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.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA, @iamdpick, @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.