Where do the Chicago Bulls go from here? What’s next for Tom Thibodeau? BasketballInsiders.com’s Jessica Camerato and CineSport’s Noah Coslov react to the Bulls firing their head coach.
Cavaliers Overcame Many Obstacles to Make Finals
When LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his Sports Illustrated column last July, he tempered expectations and acknowledged that he didn’t think the team would contend for a title right away.
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way,” James wrote in SI. “Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.”
Some felt that he was just trying to take the pressure off of his young teammates and first-time NBA coach David Blatt, while others believed this was his honest assessment of the team. It seemed more like the latter several months into the season, when Cleveland had lost 19 of their first 39 games and the squad was struggling mightily.
Their key players were having trouble figuring out how to co-exist, they needed defensive help on the perimeter and interior, their lack of depth was an issue and Coach Blatt seemed in over his head at times as he adjusted to the NBA. And like all teams featuring LeBron, the Cavaliers had a target on their back and were put under the microscope, so every loss and issue was blown out of proportion.
Several trades were made, which required even more adjustments to get everyone on the same page. And as if things weren’t already difficult enough, James got hurt and took two weeks off to get his body right. Then, later in the year, Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love each sustained season-ending injuries that depleted their frontcourt, and Kyrie Irving also missed games and was limited by a right foot strain and tendinitis in his left knee.
Yet despite all of the struggles, injuries, transactions and scrutiny, the Cavaliers have advanced to the NBA Finals in James’ first year back with the team. At this time last year, all Cleveland fans had to celebrate was an NBA Draft Lottery win, but now the Cavs are just four victories away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Looking back on the season, James admits he is surprised with what they accomplished.
“At one point during the season, we were 19‑20,” James said. “[I was] watching my team struggle and sitting out two weeks; they wanted Coach Blatt fired [and] saying we needed another point guard. ‘Will LeBron and Kyrie be able to play together?’ So many story lines were happening at that point in time. For us to be sitting at this point today, being able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, this is special. This is very special.
“Could I foresee this? At the beginning of the season, I couldn’t. I couldn’t foresee us being in the Finals at the beginning of the season because I just knew that we just had to get better and I just saw how young we were and how young‑minded we were at that point in time. But I knew I had to lead these guys, and if they just followed my leadership, I knew I could get them to a place where they haven’t been before.”
That’s exactly what James has done, lifting the Cavs to the Finals despite numerous obstacles. Cleveland started playing better in mid-January and, despite having to adjust to the personnel changes and injuries, they finished the season 46-11 (including their postseason wins).
In the last two rounds, the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks thought they had the Cavs right where they wanted them since they were without Love, Varejao and Irving (for some games). In fact, many analysts predicted that Cleveland would be eliminated in either the Conference Semifinals or the Conference Finals. However, the Cavaliers have lost just two games all postseason and their sweep over Atlanta was extremely impressive.
“One thing we haven’t gotten caught up in is feeling sorry for ourselves,” James said. “It doesn’t matter if someone is out, the next man is up. If someone is not 100 percent, then as a brother, you pick that guy up. That’s what it’s about. That’s what teamwork and trying to accomplish a dream is all about, being able to sacrifice yourself and what you can do for the better of the team. That’s what’s got us to this point.”
James is proud of what the Cavs have accomplished, regardless of what happens in the Finals.
“Where this ranks as far as my last four Finals appearances, I mean, it’s special… to know how unexperienced we are as a unit playing together, I think that’s special in its own right,” James said. “No matter what happens from here on out, to see what we’ve accomplished being a first‑year team together that’s had different changes throughout the course of the season, that’s faced so many obstacles throughout the season – injuries here, transactions here, lineups here ‑ it’s something we can be very proud of to this point.
“I hope everyone here understands that it’s not easy; it’s not easy to even get to this point. It’s so hard just to win an NBA game, and the fact that we’ve won three playoff series so far, it is very, very difficult. And if you’ve never been in this situation, you don’t know how difficult it is.”
So, how have the Cavs managed to play at this high level despite everything they’ve dealt with?
While playing in the weaker Eastern Conference has certainly helped them (and, as I wrote yesterday, other stars may soon be bolting to the East as well), their players deserve a ton of credit for stepping up and beating every team put in front of them.
