God Shammgod is most known for his memorable name and the flashy crossover that he created as a college freshman with the Providence Friars. After all, there aren’t many players who have an iconic move named after them. To this day, “the Shammgod” dribble is used in NBA games by point guards like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving in an effort to fly past defenders (often in humiliating fashion).
However, there’s much more to the 39-year-old, whose professional playing career spanned 20 seasons. Now, Shammgod is making a name for himself with a different kind of move: The former point guard is crossing over to coaching, as he currently serves as a graduate assistant under Ed Cooley at Providence.
Shammgod works as a trainer for the Friars’ guards and has made a significant impact since returning to the program where he once starred. He played an instrumental role in the development of guards Bryce Cotton (who most recently played for the Utah Jazz) and Kris Dunn (who’s being projected as a top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft). In addition to training Providence’s players, he says he has also worked with NBA players like Isaiah Thomas, Ben Gordon and Ricky Ledo among others.
He first joined Cooley’s staff as an undergraduate assistant in 2012, but he is now a graduate assistant after recently receiving his degree. As he continues to gain experience on the sideline and help guards make huge strides, he’s being recognized as a coach with a lot of potential and the ability to help players better themselves on and off the court.
“During my last year in China, I was kind of a player-coach and I had trained their National Team’s guards for the Olympics so that gave me my first taste of training players and coaching,” Shammgod said. “I decided to forgo the final year of my contract in China to come back to the United States and finish my degree. When I got drafted, I promised my mother I would finish my degree. So I decided to do that and when I returned to Providence, everyone embraced me so much. I started helping MarShon Brooks and some other guys work out. It was a great fit and it took off from there. That’s when I realized I wanted to coach.”
Players respect Shammgod, which has helped him as he transitions from playing to coaching. They know of his incredible handles, long playing career and legendary streetball status. They certainly know his unforgettable name. He Got Game director Spike Lee once told the New York Times that he came up with the name Jesus Shuttlesworth for Ray Allen’s character after he watched God Shammgod play, became a fan of his game and believed his “mythical name… heightens the legend.”
Players also listen to Shammgod because he has been in their shoes and has plenty of life experience to share. In 1995, he was a McDonald’s All-American alongside future NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison and Shareef Abdur-Rahim while developing a reputation as one of the best ball-handlers in the nation. After two years in college, Shammgod entered the 1997 NBA Draft and was selected by the Washington Bullets with the 45th overall pick.
Shammgod spent just one season in the NBA and often says that he was “20 years ahead of his time” because teams were turned off by his tendency to dominate the ball. While many of today’s guards are encouraged to take over games, Shammgod was urged to get the ball out of his hands despite the fact that his dribbling and creating were his biggest strengths. Shammgod says NBA decision-makers told him that the only way he’d have a future in the league is if he became a spot-up shooter and passed the ball to his team’s bigs.
After that lone NBA season, Shammgod continued his career overseas, where he was allowed to play his game and handle the ball much more. Over the next two decades, he had stints in China, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Croatia as well as American stops in the Continental Basketball Association, International Basketball League and United States Basketball League.
While he never achieved the mainstream NBA success of his peers, he had a nice career, influenced many players and developed a strong circle of friends from his playing days (which should also help him in his coaching career).
“He has that respect from the moment he meets a kid because he’s a streetball legend; everybody knows who God Shammgod is or, at the very least, you’ve heard of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That alone means a lot, especially for the kids in New York who grew up hearing up about him and now get a chance to work with him. That means a lot for those kids. He definitely has a ton of respect from everyone, and that’s really important.
“He’s doing a great job as a coach and he always sends me the videos of his players working out, doing the ball-handling and shooting drills. He’s helping those guys. Also, he’s a great mentor because of the things he’s been through and the things he’s seen growing up, playing in the NBA, going overseas and being a streetball legend. He has so much to offer and give. I really love the mentor part. That’s big. He’s been there and guys respect that. They look up to him.”
