Short-term contracts are a beautiful thing in the NBA. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is going to be a part of a franchise for the long haul, it does mean that player is going to give it his all to earn a payday in the following offseason.
There are multiple reasons for somebody to sign a one-year deal. Maybe it’s a “show ‘em, prove it” type of situation. Perhaps it’s a veteran whose career is winding down but still has a desire to play the game and teach those who are younger.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a beneficial tool for both the provider and the recipient. Teams don’t have to be hooked on for long-term money at first, and if they like a guy enough, they can come to terms at a later time if desired.
Let’s look at this summer’s one-year signees and their respective situations. For the purpose of this article, we’re only going to mention players going to new teams, not ones who are coming back (e.g. Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, etc.)
Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets ($2,029,463)
The case of Thomas is proof that nothing in this league is guaranteed. From an MVP candidate on the brink of earning a maximum contract to sustaining a devastating hip injury, to being traded twice in one season, to signing a veteran’s minimum deal this offseason—the fall was not a graceful one.
Still, this contract will help accomplish two things. One, it will give the Nuggets a backup floor general they’ve desperately lacked over the last few years. Two, it will allow Thomas to get some sort of momentum back headed into 2019 free agency. He can still score and get to the rack. A summer of healing—physically and mentally—should only help that.
Anthony Tolliver – Minnesota Timberwolves ($5,750,000)
This is a flat-out steal of a signing for the Wolves. While Tolliver isn’t getting any younger at 33 years old, he is one of the most underappreciated veteran forwards in the league. He had a fine season with the Detroit Pistons one year ago, knocking down a career-best 43.6 percent of his triple tries.
His best quality, however, is the way he defends. We all know how much Tom Thibodeau loves his hard-nosed, experienced players. With the Wolves losing Nemanja Bjelica to the Sacramento Kings in free agency, there’s an opening at the backup four position behind Taj Gibson, and Tolliver fits into it perfectly.
Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans ($3,000,000)
There’s a homecoming in the Bayou. A former Rajun Cajun from Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton will likely be as comfortable as he ever has in the NBA. Let’s not forget how talented the 24-year-old maestro is. He’s the definition of an all-around point guard, which should help him in the long run as the game requires all-around play.
As Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins headed west, the Pelicans nabbed Payton and Julius Randle to re-tool. Payton should serve well as not only Jrue Holiday’s backup, but could also see action on the floor along with him depending on how Alvin Gentry wants to tinker with his rotation. It’s a new team, new haircut and new life for the fifth-year guard.
Mario Hezonja – New York Knicks ($6,500,000)
Like Payton, Hezonja is another former Orlando Magic first-round draft pick who hasn’t quite panned out, but has looked solid when given ample playing time. Year three was a big jump for all intents and purposes, considering his first two seasons in the NBA were a flop. He was able to step up when others were injured, providing production for a depleted bunch that needed it—and carved out a bigger role because of it.
Enter Hezonja on a Knicks team that is down its superstar Kristaps Porzingis for potentially most, if not all, of the upcoming season. They’re going to need somebody to help score the basketball next to Tim Hardaway Jr. and promising rookie sensation Kevin Knox. It’ll be interesting to see how Hezonja fills that void and how he responds to playing in the Big Apple.
Trevor Ariza – Phoenix Suns ($15,000,000)
The rebuild is officially underway in the desert. There are a new coach, a new roster and a new set of young talent eager to gain experience at the professional level, and Ariza is there to set the tone of a championship mindset right from the get-go. With one touch of pen to paper, he became the highest-paid player for the 2018-19 season on the roster, and maybe the most important.
Having been a part of many playoff teams in the span of his 14-year career, Ariza’s locker room presence will help new head coach Igor Kokoskov establish a winning culture right off the bat. He’s a guy who’s “been there, done that” in almost every situation since he’s been in the league, so he knows how things work on and off the floor. Between Ariza and Tyson Chandler, the inexperienced Suns will have plenty of advice.
Brook Lopez – Milwaukee Bucks ($3,382,000)
As mentioned in last week’s “Odd Men Out” series highlighting the central division, John Henson’s tenure in Milwaukee could be coming to a screeching halt. Mike Budenholzer is a new head coach with his own system and philosophy coming into town. The Bucks are going to be moving the basketball like a hot potato and getting shots up like it’s nobody’s business.
Lopez is going to be a beneficiary of that change. Over the last two seasons, he’s become a rather reliable three-point shooting big that can stretch the floor. Pulling out those centers to the perimeter will allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to wreak havoc in the paint and collapse opposing defenses with ease. And if they ever want to use the veteran seven-footer as a post threat, he’s a solid passer on the block, too.