It’s no surprise, but the main reason for the Cavs’ dominance has been James. He has played out of his mind this postseason, averaging 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks. He has put the Cavs on his back, and while he’s still struggling with his shot a bit (shooting just 17.6 percent from three-point range), it’s hard to criticize anything he’s doing right now since he has filled the stat sheet on a nightly basis, played great two-way basketball and provided excellent leadership. The fact that he’s been injured and playing through pain makes his performances even more impressive.
But while James is clearly the team’s catalyst, others have played well too. The team’s acquisitions before the trade deadline have been crucial. The roster looks very different from when James penned that article for Sports Illustrated last summer, as Cavaliers general manager David Griffin did a great job addressing Cleveland’s weaknesses throughout the year.
Shortly after signing James, the Cavs obviously traded for Love and also signed a number of veterans like Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones (with LeBron helping to recruit them). But perhaps even more important were Cleveland’s midseason trades for Timofey Mozgov (the rim protector they desperately needed) and the backcourt duo of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (giving them more depth on the perimeter). All three of those players have done a great job for the Cavs in the postseason and played a significant role in the team’s success.
Three players who were on the Cavs’ roster before the return of King James have been huge too. Irving, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are three of the youngest players on the team, but they deserve a ton of credit for the way that they’ve stepped up and shined on the NBA’s biggest stage despite entering the postseason with no playoff experience.
Irving has had some excellent games and has averaged 18.7 points this postseason and really helped spread the floor with his 48.1 percent shooting from long range. He’s continued to contribute even though he’s clearly hurting too.
Thompson has been one of the Cavs’ most important players since the team lost Love and Varejao, and he has provided excellent rebounding and defense. He’s averaging 9.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the playoffs, and he has been great on the offensive boards to give the Cavs extra possessions. He knows his role and will get a big pay day this summer when he hits restricted free agency.
Dellavedova has played well too, going from a seldom-used reserve to the team’s starting point guard in the Eastern Conference Finals due to Irving’s injuries. Some players would choke under those circumstances, but Dellavedova delivered by scoring in double figures in his last three games and doing a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score, such as making hustle plays and playing solid defense.
James has performed at a sensational level and made his depleted supporting cast better (which is his specialty), but those players deserve props for executing as well. While beating the Warriors at less than full strength will be difficult, this wouldn’t be the first time that the Cavs entered a series this postseason being doubted and seemingly outmatched.
“I can’t guarantee the championship; that’s not what I’m here for,” James said. “I’m here to lead. But I will guarantee that we will play our asses off. We will, from the first minute to minute 48 – or if it’s overtime, [minute] 53 – we will do that. At the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for. That’s all we can give.”
James wants to give Cleveland their first NBA championship and end the city’s 50-year title drought in the four major sports. That’s one of the reasons he returned to the Cavaliers.
“I’m a guy who believes in unfinished business, and I understood what these people were going through, the people here not only in Cleveland but in Northeast Ohio and all over the world who love and bleed wine and gold,” James said. “I think we all here know how long it’s been since a champion has been in this city. I mean, you can try and not focus on it. You can try to say, ‘Okay, well, it’s not about that.’ But we all know it. The one thing that we can guarantee as a team – our 15 guys and our coaching staff and people that travel with us on the road and work every day – is we will give our best shot.”
The Six Things We’re Watching
With no light at the end of the tunnel in sight, Basketball Insiders has compiled three burning questions and three content-focused areas to keep you preoccupied in these strange times.
Basketball is back!
Well, technically – 16 NBA players will be playing basketball. Online. In a video game. Hey, that still counts, right?
Along with a few shining moments of optimism, the sporting world is slightly less of a barren hellscape than it was a week ago – even though the rest of the planet continues to burn. Sports have often been an escape for many, so sheltering-in-place – ahem, the right thing to do, by the way – is reaching absolute critical mass in terms of daytime boredom.
That said, while the internet is a bottomless pit of sadness, it’s still capable of producing golden moments of light, too – albeit far less frequently and often sandwiched between 800-1,000 tweets from users with egg profile pictures. So, while Basketball Insiders continues to grease the old writing wheels, there’s some other great stuff out there to pay attention to as well.
As it was assigned: Here’s The Six Things We’re Watching right now, alternating between serious considerations and those of a more fun variety.
