s completed prior to July 2. The Bucks will waive Hill and offer him a longer-term deal starting at less than what would otherwise be a $19 million cap hit. Look for Hill to re-sign with Milwaukee for 2 years/$26 million.
Tyus Jones* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $2,444,053
Jones had a breakout year of sorts in 2018-19. He set the NBA record with a 6.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Furthermore, he’s coming off a season in which he set career highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. And he’s only four years into his career. Having just turned 23 bodes well for Jones, as he should continue to improve over the next few years.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Jones made $2.444 million in 2018-19. He can go out and sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, forcing the Timberwolves’ hand. Or they can reach an agreement quickly. Either way, Jones should command a contract in the range of 4 years/$40million. And we’ll expect him to re-sign with Minnesota given his relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders.
Patrick Beverley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,027,028
Beverley is the quintessential point guard if you’ve already got a lead ball-handler and/or scorer. He is among the best defensive point guards in the league. He’s also an antagonist who is completely unafraid of literally anyone – including Kevin Durant, as was evidenced in the 2019 playoffs. Beverley turns 31 this July, but that shouldn’t deter interested teams.
Beverley made $5 million in 2018-19. He certainly proved his worth this past post-season, again. While he’s unlikely to get too much more, he is likely to receive a longer-term contract considering the market he’s created for himself.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Lots of teams are interested in Beverley, which bodes well for the Chicago native, including the Bulls, Mavericks and 76ers; but he fits in with Dallas the best. Assuming the Mavericks maintain the requisite space, a deal with Dallas for 2 years/$22 million might be the best option.
T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,600,520
McConnell definitely played himself into a handsome contract. He had a great playoff run, and his nagging defense was noteworthy in the playoffs against the Nets and Raptors.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The 27-year-old made only $1.6 million in 2018-19. There are rumors of mutual interest between the Suns and McConnell. If the Suns strike out on Russell, Beverley and Rozier, they could turn their attention to McConnell,. But the 76ers also still need his services and they will be over the cap if they re-sign Butler and Harris (while unable to exceed it to sign others whose bird rights they do not possess). McConnell could just ultimately sign with Philadelphia for 3 years/$30 million.
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Delon Wright – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $2,536,898
Wright has been serviceable for most of his four-year career, but his breakout took place in Memphis following a trade from Toronto at the 2019 deadline. Wright averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his nearly 31 minutes per game over 26 games with Memphis. Wright is also 27-years-old and still has most of his prime ahead of him.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Wright’s contract for 2018-19 was $2.536 million. He, too, will get a significant raise. He probably won’t take home quite as much as McConnell, but it will be close. Look for Wright to sign with the Magic– who were interested in acquiring him at the deadline – for 3 years/$27 million.
Shaun Livingston** – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $8,307,692
Livingston has been an important piece of the Warriors’ championship teams. He has also been a seemingly perfect teammate, playing his role perfectly and not asking for anything more than he’s been given.
Where Does He Fit: Livingston’s length and high basketball IQ have made him irreplaceable in Oakland – and his role will likely grow next year when the Warriors move to San Francisco considering the injuries and/or departures or Durant and/or Klay Thompson, and the team’s lack of salary cap space. The Warriors will need the 34-year-old-to-be, and would struggle to replace him considering they’re already over the cap.
New Deal: Livingston made $8.3 million in 2018-19. His re-signing with Golden State is probably the most predictable move of all the projections on this list. He will likely sign a one year/$8 million deal with the Warriors– after alluding to possibly even retiring in an interview with NBC Sports in October 2018 and re-affirming that he’s close to being done with our own Spencer Davies this past winter.
Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Rose had something of a resurgence in 2018-19. He notched a career high of 50 points last October, playing strongly beyond his career night, too. He averaged 18 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game – which represents a better season than he’s had since 2015-16.
Rose didn’t make much last season, which is a bargain considering the season he posted. He may not get a long-term deal, but he will most certainly command significantly more than $2 million.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rose fits in nicely with a number of teams. He can still provide scoring punch off the bench, with his best fit being with Indiana or Chicago. While Indiana is probably the better landing spot, Chicago will be in serious need of help at the point guard spot. And it is there that Rose could reunite with his hometown team that drafted him on a one year/$10 million contract.