NBA champion Chauncey Billups, who has been close with Shammgod since they trained together for the 1997 NBA Draft, agrees that his friend’s journey will help him in his post-playing career.
“He has the experience and that absolutely helps,” Billups said. “Coaches can say, ‘Do this, do that,’ but when you have a guy who has actually been through it like Shammgod, that’s so valuable. He’s not telling guys about things he’s learned from other coaches or things he’s heard. He’s telling them what he’s been through. He can tell you what to do and what not to do. I’m pretty sure if Shamm could do it all over again, there would be some different decisions made that probably would’ve propelled him to a 10-to-15-year NBA career, so being able to own that and then being courageous enough to pass those lessons on to kids is great. He can tell guys, ‘This is what I did, this is what I should’ve done and you shouldn’t make these mistakes.’ He has a chance to do something special and that message resonates a lot stronger with these kids than anything a coach who hasn’t been through it can tell you.
“I think he has done a phenomenal job. He has a wealth of knowledge that these kids need. These kids want to be pros, they want to be in the NBA, and Shammgod has been through a lot and seen a lot. His lessons are great for these young fellas. And, look, a lot of people can’t go through all of that and then turn around and teach. Shamm has done an incredible job of teaching these guys about what he’s been through and helping guys not go through a bump [in the road] like he did. And these guys have really grown to trust him and really respect him. He’s a huge asset to these guys.”
Shammgod has always enjoyed helping other players improve their ball-handling. It’s something he has done since he was a child. In fact, he says his first training sessions technically took place when he was in high school at the famed ABCD Camp. Each day, there was a young guard who would wake up early to work out with Shammgod and try to learn his moves. The high school junior was determined to master the crossovers and add them to his arsenal.
The kid was Kobe Bryant.
“The first person I ever trained in my life was Kobe Bryant,” Shammgod said with a laugh. “I was going into the 12th grade and he was in the 11th grade and we were at the ABCD Camp. We would get up early every day at the camp and I’d show him some dribbling moves and things like that. I’ve always liked to help other players and show them some things. That’s always been in me since day one, and I’ve kind of been training people my whole life without really knowing it.”
Bryant isn’t the only player who Shammgod impacted. Two years ago, Shammgod had the opportunity to meet Chris Paul. Shammgod said that the Los Angeles Clippers point guard credited Shammgod and Tim Hardaway with influencing his ball-handling (which explains why “the Shammgod” is a part of Paul’s repertoire).
Because he never lit up the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how talented Shammgod was during his playing days. But talk to basketball lifers and just about everyone has a Shammgod story.
“This is a story that most people wouldn’t tell, but I’ll tell it,” Lue said with a laugh. “Me and Shammgod met when we were entering our senior year of high school and we were playing AAU basketball. He was playing for Brooklyn USA and I was playing for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We played a game at the University of Purdue. Now, I had heard his name and heard some things about him, but in the Midwest you don’t see a lot of guys who can handle the ball and do what he could do. The first time we played against each other, he had 40 points on me. Like, he killed me. Some of the tricks he was doing with the ball, being in the Midwest, we had never seen anything like that before. It was just like, ‘What?!’
“Our team liked to full-court press a lot. Well, he caught the ball against the press and just dribbled through his legs down the length of the court, beating the press and making it look so easy. Everyone on our team just turned to each other like, ‘What the hell?’ It was kind of crazy. Then, at the end of a quarter when guys will usually just hold the ball and wait for the last shot, Shammgod came just barely across half-court and stood right next to the sideline, rocking the ball back and forth. I mean, if he had mishandled the ball by one inch it’s either out of bounds or a backcourt violation. But he’s just rocking the ball back and forth for 10 seconds, staring the defense down and doing whatever he wants. That was my first time meeting Shammgod and playing against him, and I’ll always remember that because it was just crazy seeing a guy who could handle the ball the way he did and do the things he did. We stayed in touch from that point on.”
