As basketball fans eagerly await the start of gameplay for the next NBA season, owners and front office personnel have been hard at work since the new league year officially began on July 1.
With that turnover comes a certain level of decision making for the very same front office folks. Beginning this offseason, players that were selected in the 2014 draft became eligible for contract extensions. This opportunity offers these particular players the first chance to really get paid following their rookie-scale contracts.
For some players, the decision to hand them a big time deal is a no-brainer by their team’s’ general manager. For others, and the various reasons that come along with the indecisiveness of inking that player to a second contract, the negotiating process isn’t so black and white.
When the shot clocks start ticking during next season, most of the following players will be performing with the thoughts of a new deal lurking in the back of their mind.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
For the former No. 1 overall pick, the path to his second NBA contract in the neighborhood of $150 million is more of semantics than anything.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor spoke on Monday about his willingness to offer Wiggins a max contract extension on one condition. Taylor wants to sit down with Wiggins face-to-face a literally hear him say that he will work to become a better player than he already is.
Essentially, here’s a nine-figure contract, but you promise you’ll try hard right?
At just 22 years of age, Wiggins still possesses a “sky is the limit” label. He averaged 23.6 points per game last season, crossing the 40-point plateau five times, and his level of athleticism is nearly unmatched throughout the league. Wiggins can score the basketball, period.
However, and this may be what Taylor was alluding to when he requested of Wiggins to become more of a complete player, the small forward is just plain bad defensively. Even with his insane athleticism and 7-foot wingspan, Wiggins has never posted a positive defensive box plus/minus in his career. In fact, through his first three seasons, each DBPM was worse than the year before.
So, while Wiggins can score in bunches, his track record suggests he lets his man score at will too. Sinking $150 million into a one-way player is a hefty risk, which is presumably why Taylor wants to hear straight from the horse’s mouth that improvement is on the way.
All in all, Wiggins will probably get his extension barring some weird outcome where he tells the owner of his team that he doesn’t want to get better, therefore giving up millions of dollars.
But hey, stranger things have happened. Right?
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Unlike Wiggins, Parker’s owner isn’t coming out publicly and offering a max deal with lip service stipulations attached to it. Instead, Parker’s next contract may be a bit more debated within the Bucks’ front office.
In his third season, Parker began to show great strides as the player that was selected second overall in his draft class. Through 51 games, Parker was averaging 20.1 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds and shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc. Parker was turning into a perfect complementary piece alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Then Parker tore the ACL in his left knee. Again.
After suffering the same tear just 25 games into his rookie season, another one of Parker’s prime developmental years was cut short. Along with losing another season, as well as the first half of next season presumably, Parker now has a reoccurring left knee concern that may have cost him millions.
Given the circumstances, and the fact that Parker may not return next season until around the All-Star break, his contract extension watch will be an interesting storyline to follow next summer.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Talk about injury concerns.
By the time opening night rolls around, Embiid will have played just 31 games through three seasons on an NBA roster.
And yet, if the Sixers signed Embiid to a max extension tomorrow, there would be a strong voice within the NBA community who support the decision. But, Philadelphia really needs to see that Embiid can complete more than half of a season before they pour boatloads of money into his bank account.
If another season of Embiid’s ends in injury, the Sixers will have to think long and hard about what kind of deal they bring to the table during Embiid’s negotiation.
However, just like everything else that surrounds the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon, the Sixers are going to just have to Trust The Process.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Gordon is an interesting case for the Magic.
Through three NBA seasons, it’s still unclear what position he actually plays — or should play for that matter. Over the course of his first two seasons, Gordon played about two-thirds of his minutes at power forward, with the other third coming at small forward. Last season, those numbers were flipped.
At 6-foot-9 with crazy hops, Gordon fits the bill physically as an impactful wing player in today’s NBA. There’s just one problem, he can’t shoot. Up until this point, Gordon is a career 29 percent three-point shooter. Granted, he’s just 21 years old with plenty of time to improve, but there is little chance that Gordon ever becomes a lights out shooter from beyond the arc.
With more than one extension decision to take into account, and a new regime who wasn’t responsible for draft Gordon, the matter of his next contract offer could be interesting, especially with Orlando selecting Jonathan Isaac No. 6 overall in last June’s draft.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Speaking of more contract extension decisions, Payton is also on the list for Orlando.
With career averages of 10.8 points and 6.5 assists per game, Payton has shown that he can make a decent impact while on the court. However, similar to Gordon, Payton can’t shoot.
With an identical shooting percentage to Gordon’s from beyond the arc, the Magic are in a position to extend two players who both lack the singular skill that the league is transitioning to value the most.
How things shake out for these two 2014 lottery picks in Orlando will be an indication of where new management is headed for the rebuild of the Magic.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
After being selected towards the back end of the lottery on draft night in 2014, LaVine turned into a fine young player for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
So fine of a young player, in fact, that the Wolves were able to ship him off to Chicago in a deal that allowed them to acquire Bulls’ star player, Jimmy Butler.
Before tearing his ACL last season, LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc while showing legitimate improvement in his game. At 22 years old, LaVine has plenty of time to recover from his knee injury and continue to grow into the next stage of his career.
Considering the position LaVine is in as the centerpiece of the haul Chicago got for their franchise player, common sense would assume the Bulls are all-in on resigning LaVine should his knee prove to be healthy.
For the sake of the Bulls’ franchise (and the All-Star weekend dunk contest) let’s hope LaVine’s knee comes back better than ever.
Other Notable Extension Eligible Players: Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers), Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers), Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets), Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz), Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets).
The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.
It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.
However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.
A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.
Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.
There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.
This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.
But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.
With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.
Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.
Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.
But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.
College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.
NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.
But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.
The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.
So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.
Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up
The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.
The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.
Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.
Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.
Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.
Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.
NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs
The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.
Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.
Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.
“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”
Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.
“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”
Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”
That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.
“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”
In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.
“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”
That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.