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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High-Performance Mindfulness: The Missing Link To DeMarcus Cousins’ Recovery
Jake Rauchbach discusses DeMarcus Cousins and one of the under-explored, but more critical aspects of the injury recovery process.
Last week, DeMarcus Cousins sustained another career-threatening injury, tearing his ACL during a pickup game in Las Vegas.
Cousins, who battled back from a ruptured Achilles this past season, is now in jeopardy of missing a big chunk of the upcoming season for his third time in as many years.
He is expected to miss major time for a third straight season due to a lower leg injury. Before tearing his left Achilles on Jan. 26 2018, Cousins’ durability was never really in question. Before the initial injury, the big-man missed over 20 games just once in a season.
Virtually every year, we see stories similar to Cousins. A player who, at one time in his career had little to no history of injury, gradually becomes engulfed in a seemingly chronic and potentially career-ending pattern for injury – Derrick Rose being a prime example of this.
Common thought for chronic injury issues points back to the physical or structural aspect. Some of the most common theories as to why players experience these setbacks are generally due to pre-disposition, overcompensation and an over-ambitious goal for recovery.
With any injury type, there are obvious physical factors at play. However, a vital and under-explored aspect of the recovery process could be blocking these players’ recovery process.
The Mind-Body Factor
The mind and body are inextricably linked. A person cannot entertain a thought or emotion and, without effect, a chain-reaction in the body occurring. The same can be said for athletes that re-experience past traumatic injury by way of memory.
As humans, we tend to push overwhelming memories, such as traumatic injury, to the far reaches of our subconscious mind. This can be a problem, as these unresolved thoughts, emotions, feelings and psycho-somatic pain can get lodged within a player’s muscle memory.
When this happens, severe compensation, fear of injury and guarding patterns can arise in the body, which can have the effect of weakening the point of injury. This consequently causes structural weakness in other parts of the body. Rose and Cousins could be prime examples of this.
Subconscious mental and emotional blocks such as these, if left unaddressed, can create a nasty psycho-somatic injury loop, consequentially making players susceptible to further injury. Leaving imbalances unresolved at the unconscious level can jeopardize the physical health and well-being of an athlete. Finding a way to break this loop is paramount.
Mental And Emotional Blocks
The psycho-somatic memory of rupturing an Achilles or tearing an ACL can easily stay locked up within the deep mind or muscle memory of a player for years until fully processed.
In Rose’s case, his first major injury and psycho-somatic impediment may have occurred when he tore his ACL during the 2012-2013 season. Dr. Michael Casale, speaking about Rose, said:
“His injury must have caused so much mental trauma. The neuroscience part of me comes out and starts to think about, as far as the brain rewiring, it must be so unbelievably impactful to have that one moment change the way you think about yourself and your environment.”
Considering his past injury history – and the fact that some like Dr. Casale within the medical community believe that Rose’s injury may have caused psychological damage – it is not a stretch to think there has been a very real psycho-somatic element at play.
In Cousins’ case, he has sustained two major leg injuries in a relatively short period. It is generally challenging for big men with severe lower leg injuries to return to the court better than when they left it. Cousins could have his work cut out for him.
If Cousins or Rose are still carrying the deep mental and emotional discord from their past injuries, the chronic injury patterns that they have already experienced could likely persist.
Directly addressing unresolved psycho-somatic barriers with leading-edge High-Performance Mindfulness systems could help players like Rose and Cousins break the habitual injury loop that they have experienced.
The Missing Link – Streamlining The Injury Recovery Process
So what might be the next correct step in streamlining recovery?
High-Performance Mindfulness – Energy Psychology Programs that zero in on removing the mental and emotional baggage from past injuries, exactly what Cousins and Rose could require.
High-Performance Mindfulness can now identify which unconscious mental blocks are holding a player back wherein the subconscious mind-body they are being held. Through a systematic approach for removing and neutralize these impediments, players have been shown to physically improve once the emotional discord of the past experiences has been neutralized.
Frequently, the option of last resort, techniques such as these often have the effect of improving range of motion, eliminating fears of re-injury and eliminating those nasty guarding patterns.
Moreover, employing tools that interface directly with the subconscious mind have been shown to restore confidence, trust and rhythm for a player in regards to his or her own body.
For players like Cousins and Rose, there may be nothing more vital at this stage in their careers.
Getting to the root of these chronic injury patterns may be the key for Cousins, Rose and players like them challenged with similar injury patterns for unlocking, healing and preventing future injury.
Addressing the deeply held negatively charged thoughts, images, emotions and somatic feelings could be the way for doing so – and could be a game-changer for players coming back from injury.
Could Team USA’s Success Create More Future NBA Partnerships?
Past U.S. National Teams have foreshadowed future player movement. What possibilities could come from the 2019 FIBA World Cup roster? Douglas Farmer writes.
Since 2008’s “Redeem Team,” two themes have applied to every iteration of the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team.
