Time To Make The Phone Call
While NBA teams are typically talking trades and personnel year-round, things in the NBA tend to heat up in mid-December and start to take real shape into the new year.
With less than 52 days until the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, there are some situations that may warrant exploring and some teams and players that could be ready to deal sooner than later. Here are a few:
Paul George and the Thunder
There is an inevitability to the Thunder’s rocky season so far, which is that it hasn’t been nearly dominating enough to think that Thunder forward Paul George would stay beyond this season.
George’s looming ability to hit free agency and the long-running narrative that he’d like to play in L.A. for the Lakers will weigh heavily on the Thunder as the deadline gets near. However, the same issue the Thunder face faces anyone that could or would trade for George, and that’s he’d likely leave them in July too, making him a playoff run rental on the best of days.
For the Thunder, expecting any real value out of George will be tough, especially when you consider that while the win/loss record isn’t great, the chemistry inside the team has been better than expected.
The Thunder have been hovering at or around .500 for a while and seem close to putting things together. However, if the Thunder doesn’t get a sustained push that gets them out of the middle of the Western Conference, its hard to believe a real offer on George would get dismissed, mainly because of the inevitability that George likely walks in July.
Can the Thunder afford to lose another marquee All-Star for nothing in return? That is something even the Thunder’s massively secure general manager Sam Presti has to factor into his decision-making process.
The reality is that if George is indeed made available in trade—something more insiders believe than not—it likely doesn’t happen until late January, but getting in line now might not be the craziest of ideas, especially for a team that still may be one player away.
DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers
The L.A. Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan have been talking contract extension. In fact, there was a window for several weeks when the narrative out of the Clippers was that they were going to get a deal done. Then the Clippers season fell off a cliff.
Jordan has a player option worth $24.11 million, and while most insiders don’t believe there will be a very robust free agent market for traditional centers, there is something to the idea of trading in $24.11 million for a multi-year deal.
With the Clippers beginning to accept that a rebuild is more than necessary, Jordan’s future with the Clippers is anything but clear, especially with the notion of him expecting a new deal north of $100 million.
There has already been some speculation that Jordan could be on the move to the Milwaukee Bucks in a package built around John Henson and possibly Jabari Parker, who is getting closer to returning to action after a second ACL tear.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have also been in the mix with an offer built around guard Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick. It’s been reported that pick was possibly the Brooklyn pick obtained in the Kyrie Irving trade, although sources close to the situation say it was never discussed and that the Cavs were open to moving their own pick in any trade scenarios.
On the surface, none of those deals seem to return much value to the Clippers, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers aren’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength and may end up taking what they can get, even though there is a lot of affection for Jordan in the senior leadership of the Clippers.
This one is far from decided, but absolutely one to watch especially as teams in the East try and jockey for the top spot with eyes on how to beat or contain the Warriors.
Nikola Vučević and the Magic
The Orlando Magic got off to a hot start, but have fizzled into the bottom of the East after a nine-game losing streak and now what’s become a new five-game losing streak. Since November 1st, the Magic have lost 18 of 23 games.
There have been few bright spots in the Magic’s journey to the bottom, save maybe the reemergence of center Nikola Vučević, who is posting maybe his most efficient season in the NBA.
Vučević has maybe the most team-friendly deal in the NBA, with $12.25 million owed this season and a fully guaranteed $12.75 million next season.
With the Magic clearly going nowhere fast, Vučević is the name mentioned most in NBA circles as having value.
The Magic’s message continues to be the same in trade talks. They will listen to offers and ideas but are not actively seeking change for change sake, accepting that this season was more about the newly installed front office understanding who and what they really had.
League sources have maintained for some time that to get Orlando off the dime was going to take a significant player hitting the market—something that has not happened yet.
The Magic are absolutely a team to watch as the trade season picks up steam for two big reasons, they have some productive players they can offer, and they have cap money they’d love to shed for the future.
If the Magic end up making a move this trade season, you can expect that Vučević will be the primary name talked about, in part because he may be the best trade asset the Magic have to offer.
Kent Bazemore and the Hawks
The Atlanta Haws are exactly where they were planning to be when they opted to tear apart the roster, sitting dead last in the NBA.