Other Notable Free Agents
Darren Collison – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000 Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000 Cory Joseph – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,945,000
Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $9,000,000
Emmanuel Mudiay* – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,294,480
Shabazz Napier** – Minnesota Timberwolves– Last Year’s Salary: $1,942,442
Quinn Cook* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
J.J. Barea – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,710,850
Ish Smith – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000
Trey Burke – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,795,015
Frank Jackson** – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Yogi Ferrell** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000
Shaquille Harrison** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,311,265
Jerian Grant* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,639,314
Frank Mason** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Shelvin Mack – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Ryan Arcidiacono** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,349,383
Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $2,150,000
Tim Frazier – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $196,553
Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $487,109
Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Michael Carter-Williams – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $59,820
*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes unrestricted free agent)
The 2019 free agent class is filled with point guard talent. Lots of teams will add a new floor general. And lots of point guards will get paid. This particular free agent class boasts an even breakdown of established point guards and unproven floor generals.
Still, some teams will miss out on their desired point guard and will be forced to turn to Plan B, C or even D. Either way, the madness begins this Sunday at 6 pm EST.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul
Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.
It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.
What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.
And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.
Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.
Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.
But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.
So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?
Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.
The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?
But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.
And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.
The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.
While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.
The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.
But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.
Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.
And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.
Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.
Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?
The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.
The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.
But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.
Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.
And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.
So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.
But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls
David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.
With summer league over and the big name free agents all signed, we’re now approaching the doldrums of the NBA offseason. Most big moves have all been made, and we shouldn’t expect to too much movement between now and the start of training camp.
Most teams probably have an idea already of what the bulk of their roster will look like come training camp, and as such, we’re starting a new series here at Basketball Insiders taking a look at each team’s offseason to this point.
Next up in our series is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are a team clearly in rebuilding mode. After this offseason, they’ve done a pretty solid job at filling out the roster with young talent at every position. It’s obvious now that they were clear winners of their trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago that netted them Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine continued his ascent to stardom this past season. There may have been initial concerns when he was traded to Chicago as to how he would respond after his torn ACL, but since then, he’s showed no lingering limitations. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the elite shooting guards in the league. Few can match his scoring prowess whether he’s slashing to the rim or shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line.
Markkanen has emerged as one of the top young big men in the NBA. He made some strong steps forward in his second year in the league. He’s moving closer to becoming a double-double threat every night. He’s exceeded projections from when he was drafted that pegged him as little more than a three-point shooting big. He has shown a lot more versatility to his game.
One major addition the Bulls made last season was the trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. When he arrived in Chicago, he quickly played some of the best basketball of his career, fitting in seamlessly with the team and solidifying himself as part of their future core.
They’ve also got Wendell Carter Jr. in the fold. Their top draft pick last offseason, Carter quickly established himself a great defensive complement to Markkanen. An injury cut his rookie season shorter than expected, but he still showed flashes of being a capable around the rim scorer.
They do have some other decent rotation guys in Antonio Blakeney, Chandler Hutchinson and Ryan Arcidiacono. Blakeney is an instant offense scoring guard for the second unit, and Hutchinson was showing flashes of his talent before he too went down with an injury during his rookie season. Arcidiacono was re-signed by the Bulls after being one of their most consistent outside shooters last season.
The Bulls came into draft night with the seventh overall pick. It might have seemed like a disappointment seeing as how the Bulls probably had a shot at a top three pick considering their record. But ultimately, Chicago might have gotten what it wanted in the end. Point guard has been an area of need for the Bulls for quite some time, and they used their pick on North Carolina’s Coby White.
White is a little more in the mold of a scoring guard, but if you could take away one thing from his performance in summer league, it’s that he can thrive as a playmaker as well. It’s unlikely that White will get to start right away, but he’s got the makings of developing into the Bulls eventual starter at the point.
Chicago also picked up Daniel Gafford in the second round. The Bulls needed frontcourt depth after losing Robin Lopez in free agency, and they may very well have found their answer with Gafford. Summer League isn’t always a great indicator of how a player will translate to the NBA, but Gafford was solid as a finisher around the rim and a shot blocker in the paint. He may end up becoming one of the steals of the draft.
In free agency, the Bulls made some rather solid moves. On a team full of young players, it’s necessary to have a couple of key veterans for the young guys to lean on and to provide leadership and stability in the locker room. Thaddeus Young certainly fits that bill. Entering his 13th year in the league, Young played in 81 games last season and was a key guy on a Pacers team that made the playoffs. He’ll provide the Bulls with consistency on and off the court.
