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NBA PM: McDermott Trade Costs Bulls Cap Space

Contrary to popular belief, the Bulls’ trade for Doug McDermott did not add cap space; it actually cost them money… Philadelphia, believe it or not, is putting together a future dynasty.

Joel Brigham

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The Truth Behind the Doug McDermott Trade

When it was first announced on Thursday night that the Chicago Bulls had made a trade that would send the No. 16 and No. 19 picks in the draft for the rights to Creighton forward Doug McDermott, the initial response was pretty much this:

“Oh good. The Bulls traded two first-round picks for one so they can amass as much cap space as possible in a potential free agency push for Carmelo Anthony. Let all of us in Chicago rejoice!”

The truth, though, is something quite a bit different, and that truth became clear once it was made known that forward Anthony Randolph and his $1.825 million salary would also be coming to Chicago in the deal.

According to Mark Deeks of Sham Sports, by adding that money to McDermott’s $1.898 million cap hold as the 11th pick and a roster charge of over $500,000, the Bulls actually added money to the payroll in this deal rather than create more space for Anthony by consolidating picks. All told, Chicago has about $1 million less to offer Carmelo in free agency (assuming they amnesty Carlos Boozer) than they would have had they drafted Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris themselves.

So why make the trade, then? The way Gar Forman spoke at the introductory press conference, the deal was made because Chicago really, really liked McDermott. He’s been on their radar for years and is, quite frankly, a pretty perfect player for their team this year. He’s mature and accomplished enough to help right away, plus he can score the ball in a variety of situations, and putting up points was an area in which Chicago was dead-last in 2013-14.

Denver apparently sensed Forman’s desperation and moved the trade beyond just the No. 16 and No. 19 for the No. 11 and got Chicago to take back a dumb contract and send the Nuggets a future second-round pick. The answer to why the trade was made is pretty simple: the Bulls wanted him and were okay doing something silly in order to get him.

This doesn’t mean, however, that Randolph is in the team’s plans, and Forman has referred to him as a sign-and-trade piece despite the fact that Randolph already played in New York and they were so interested in him that they let him walk away to sign with Denver. Who traded him Chicago. Who now thinks there’s an outside chance that he can be used as part of a sign-and-trade package for Carmelo Anthony.

It doesn’t seem likely, and it’s even tougher when one considers that his contract cannot be aggregated with another player’s contract in trade for two months. Deeks has explained in depth that there is a sneaky way around this, and that Randolph could actually be included in a deal that would send him back to New York along with other Bulls players, but the hard part is dealing with New York’s perceived disinterest in Randolph (and Boozer, for that matter) more than it is about dealing with the money.

Randolph is a very small expiring contract, so unloading him shouldn’t be an entirely impossible task, and now that McDermott is on the roster, trading Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and his $3+ million salary next year is a little more palatable, as well. Amnesty Boozer and do something with Taj Gibson, and Chicago could have enough money to sign Carmelo outright.

If they can convince New York to do a sign-and-trade (if Chicago is where Anthony ultimately decides is the place for him), they probably lose the same players but then keep their mid-level exception, which could potentially be used on Euro-stud Nikola Mirotic.

Obviously, the sign-and-trade looks as though it would be the better deal for both teams, but it’s impossible to know how all of this will pan out. What we do know is that Chicago absolutely did not create cap space by pulling off the McDermott trade. Rather, they have $1 million fewer to offer Melo as a result, at least for now.

Philadelphia’s Still All-In For the Future

You got the sense that the Philadelphia 76ers were building toward something. With four lottery picks in the last two seasons, it would appear to be easy to turn things around in a relatively expedient way, but GM Sam Hinkie is building his team in a rather unconventional way.

Of those four picks, only one of them—Michael Carter-Williams—will have played his first full season in the league. Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, sat out all last season rehabbing his knee after a torn ACL, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, Joel Embiid, has a couple of now-infamous pins in his foot and is likely out at least five months and the No. 10 pick this year, Dario Saric, has a new contract with a Turkish club that will keep him from the NBA for at least two years.

In other words, despite having two top-10 picks in this year’s draft, Philadelphia looks primed to come into next season with more-or-less the same awful lineup that tied a record for consecutive losses and finished with the second-worst record in the NBA.

It’s not all bad, though, as Philadelphia put together some impressive work drafting in the second round, which couldn’t have been too hard considering they owned one-sixth of the picks there. Still, they used them well, drafting highly-touted Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic, trading the rights to Russ Smith for Pierre Jackson and drafting a couple of players that probably should have been first-rounders: K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant.

Those are nice building blocks and should help make the team better than they were a year ago, but not dramatically so. Noel’s presence will be appreciated, but there’s a good chance Embiid doesn’t play this year. We know Saric definitely won’t.

So what’s the play here? Why submit Sixers fans to another year of brutally awful basketball? Because Hinkie and the rest of the Philadelphia front office is swinging for the fences. To be a great team and have a shot at a championship, the roster has to be flush with star talent. Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams is a nice start, but Embiid is a transcendent talent when he’s healthy. Without major injury setbacks, many believe he’ll be the best player from the best draft class in a decade.

Saric, meanwhile, has plenty of potential for NBA stardom himself. In any other year (and with the guarantee that he’d actually play for team that drafted him) he’s probably a top-five pick. With those two guys and Noel, who also would’ve been the top overall pick a year ago without his own injury concerns, there’s plenty of long-term potential here to see the Sixers grow into an Eastern Conference powerhouse.

But Hinkie is gambling that everybody pans out. In that crowd he’s got a bad knee, a bad foot, a bad back and a European address. That’s not winning championships immediately, but the Sixers keep drafting these boom-or-bust players because they think Embiid, Saric and Noel are the type of players who will eventually get them there.

We’re a long ways away from seeing whether or not this all pans out, but if Philly is back in the lottery again next year and adds someone like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander or Emmanuel Mudiay, the picture for this franchise could be incredibly rosy by 2016-17. That’s a long time away, but when this team finally all comes together and matures, it’s hard to come up with a young core featuring more elite (potential) star power.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA

NBA AM: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?

Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?

Joel Brigham

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The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.

In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.

But…

Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.

He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.

In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.

That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?

Here are three possibilities:

Collin Sexton

Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.

Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.

He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.

Miles Bridges

Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.

Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.

He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.

Jontay Porter

This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.

He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.

In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.

With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.

In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins

Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.

Moke Hamilton

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Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.

By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.

Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.

Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.

Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?

That may be pricisely the case here.

Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.

We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.

For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.

In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.

Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.

That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.

* * * * * *

With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.

The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.

At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.

In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.

Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.

Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.

Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.

And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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