Today, Shammgod is influencing the next generation of basketball talent. As a trainer, Shammgod tries to help his young players on and off the court. While he obviously wants to improve their ball-handling and point guard skills, he also wants to be a mentor to them and ensure that his pupils learn from his experiences and mistakes as a pro. That ability to help players with every aspect of their development separates Shammgod from some other trainers.
His work with former Providence guard Bryce Cotton helped the point guard get on the NBA’s radar, and he most recently played for the Utah Jazz.
“We both went to the same school and when he came back [to Providence], I was going into my junior year and we just hit it off right away,” Cotton said. “We worked out every single day and I loved the improvements that I saw, so I’ve been working with him ever since. He helped my mindset and he helped me become a much better point guard. He has so many different tricks that he used to use back in the day and since we’re around the same size, he passed those on to me and they were really helpful. I think the sky is the limit for him; he’s a tremendous trainer. Every single person who has worked out with him at Providence has seen enormous growth in their game.”
Now, Shammgod is working with Kris Dunn, who is projected to be one of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft. DraftExpress currently has him being selected as the seventh overall pick. Dunn worked out with Shammgod every day during the summer and raves about the experience.
“I first met him during my freshman year at Providence; he knew I was a McDonald’s All-American and I knew he was a McDonald’s All-American so right away there was a connection,” Dunn said. “I’ve always known who God Shammgod is because of the move that he created and because he’s just such an amazing dribbler. The fact that he showed me love right away made me feel special.
“He has helped me a lot. In the summer, that’s my guy. I’ve been going to him every summer and I’ve been getting better every year because of him, so I just try to stay with him and work with him as much as possible. The biggest lessons from him are just about being yourself and knowing who you are. We’ve done a lot of drills to improve my ball-handling, read a ball screen, perfect my decision-making and things like that. I’m always picking his brain and asking him how to get better because he’s so knowledgeable when it comes to the game. But what a lot of people don’t know is the off-court stuff. He’s been a mentor to me on the court, but really I view him as a big brother who has also been there for me off the court. We’re always discussing things that have nothing to do with basketball and he has taught me a lot about life in general. There’s just so much that he has done for me and I appreciate all of it. He’s one of the first guys who I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad game because he’s been there, knows what it’s like and how to bounce back. He has so much life experience that he can share.”
On the court, Shammgod will preach that his guys need to do things like “keep the ball low, dribble quick and be creative.” But, as Dunn said, Shammgod also wants to help players off the court and form long-lasting bonds.
“My advice is to never take anything for granted, always work hard and try to do things the right way,” Shammgod said. “We have our plan and God has his plan, and I try to tell guys not to rush God’s plan. When I was at Providence, I feel like I rushed my plan along. I thought I was set up to do great things and I thought leaving [for the NBA] after my sophomore year was part of God’s plan, but I rushed it. So I always tell guys to be patient and that there’s no substitute for hard work. No matter how many business opportunities that guys like LeBron or Kobe or whoever has, none of those happen without basketball, so you need to give basketball 110 percent, focus on the present and work as hard as you can every single day.
“I also try to talk to guys about life – things like taking care of their family and seeing the big picture. It’s much more than a trainer-player relationship. Kris and Bryce are like my little brothers; that’s how I view them. I don’t necessarily consider myself a trainer. I’m just a person [in your life] who is focused on making you better. Period. I want to work on improving their skill development, but I also want to work on improving their mind. You want to have an impact on people for the rest of their life, not just in that moment you’re training them. You want to make a long-term impact. I think that’s the sign of a great coach – when you can have much more than a coach-player relationship and be the coach who is invited to the player’s wedding years later when they’re in the NBA and things like that. You build that real, life-long relationship.”
Shammgod is proud of his young prospects and their recent success.