1. Fun: The NBA 2K20 Tournament
Remember the content goldmine that was Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s Instagram Live? This week, that realm of potential entertainment another considerable step up. Presented by ESPN, a 16-player NBA 2K20 Tournament will be aired on the charter stations. Considering the competitive nature of these professional athletes – and how seriously they take the multi-console game – this event should be a sight for sore eyes all weekend.
Kevin Durant will open the tournament against Derrick Jones Jr. later tonight, with Deandre Ayton versus Zach LaVine after that. Luckily, it also means that we could see the debut of Durant on the Brooklyn Nets – although in a slightly different context than originally thought. In other matchups, Michael Porter Jr., a guy who regularly clowned on others in 2k, will try to upset Devin Booker, somebody often found on Twitch during his free time.
Beyond that, the trash talk between Patrick Beverley and Hassan Whiteside will be worth tuning in for, assuredly; while stars like Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and DeMarcus Cousins should spice up the proceedings too.
And, not for nothing, but when an Esport gets a legitimate shot at an attention-starved mainstream audience, that’s beautiful news.
2. Serious: How will this long break change the salary cap?
Yet, no matter how many virtual dunks are thrown down, there’s still the very real question of how this impacts the bottom line.
Although the ultimate projected impact of the preseason debacle in China was overstated – for now, of course – but with the lost games, revenue and no end in sight, it might do untold damage to the association. As covered on Basketball Insiders last week, the upcoming free agent crop isn’t the strongest in history but any financial blows would be significant to a sport that had been flying high in popularity as of late.
For prospective free agents, like Glenn Robinson III, that could change the offers during a modified offseason. Hell, right now, the NBA has paid out the next installment of contract agreements, those due on Apr. 1, but have made no guarantees moving forward. Needless to say, the longer this situation goes on, the bigger an impact it’ll have on all sides of the game – both on the court and in the front offices.
3. Fun: The Last Dance
Right now, we all need a good story or two to lean on and ESPN, thankfully, has moved up the release date of The Last Dance, a 10-part Michael Jordan-centered documentary, from June to mid-April. Per the mega-conglomerate itself, this is something worth watching:
“‘The Last Dance’ takes an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98. The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow them around for that entire season, and some of that never-before-seen footage will be in the documentary.”
And perhaps acting as the very sweet cherry atop the world’s already greatest sundae, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons thinks that the sure-fire hit is camp posturing as LeBron James builds more steam in the GOAT conversation.
If the planet is going to be stuck inside for the next three months at least, why not debate Jordan vs. LeBron for the 100,000th time – but this moment with some new fuel on the fire.
Mark your calendars, the first episode airs on Apr. 19.
4. Serious: What happens to the NBA Draft and Offseason?
Unsurprisingly, the NCAA has opted not to extend an extra year of eligibility in the wake of its big tournament getting the axe. While losing March Madness was painful enough, it means there’s no Stephen Curry-like Davidson (and subsequent lottery) rise. There will be no Carsen Edwards or Grant Williams, no Cinderella stories making a name for themselves on the grandest stage. And while that means less fun for all of us at home, it also means that the NBA Draft has been irrevocably altered – but it’s just a snowball effect from there.
If there’s no draft until the season ends, then when do workouts happen? If there are no workouts, what do these prospects do in the meantime? If there’s no Big Dance, then is the prospect pool more or less set? And if we’ve had no season, which means a delayed draft, then, certainly, there’s no offseason and free agency until then either – and that last one might cause conniptions.
After consecutive action-packed and surprise-worthy summers, this one – if it even falls remotely close to the warmer months at this point, really – is setting up to be a reset and refresh more than anything else.
In our free agent guides, there’s not an overwhelming amount of star power out there, nor will many athletes on options risk cushy salaries in a post-pandemic landscape. Will the draft be a footnote in a hectic offseason? What about summer leagues and training camps? Is there a reality where the 2020-21 season is shortened or altered too?
While we don’t know a whole lot about actually finishing this campaign, the longer this pause goes on, the tougher the questions will be about moving forward, too.
5. Fun: Podcasts Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
In lieu of a frequent content calendar, Steve Kyler, our publisher and fearless leader, has been hittin’ the ‘casts hard.
There’s this story-filled one with veteran John Henson. For another player’s take, there’s Shane Larkin, an overseas superstar. Or, if you’re looking for something fresh, try his chat with Tyler Relph, an elite trainer.