They also made a big step to addressing their point guard woes. They acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. He’ll provide a perfect stop-gap as the starting point guard while White develops. He proved himself as a facilitator with the Wizards, and he’s one of the better three-point shooters in the league, He’s a versatile guy who can play and defend multiple positions.
The Bulls also picked up Luke Kornet who spent last season with the New York Knicks. Kornet is relatively young and gives the Bulls a solid stretch big man on a decent contract. He’s also a solid shot blocker and should compete with Gafford for minutes off the bench.
Chicago also picked up an intriguing prospect in Adam Mokoka. The French combo guard initially declared for the draft a year ago but ultimately withdrew. He re-entered the draft this summer but went undrafted. In summer league, he showed flashes of playing both wing positions and being a capable defender who can shoot from three. He’ll be on a two-way contract so he’ll see significant time with the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate.
PLAYERS IN: Adam Mokoka (two-way), Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
PLAYERS OUT: Brandon Sampson, Rawle Alkins, Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden
The Bulls roster currently stands at 15 guaranteed contracts and one two-way contract. They’re likely done with any roster additions unless they find someone to take that second two-way contract slot. They’d most likely move Cristiano Felicio if they could find a taker for his contract, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the additions of Satoransky and White, that likely spells the end of the Kris Dunn experiment in Chicago. If Dunn remains on the roster through the season, and the Bulls aren’t able to move him, it’s highly unlikely Chicago tenders him a qualifying offer. In all likelihood, this is his final season in the Windy City.
The Bulls have done a decent job at filling the roster out with good, young talent. Making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference, is still likely a few seasons away. But there is reason for optimism for the Bulls future.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Davies opens Basketball Insiders team-by-team “Grading The Offseason” series with an overview of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Monday night in Las Vegas, the 2019 NBA Summer League champions will be crowned. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are set to square off at the Thomas & Mack Center as the last teams standing over the course of the 10-day period.
Once that winner is determined, the world will be without NBA basketball for quite some time. Though the FIBA World Cup will be fun to watch, it’s not until late September that the association returns for training camp.
In order to hold you over until that date, Basketball Insiders has begun a “Grading The Offseason” series, featuring in-depth analysis on how each franchise has done during this wild summer.
To start things off, we’re going to break down arguably the quietest team of them all regarding roster turnover—the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that, on the floor, the season didn’t go quite as expected. Following the second departure of LeBron James, the organization felt it had enough remnants of the conference championship team to move forward and compete while developing young talent under head coach Tyronn Lue. A detrimental injury to Kevin Love changed that quickly.
Lue was fired six games into the 2018-19 campaign and then the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Top assistant Larry Drew pushed for a raise to take the interim role, due to the mixed bag inside of the locker room, and he was granted one. But as the losses piled up, the internal battle between the veterans and the younger players grew. Most of the criticism shaded toward upstart rookie Collin Sexton, yet he later proved what he was capable of to some of those teammates later down the road.
There were bright spots when Love re-entered the picture around February and played until late March, as he helped steer the inexperienced youngsters like Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic in the direction of winning basketball. When all was said and done, the final record was ugly. However, the energy surrounding the group was clearly in a much more positive light than it had been beforehand.
What shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle is the job Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman and his staff did to revamp the team’s salary cap situation. Entering the year with inflated contracts, via veterans that didn’t want to sit through a rebuild, moves had to be made to tighten up the locker room and lower the cap a significant amount. Ultimately, they were successful in doing so.
Cleveland was able to move Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (acquired in the Korver trade) and turned that into Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Nik Stauskas and a boatload of future draft picks. Altman’s been in asset accumulation mode since he took over during LeBron’s last season, and he’s done wonders with the opportunity to chop down those loud figures on the cap sheet, even adding future capital in the process.
Not only has Altman done a great job in obtaining that, but he’s also turned “good” into “great” often—i.e. turning Korver into Burks which he then flipped for a 2019 first-round pick, using the second-rounders to acquire another first-round pick. Even landing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson at the 2018 trade deadline to kickstart a new direction was impressive.
After parting ways with Drew at season’s end, the Cavaliers set a new course with the hiring of John Beilein in mid-May. Over the span of these past few months, he’s constructed a fresh coaching staff with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as his associate, University of California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and five-year Utah Jazz assistant Antonio Lang in complementary roles.