“We worked hard all summer, so it’s been great to see all of that work pay off for Bryce and Kris,” Shammgod said. “I’m just honored that I’m still relevant enough for them to want to listen to me. These are elite athletes. And the way I look at it, they’re helping me grow just as much as I’m helping them. I just feel blessed that everything is coming together for them like we talked about and that they’re having success. That’s the ultimate reward for me, seeing those guys have success.”
What’s the long-term plan for Shammgod? He says he doesn’t consider himself a trainer and he’s currently a graduate assistant for Providence. Where does he hope to be several years from now?
“Eventually, I want to be a coach,” Shammgod said. “I think Coach Cooley is doing a wonderful job preparing me to be a coach in the long term. Coach [Andre] LaFleur, Coach [Brian] Blaney, Coach [Jeff] Battle and Coach [Kevin] Kurbec have helped me and I pick their brains so that I can try to learn something from each other and one day be a great coach like they are. Right now, they’re my inspiration. They do it the right way, especially Coach Cooley. I just feel honored to even be part of the staff. If I was 18 years old and I could do it all over again, I would play for Coach Cooley in a heartbeat. I would love for my coaching journey – if God blesses me – to follow the same path that Coach Cooley has taken.”
His peers and pupils believe he’d make a great NCAA or NBA head coach someday.
“I think he’d be successful,” Billups said. “Knowing him, he’s a strong-willed person and when he puts his mind to something, he will attain it eventually. If that’s what he wants to do, he’d be great at it. He’s going to put the time in and work hard. He’s not someone who thinks, ‘Okay, I’m Shammgod and have done this and that so I’ll be successful.’ No, he’s going to learn, he’s going to work and he’s going to put the time in. He’s doing that right now, sitting behind these coaches, respecting them and learning from them. He’s someone who is always going to be put in the necessary time to be successful at his craft.”
“Can he be a head coach? Why not?” Lue said. “He’s already making an impact with these kids and, honestly, I think that’s harder to do than it is on the NBA level. When you’re dealing with kids, you’re dealing with AAU coaches and parents and all of that. At least on the NBA level, it’s just all basketball. I see him being someone who comes in and does player development first, getting his feet wet that way, and then working his way up. But I don’t see why he couldn’t become a head coach someday. Why not?”
“I think he’d be great,” Dunn said. “His brand alone would really help him. I mean, he’s God Shammgod! Everybody knows him – from the pros, to the college players, to the high schoolers, to the kids. His brand and name alone will automatically help him. But it’s not just that – he has what it takes on and off the court to really succeed in that role. He’s so knowledgeable, he’s a teacher and he has a great basketball IQ. And off the court, he can get along with anybody because of his personality. If you don’t like God Shammgod, well, to be honest, you aren’t a good person (laughs). I say that because he’s a great individual. He’s always worried about other people rather than focusing on himself and he’s so considerate. Also, I think he’d do an excellent job recruiting, especially guys in New York since he came from there and he’s still known as the best ball-handler from there. He can teach anyone how to dribble and read screens and all of that. I definitely think he could be a great head coach.”
“There’s no question that he’ll be a college or NBA coach at some point,” Cotton said. “He has a great knowledge of the game, and he has such a creative mind when it comes to creating workouts and helping players get better. Anybody would be lucky to have him as their coach.”
With a coaching career seemingly in his future, the legend of God Shammgod continues.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul
Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.
It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.
What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.
And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.
Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.
Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.
But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.
So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?
Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.
The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?
But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.
And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.
The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.
While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.
The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.
But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.
Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.
And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.
Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.
Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?
The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.
The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.
But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.
Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.
And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.
So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.
But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls
David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.
With summer league over and the big name free agents all signed, we’re now approaching the doldrums of the NBA offseason. Most big moves have all been made, and we shouldn’t expect to too much movement between now and the start of training camp.
Most teams probably have an idea already of what the bulk of their roster will look like come training camp, and as such, we’re starting a new series here at Basketball Insiders taking a look at each team’s offseason to this point.