6. Serious: Will the remainder of the season be shortened?
Could the NBA run a shortened season from one venue with quicker postseason series? According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, “nothing is off the table.” On one hand, that’s significant news as the league seems willing to do whatever it takes to crown a champion. Ultimately, that’s grand for those running on basketball fumes these days – but it must be asked: At what cost?
No fans? No home-court advantage? No heightened drama of long, drawn-out series? The locations rumored to be in the running for such an event are Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlantic City, Hawaii, Lousiville and the Bahamas. While the league appears to be unwilling to drop series down to winner-takes-all status — such as the NFL playoffs, for example — shorter options like best-of-three face-offs may be the most logical.
If this is the type of decision that needs to happen – then, sure, the show must go on. To guarantee that the rest of the basketball calendar moves along on schedule and the 2020-21 season can move ahead (mostly) on time, then this is an option that must be considered. The financial implications, too, must be deafening in order for the NBA to debate over handicapping their massively-popular product like this.
Either way, such a choice will likely not be made until we effectively flatten the curve as a collection population, so small potatoes — stay inside!
Bonus: Fun + Serious: The Rules of BenBall
When I was a child, I frequently created games for myself – honestly, we probably all did.
This was not for a lack of nearby friendships or an unpopular status at school – but because I had an active imagination and a need to gamify everything. As a senior in college, my roommates and I spent over $50 at a CVS to invent an indoor board game. And, after all, I am the proud owner of a BFA that basically amounts to fiction writing and reading books, so, it should come as no surprise that I got my creative start by concocting solo sports activities to avoid doing math homework.
Far back as I can remember, I’ve played BenBall and now, for the first time, I’m putting the rules in writing so that you can fabricate your own competitive atmosphere during these stay-at-home quarantines. In all likelihood, pickup basketball has already been banned by your local government and, in some harsher situations, rims have even been taken down.
But the best part of BenBall is that you don’t need anybody else to play – all you need is a hoop, a ball and your very lovely self.
Now, I must stay this first: It wasn’t always called BenBall. In fact, for a solid decade, it had no name at all. If you asked my mother what the name was, she’d likely just sigh at the memory of all the half-finished paper brackets found tucked underneath rocks or windshields to aid on those particularly blustery days in Maine.
“I swear to God,” she used to say. “If you don’t bring in that paper and pencil before it blows into the garden, I will disown you.”
BenBall only became BenBall in 2016 and only after my old co-workers began to tease me for creating a game that always seemed to take a dramatic turn just as I was about to lose. I never once changed the rules – and never, ever to win a game – but as the sole proprietor of the challenge, I always saw their vantage point. Even if they were just being sore losers.
So, without further ado, here’s how BenBall works:
- BenBall is played to 21, with a twist rebuttal period at the end.
- Optional: Create a bracket of your favorite teams or players – this is what 13-year-old Ben did with fervor when a friend/brother/father was not in the immediate vicinity. (*)
- First, find the three-point line; if your court or driveway does not have one, designate a spot.
- You, in insolation, will be playing on behalf of both teams. This means that you must be impartial and not consciously or unconsciously miss shots to influence results. BenBall is an unbiased competition, please, treat it as such.
- A turn begins by taking a three-pointer from anywhere behind the arc, a make is worth two points.
- If the first shot is converted, you will shoot another three-pointer. In fact, you will shoot three-pointers until you miss once.
- Upon the miss, you must chase down the rebound and shoot from wherever that location is. (^)
- If this basket is made, it’s worth one point and your turn is over.
- If the ball bounces back out to the three-point line, that shot would be good for two points and then your turn is over.
- You may not get points for tipping in a rebound on your second shot. If you miss your second shot, too bad – your turn is over.
- If the ball takes a bad skip off a rock or an ill-placed car, you may – like Monopoly – play by altered house rules. For example, at the Nadeau household, you were allowed to toss yourself a one-bounce alley-oop from anywhere during the second shot stage to salvage a point. ($)
- Once your turn is over, tally your points and begin your foray as the opposite and opposing player.
- Yes, in a way, you’re playing unguarded 1-on-1 with yourself, but we’re taking what we can get here.
- Continue until a player reaches 21 and then freeze.
- At which point, the losing player – whether real or imaginary – gets a rebuttal opportunity by shooting three-pointers to catch up.
- They must, within a regular BenBall possession, close the deficit to within two points.
