Why So Quiet?
Normally when the NBA calendar flips to the new year, trade talks and rumors heat up. However, this season the amount of trade chatter has been surprisingly low and the number of consummated trades is equally low.
So far since training camp, there have been two trades: Ish Smith was traded to Philadelphia by New Orleans in exchange for two second round draft picks; while Mario Chalmers and James Ennis were traded by Miami to Memphis for Beno Udrih and Jarnell Stokes.
By this time last season, there had already been six transactions in total involving 21 players or player draft rights.
It’s been a quiet year in the NBA on the transaction front and there are a couple of big reasons for it.
The biggest reason is that so many teams are right there in terms of being in the playoff picture. While some teams might need one more player to get over the hump, many of the teams (especially in the East) are fearful of changing something that’s working because just as a new face could move a team forward, it could also move a team backward and there does not seem to be as much interest in change as in previous years.
The other big reason is the cap space bonanza teams are facing in July. In case you have been living in a cave for the last year, the NBA inked a massive $24 billion media rights deal along with a whopping $1 billion apparel deal that’s going to kick in next season and cause the salary cap in July to swell to what could be north of $90 million. That kind of bump would move virtually every team to within striking distance of free agency and in some cases, some teams could have $60 million or more to spend this summer.
Predicting actual cap space this far out is a complex concept – our own Eric Pincus spends far too much time playing with the scenarios – but to sort of generalize the possibilities, you can look at what each team currently has in guaranteed contract money for next year to see why some teams are opting to sit out the trade market in favor of preserving future cap space:
|Los Angeles Lakers||$23,126,154||$66,873,846|
|Portland Trail Blazers||$44,468,987||$45,531,013|
|New York Knicks||$55,366,567||$34,633,433|
|New Orleans Pelicans||$63,851,448||$26,148,552|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||$65,906,301||$24,093,699|
|San Antonio Spurs||$70,429,409||$19,570,591|
|Golden State Warriors||$74,751,658||$15,248,342|
|Los Angeles Clippers||$76,290,361||$13,709,639|
Now, mind you, the above table does not account for a lot of items like cap holds for draft picks, salary cap holds for pending free agents or LeBron James re-signing (and for how much).
This table simply points out what’s currently completely guaranteed. Some teams could trade away contracts before the deadline and increase their number or they could opt to pick-up contract options that would decrease their number.
So the chart isn’t about predicting what a team will actually end up with, it illustrates that virtually every team in the NBA has a few million reasons not to mess with their roster, especially if it adds contract money into next season.
There have been many that wonder why Suns forward Markieff Morris has not been traded yet. The truth is, beyond his flaws as a player or even his off-the-court issues, he’s owed $7.4 million next season and for some teams that might mean the difference between having a viable maximum salary offer in free agency and not having enough room to get a meeting.
Is Morris currently worth missing out on the chance to pitch Kevin Durant?
As the February 18 NBA trade deadline gets ever so closer, there is a growing sense that unless teams are offered home-run deals, the appeal of trading for players that have contract money owed to them in 2016 is considerably low. Some of those players might become attractive in the offseason when teams swing and miss on bigger fish type of guys, but today the appeal of taking on 2016 salary is pretty low even for teams with pending free agents that could walk away for nothing after the season.
The appeal of the possible space and the players a team could obtain with it is far more desirable than what’s being shopped around.
The Magic And Victor Oladipo
If you have been following the Orlando Magic this season, you may have noticed there is an odd thing playing out when it comes to their process. The Magic spent high level draft picks on players like guard Victor Oladipo (No. 2 overall) and forward Aaron Gordon (No. 4 overall) that in a perfect world would not start in Orlando.
How is it that the second pick and arguably the best player in the top 10 of his draft class isn’t a starter? Or that an all-energy, all-hustle guy like Gordon can’t get meaningful minutes on the floor? Some of it has to do with how the Magic got here and some of it has to do with where the Magic want to go as an organization.
When the Magic decided to trade away Dwight Howard, the goal was to tear the team down and rebuild around a young core of similar aged players who could learn and grow together. Oladipo was believed to be a big part of that future and still very well could be.