Next up in our series is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are a team clearly in rebuilding mode. After this offseason, they’ve done a pretty solid job at filling out the roster with young talent at every position. It’s obvious now that they were clear winners of their trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago that netted them Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine continued his ascent to stardom this past season. There may have been initial concerns when he was traded to Chicago as to how he would respond after his torn ACL, but since then, he’s showed no lingering limitations. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the elite shooting guards in the league. Few can match his scoring prowess whether he’s slashing to the rim or shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line.
Markkanen has emerged as one of the top young big men in the NBA. He made some strong steps forward in his second year in the league. He’s moving closer to becoming a double-double threat every night. He’s exceeded projections from when he was drafted that pegged him as little more than a three-point shooting big. He has shown a lot more versatility to his game.
One major addition the Bulls made last season was the trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. When he arrived in Chicago, he quickly played some of the best basketball of his career, fitting in seamlessly with the team and solidifying himself as part of their future core.
They’ve also got Wendell Carter Jr. in the fold. Their top draft pick last offseason, Carter quickly established himself a great defensive complement to Markkanen. An injury cut his rookie season shorter than expected, but he still showed flashes of being a capable around the rim scorer.
They do have some other decent rotation guys in Antonio Blakeney, Chandler Hutchinson and Ryan Arcidiacono. Blakeney is an instant offense scoring guard for the second unit, and Hutchinson was showing flashes of his talent before he too went down with an injury during his rookie season. Arcidiacono was re-signed by the Bulls after being one of their most consistent outside shooters last season.
The Bulls came into draft night with the seventh overall pick. It might have seemed like a disappointment seeing as how the Bulls probably had a shot at a top three pick considering their record. But ultimately, Chicago might have gotten what it wanted in the end. Point guard has been an area of need for the Bulls for quite some time, and they used their pick on North Carolina’s Coby White.
White is a little more in the mold of a scoring guard, but if you could take away one thing from his performance in summer league, it’s that he can thrive as a playmaker as well. It’s unlikely that White will get to start right away, but he’s got the makings of developing into the Bulls eventual starter at the point.
Chicago also picked up Daniel Gafford in the second round. The Bulls needed frontcourt depth after losing Robin Lopez in free agency, and they may very well have found their answer with Gafford. Summer League isn’t always a great indicator of how a player will translate to the NBA, but Gafford was solid as a finisher around the rim and a shot blocker in the paint. He may end up becoming one of the steals of the draft.
In free agency, the Bulls made some rather solid moves. On a team full of young players, it’s necessary to have a couple of key veterans for the young guys to lean on and to provide leadership and stability in the locker room. Thaddeus Young certainly fits that bill. Entering his 13th year in the league, Young played in 81 games last season and was a key guy on a Pacers team that made the playoffs. He’ll provide the Bulls with consistency on and off the court.
They also made a big step to addressing their point guard woes. They acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. He’ll provide a perfect stop-gap as the starting point guard while White develops. He proved himself as a facilitator with the Wizards, and he’s one of the better three-point shooters in the league, He’s a versatile guy who can play and defend multiple positions.
The Bulls also picked up Luke Kornet who spent last season with the New York Knicks. Kornet is relatively young and gives the Bulls a solid stretch big man on a decent contract. He’s also a solid shot blocker and should compete with Gafford for minutes off the bench.
Chicago also picked up an intriguing prospect in Adam Mokoka. The French combo guard initially declared for the draft a year ago but ultimately withdrew. He re-entered the draft this summer but went undrafted. In summer league, he showed flashes of playing both wing positions and being a capable defender who can shoot from three. He’ll be on a two-way contract so he’ll see significant time with the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate.
