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NBA PM: Could The Clippers Move Blake Griffin?

Do the Thunder have a real shot at Blake Griffin and would the Clippers really consider moving him? … Cap space is more than just a means to land a free agent.

Steve Kyler

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Pursuing Blake Griffin

With Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook agreeing to a renegotiated contract yesterday to remain with the Oklahoma City Thunder for at least two more seasons, the speculation about his immediate future and a possible trade will sort of fade out for a while.

However, with Westbrook on-board, there is a new rumor in Oklahoma City to watch and that is the Thunder’s potential pursuit of L.A. Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

On the surface it seems foolish and somewhat unlikely to believe that Griffin lands in Oklahoma City anytime soon. However, there are many in the NBA that believe if the Clippers cannot get over the top this season, there will be big changes made to ensure the Clippers do not lose star guard Chris Paul to free agency next summer.

Clippers president and head coach Doc Rivers has said all the right things about Griffin and his future, suggesting that the team would like to see Griffin retire as a Clipper. The problem is, in order for the Clippers to really make a splashy upgrade, they’ll have to part with someone and with Griffin having the option to be an unrestricted free agent next July, will the Clippers look at their options if things don’t go as expected or let things play out and possibly lose their star forward for nothing in return?

The Thunder have a truckload of assets to offer in trade, or simply the ability to be the threat in free agency next July that the Golden State Warriors were this summer.

Thunder sources say there were no promises made to Westbrook on a pursuit of any specific player, but there continues to be talk that the Thunder’s number one target next summer will be Griffin if he indeed opts for free agency.

The Thunder won’t be alone if Griffin hits the open market. The Boston Celtics have long had eyes for Griffin, and there has been talk that the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls would also make a hard push at Griffin. Coincidentally, both teams have tradable assets now if the Clippers decide they want to consider a trade.

Last year, Griffin was a popular name around the trade deadline as teams tried to tempt the Clippers with offers only to be turned away.

There was some renewed talk around the draft, but as Rivers pointed out recently, he’s made it clear to teams that talks involving Griffin are a non-starter for the team. However, like many things in the NBA, if enough games go the wrong way that stance could change.

To say this season is a big one for the Clippers is an understatement. Both Griffin and Paul have the option to be unrestricted free agents after the year and as we saw play out this July, jumping ship to a new team closer to a championship is not out of the question – especially with more than a dozen teams having the ability to get to a maximum salary slot next July.

If the Western Conference turns out to be the one-team show many are expecting with Kevin Durant now part of the Warriors, is it such a huge stretch to believe one or both Clippers consider life in the Eastern Conference? If so, at some point do the Clippers consider their options?

Cap Space As A Tool

It’s fairly common to think about salary cap space as simply a means to sign free agents; however, as we’ve seen play out over the last few years, having cap space and a lot of it can mean much more than just the chance to steal a player from someone else’s roster.

Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets used some of their cap space to renegotiate contracts for their stars (James Harden in Houston and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City).

Keep in mind, not every player is eligible for a renegotiation – only contracts that are four or more seasons can be renegotiated. And they can only be renegotiated after the third anniversary of its signing. This includes extensions or a previous renegotiation, assuming there were raises greater than 4.5 percent in the deal.

While renegotiating a contract has always been part of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, this summer represented the first time that teams had ample cap space to consider using it in this way. Normally, teams have $10 to $12 million and need that space to add players. With the huge windfall in cap space this summer and even more coming next summer, opting to use that space to re-work a star player’s deal is not only a smart use of the money, it may end up sparking a whole new process teams consider using as a means to avoid losing a player to free agency.

The current thought process is that in order for a player to truly maximize their earning potential, they have to get to unrestricted free agency. However, as the Rockets and Thunder did with their deals, both teams got their star player to the new max levels a year or two earlier than their expected free agency. In Westbrook’s case, he’ll net some $8.7 million more over the life of his new deal than if he had waited for unrestricted free agency and signed for the same length.

Historically, we’ve seen teams willing to trade away players to open up space to pursue a free agent, often dumping long-term contracts in favor of ending deals or trading away contract dollars for draft picks.

Will teams fearful of losing a star player start looking at moving off money to create cap space renegotiate deals?

With two star players agreeing to those kinds of deals, it seems that a seldom considered tool in the rule books might actually turn out to be the missing piece to retaining a player teams have sought for some time.

Admittedly, the huge jump in what a max contract looks like today won’t remain that way indefinitely, but for those players currently on old NBA economy contracts, the ability to immediately add 25 to 30 percent to their deal right now might be the advantage the home team needs and it may inspire a little more pre-planning than we’re used to seeing.

For years, the concept of cap space was always about what a team could add from the free agent pool or in trade. With two major players on-board for longer deals, cap space to renegotiate likely becomes a bigger part of the process, especially with so many teams looking at space going forward and not nearly enough free agents to really spend it on.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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