Beilein’s graduate assistant at Michigan, Jay Shunnar, is also a part of the staff. Team favorites Mike Gerrity and Dan Geriot are staying on as well to continue developing the players they’ve worked with.
All in all, the people assembled to take on this task of changing a culture are entrenched in teaching and doing hands-on work. It’s the on-court product with an extremely inexperienced group of coaches—three of which are coming from the collegiate level—that could be a challenge. Luckily, the process seems to be about a collective group with an open-mindedness that won’t allow for egos to get in the way.
Despite the lottery results going south (Cleveland had the second-best odds in the top three and dropped to five), draft night was a smashing success for the organization. The wine and gold came out with a trio of highly touted rookies—Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and, after trades were officially cleared, Kevin Porter Jr. Adding talents to the roster was the top priority for the front office — today, that stands as the most noise from what’s been a mostly silent offseason.
With a lack of roster spots and an understanding that there would be little money to spend in a chaotic, competitive free-agent market, the Cavaliers have had to stand pat with what they have. JR Smith’s contract had reportedly fielded some offers between NBA Draft Combine time and around the draft, but the team didn’t like the idea of taking back a bad contract. Instead, they found an easier way to get a third pick in the 2019 first round by using the plethora of second-rounders acquired in the past to flip for Porter.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported Monday that Cleveland plans on waiving and stretching Smith’s contract for $1.4 million each over the next three years. The move will allow the team to stay under the luxury tax, avoid the repeater tax penalty and also provides a full mid-level exception amount at its disposal. Fedor does mention the front office won’t likely use it heading into the season to remain flexible financially and to keep a roster spot open.
Smith not being traded came as a surprise to many, especially knowing the salary relief his previously-grandfathered CBA deal offered to a team searching to clear space for a big free agency offer. The summer moved fast, though, and other franchises with similar predicaments acted quickly. The Cavaliers could’ve facilitated a few trades to get more future draft assets in return, but they didn’t feel like taking on an albatross contract that would’ve been worth paying the extra tax this upcoming season.
The only other real decision to make was whether or not to retain David Nwaba, who, when healthy, displayed flashes of defensive excellence and aggressiveness on the offensive end, Cleveland did not extend the qualifying offer to Nwaba before the deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year deal.
This move was not so surprising as Basketball Insiders reported at the beginning of June that Nwaba’s representation would be looking for a multi-year deal. A league source said that last summer’s one-year agreement between the Cavaliers and Nwaba was with the understanding that he’d be strictly looking for a newly re-structured multi-year contract with no qualifying offer in his 2019 plans.
The latest addition the franchise made was inking Dean Wade, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State, to a two-way contract. He played in five NBA Summer League games for the organization between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
PLAYERS IN: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Dean Wade (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: JR Smith, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Channing Frye
Following the waiving of Smith, the Cavaliers roster will be at 13 players. You’d imagine they wouldn’t keep two roster spots open, so seeing a free agent signing or even nabbing a player from a summer league team could be in the cards.
Per Fedor, the franchise will be above the $109 million salary cap by $22 million once the Smith news is made official by the team. It’s a much healthier number than they’ve been at in years past — so, going into next summer, that cap sheet is going to be as clean as it’s been in quite some time.
Cleveland is going to have numerous attractive contracts on its hands as five players on the roster are on deals set to expire following this year. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million), Brandon Knight ($15.6 million), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million), John Henson ($9.7 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are all trade chips that Altman can move to stockpile the future even more. Depending on what offers come their way, it could be yet another busy season regarding roster turnover.
There’s plenty of speculation that the team should trade Love to a contender to both satisfy the player and allow the team to get out of his sizable deal. What people are forgetting is that the Cavaliers want to have a championship-caliber player in the locker room as a guiding voice. Remember, this team has one person that is at least the age of 30, and it is the All-Star big man. The next guys up are 28 years old—Henson, Dellavedova and Thompson—and who knows how long they’ll be around.
Cleveland will have to be blown away to take back what it thinks it should receive in return for Love. No deal will be made just to make a deal. The organization values him too much as a person and a player.
On the court, the focus is going to be on player development, mainly in watching how Sexton and Garland play off one another. Different looks and combinations with the frontcourt of Love, Nance Jr., Zizic, Windler and Osman will be available for Beilein to tinker with. A new coaching staff with a freshly enthused group of players should be intriguing to watch.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C-
Stay tuned to the rest of Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series over the next few weeks.
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