- If they make a three-pointer, they’re awarded two points and another shot.
- If they miss, their possession (and thusly, the game) is over unless their rebound allows them a second three-point attempt. If that shot is good, they continue in their rebuttal phase.
- If the losing player gets within two points of the winning player, their turn immediately ends and the game resumes normally.
- Play until somebody is up by more than three points in the post-rebuttal phase.
*As a child, I loved putting Richard Jefferson up against Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony versus Kevin Garnett, etc. Typically, in my brackets, division battles would flow into conference-wide showdowns and the Finals, if I ever made it that far, would feature an East-West matchup. Should you feel less imaginative during the bracket-making process, just filling it in with the most recent postseason seeds is an effective time-saver.
^If that’s under the hoop for a lay-up, congrats! If it’s behind in the garden behind the hoop (sorry, mom), well, you’re out of luck. If it gets stuck under a car, you must shoot from your back in an adjacent location.
$ This was particularly helpful because launching a 40-foot bomb from behind the hoop and in the neighbor’s lawn was a fool’s errand.
Of course, this game can be played with your isolated significant others – but given the circumstances, a little mental creativity never hurts either.
In the end, we wish nothing but the best of luck out there, readers. If you’re got rule changes to BenBall, please tweet them at me, I’d love to hear them. I’ve been playing a version of this game for over a decade now but it is not a refined, untouchable contest by any means. However, this is a foolproof way to squash those ants in your pants, get a workout and maybe even earn a favorite player that much-deserved ring.
It’s still impossible to tell where this NBA season will end up – both in 2020 and beyond – but there’s plenty of content, questions and solo-sided games to keep you preoccupied. As always, keep it tuned to Basketball Insiders for more excellent content like this and, as a final reminder, stay home – although, admittedly, a short venture into the driveway for some BenBall is perfectly reasonable too.
NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Southwest Division
Spencer Davies rounds out Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series by looking at some of the better names in the NBA’s upcoming 2020 class this offseason.
It’s time to wrap up our Free Agent series here at Basketball Insiders!
Last week, we covered five divisions and the best players that could possibly be entering this offseason’s market. We’ll finish things off with the Southwest Division, which has perhaps some of the more intriguing names on the list compared to the others.
A Tier Above The Rest
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485
In a class considered “weak” by many voices around the NBA, Ingram very well could be the big fish…if it can be caught. According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, the Pelicans are expected to match any offer sheet that is extended his way. That’s for good reason, as the fourth-year swingman has blossomed with the Pelicans at a rapid rate.
Coming off his first All-Star campaign, Ingram’s numbers have exploded across the board as New Orleans’ first option in essentially equal the amount of playing time he had with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s gotten much more comfortable with the three-ball and is thriving in head coach Alvin Gentry’s fast-paced offensive system. The points have come by easier and with great efficiency.
Executives seem to believe that a maximum contract is in Ingram’s future, but that won’t make Pelicans back off one of their most important franchise cornerstones moving forward. Barring an unexpected change of heart on the front office’s part, expect these two to continue their relationship and maintain a highly-talented young core in NOLA.
Elite Secondary Scorers
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option – $27,739,975
This situation is a tough one. Individually, DeRozan is having himself another impressive season. His 59.7 true shooting percentage is a career-best by far, and he is an absolute assassin in the mid-range game and aggressive drives to the bucket do the brunt of his damage. Unfortunately, however, this has not translated into consistent winning. The Spurs are creeping closer and closer to missing out on the playoffs for the first time in over two decades under Gregg Popovich.
Why does this matter? One, DeRozan is reportedly not too thrilled with how things have shaken out in San Antonio. Two, the impact of the coronavirus will likely lead to a decrease in the league’s salary cap, which could make it more difficult for him to turn down over $27 million next season. Leaving money on the table might not be the wisest of moves for a 30-year-old whose game — albeit mighty dangerous offensively — isn’t suited for the perimeter-oriented, efficient nature that the league covets. While it might not be the perfect match for either party, DeRozan and the Spurs will probably spend next year together.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks – Player Option – $20,025,127
Hardaway’s situation is similar logistically to DeRozan’s, yet the complete opposite in terms of his relationship with his current team. Per Sports Illustrated’s Dalton Trigg, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban foresees a long-term future with the 27-year-old in Dallas and the feeling is mutual. Again though, with a salary cap plummet, Hardaway may very well elect to exercise his player option for nearly $19 million and revisit a new deal the following offseason.
