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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New Orleans Pelicans and Cliff Alexander Agree To Deal
The New Orleans Pelicans and free agent forward Cliff Alexander have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.
The addition of Alexander will give New Orleans 20 players heading into training camp.
Alexander spent last season playing 40 combined games with the Erie Bayhawks and Long Island Nets in the G-League, where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game. Alexander also shot 52 percent from the field and blocked one shot per game.
The 21-year-old forward was a McDonald’s All-American and won MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic in 2014 before attending Kansas University. Alexander played 28 games as a Jayhawk and averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game before declaring for the draft.
After going undrafted, Alexander played in eight games for Portland during the 2015-16 season and received a 10-day contract from the Brooklyn Nets in April.
For more information on the salary cap and roster situation for the New Orleans Pelicans, click here.
New Orleans Pelicans and free agent forward Cliff Alexander have agreed to a 1-year, non-guaranteed deal, league source told @BBallInsiders.
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) September 24, 2017
Atlanta Hawks and John Jenkins Agree To Deal
The Atlanta Hawks and free agent guard John Jenkins have agreed to a training camp deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.
The addition of Jenkins will give Atlanta 20 players heading into training camp.
Jenkins drew interest from several other teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.
The 26-year-old guard began his career in Atlanta after the Hawks selected him 23rd overall out of Vanderbilt in the 2012 draft. For his career, Jenkins has averaged 5.1 points in 12.8 minutes per game while shooting 45 percent from the field overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc.
For more information on Atlanta’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.
Atlanta Hawks and free agent guard John Jenkins have agreed to a training camp deal, a league source told @BBallInsiders.
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) September 24, 2017
Golden State Warriors 2017-18 Season Preview
The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the NBA crop, even after several franchises went all in this offseason. Can anyone really beat the Warriors in a seven-game series? We look at the Warriors in this final NBA season preview.
After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors were highly favored to win the 2016-17 championship with the offseason addition of Kevin Durant. In the Warriors’ third straight Finals match up with Cavaliers, Golden State, with plenty of help from Durant, over-matched Cleveland in last season’s NBA Finals. This year, with Durant taking a pay cut, the team did a masterful job of bringing back just about all of the key players from last year’s championship run. Now the team is primed to wreak havoc on the league once again.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
It’s almost comical at this point how the best team in basketball keeps getting better.
After adding Kevin Durant last summer, and then completely decimating the entire NBA, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the Golden State Warriors did was go out and add two players in Omri Casspi and Nick Young who almost perfectly fit their brand of “you’re not out-shooting us” basketball.
The powers of the NBA all shuffled around their rosters this season in hopes of trying to assemble some type of “anti-Warriors” remedy, and when it’s all said and done, those moves will be all for naught. Expect Golden State to ride their legendary roster to another NBA title.
1st place – Pacific Division
– Dennis Chambers
What do you need me to say about the Warriors that you don’t already know? Two of the best five players in the league are on the roster, as well as arguably the top defensive player in the league and a cast of reserves that fit perfectly with the superstars running the show. Even JaVale McGee is shooting three pointers now. The Warriors are unstoppable and in some ways even better than the team that won a championship a few months ago. It’s going to be a long season for every other team in the league. They’re all playing for second place.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
The road to the NBA Finals obviously goes through Oakland, especially after the club managed to re-sign JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Nick Young will give the team some additional firepower, but they probably don’t even need it.
So long as these guys stay healthy, they’ll probably find their way to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, and with the Clippers having lost Chris Paul, the Warriors should have a relatively easy time winning the Pacific Division for the fourth straight year.
I’m usually longer-winded than that, but I’m not sure much else needs to be said about the Warriors.