PLAYERS IN: Adam Mokoka (two-way), Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
PLAYERS OUT: Brandon Sampson, Rawle Alkins, Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden
The Bulls roster currently stands at 15 guaranteed contracts and one two-way contract. They’re likely done with any roster additions unless they find someone to take that second two-way contract slot. They’d most likely move Cristiano Felicio if they could find a taker for his contract, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the additions of Satoransky and White, that likely spells the end of the Kris Dunn experiment in Chicago. If Dunn remains on the roster through the season, and the Bulls aren’t able to move him, it’s highly unlikely Chicago tenders him a qualifying offer. In all likelihood, this is his final season in the Windy City.
The Bulls have done a decent job at filling the roster out with good, young talent. Making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference, is still likely a few seasons away. But there is reason for optimism for the Bulls future.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Davies opens Basketball Insiders team-by-team “Grading The Offseason” series with an overview of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Monday night in Las Vegas, the 2019 NBA Summer League champions will be crowned. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are set to square off at the Thomas & Mack Center as the last teams standing over the course of the 10-day period.
Once that winner is determined, the world will be without NBA basketball for quite some time. Though the FIBA World Cup will be fun to watch, it’s not until late September that the association returns for training camp.
In order to hold you over until that date, Basketball Insiders has begun a “Grading The Offseason” series, featuring in-depth analysis on how each franchise has done during this wild summer.
To start things off, we’re going to break down arguably the quietest team of them all regarding roster turnover—the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that, on the floor, the season didn’t go quite as expected. Following the second departure of LeBron James, the organization felt it had enough remnants of the conference championship team to move forward and compete while developing young talent under head coach Tyronn Lue. A detrimental injury to Kevin Love changed that quickly.
Lue was fired six games into the 2018-19 campaign and then the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Top assistant Larry Drew pushed for a raise to take the interim role, due to the mixed bag inside of the locker room, and he was granted one. But as the losses piled up, the internal battle between the veterans and the younger players grew. Most of the criticism shaded toward upstart rookie Collin Sexton, yet he later proved what he was capable of to some of those teammates later down the road.
There were bright spots when Love re-entered the picture around February and played until late March, as he helped steer the inexperienced youngsters like Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic in the direction of winning basketball. When all was said and done, the final record was ugly. However, the energy surrounding the group was clearly in a much more positive light than it had been beforehand.
What shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle is the job Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman and his staff did to revamp the team’s salary cap situation. Entering the year with inflated contracts, via veterans that didn’t want to sit through a rebuild, moves had to be made to tighten up the locker room and lower the cap a significant amount. Ultimately, they were successful in doing so.
Cleveland was able to move Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (acquired in the Korver trade) and turned that into Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Nik Stauskas and a boatload of future draft picks. Altman’s been in asset accumulation mode since he took over during LeBron’s last season, and he’s done wonders with the opportunity to chop down those loud figures on the cap sheet, even adding future capital in the process.
Not only has Altman done a great job in obtaining that, but he’s also turned “good” into “great” often—i.e. turning Korver into Burks which he then flipped for a 2019 first-round pick, using the second-rounders to acquire another first-round pick. Even landing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson at the 2018 trade deadline to kickstart a new direction was impressive.
After parting ways with Drew at season’s end, the Cavaliers set a new course with the hiring of John Beilein in mid-May. Over the span of these past few months, he’s constructed a fresh coaching staff with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as his associate, University of California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and five-year Utah Jazz assistant Antonio Lang in complementary roles.
Beilein’s graduate assistant at Michigan, Jay Shunnar, is also a part of the staff. Team favorites Mike Gerrity and Dan Geriot are staying on as well to continue developing the players they’ve worked with.
All in all, the people assembled to take on this task of changing a culture are entrenched in teaching and doing hands-on work. It’s the on-court product with an extremely inexperienced group of coaches—three of which are coming from the collegiate level—that could be a challenge. Luckily, the process seems to be about a collective group with an open-mindedness that won’t allow for egos to get in the way.