Looking at the production, Hardaway has done his part — and then some. For a player who some considered a salary dump in the Kristaps Porzingis trade with the New York Knicks, he has exceeded those expectations by becoming one of the top shooting threats in the entire NBA at a 40.7 percent clip. He’s an ideal teammate for Luka Doncic’s drive-and-kick style, while he can step up as the team’s go-to guy in stretches where he’s needed.
You Know What You’re Going To Get
P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets – Non-Guaranteed – $17,650,000
Would the Rockets really let go of one of their most influential locker-room voices? Though unlikely, the decision might be resting on what happens with current head coach Mike D’Antoni, whose contract expires after this season. Remember that Tucker is the team’s starting small-ball five after Houston moved Clint Capela, making him an even more integral piece of its rotation. What other “role player” logs over 34 minutes on a nightly basis?
Tucker’s prowess on the defensive end is crucial to the Rockets’ success, and he’s automatic from the short corners with the opponent collapsing on their penetrating guards. As it stands, he is guaranteed $2,569,188 until July 1. If Houston decides to keep him around as Shams Charania reported, Tucker will make the full $7,969,537 for the 2020-21 campaign.
Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans – Unrestricted – $17,650,000
Believe it or not, Favors is still only 28 years old and that’s with a decade of experience under his belt. He’s still got plenty left in the tank as a dependable paint presence, whether that’s as a starter or as a leader of a second unit. Boasting a 62 percent field goal percentage, he makes his mark in the post and finishes at a high rate inside. There’s definitely mileage on the tires, but there’s plenty left in the gas tank.
Worth A Gamble?
Josh Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies – Unrestricted – $7,059,480
De’Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies – Restricted – $1,416,852
Ben McLemore, Houston Rockets – Non-Guaranteed – $2,028,594
This trio here is a prime example of young talent shining with an organization that took a chance on each of them. Be it underwhelming in their previous stint or simply not being a fit elsewhere, things didn’t work out originally for any of these guys. Yet in the NBA, all it takes is an opportunity. With a second (and in McLemore’s case, third or fourth) chance to prove their worth on this stage, these players have flourished in different ways.
Jackson spent the majority of his time in the G League with the Memphis Hustle, where he was to earn his way back up to the NBA. He followed through on this plan and has since joined the Grizzlies’ rotation on a permanent basis. It’s a small sample size to justify a big-time payday — and his past behaviors off the floor might cause some teams to be hesitant — but Jackson should drive interest from teams that lack wings and have money to spend. With a strong support system and cultural structure helping him mature, rolling the dice on Jackson could pay huge dividends.
Melton came along with Jackson in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, and he turned out to be the more immediate boost to the team. It took until December for the second-year guard to become a fixture in Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins’ rotation — but when he received the opportunity, he took it and ran with it. Traditional numbers don’t particularly suggest the true difference he has made, so let’s go to the advanced ones.
According to Cleaning The Glass, the Grizzlies are 11.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Melton off the floor, putting him in the 96th percentile among his NBA peers. He is a heady defender and has a knack for making the right play on the offensive end of the floor — a true team-first guy. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, so we’ll see what teams go after him and if Memphis will match whatever offers are thrown his way.
The Rockets gave McLemore a shot to prove himself in the first half of the season, and he didn’t let them down. In order to play for that team, you’ve got to be able to shoot — and he answered the bell, specifically in a stretch from December to February where he knocked down 43 percent of his triples over a 40-game span. One would have to surmise that the arrival of Robert Covington has stunted his role a bit now, however. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that there clearly is something there still with the former 2013 No. 7 overall pick. He’s not a superstar by any means, but a 27-year-old scoring wing that’s rediscovered himself could prove to be a steal. Of course, that’s if Houston waives him prior to June 30.
The rest of the bunch is full of older veterans on expiring deals: Courtney Lee, E’Twaun Moore, J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marco Belinelli. Younger players such as Bryn Forbes and Jahlil Okafor will be out there, as well as little-used swingman Bruno Caboclo.
Kenrich Williams is absolutely worth a look, though he is restricted. Frank Jackson is in the same boat with his Pelicans teammate. There’s a threesome of guys with player options — Austin Rivers, Willie Cauley-Stein and Jakob Poeltl — that will probably generate interest.
