Sacrifice is among the terms most spoken of in team sports. Many say it, few live it.
Many talk it, and far fewer walk it.
Indeed, far fewer walk away from $12.6 million of guaranteed money the way David West did back in 2015. He left that sum of money on the table knowing that he wouldn’t be likely to recoup it. After emerging as the emotional leader for the proud Indiana Pacers franchise, West sought the championship that has alluded him. It was not in vain.
Yes, let’s talk about sacrifice.
Let’s talk about Stephen Curry and the meteoric ascent that he has enjoyed over the last few seasons. Clearly hobbled and less than 100 percent, Curry wanted nothing more than to prove that his team’s squandering of a 3-1 series lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals was due to his limitations, Draymond Green’s suspension, Andre Iguodala’s being hobbled and Andrew Bogut’s season-ending injury. As he far outplayed the value of the four-year, $44 million contract that he signed with the Warriors what seems like a lifetime ago, Curry had more than enough motive to prove himself this season. Instead, he decided to share his spotlight with Kevin Durant.
So yes, while witnessing the inevitable come to fruition on Monday night, while some felt badly for LeBron James and others felt that Durant and Curry had taken the easy way out, even in this story there are pros.
To their core, and from the first to the 12th man, the Warriors collectively epitomize the notion of individual sacrifice in pursuit of collective immortality. And sacrifice, to the extent to which they have individually done so, is a rare sight to behold.
The question that remains is whether or not the group will continue to do so.
This summer, the Warriors will have plenty of decisions to make. And what transpires this summer will have far-reaching implications when determining just how long what appears to be a dynasty in the making may last.
Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia and David West will all be unrestricted free agents this summer, while Kevin Durant holds a $27.7 million option for next season. It has been widely assumed that Curry will sign for the maximum allowable salary under the collective bargaining agreement, which, as a qualifying designated veteran player, works out to about $205 million over five years. That’s good for an average salary of $41 million per year.
In the case of Iguodala, the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 NBA Finals has amassed career earnings of about $122 million. While far from chump change, at 33 years old, Iguodala is likely staring at the possibility of signing the final multiyear contract of his career. Having proven himself to still be one of the most important members of the Warriors core, Iguodala may prioritize receiving fair market value for his services, especially after having won two championships.
As for Shaun Livingston, the former journeyman has found a home in Oakland and has become one of the most important rotation players that Steve Kerr has had at his disposal.
And of course, the elephant in the room is Durant. Due to the existence of what is commonly referred to as the “Non-Bird” exception, despite the fact that Durant has only played for the Warriors for one season, he can be re-signed by the club at a rate of 120 percent of his salary this season. That amount, $31.84 million, is significantly below the maximum allowable under the salary cap, which is about $36 million. If Durant opts out and insists on being paid the maximum, it would put the Warriors in a precarious situation; the team would very likely have to part with Iguodala and/or Livingston in order to make such an accommodation. Because Durant only has one year of service with the Warriors, the team would have to clear cap space in order to pay him the maximum.
In other words, Durant has three options: he can opt in to $27 million salary due to him next season, opt out and re-sign for $31 million using the Non-Bird exception or opt out and command the maximum-allowable salary. The three options are listed in order of what the Warriors would prefer, as Durant opting in would allow the club to re-sign Curry, Iguodala and Livingston and retain Durant. If he opts out, things get complicated. Although Durant has indicated his willingness to take “less” than the maximum, just how much less will make all the difference in the world.
So yes, while these Warriors have each individually sacrificed a great deal, the extent to which they will continue to do so may determine how long their reign lasts.
That applies to Curry, as well.
If Curry signs for the maximum-allowable salary, he would be earning north of $41 million in the third year of the contract (the 2019-20 season). Assuming Durant remains with the Warriors, even if he opts in to his 2017-18 salary of $27 million, by the time July 2019 comes around, Durant’s Bird rights would have fully vested with the Warriors, meaning he will have been eligible to have signed a contract that would be paying him somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million for the 2019-20 season, as well. The 2019-20 season happens to be the final year of Draymond Green’s current contract, wherein he will earn $18.5 million. In other words, depending on what Curry and Durant’s new contracts look like, the Warriors may very well be paying $100 million to just those three players.
The reason July 2019 is important is because that happens to be when Klay Thompson will be eligible for a new contract. Depending on what transpires with regard to the cap, he too could be eligible for a maximum salary that exceeds $40 million per year.
Between now and then, the Warriors will likely be the favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. In all likelihood, we are witnessing the beginning of a dynasty. One thing that history has taught us, however, is that owners pursue a positive return on investment—especially owners who have enjoyed success.
One of the more underreported occurrences of LeBron James’ tenure in Miami was his unhappiness with the cost-cutting measures mandated by Micky Arison. After winning back-to-back championships, in an effort to help the bottom line, the HEAT waived Mike Miller and, a few months later, traded Joel Anthony. At the time, Pat Riley was quoted as mentioning that the HEAT were paying about $20 million in luxury taxes and that the NBA’s economic system had become “punitive” for teams like his.
As the Warriors seem poised to dominate for the foreseeable future, it will be quite interesting to see what the franchise’s economic situation looks like. If there’s one thing we have learned from other dynasties in the past, it’s that not everybody can be paid their fair market value.
Still years away from this being a major concern for the Warriors, between now and July 2019, plenty of decisions will be made that will probably impact the team. What transpires with the salary cap and luxury tax over the next few seasons will certainly have an impact, too.
But either way, make no mistake about it, the salaries that Curry and Durant command this summer will have far-reaching ramifications.
We’ll see what’s deeper—their desire for riches, or their willingness to continue to sacrifice in the name of their team.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.