Oladipo was anointed as the future of the franchise and he was given a very wide berth to figure things out. He was exciting to watch. He blossomed into an incredible defensive presence and everything seemed on course for Victor to sign a massive contract in July of 2016 and take his place as the guy in Orlando.
Then the Magic changed course.
The Magic opted to fire head coach Jacque Vaughn last year as it was clear that the team was stagnating and not progressing. Senior management and ownership desperately wanted a proven operator and tapped Scott Skiles to be the head coach.
Skiles was given a very clear directive: Win basketball games.
While this was good for the fans, better for the team and excellent for some of the more established players like center Nikola Vucevic and forward Tobias Harris, it did not line up with the original plans for Oladipo or Gordon.
Oladipo, while posting some solid numbers this season, has struggled to shoot the ball efficiently and lost his starter job to guard Evan Fournier, who emerged as an electric and efficient scorer this year. The other part of the Oladipo equation was that when paired with sophomore guard Elfrid Payton, they combined to produce some of the worst combined analytics of any backcourt tandem in the NBA.
Fournier was flourishing, the back court was struggling and Skiles wanted to win.
Oladipo was sent to the bench, which allowed a rotation shift that brought Channing Frye into the starting rotation, moved Harris to his natural position at the three and gave Fournier the full time shooting guard spot, which worked much better with Payton.
Oladipo was now the spark from the bench, he was the defensive hammer Skiles could wield when needed and he was allowed much more freedom from the bench. Things for the Magic improved. Oladipo could play more of his game and the Magic could get a more effective starting unit.
The problem is this was supposed to be Oladipo’s year. He was supposed to post huge numbers, cement himself into the All-Star conversation and land his huge maximum contract in July. Today, that does not seem remotely plausible.
The Magic have not soured on Oladipo. They simply have backed up the process. That’s frustrating for Oladipo because the Magic are trying to reel him back in a little and win games in the process.
That same process has not created much of an opportunity for Gordon either.
Both were supposed to be the cornerstones of the future, but in a win-right-now situation, neither are nearly ready or developed enough to play at the level or consistency that a coach like Skiles demands and expects.
There are rules, systems, processes and expectations in Orlando now and those who execute them play. Those who don’t execute, don’t play.
That’s not either players’ fault. The game plan in Orlando changed.
The Magic want to be in the postseason this year, which means young guys who have a few more things to learn are going to take a back seat. That doesn’t mean the franchise has abandoned their youth, it simply means letting them figure things out on the floor is no longer going to happen – at least not as freely as it did during the obvious rebuilding years.
The Magic have a role for Oladipo. He’ll be their sixth man this year and they’ll look at things in the offseason. For those that believe Oladipo is somehow obtainable in trade, he really is not. It would take a monster of a transaction to get Orlando to even seriously talk about it.
Fournier is a pending free agent and the Magic have no idea what it will cost to keep him beyond this season. The Magic also are not sold that keeping Fournier at an inflated price tag is the best use of the free agent money. They played a similar hand with Harris last summer, trying to land Atlanta’s Paul Millsap before inking Harris to his long-term deal. The same is expected this summer.
The Magic will have the option to restrict Fournier’s free agency and see if there is a better place to put what could be $14-$16 million per season. If they can’t find a better option, they can always sign or match Fournier’s offers.
If they choose to pass on Fournier altogether, they still have Oladipo, who will be one more season along in his career and maybe a more reliable shooter after another offseason of work.
Nothing between the Magic and Oladipo has really changed, except the role they need him to play right now. He is still viewed a vital part to the Magic’s future and a key reason the Magic have won as many games as they have this season.
What’s happened in Orlando is they have backed up the program for the young guys a little and shifted their development into a more traditional off-the-court, work-with-the-coaches process that winning teams use to develop players.
That might seem a little foreign considering how bad Orlando has been for the last few years, but the name of the game has changed. The Magic are trying to win something this year and that means the young guys have to take a bit of step back until they can demonstrate consistently that they can run the program as scripted by the coaches. That’s not always easy to accept for young players, but that’s how it is when you are trying to be a playoff team.
Some may disagree with that plan, but the truth of the matter is the Magic are not going to lure in a top shelf free agent winning 25-30 games a year. To get serious consideration in free agency, the Magic need to be a winning team and if that means high draft picks play from the bench, then that’s how it has to be.
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NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.
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