The challenge for the Hawks is they still have some contract dollars and players that may or may not fit the rebuild plan. The biggest name and salary would be swingman Kent Bazemore.
The Hawks owe Bazemore $16.91 million this season and a guaranteed $18.089 million next season. Bazemore has a player option in 2019 worth $19.262 million, which could be problematic for the Hawks to find a real salary shedding transaction.
The fact that Bazemore is 28 years old puts him outside the rebuild window.
League sources say the right combination of ending contracts and a first-round pick, even one highly protected might be enough to get Bazemore in trade, especially for a team looking for a scoring punch.
Of all of the players likely to be moved this trade season, Bazemore may be one of the harder players to trade, but if a team were serious about trying to get him, the word is he could be had and for not a lot in return.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Hornets have to move off a salary, with forward Nic Batum, who can’t seem to get and stay healthy or swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being candidates. Of the two, Kidd-Gilchrist is owed the least amount of money—$13 million a year for the next three years, which isn’t exactly a bargain.
The question for the Hornets is what else they would put into a deal to shed some cap dollars and get far enough under the tax line to add to the team next season?
The Hornets aren’t exactly brimming with promising and expendable young guys they’re willing to trade—rookie Malik Monk is a non-starter according to league sources. Its safe to say it would take a ton to get the Hornets to include fellow rookie Dwayne “Don’t call me Wade” Bacon.
The name to watch may be Frank Kaminsky, although he’s had a couple of really solid games as of late.
If the Hornets genuinely want to shed dollars and try and jump-start a floundering season, they may have little choice but to toss in some youth.
As things stand today, the Hornets are five games out of the eighth spot in the East and not exactly trending in a very good direction. This becomes a real issue when you consider that the face of the franchise, Kemba Walker, has just one more guaranteed year on his deal and has only played in 11 post-season games.
If the Hornets don’t want to find themselves in the same spot the Pacers were with Paul George, last season, they may have to do something.
The prevailing question is what will they really be open to?
Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies
The Grizzlies hoped that when they fired former head coach David Fizdale, they could right what appeared to be a sinking ship. Since that decision, the Grizzlies have won just two games out of their last 10.
Franchise big man Marc Gasol was labeled as a key reason why the Grizz parted ways with the immensely popular Fizdale, saddling him (unfairly) with the coach-killer label. With point guard, Mike Conley sidelined since mid-November, it’s been all on Gasol to carry a ho-hum Grizzlies roster.
Gasol continues to say all the right things when asked directly about his future, but more and more people in NBA circles are saying the same thing. All it will take for Gasol to be traded is him telling management he wants out—that would give the front office the green light with ownership to move on from Gasol.
With Conley’s return still unclear, there is a sense internally that the Grizzlies could rebound once he comes back and that any talk of trading Gasol before that wouldn’t be seriously considered.
There is little doubt this Grizzlies roster has run its course, especially in a tough Western Conference. The real question is when do the Grizzlies opt to blow the roster up and how much would they really move off in trade?
There is an additional situation worth watching in Memphis, and that’s the ongoing ownership situation.
When the current ownership group came together in 2012, a unique clause was put into the partnership agreement at the behest of then NBA commissioner David Stern. The gist of the idea was that current majority owner Robert Pera and the next two minority owners with most equity (Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus), would have the option to buy each other out in what’s called a buy/sell provision.
The parties have begun this process which started with a normal negotiation window on buying out each other. If a deal cannot be reached (and it has not been), that triggers a valuation process, where any of the three parties can name a valuation for the franchise. That value would force one of the other partners to sell their stake at that defined price or buy out the others at that price – which is expected to be the outcome. The question becomes does Pera, who now has a net worth according to Forbes at over $4.2 billion, go all-in on owning a much bigger share of the Grizzlies?
If majority ownership changes hands, there is a real belief leadership with the Grizzlies changes too. That could change the entire dynamic of the team’s future, so it’s absolutely a situation to watch.
George Hill and the Kings
By most accounts, the Sacramento Kings had a coup of an off-season luring in proven and established NBA veterans like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill.
The idea at the time was they would help get the Kings respectable and winning games, while also giving a roster loaded with youth and inexperience a few proven veterans to learn from.