As you can see, the crop coming out of the Southwest Division might be the best of the slim pickings the league has to offer this offseason. Let’s hope that we get this resolved soon and back to hoops so it can come sooner rather than later!
NBA Daily: The Hot Seat – Eastern Conference
Matt John takes a look at which coaches and general managers from the Eastern Conference are on the hot seat.
Speculation is what makes following the NBA fun. Theorizing what’s going to happen so easy and so fun that it’s harder not to do it. It’s why everyone is hooked on the draft, why they are hooked on free agency and why they are especially hooked on the trade deadline.
Do you notice a commonality there? All of that has to do with player movement. The players make this league what it is. No question. That’s why we always keep our eyes peeled when one could potentially be on the move. Especially if it’s a star. Then, there are the coaches and general managers. Even if speculation about them is not nearly as strong as it is for players, the hot seat is something we do keep our eye on.
We usually have a pretty good grasp on whose job is on the line. When we see a team not playing up to expectations, or not making the progress that they intended to make, or just flat-out sucking the life out of everyone, usually it’s the coach and/or the general manager whose job is in the most jeopardy.
However, we’ve seen in recent weeks that the hot seat can at times be unpredictable. We knew this was supposed to be a gap year for the Brooklyn Nets. Even if they had been one of the worst teams in the league, did anyone really believe for a second that Kenny Atkinson would get the ax? Things were on the up and up for the Nets his last week as the head coach. Next thing we knew, he was out of a job.
Imagine how that conversation went.
Thanks for helping our franchise look respectable again after we put our fans through the seventh circle of hell! OKAY BYE!
But, that’s their prerogative. The point is, you never know who’s on the hot seat. You wouldn’t think that guys like Mike Budenholzer, Masai Ujiri or Brad Stevens would be in any danger of losing their jobs, but a coach as well-respected as Atkinson losing his job signals that anything is possible should they find themselves in a situation with just the right amount of wrong in it.
Basketball Insiders is looking at coaches and general managers who could be in danger of losing their job. Today, we’re looking at the Eastern Conference. Going over who may be on the hot seat requires premising why their job would be on the line. With that all in mind, let’s take a look.
“If This Blows Up In Our Face, We Need A Scapegoat”
Brett Brown/Elton Brand — Philadelphia 76ers
The best way to approach this is by starting with those who are probably on the hottest seat of them all.
When a team that has both two young superstars in their prime and championship aspirations appear to be falling way short of expectations, heads will roll. Unless they magically turn things around in the playoffs — if we have the playoffs — the 76ers appear to be going down this route. The narrative that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, as good as they are, are not a good match together has picked up a lot of steam this season.
Even so, Embiid is 26 and Simmons is 23. They still have time to figure it out. At the very least, Philly will give it another year with those two pending any unforeseen trade requests. Don’t rule anything out. The operative thinking is likely to be that the Sixers will change their surroundings first before they consider getting one of them out of town. If anyone’s taking the fall, it’s most likely going to be Brett Brown.
Brown’s name has been popping up on the hot seat since the end of last season because of Philly’s failure to make serious progress despite having one of the league’s most talented rosters. He still has not been able to find the right formula for Embiid and Simmons, he hasn’t been able to cover the holes left by Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick and he hasn’t been able to fully integrate Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, or Al Horford.
Philly’s defense remains airtight — that side of the ball has never really been an issue — but its offense has fallen below league average primarily because the lack of spacing has made it look more like a clogged toilet than it ever has in the Embiid/Simmons era. As Simmons and Embiid progressed as players, offensive progression as a whole should have come along too. That hasn’t happened, and that’s on Brown.
But the blame can’t be placed entirely on him. It wasn’t his idea to spend money that could have been used to keep Redick to pay top dollar for Al Horford. Or to give a superstar-like extension to Tobias Harris, a good-not-great player. Nope, that’s on Elton Brand.
Brand shot for the stars last season when he acquired Butler and Harris mid-season, and many Philly fans argue that the Kawhi buzzer-beater prevented the team from a Finals berth. Perhaps, but since then, the moves the Sixers have made since have not worked. Horford has flopped. Richardson has only been okay. Harris still hasn’t rediscovered the groove he once had in LA.