They are stocked with the current cream of the crop, and they lay a groundwork for future partnerships or rumored partnerships.
Injuries, workload management and personal decisions have invalidated the first of those themes as the U.S. prepares for the FIBA World Cup in two weeks, but the bonds made in China could still influence the NBA in years to come, just as such friendships led to the 2010-14 Miami Heat, the 2016-19 Kevin Durant-included Golden State Warriors and the brand new Brooklyn Nets.
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were all a part of that 2008 Gold Medal team. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson first got to know Durant up close and personal while winning gold in Brazil. Kyrie Irving and Durant played together then as well, and that goes without mentioning DeAndre Jordan. Let’s not forget that Irving also played with Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis in 2016, two others he has been linked with the last few seasons.
So what partnerships could come from the current team? Three possibilities stick out.
The 2022 Restricted Free Agents
Four members of Gregg Popovich’s U.S. roster will reach restricted free agency after the 2022 season. For Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White, they may have the option to survey their options and force their current organizations’ respective hands, but Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell will almost assuredly sign five-year deals where they are now.
That will set up Tatum and Mitchell – and perhaps Kuzma and/or White – to reach unrestricted free agency simultaneously in 2027. Is it absurd to look eight years ahead? Perhaps, but in the current climate of player empowerment, those timelines can become truncated in unexpected ways. For now, using the 2027 offseason simply creates a predictable point of reference.
Tatum will be entering his age-29 season and Mitchell his age-31 season. If either or both has not yet won a title — by 2027 or, as alluded to, when forcing a franchise’s decisions even earlier — the competitive clock will be ticking at a rapid pace.
To put it bluntly, the Tatum-Mitchell duo could fit very well. For that matter, there is no genuine overlap even when considering Kuzma and White.
Though his 2018-19 was a slight step backward in many respects, Tatum remains a solid shooter and one that should only improve. Perhaps he is not quite the 43.4 percent three-point shooter that he was as a rookie, but he is also better than last season’s 37.3 percent. As his body continues to mature, his rebounding rate should continue to rise, already up to 6.0 from 5.0 in just two years.
Mitchell, meanwhile, improved his shooting from deep to 36.2 percent from 34 percent in his first two seasons and raised his assist-to-turnover rate to 1.48 from 1.35. On the surface, those may seem like incremental betterings, but considering Mitchell’s usage rate also jumped to 31.7 from 29.2, their impacts were crucial pieces of Utah finishing fifth in the West.
A pick-and-roll between the two of them would put any defense in a compromising position. Either could drive to the rim, either could crash for a lob, either could pop out for a three. Neither lags off the dribble or in a catch-and-shoot situation. And each comports himself well defensively, a trait that will presumably only strengthen with age.
Tatum and Mitchell would make for a solid combination, a rapport to be looked for when the U.S. faces the Czech Republic on Sept. 1.
Of course, if either appears to be fitting with Kuzma or White better than expected, one or the other could eventually lean on his current franchise to tender a better offer than the Lakers or Spurs are likely to match.
2020 Role Players on the Market
On this U.S. roster, only Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee and Nets guard Joe Harris will be free agents next summer. Neither will command massive contracts, though both would be leaving teams with distinct championship aspirations if they shopped around. There are, however, two contingents of players headed to China with equal title hopes who could begin sales pitches.
Tatum is just one of four Celtics on the roster, making them the loudest group. They could see Plumlee and recognize size not much abundant on their team in Boston. With Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and Tatum, they have reasonable shooting, but finding a way to bang with the lengthy 76ers will undoubtedly be on Celtics president Danny Ainge’s to-do list.
Bucks guard Khris Middleton and big man Brook Lopez are the only other pair of NBA teammates representing the U.S., and in Harris they should see the ideal sharpshooter to stash around Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That version of player recruitment may not have the same headline value as the Gold Medal-winning efforts of the last decade, but that is appropriate for a roster devoid of MVP candidates. It could be the key to a title all the same.
Be it Harris to the Bucks, Plumlee to the Celtics or a Tatum-Mitchell partnership years from becoming a reality, such team-building could shape a postseason just as James-Wade-Bosh and Durant to the Warriors did, all spurred by time on a national team roster.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Toronto Raptors
Shane Rhodes examines the double-edged sword of the Toronto Raptors’ championship season and the loss of a franchise superstar.
The NBA is a fickle beast, success a fleeting one.
And, right now, no one may know that better than the Toronto Raptors.
After the first title in their team’s history, the Raptors are left without Kawhi Leonard, the former Spur, Raptor and now Clipper that carried the franchise to its greatest heights. Toronto and Masai Ujiri’s gamble from a year ago was worth it – with Leonard in place of DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors reached the pinnacle of the basketball world – but it has left the franchise ill-equipped to retain their heightened status.
Of course, and although he was a significant part of it, there was more to their team than Leonard. That being said, success could stay in the cards for the Raptors, if not to a lesser extent, next season.