All three were sold on the idea that the Kings were aiming for the playoffs and that this wasn’t going to be a babysitting gig.
The Kings are currently sitting at 9-20, which is tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and increasingly looking like another lost season.
Carter and Randolph seem to be okay with the situation, mainly because they are in the twilight of their careers. However, Hill seems to be the one who may have the most remorse over the deal.
The be fair to the Kings, they massively overpaid Hill. Hill is owed $20 million this season and a fully guaranteed $19 million next season. Considering the rumored situation with Hill’s foot during free agency, the Kings were the best deal out there.
All of that said, the Kings seem open to the idea of trading Hill, and it seems Hill would more than welcome a move. Is there a team that would take on Hill’s contract without the Kings including youth or a future draft pick?
While the season does seem to be slipping away in the win-loss column, it’s hard to argue that the youth of the Kings isn’t improving, which is ultimately why the Kings committed so much cap money to older players.
Like many of the players on this list, the right phone call could put a deal in motion, and for the Kings and Hill, it seems he could be had if an inquiring team really wanted him.
This is by no means the only names to know and watch as the NBA trade season begins to pick up steam, but these are the names that could likely spark a real conversation based on the chatter in NBA circles at this point, and it only looks to get more interesting from here.
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NBA Daily: Six Pointers For The Season
On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, Spencer Davies has some pointers that you should take into consideration for the upcoming season.
It’s time to celebrate, NBA fans.
We are officially one sleep away from tipping off the 2018-19 season. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, two heavy Eastern Conference title favorites, will square off first, followed by the defending champion Golden State Warriors hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, here are some pointers headed into the year that you should take into consideration within the grand scheme of things.
Reminder: There Are 82 Games
The first week of the NBA season is under a gigantic microscope. Some teams are going to look unbeatable, others may not look quite as good and a handful might seem downright awful. We have to remember that a lot of these ball clubs have a different energy about them. Whether it’s a new front office, a new head coach, roster turnover or simply needing time to jell, not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows from the jump—and even if it is, that could be short-lived.
Don’t Fall For Fake Accounts
One time or another, everybody has been bound to fall for a complete farce. Everybody is susceptible to seeing a fake account on Twitter and immediately reacting without checking the validity of the source. It’s a natural response. But make sure that if you’re following along with a trade rumor and/or developing event, the information is coming from a reliable reporter with multiple confirmations. This is especially important on trade deadline day.
Surprises Happen: Good Or Bad
With 30 squads loaded with the best basketball talent in the world, it’s truly an “any team, any night” kind of league. There are going to be upsets and there are going to be blowouts. Aside from the teams on the wrong side of the rout too many times, most of these won’t matter with the bigger picture intact. If a ball club makes the playoffs and is set to contend, they ultimately won’t care about a lopsided defeat from November.
Rookies Will Have Ups And Downs
Arguably the best part about the start of a new NBA year is seeing fresh talent hit the hardwood. They are living a real-life dream and, for most of them, you see the true love they have for the game through their play. In any case, they are getting used to an unfamiliar stage and a higher level of basketball. There will be flashes and struggles, but more often—inconsistencies. It’s hard to find out if a player is the “next ________” just as it is dubbing a rookie a bust right away. Give these guys time to mature and enjoy it.
Watch For Quotes Taken Out Of Context
This happens a ton in the world of sports. When reading what a player says ahead of or after a game, make sure you’re getting the full story. It’s easy for a video to get chopped and edited to create a juicy narrative and rile things up. While we do have plenty of feuds in the league stemming from what happens in between the four lines—in addition to an abundance of intriguing stories—there’s a lot of something made out of nothing situations that are best to just ignore.
Referees Are Not Out To Get Your Team
Last season was an especially complicated one for the NBA officiating contingent. Criticism came from all angles, from media to players to coaches, as it does almost every season. Part of it is warranted, but let’s not forget how difficult the job is. The frantic pace of the game is evolving with each year, and the bang-bang plays are growing tougher to determine because of it. Missed calls and anticipated calls are a killer for momentum in any case, but the stripes are here to do their job the best they can. It’s fine to look at tendencies, but don’t come up with conspiracy theories because your team isn’t getting a favorable whistle.
