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NBA Daily: The Best One-Year Contract Signings of 2018

Spencer Davies looks at several of this summer’s best one-year signings from both a player and team perspective.

Spencer Davies

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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.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division

Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.

Drew Maresca

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As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.

Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.

  1. Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)

The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.

Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.

  1. New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline

This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.

But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion).  The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.

  1. DeAndre Jordan

Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.

The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.

In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.

  1. Spurs need help at point guard

The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.

The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.

The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.

  1. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol

Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.

Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.

In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.

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NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success

In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.

Jordan Hicks

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In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.

But does this apply to everyone?

The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.

Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.

To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.

After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.

To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.

Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.

Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.

Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.

Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.

Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.

Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.

Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.

The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.

We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.

Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.

Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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