1st place – Pacific Division
– Moke Hamilton
At this point, what’s really left to say? The Warriors had arguably the best basketball team ever assembled last season, and that was while dealing with minor role concerns and dealing with Kevin Durant’s midseason injury. Then they went out and improved this offseason, adding the likes of Omri Casspi and Nick Young as perfect end-of-roster pieces. Combine that with what most would expect will be even better fit and chemistry across the roster this season, and the Warriors stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league even with several squads making big power moves to try and bridge the gap. Anything but a third title in four years will fail to do justice to the incredible, historical talent on this roster.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Ben Dowsett
The best team in the NBA went out and retained key players and signed Omri Casspi and Nick Young to round out the roster. As has been the case for several years now, the Warriors enter the upcoming season with the most overall talent, improved chemistry, good health and every ingredient necessary to win an NBA championship. Several other contenders pulled off some impressive moves to try and bridge the gap between themselves and the Warriors, but Golden State still holds the advantage against every other team in the league. So long as the Warriors are playing up to their potential, or anywhere near it, the other contenders are out of luck. Unless the Warriors face some serious injuries this upcoming season or some internal discord, we should expect them to win their third championship in four seasons.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant
Don’t knock me for not clearly choosing a single player here. The individual excellence of both Stephen Curry and Durant cannot be stated enough. While Curry’s statistics did take a bit of a step back from the year prior, he still led the way for the Warriors last season. Last year, Curry led the team in points per game (by a slim margin), three-pointers made, assists and usage percentage. Keep in mind, Durant was excellent but Curry still commanded the offense for the most part. However, Durant was right on Curry’s heels and in the playoffs actually slightly surpassed Curry in points per game. In addition, Durant remains as tough to cover one-on-one as anyone in the league. Regardless, both players are unbelievable individual talents and would easily be the top offensive player on just about any other team.
Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green
For the foreseeable future, Draymond Green has this category on lockdown for the Warriors. Green uses a combination of length, strength, timing and sneaky athleticism to smother his opponents. Green’s versatility allows him to guard a range of positions in the post and switch to guard guards and forwards on the wing effectively as well. His versatility is the lynchpin of the Warrior’s vaunted death line up that uses Green at center and brings Iguodala off the bench to close games. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year race came down to Green and Utah center Rudy Gobert. In the end, Green’s versatility as well as his ability to guard the rim effectively made him the top choice in voters’ minds. Expect Green to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year this upcoming season as well.
Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry
When the Warriors added Durant to the roster, many wondered, even for a team as unselfish as the Warriors, how would Stephen Curry and Durant manage to share the ball? That question was answered when Curry took a step back and allowed Durant’s individual offensive brilliance to shine. Curry’s points per game dropped (30.1 to 25.3) as did his usage percentage (32.0 to 29.2). Curry’s individual excellence continued regardless as he remained the Warriors’ top distributor (followed closely by Draymond Green). In addition, Curry garners so much attention that his simple presence on the court creates more room for teammates to operate. Curry’s ability to pull up from virtually anywhere on the court and willingness to make the extra pass to teammates makes him a nightmare to cover and the Warriors’ top playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant/Stephen Curry
Once again, you could give this award to either of the Warrior’s two best offensive players. Curry dominates most of the advanced statistics when breaking down clutch play, defined as the last minutes of a game within 5 point or less, per nba.com. However, based on Durant’s size, length and ability to get off a shot in isolation, he makes for an excellent clutch player in just about any situation. Either is an extraordinary option and their play in crunch time continues to be critical to their championship fortunes.
The Unheralded Player: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson is a phenomenal talent who does a number of things well. He’s an unbelievable three-point shooter and defends elite point guards to alleviate the pressure on Curry. For a team with two elite offensive players, having Thompson as your third option on offense is just unfair to the rest of the league. Thompson lights up the league with his ability to hit outside shots without needing to dominate the ball. Don’t just count on Thompson to score as he takes pride in his defense and his ability to lockdown on defense.
Best New Addition: Omri Casspi
Overall, the Warriors have had an unbelievable stretch of luck when it comes to injuries, which will hopefully rub off on Omri Casspi this season. With his length, versatility and the ability to stretch the floor, he can slide into either forward spot. His addition strengthens the team’s ability to survive the grind of the regular season and lessen the minutes of the starters. Casspi fills a lot of needs for several teams that are looking to challenge the Warriors, so simply keeping him away from those teams is an added benefit to his signing.