These pointers arent’ meant to be a buzz kill, of course. This league is all about entertainment and enjoyment for its fans, so have fun with it. That’s what it’s here for.
There’s much more to a season, but we’d figure to pass along some tips as we await for another great year of NBA action.
NBA Daily: The NBA Ten Years Ago
With the 2018-2019 season on the horizon, Basketball Insiders’ Matt John takes a trip down memory lane to look at where the league was ten years prior.
It’s time to take a trip down memory lane – all the way back to 2009.
It was a different time then. The country’s first black president was inaugurated, Swine Flu was petrifying the nation and Justin Bieber was an innocent teenager just trying to make a name for himself. It was a time to be alive, particularly for NBA junkies.
There were some interesting storylines going on in the NBA, like the somewhat growing concern of ballplayers preferring to play overseas after Josh Childress went to Greece. Or the Seattle Supersonics switching cities to become the Oklahoma City Thunder under certain circumstances. However, the 2008-2009 season overall served as a transitional year for the players.
Some of the NBA’s youngest stars such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success, as individuals and in the team setting. They were becoming the present face of the league while established veterans – such as Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter – were becoming the past. Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade had already shown themselves as two of the bright young stars in the league, and Kevin Durant was right around the corner. The 2008-2009 season was when the new generation of young NBA stars started making its mark.
Having said that, looking back at today, what should the 2008-2009 season be remembered the most for? Well, several things.
The NBA Champion
As you probably remember, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 15th NBA title in 2009.
The LakeShow deserved it. Detractors will make excuses – which I’ll get to – but the Lakers were a well-crafted team that was difficult for every team in the league to stop. Ten years later, only one question remains about them: Would they have worked as well in today’s NBA?
There’d be little reason for them not to. They had a top-10 NBA talent of all-time still at the top of his game in Kobe Bryant. However, while Kobe may have been their best player, the dirty little secret about the 08-09 Lakers was that their frontcourt was what made them tough to stop. They had one of the best offensive centers in the league in Pau Gasol, one of the NBA’s most versatile players ever in Lamar Odom and a promising young big in Andrew Bynum. The one commonality between these three: None of them were floor spacers.
Back then, stretching the floor wasn’t as much of a necessity as it is now. Also, teams didn’t value small ball nearly as much as they do now. Could that Lakers frontcourt have broken the trend, or would the league’s shooting evolution have limited their effectiveness? We’ll honestly never know, but it’s something worth pondering.
If X Team(s) Had Just Been Healthy…
Every season has that one team that many wonder what would have been had a certain player not gotten hurt. In 2009, the obvious injury to turn to was Kevin Garnett’s. The Celtics that year looked as good as ever until Garnett went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Boston did well without him, but Garnett’s injury left fans with unfulfilled desires. Perhaps the Celtics could have won it all had Garnett been available, but his injury was on them. Reportedly, the organization knew Garnett had bone spurs in his knee before the season started and played him hoping he’d be fine. Had they been more cautious, maybe they’d have 18 banners right now. This shows that when you’re a contender, you should take proper precautions for when the real games begin.
Besides, the Celtics weren’t the ones victimized the most by injuries. The ones that came the closest to beating the Lakers were, and that team was the Houston Rockets.
Many forget that the Rockets were expected to be title contenders leading up to that season. They had Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming leading the way, but after they stole the player formerly known as Ron Artest from the Kings, expectations were sky high in H-Town.
It didn’t take long for things to go south. McGrady’s knee was so troublesome that it knocked him out by mid-season. Hope was not lost, though. The Rockets managed to snag the fifth seed in the Western Conference without T-Mac and even advanced to the second round.
After splitting the first two games with the Lakers, Yao’s broken foot in Game Three of the conference semi-finals put the final nail in the coffin. The Rockets still fought until there was no fight left in them, as the Lakers eliminated them in seven games. The Rockets pushed the eventual NBA champs to the brink despite losing both T-Mac and Yao. If there’s one team that was robbed of their potential that doesn’t get enough credit, it’s the 2008-2009 Rockets.