Brown is on a hotter seat than Brand is because he’s been there longer. Since Brand’s been on the job for less than two years, it’s more likely than not that they give him another year to fix this. If hypothetically, Brand was able to find a taker for Horford and his enormous contract, maybe that would keep his job secure, but who would be that willing to take the rapidly aging Horford on a deal like that now?
Scariest of all, this is what The Process is at its completion. There are no more assets to rely on. Cap flexibility is now out of the question. They got the young starlets they wanted, but more and more skeptics are starting to believe that the duo of Embiid and Simmons has peaked. If nothing improves by season’s end, someone’s taking a fall here. The most likely one is going to Brown, but it wouldn’t be overly shocking if Brand goes down with him.
“It’s Time For A Fresh Start”
Jim Boylen — Chicago Bulls
Does anyone know what exactly John Paxson and Michael Reinsdorf see in Jim Boylen? It might be safe to say that they are looking at him through rose-colored glasses. Sure, Chicago played somewhat-promising basketball towards the end of last season, but in the wake of Boylen’s rather odd actions on the court this season — and since the Bulls are still a subpar team in the Eastern Conference — might it be time to pull the plug, guys?
Boylen’s coaching decisions have put off a fair amount of spectators. There’s an ongoing belief of a disconnect between him and his players. Was it mentioned that the Bulls stink?
They’re 22-43. Their defense is average — allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions is good for 14th in the league — but their offense is ghastly, putting up just 106.7 points per 100 possessions which is good for 27th. The players don’t have a good relationship with him. Other Bulls personnel don’t have a good relationship with him. Lauri Markkanen, one of the Bulls’ most promising players, has somehow regressed in Year 3.
It’s a little awkward since Chicago extended Boylen last summer, but it’s better to admit it’s not working instead of forcing it in hopes of it one day working out. That wouldn’t be a bad strategy if it looked like Boylen and his players were on the same page.
The front office clearly sees it differently. They’d rather wait this out than act now while they can. Who knows? Maybe if and when this coronavirus situation passes, maybe that’ll give them the time they need to make the right move.
When it comes to discussing Jim Boylen, this isn’t as much of a take that says “He is on the hot seat,” but rather one that says, “He should be on the hot seat.”
“If You Can’t Improve Our Bleak Situation Now, We’re Getting Someone Else”
Tommy Sheppard — Washington Wizards
Unlike the previously mentioned name above, what’s happened to the Wizards does not have much, if at all, to do with Sheppard. Basically, he inherited the mess left by Ernie Grunfeld. Washington doesn’t really have a whole lot of options at the moment. The team can either miss out on the playoffs, or they can get thrashed by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Either way, it won’t be pretty.
Their problems go much further than that. John Wall should be coming back, but he’s coming back from a slew of injuries, so who knows what kind of player we should expect to see on the court. Bradley Beal is getting increasingly fed up with the lack of success the team has mustered. You can’t really blame him since the team’s taken a nosedive from their near-conference finals run just three years ago.
What makes this even sadder is that Sheppard has done some of the little things correctly since taking over. He literally stole Davis Bertans away from San Antonio. He re-signed Thomas Bryant on good value. He did the same when he brought in Ish Smith. Drafting Rui Hachimura would also be included, but that’s not a little thing now, is it? It’s a huge thing, and it could pay dividends for Washington’s future knowing Rui’s potential. The catch-22 is that no one knows how long it will take for the future to arrive.
The situation with Wall and Beal puts a lot of pressure on Sheppard and everyone else in the front office to get the train rolling because it’s continuously sputtered since 2017. No one should blame Sheppard if he’s not able to salvage this, but that won’t stop the pressure from mounting.
Knowing how awful the New York Knicks have been, there’s a case for general manager Scott Perry to be up here too, but we all know the real problem with the Knicks lies within the very top with James Dolan. The Knicks have been through this rodeo plenty of times that it doesn’t matter who they have making the moves. If serious change is going to happen, it starts and ends with James Dolan.
That’s what the hot seat comes down to. If a coach or GM is in danger of getting fired from their job, it’s predicated from the belief that they’re not making a big enough difference to help their team move forward.
Those who have been mentioned here were put in a tough situation to begin with, but it is on them to change their team’s outlook for the better regardless. If they’re not able to do with this while on the hot seat, then there won’t be a hot seat to sit on for long.