Carmelo Anthony – Houston Rockets ($2,400,000)
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Anthony’s memorable stay with the Atlanta Hawks will be remembered forever…just kidding. But his single season with the Oklahoma City Thunder will actually go down as one of the worst in his career. Whether it was the role he was placed in, an off-shooting year, or just father time catching up, he didn’t look like the same Carmelo.
That said, the Rockets are banking on seeing him return to form. While many are writing him off already from the start, it’ll be interesting to see how playing with Chris Paul and James Harden affects Anthony’s drive. Will he play within former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and buy into what Houston is selling? Only time will tell, but this deal is necessary for both sides, especially with Ariza moving to the desert.
DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors ($5,337,000)
Seeing Cousins go down with an Achilles injury while he was in the midst of one of the best seasons in his career was brutal. You’d be hard-pressed to not think of the “what-if” concerning New Orleans’ run in the playoffs and the second-round exit…which was ironically courtesy of his new team, the Warriors.
Nobody likes to hear it because of Golden State’s dominance of the NBA, but this agreement makes a ton of sense. Steve Kerr has lacked a reliable offensive center for almost the entirety of his time in the Bay. It’s the one element the team has lacked to cover all bases, and now, it’s gone…kind of.
Cousins probably won’t be seeing much action in the first part of the season. It takes a good chunk of time to fully recover from an Achilles injury, and there will be no rush him on the floor. But once he is cleared, the Warriors are going to be scarier than they already were. And if he looks like his All-Star self, Boogie could be looking at a solid payday next summer.
Tyreke Evans – Indiana Pacers ($12,400,000)
It’s easy to forget what Evans did last season because it happened with the Memphis Grizzlies. They were battered and bruised from the jump. There was a controversial early coaching change. It wasn’t a good year for the franchise. But it was a good year for him.
Evans put up numbers that he hasn’t produced since his rookie season back in the 2009-10 days in Sacramento. He was the leader of the team and was quite frankly the only consistent player that the Grizzlies could depend on nightly. He stayed healthy for the most part, and sat out at the end of the season to ensure he earned a good deal in the offseason.
And so, the Pacers came calling to add another playmaker to insert next to Victor Oladipo. Evans can attack the basket, distribute and shoot like he did early in his career. His best basketball is clearly ahead of him. This is a dynamite move by Kevin Pritchard to bolster the talent and depth of this roster as Indiana looks to take advantage of a wide-open Eastern Conference.
DeAndre Jordan – Dallas Mavericks ($22,897,000)
Jordan was the last domino to fall in the era of “Lob City” in Los Angeles. With Blake Griffin getting traded to the Pistons last year and Chris Paul going to Houston the summer beforehand, it was only a matter of time until the third member of the group had to exit.
Give kudos to Jordan—he stuck it out. Through thick and thin, through the trade rumors and all of the madness, he honored his contract and 10 years with the Clippers without a peep of drama. That’s all you can ask of a player these days. Now, though, it’s ironically on to a team he negotiated with and came close to signing with three years ago, the Mavericks.
Paired with playmakers like Dennis Smith Jr. and highly-touted international rookie Luka Doncic, Jordan will be a part of a Dallas team aiming to bounce right back into the playoff picture. Harrison Barnes will likely be slotted back at small forward on the outside more, while Dirk Nowitzki should give him enough spacing to corral those offensive rebounds and jam some putback dunks. We know he’ll be catching those alley-oops every night, too.
In the end, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle get the guy that they’ve wanted all along—and Jordan gets paid along with an opportunity to really cash in a year from now.
As you can see, there’s a lot of value to these one-year contracts for both sides. We’re going to witness the best out of these players as they chase after the real prize next summer in a growing, stacked class of free agents.
NBA Daily: Lee Awaiting Opportunity, Staying Positive With Knicks
Drew Maresca has a chat with Courtney Lee about his situation with the New York Knicks and staying ready for when an opportunity comes his way.
Basketball if a fun sport that’s grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. It brings people of all ages great joy, employs thousands and allows millions of fans to remove themselves from their daily lives and immerse themselves in the sport of their choice.
But there is a colder side to the sport, one in which ability is overlooked in favor of intangibles. The NBA is, after all, a business. And like any business, office politics play a role. This is a side that we’re all at least marginally familiar with. We’ve all seen players traded or cut because they do not fit the team’s timeline or because they were brought in or drafted by the previous management team.
This is not to infer that there’s anything insidious about the business of basketball, but players are people with families and bills and routines just like the rest of us. Of course, teams have the right to operate as they see fit – after all, we’re talking about individual contracts worth between $385,000 and $37.5 million per year that add up to payrolls exceeding $100 million annually.