The Deal That Could Have Changed So Much
If you thought the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers could have altered the entire landscape of the NBA, wait until you hear about this nixed trade that happened in 2009. On Feb. 18, New Orleans agreed to trade Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. Basically, the then-Hornets were dumping Chandler to the Thunder. That was until Chandler’s “turf toe” raised enough red flags to convince OKC to rescind the trade.
After all that’s happened since then, it’s amazing wondering what could have been. The Thunder were one of the league’s worst teams when they traded for Chandler, so who knows what they would have done with him that season. His presence could have impacted whether they got James Harden in the draft that year. Serge Ibaka came over the following season, so imagine what he and Chandler would have looked like together. Trading for Chandler would have meant that he wouldn’t make it to Dallas, which probably meant no title for the Mavericks in 2011. It also would have meant the Thunder trading Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins would be nixed, too.
So much could have been different had OKC rolled the dice with Chandler. Maybe they wouldn’t have lost Durant. Maybe they would’ve formed a dynasty. Maybe LeBron nor the Warriors wouldn’t have won any titles this decade. All of that could have come from one rescinded trade. It’s understandable that the Thunder didn’t want to take the risk with Chandler’s toe, but at times like those, the potential outweighs the risk.
Pull The Plug! Or Don’t!
One of the seasons more prominent storylines was the fall of the Detroit Pistons. After being among the Eastern Conference’s powerhouses for several years, Detroit’s downfall came when they agreed to swap Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson.
While the Denver Nuggets reaped all the benefits from this deal, Detroit crumbled from one of the top seeds to the eighth seed in the conference. In hindsight, the Pistons underestimated how much Billups had left in the tank and overestimated how good their opponents were. When you consider that the Orlando Magic was the reigning Eastern Conference Champion at the time – and the Pistons beat the Magic the previous year in a five-game playoff series – maybe the Pistons would have had a chance.
When you have a window of opportunity, even if the outlook isn’t great, you take advantage of it until you can’t anymore. The Pistons instead folded early and have never recovered since. This trade would have been forgivable had the Pistons used the cap space they got from Iverson’s expiring deal wisely.
Instead, they used it on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva the following summer. Woof.
“Success Is Fleeting”
It was mentioned earlier that Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success both for themselves and for their teams. Both played in the ideal situations for them.
Howard played for a team that had reliable shooters who spread the floor along with smart playmakers who could run the pick and roll with him. Howard may have been a shot-blocking terror, but he also benefited from having agile defenders on the wing. Howard’s dominating presence down low made it difficult for defenses to figure out who to cover, which helped the Magic power their way to the NBA Finals.
Anthony played for a team that had an MVP candidate for a starting point guard in Chauncey Billups. “Mr. Big Shot” knew exactly where to find Anthony which greatly helped ‘Melo’s efficiency as a scorer. Carmelo also played for a team whose frontcourt finally got past its injury issues. With everything going Denver’s way, they had one of their most successful playoff runs in years, pushing the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals.
When the Magic and the Nuggets went on their playoff runs in 2009, Anthony was only 25 while Howard was 23. Making it that far into the playoffs is terrific when you’re that young, but little did they know, that was far as they would get in their primes.
Looking at where they are at now, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard will more likely than not be Hall-of-Famers, but they’ll be remembered for being two superstar talents who could have done so much more in their careers had their hubris not gotten in the way. As their careers unfolded, both infamously burned bridges because things had to be done their way, which in turn, hurt their opportunities for success.
One can’t help but wonder if the success they had in 2009 played a role in their egos. Whether it did or not, young players coming into the league need to know that maintaining success in the NBA is not a given no matter how good you are. You never know when the glory days will be taken away from you.
The 2008-2009 season was remembered for many other things as well. LeBron had finally taken the reins as the league’s indisputable best player, a label he still has yet to relinquish, as he went on to win his first MVP award. It was also the one and only year we got the closest resemblance to a full season from the injury-plagued Greg Oden. Hilariously, it was also the year when we realized that maybe fans had a little too much power in all-star voting, as Iverson and McGrady were voted in as starters purely on reputation.
There are many other reasons to remember the 2008-2009 season. Ten years from now, what will the 2018-2019 season be remembered for?
NBA Daily: Six Breakout Players To Watch – Central Division
With LeBron James in Los Angeles, the Central Division will be looking for a few players to break out and make a name for themselves in 2018-19 — here are Ben Nadeau’s top six candidates.