But the shoes Leonard vacated were quite large. Ujiri and Co. did what they could to fill them, but it can be hard, nigh impossible, to replace a superstar. Did they do enough to keep the team at the top of the Eastern Conference or, at the very least, earn a passing grade?
The Raptors season was an interesting one.
After the DeRozan-Leonard blockbuster rocked the whole of the NBA, Toronto was projected to be one of the best in the Association. It didn’t quite go as planned, but the Raptors indeed found themselves near the top of the NBA ladder, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) in terms of their record (58-24).
Toronto was mocked early on for their “load management” approach, but it’s hard to argue with the results: Leonard looked like himself rather than the hobbled doppelganger we saw in his last season with San Antonio.
Once again at the peak of his powers, Leonard elevated the play of everyone around him and made the Raptors true title contenders. When the postseason came around, Toronto – after a brief slip against the Orlando Magic – rolled through the first round.
In the second, they clashed in a back-and-forth seven-game series with the Philadelphia 76ers, which ended with a signature moment from Leonard.
From there, they went toe-to-toe with eventual Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors didn’t flinch.
And, finally, they were face to face with the beast that has stalked the collective nightmares of the NBA over the last five seasons: the Golden State Warriors.
The Raptors were built for this moment: to take on (and topple) a giant. In trading DeRozan, the team had stripped themselves of what their franchise was – its former face. It was cold, but it was also calculated and methodical. Everything had led up to this moment for Toronto, and there was nothing that they were going to let stop them.
And nothing did.
Toronto was a team of destiny. There was an air about them, a sense of magic and an essence that can’t be coached from the whiteboard or broken down in the film room. They took the Warriors to their limit and beat them. And, injuries aside, nothing can take that away from the Raptors franchise, their fans and the city of Toronto.
Unfortunately, this is Basketball Insiders’ “Grading the Offseason” series and, while what the Raptors achieved during the regular and postseason is great, it doesn’t factor into what they have done since they brought the Larry O’Brien trophy to Toronto.
The Raptors had hoped a title could lure Leonard back to the frozen North. In the end, not even that was enough to keep Leonard from Los Angeles but, if given the choice, Toronto would almost certainly trade for him again – the proverbial “window” can close so quickly and the team had to seize their opportunity while there still was one.
6-foot-7 superstar forwards don’t grow on trees, however. Leonard’s departure left a superstar-sized hole on the roster and he wouldn’t be easily replaced.
Toronto went into the 2019 NBA Draft with just a second-round pick, its first owed to San Antonio as part of the deal for Leonard. With that, the team took Dewan Hernandez, a forward out of the University of Miami.
They retained Patrick McCaw, a wing, signed Terence Davis, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Devin Robinson, all forwards.
Sensing a theme?
The Raptors, rather than trying to find one player, opted to replace Leonard with a committee. None of those players inspire much confidence, but bringing in a versatile group like that is at least a start.
From there, Toronto filled out the rest of the roster: with Danny Green, another integral piece, gone to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors added Cameron Payne and Matt Thomas to serve as depth behind Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell.
Short of something completely out-of-the-blue, ala the Leonard-DeRozan swap this time last year, there is little else the Raptors could do to improve their next-season outlook. After the flurry that was the start of free agency, there just isn’t much impact talent left out there.
On a lighter note, the Raptors didn’t lose much of anything outside of Leonard and Green that wasn’t addressed in those signings. Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd, Jodie Meeks and Eric Moreland were the other Raptors that walked into free agency.
Those players haven’t exactly knocked down the doors anywhere else. The Raptors, at the very least, should get similar production from their new guys.
PLAYERS IN: Terence Davis, Dewan Hernandez, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Cameron Payne, Matt Thomas, Devin Robinson (Exhibit 10), Sagaba Konate (Exhibit 10), Oshae Brissett (Exhibit 10)
PLAYERS OUT: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd, Jodie Meeks, Eric Moreland
Short of retaining Leonard, it was almost guaranteed to be a “bad” offseason for the Raptors, and their grade has reflected that.
Their roster is talented, but Toronto is built to house a superstar, not compete without one. Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson, Payne and the others could have proven perfect additions to a title contender but, to the Raptors, they serve as no more than mediocre depth, either journeymen or hopeful reclamation projects.
In an extremely top-heavy East, Toronto should have no problem floating somewhere in the middle-of-the-pack (if not near the top of the conference). But that “good-not-great” gray-area isn’t the goal for any squad, certainly not the defending champions.
Now, it is the NBA, and anything can happen in this league. Should another disgruntled opportunity ala Leonard present itself, and should the Raptors jump on it, that could all change.
But right now, the odds of that happening seem slim.
In Leonard’s departure, Toronto was dealt an unwinnable hand. Unfortunately, there is no sympathy in grading.
OFFSEASON GRADE: D