Despite the lottery results going south (Cleveland had the second-best odds in the top three and dropped to five), draft night was a smashing success for the organization. The wine and gold came out with a trio of highly touted rookies—Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and, after trades were officially cleared, Kevin Porter Jr. Adding talents to the roster was the top priority for the front office — today, that stands as the most noise from what’s been a mostly silent offseason.
With a lack of roster spots and an understanding that there would be little money to spend in a chaotic, competitive free-agent market, the Cavaliers have had to stand pat with what they have. JR Smith’s contract had reportedly fielded some offers between NBA Draft Combine time and around the draft, but the team didn’t like the idea of taking back a bad contract. Instead, they found an easier way to get a third pick in the 2019 first round by using the plethora of second-rounders acquired in the past to flip for Porter.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported Monday that Cleveland plans on waiving and stretching Smith’s contract for $1.4 million each over the next three years. The move will allow the team to stay under the luxury tax, avoid the repeater tax penalty and also provides a full mid-level exception amount at its disposal. Fedor does mention the front office won’t likely use it heading into the season to remain flexible financially and to keep a roster spot open.
Smith not being traded came as a surprise to many, especially knowing the salary relief his previously-grandfathered CBA deal offered to a team searching to clear space for a big free agency offer. The summer moved fast, though, and other franchises with similar predicaments acted quickly. The Cavaliers could’ve facilitated a few trades to get more future draft assets in return, but they didn’t feel like taking on an albatross contract that would’ve been worth paying the extra tax this upcoming season.
The only other real decision to make was whether or not to retain David Nwaba, who, when healthy, displayed flashes of defensive excellence and aggressiveness on the offensive end, Cleveland did not extend the qualifying offer to Nwaba before the deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year deal.
This move was not so surprising as Basketball Insiders reported at the beginning of June that Nwaba’s representation would be looking for a multi-year deal. A league source said that last summer’s one-year agreement between the Cavaliers and Nwaba was with the understanding that he’d be strictly looking for a newly re-structured multi-year contract with no qualifying offer in his 2019 plans.
The latest addition the franchise made was inking Dean Wade, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State, to a two-way contract. He played in five NBA Summer League games for the organization between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
PLAYERS IN: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Dean Wade (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: JR Smith, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Channing Frye
Following the waiving of Smith, the Cavaliers roster will be at 13 players. You’d imagine they wouldn’t keep two roster spots open, so seeing a free agent signing or even nabbing a player from a summer league team could be in the cards.
Per Fedor, the franchise will be above the $109 million salary cap by $22 million once the Smith news is made official by the team. It’s a much healthier number than they’ve been at in years past — so, going into next summer, that cap sheet is going to be as clean as it’s been in quite some time.
Cleveland is going to have numerous attractive contracts on its hands as five players on the roster are on deals set to expire following this year. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million), Brandon Knight ($15.6 million), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million), John Henson ($9.7 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are all trade chips that Altman can move to stockpile the future even more. Depending on what offers come their way, it could be yet another busy season regarding roster turnover.
There’s plenty of speculation that the team should trade Love to a contender to both satisfy the player and allow the team to get out of his sizable deal. What people are forgetting is that the Cavaliers want to have a championship-caliber player in the locker room as a guiding voice. Remember, this team has one person that is at least the age of 30, and it is the All-Star big man. The next guys up are 28 years old—Henson, Dellavedova and Thompson—and who knows how long they’ll be around.
Cleveland will have to be blown away to take back what it thinks it should receive in return for Love. No deal will be made just to make a deal. The organization values him too much as a person and a player.
On the court, the focus is going to be on player development, mainly in watching how Sexton and Garland play off one another. Different looks and combinations with the frontcourt of Love, Nance Jr., Zizic, Windler and Osman will be available for Beilein to tinker with. A new coaching staff with a freshly enthused group of players should be intriguing to watch.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C-
Stay tuned to the rest of Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series over the next few weeks.
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