While the Central Division likely won’t feature any of the Eastern Conference’s biggest powerhouses, there are plenty of franchises here with postseason aspirations. In order for those teams to rebuild or reach new heights, they’ll need a cast of different characters to ascend into bigger, more important roles. Out in Indiana and Milwaukee, two darkhorse contenders, it’ll take more than just Tyreke Evans and Brook Lopez in order to challenge the likes of Gordon Hayward and Joel Embiid — but who fits the bill?
For Detroit and Chicago, the pressure will be on to avoid a lottery-bound fate once more by leaning on two up-and-comers — no matter the massive difference in their contracts. But Cleveland will undoubtedly have the toughest task of all: Replacing LeBron James. With each franchise staring down a difficult benchmark, breakouts must come in all shapes and sizes, by veterans, new arrivals and budding stars alike — so what will this season bring?
Whether through an opening in the rotation or an offseason acquisition, these are six of the Central Division’s strongest candidates to leave a lasting mark in 2018-19.
Bobby Portis — Chicago Bulls
The Bulls’ fourth-year man is a solid, if not unspectacular, contributor whenever he gets regular playtime. Last year, Portis suffered an immediate setback following his preseason scuffle with former teammate Nikola Mirotic, but he bounced back stronger than ever. The forward made good on his uptick in minutes and nearly posted career numbers across the board thanks to his relentless motor and desire to compete. Averaging 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 47.1 percent from the floor, Portis frequently excelled as a change of pace rebounder off the bench.
This season, he’ll have an even bigger opportunity to shine. With Lauri Markkanen sidelined until November at the earliest, it looks like Portis will earn significant minutes and maybe even a legitimate shot at the starting power forward position. In his first start of the preseason on Wednesday, Portis dropped 20 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in just 21 minutes. If he comes off the bench, Portis could become an underrated Sixth Man of the Year candidate. But even if he just starts until Markannen’s return, he’ll be well on his way toward earning a lucrative offer sheet in restricted free agency next summer.*
*Portis is eligible to sign an extension until Oct. 15
Zach LaVine — Chicago Bulls
For a hot minute, it looked like Zach LaVine might end up in Sacramento during his own trip to the restricted free agency pool this summer. Ultimately, he’s staying in Chicago to the tune of $78 million over the next four years — which, officially, will put the pressure of an entire franchise squarely on his shoulders. Naturally, the high-flyer will not be alone, joined once again by Kris Dunn, the aforementioned Portis and Markkanan, plus newcomers Jabari Parker and Wendell Carter Jr., but LaVine will deservedly receive grander-than-ever expectations.
He struggled after returning from his torn ACL in January — but before he got injured, LaVine was on the cusp of a breakout with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Through 47 games in 2016-17, LaVine was averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 45.9 percent from the floor. With all that in the rearview mirror — the injury, the trade, the contract — LaVine will have a clear path forward for the first time in years. Certainly, LaVine’s defense still needs work, but given the Bulls’ presumed fate outside of the postseason and their unproven collection of talents, there’s a stellar chance that the hyper-athletic scorer will make his big leap now that he’s back at full health.
Pat Connaughton — Milwaukee Bucks
By far, Pat Connaughton has the least spectacular case on this page — but when the opportunity comes knocking, it’s best not to ignore the call.
Connaughton played in all 82 games last season and averaged 5.4 points, two rebounds and 1.1 assists on 42.3 percent from the field — all career-bests. Of course, those 18.1 minutes per game came behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, one of the league’s best backcourt duos. After the Trail Blazers did not extend his qualifying offer, Connaughton was free to explore other destinations, eventually signing with the Bucks for two years and $3.4 million. For the Bucks, he’ll likely join rookie Donte DiVincenzo as the backup guards, looking to space the floor at the perimeter and set up his teammates.
Of note, Connaughton played 20-plus minutes in 37 contests and exceeded his points per game total in 25 of them. It’s a somewhat basic lens through which to examine Connaughton’s impact, but when he gets the minutes, he typically rises to the occasion. Connaughton has some serious bounce and playmaking skills that should fit seamlessly with Milwaukee’s long, athletic rotation immediately. The fourth-year professional even has some experience at small forward as well — so if he can facilitate for others, hit some open three-pointers and scrappily defend, this will be Connaughton’s best season yet.