– James Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr continues to be the perfect coach for this team. He helps to keep the players focused on their individual roles within the larger team structure and has so far prevented major dissension and discord. Kerr took the team that Mark Jackson previously coached and helped to transform the team into champions. Credit is deserved for his part in successfully orchestrating the move of former All-Star Iguodala to a bench role and meshing Durant’s individual brilliance with the Warriors’ pre-existing, pass-happy offense. Kerr has missed significant time due to his botched spinal surgery, but if he can manage his health, count on Kerr to keep the Warriors a well-oiled machine.
2. Nick Young
Nick Young is a player that has had an up-and-down career. Credit Young for carving out a relatively successful career as a journeyman three-point shooting wing. Keeping Young focused and unlocking his full range of talents has been difficult for many organizations. The Warriors are up next and will give the 11th year pro an opportunity to do what he does best — knocking down three-pointers. As a career 37.6 percentage three-point shooter, Young will have a chance to get more open looks from distance than he has previously in his career. Like JaVale McGee, Young will also have a chance to transform his reputation if he proves to be a disciplined, effective contributor to a championship team.
3. Jordan Bell
What’s the perfect piece for a rebuilding team in need of young talent to build around? Jordan Bell, selected with the 38th pick in this year’s draft), is just that sort of player. The Warriors acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls for cash consideration. The Bulls loss is the Warriors gain as hopes are high for the young talent from the University of Oregon. The Warriors will take their time with the 6-foot-9 forward and hope that he will build on and develop his defensive talents and one day be a reliable contributor for Golden State.
4. Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston is many years removed from the knee injury that nearly ended his professional career. While Livingston has played for nine teams in his career, he continues to be loyal to the Warriors, the team with which he has experienced the most success post-injury. Livingston continues to do whatever the team requires as he slides into either guard slot when needed and provides reliable production from the bench. Opposing backup point guards often get caught being posted up by the lengthy 6-foot-7 guard. Count Livingston as another essential cog who will do whatever it takes to help the Warriors win at all costs.
– James Blancarte
SALARY CAP 101
The Warriors are a major spender at $135.4 million in guaranteed salary, resulting in at least $32 million in luxury taxes. Golden State used its Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to sign Nick Young at $5.2 million for a season. Having re-signed on one-year deals, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee can block any trades.
Before November, the Warriors need to decide on 2018-19 team options for Kevon Looney and Damian Jones. Next summer, Kevin Durant can opt out again but now the team has his Early Bird Rights and the ability to give him a raise in the $35 million range. The Warriors seem willing to pay for a winner but for how long as luxury taxes grow progressively as the team gradually becomes a repeat offender?
– Eric Pincus
This team continues to have everything you could want in a modern NBA team. An electric point guard who is nearly unstoppable, a 3-and-D wing with a killer three-point shot, an unstoppable one-on-one player who can score from anywhere, a dominant and flexible defensive forward who can play center and a defensive wing who is a great glue guy. That’s just the five players that are normally used to close out games. The rest of the roster has a number of key contributors ready to do whatever the team needs. Oh, and they also have a great coach to keep everyone on the same page. With all the pieces a team could want, expect the Warriors to again push a possible record-breaking pace in the regular season on their way to the playoffs and likely the Finals.
– James Blancarte
The easiest answer here is none. Eventually the injury bug might hit the Warriors but for now they have everything they could want to continue their excellent play. Perhaps some players may lose a sense of urgency in the regular season after breaking records and dominating the last few seasons, though that seems unlikely. On paper, this team is not afflicted by any major weaknesses.
– James Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can anyone stop the Warriors?
Other teams continue to make moves to get better. On September 23, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded agreed to terms on a deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. With that move, count the Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and the Cavaliers as the biggest potential obstacles in the Warriors’ path to repeat. One of these teams may beat them, but the Warriors are the heavy favorites and the team most likely to win the championship next year.
– James Blancarte