But often times, players are reduced to their contracts and cap holds rather than being valued for their contributions on – and off – the court. Players understand the business they’re in, but there’s something that feels wrong about the league’s politics when it supersedes the natural order – when effective players sit in favor of less qualified ones. This is probably most prevalent when a team fast tracks a rebuild.
And for the first time in what feels like forever, this issue is front and center in New York. To the delight of Knicks fans, the team has finally embraced the concept of bottoming out. Tanking is a notion the Knicks have toyed with and ultimately either balked at or botched nearly every season since 2001. They’ve instead chosen to side with short-term fixes over long-term solutions.
With Scott Perry at the helm this season as general manager, the Knicks are making smart, calculated decisions. They are playing their young guys, which allows for them to develop valuable experience that can’t be learned from the bench or in practice. It also has the residual payoff of more losses, which means better odds come the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery.
But losing is tough. It can cause fatigue within a fanbase, a roster and an organization. Dennis Schroder, backup point guard for the Thunder, recently spoke about his experience with the Hawks regarding this very topic with The Oklahoman.
“I wanted to be in a winning organization,” Schroder said. “You just can’t go out there and try to lose.”
Back in New York, no one on the Knicks sympathizes more strongly with what Schroder went through than Courtney Lee. Lee is in an unusual position. He is too good to get on the court for his team because playing him would result in more wins and less playing time for younger guys. But he’s relatively expensive for his age, counting for $12 million against the salary cap this season and he’s owed nearly $13 million for 2019-20.
Lee is 33 years old, but has played some of his best basketball in recent seasons. In fact, he averaged a career high 12 points per game just last season. Furthermore, he is a career 38.9 percent shooter from deep, and he is viewed as a capable defender, a good teammate and someone who doesn’t need touches to impact the game. And yet, he’s received nine consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decisions (including Thursday’s game against the Wizards in London).
Theoretically, the Knicks can point to the neck injury Lee suffered in training camp. There’s an element of plausible deniability there – he was hurt so he could still be hurt.
But Lee upended any such excuse following the 76ers game on January 13.
“I feel good,” Lee told Basketball Insiders. “It happened back in training camp. I feel 100% now.”
Lee understands the business side of the NBA. He has played for seven NBA franchises in his 11 professional seasons.
“It’s not the first one,” Lee said with a chuckle regarding the DNPs. “I’ve been dealing with it, man. At this point you just understand what’s going on – the thought process behind it. The best thing I can do is just stay positive, keep cheering my teammates on and be ready for whatever happens.
“If it’s here getting in the game or getting traded somewhere, just making sure I’m staying in shape and ready to contribute. I just have to live in the moment. Have to tell myself to stay ready, stay prepared, stay in shape because there’s always light at the end of the tunnel – that’s my mindset.”
And fortunately for Lee, he could reach the end of the tunnel sooner than later. The NBA Trade Deadline is less than a month away, and the Knicks would like to double down on their youth movement. Moving Lee, Enes Kanter and/or Tim Hardaway Jr. would help the team open up the requisite cap space to offer a free agent a max deal this coming offseason.
Lee could easily find himself on a team competing for a playoff spot in the very near future. He would almost certainly help the Rockets, the Nuggets and the 76ers, as well as a number of other teams. But in the NBA, it’s never that straight forward. Teams must not only see the benefit of adding the player in question, but also feel compelled to deal with the other team’s front office. And teams know the Knicks want to go shopping this summer, so nothing is guaranteed for Lee.
One thing Lee has going for him that is far from guaranteed is transparency, which he receives from New York’s coaching staff daily.
“Coach Fizdale communicates a lot,” Lee said. “He’ll talk to me before the game (about the potential for DNPs) or he’ll touch base during the game. He does a good job with that.”
Fizdale has been open about his feelings toward Lee and the position he’s in.
“Courtney has been an incredible pro,” Fizdale said in an interview with NorthJersey.com. “I mean, he’s been like a big brother to all of these guys. They love him. They love being around him. He doesn’t do things like, you see times when veterans aren’t playing, they take young guys down in certain ways. Courtney’s been the guy that’s like no, go play. And like he tells me every day ‘Coach you need me, I’m here. I’m ready.’”
Lee has echoed those same sentiments all season long.
He’s just waiting to be given an opportunity to prove it.
NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong
Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.
The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.
Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.
Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).
In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.
In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.
Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.
Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.
“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”
Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.
“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.
When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.
“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”
Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.
Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.
Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”
Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.
After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.
“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”
As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.
Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.
Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.
“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”
The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.
NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players
Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.
January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.
Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.
Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.
1. Willie Reed
The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.
The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.
This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.
2. John Jenkins
Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.
He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.
Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.
3. Anthony Bennett
Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.
Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.
This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.
4. Bruno Caboclo
Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”
Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.
Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.
Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.