Luke Kennard — Detroit Pistons
After an up-and-down rookie season, there are lofty expectations brewing for Luke Kennard as he heads into his follow-up campaign. At first, there was some disappointment that the sweet-shooting lefty was picked ahead of Donovan Mitchell, but as the season went on, the Detroit faithful grew fond of the former Blue Devil’s nuanced play style. Over the final 19 contests of the year, Kennard averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, even reaching the multi-three-pointer mark in seven of those games. Assuming that his role grows under the tutelage of Dwane Casey, the reigning Coach of the Year, Kennard could be a standout sophomore in 2018-19.
Even craftier, the Pistons had planned to use Kennard at point guard during summer league, but a strained knee tempered those expectations for now. Kennard can play three positions, flexible enough to compete on both offense and defense already. His potential from three-point range is not without merit either, as Kennard averaged 19.5 points on 43.8 percent from deep during his final season in college, marking him as one of Division-I’s most elite shooters. At 6-foot-5 and just 22 years old, it looks like we’re just scratching the surface on Kennard’s budding future.
Doug McDermott — Indiana Pacers
Perhaps the most interesting case on the list is that of Doug McDermott.
Dangerously close to joining the rank of journeyman, McDermott landed a three-year deal worth $22 million in July — a contract that left many onlookers initially puzzled. But now that he’s there and entrenched in the Pacers’ preseason rotation, it’s clear what type of impact he might bring off the bench. Although Indiana will be McDermott’s fifth team since he was drafted in 2014, he’s excelled as an above average three-point shooter thus far. Sporting a career tally of 1.1 three-pointers per game on 40.3 percent, he could fill a serious void for the Pacers if they let him loose.
Between New York and Dallas last season, McDermott had 26 multi-three-pointer outings, including a blistering 5-for-7 effort against the Clippers in November. Admittedly, he’s not really a consistent contributor anywhere else, but the recent long-range renaissance means that there will always be room in the NBA for a sharpshooter like McDermott. Most importantly, then, is Indiana’s desperate need for not just bench three-point marksmanship, but shooting in general. In 2017-18, the Pacers only made nine three-pointers per game (their bench contributed a woeful total of 2.4), which left them tied for the fifth-worst mark in the entire league.
Even if McDermott doesn’t see a major uptick in volume, he’ll join the Pacers as their fourth-best three-point shooter at the very worst, only trailing Darren Collison (1.4), Bojan Bogdanovic (1.9) and Victor Oladipo (2.1) from deep. His track record may not be exhilarating on just numbers alone, but given his above-average percentages and his forthcoming opening, this may be McDermott’s biggest chance to breakout yet.
Cedi Osman — Cleveland Cavaliers
Everybody loves Cedi Osman.
Not much was expected of the 23-year-old when he joined the Cavaliers last season as an end-of-bench piece. But as the season grew longer, Osman got an honest shot at the rotation and he made the most of his unexpected fortuity. From February on, Osman tallied five or more points in 13 of his 22 appearances, even reaching double digits in six of them. During an uneventful win against the Atlanta Hawks, Osman notched 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two three-pointers over 38 minutes — more or less, the kid can play.
Everywhere you look, the people surrounding Osman can’t stop gushing about his love for the game, his desire to get better and the impact he may have this season. During his two Las Vegas Summer League contests, Osman exploded for 20 points, eight rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals and one block per game — a salivating preview most definitely. Although the team is undoubtedly Kevin Love’s now, he’ll need some backup and Osman — a grinder, slasher and do-it-all-glue-guy — has the skill-set to take a leap in 2018-19 and beyond.
Needless to say, there are some intriguing storylines developing in a freshly LeBron-less landscape. Can the mid-tier teams join the conference’s current royalty? Can the division’s two lottery members reach the postseason conversation? Surely, if anything, the Cavaliers won’t make their fifth straight NBA Finals — but can the efforts of Osman keep them from falling out of the playoff race completely? Answers will come sooner rather than later, but all these teams will need some breakout players to help lead the way this season.