Notable Players Still in Free Agent Pool
Every year, a number of players are signed by NBA teams in the middle of the season. While most free-agent acquisitions happen over the summer, some important moves occur after the games begin as well. There are plenty of talented free agents who stay ready throughout the season in case a team comes calling.
Sometimes, these midseason additions become important contributors for their new team, with San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley and Miami HEAT center Chris Andersen being perfect examples.
Who could be a midseason steal this season? Here’s a look at some of the notable veterans who are still unsigned. NOTE: This list doesn’t include players who are overseas. That will be a separate article, with players who may sign with an NBA team after completing their overseas commitment.
Ray Allen, 39 years old, 18-year veteran – Allen hasn’t officially announced whether he’ll play this season, but many people around the league believe he’ll sign at some point during the campaign. Just about every contender in the league is showing interest in the sharpshooter, and waiting to sign allows him to ensure he’ll be joining a team with a realistic shot at the title and one that has a significant role for him. Allen can obviously still contribute; he averaged 9.6 points per game last year on the Miami HEAT and hit perhaps the biggest shot of his career the year before, which helped Miami go on to win the championship over the San Antonio Spurs. Allen is also highly coveted for his leadership, as he’s a strong veteran presence and knows what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. A new rumor involving Allen seems to pop up every week, and his camp has been quick to shoot them all down, but don’t be surprised if he signs at some point during this season.
Emeka Okafor, 32 years old, 9-year veteran – The only reason Okafor isn’t already on an NBA roster is because he is still recovering from a herniated disc in his back. There has been a lot of interest in Okafor’s services, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be ready to play until December or January at the earliest. Once Okafor is healthy, expect many teams to come calling. He’s a very good rim protector who has been a starting-caliber big man throughout his career. He has never averaged less than a block per game in any of his nine NBA seasons, and he last averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and one block during his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. The Cleveland Cavaliers would make a lot of sense for Okafor, as they lack a rim protector and only have 12 fully-guaranteed contracts (Alex Kirk, Will Cherry and Lou Amundson aren’t guaranteed).
Gal Mekel, 26 years old, 1-year veteran – Mekel was waived by the Dallas Mavericks when they signed J.J. Barea. The Mavericks could’ve traded the young point guard, but the situations on the table weren’t very appealing for Mekel so they waived him instead to do right by him. Mekel nearly signed with the Indiana Pacers as their hardship exemption player, but a visa issue got in the way and the Pacers had to settle for A.J. Price instead (as detailed in-depth here). Now, Mekel is training on his own and staying in game shape. His salary for this season and next season were fully guaranteed, so he will be paid whether he joins a team or not. This allows him to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to present itself rather than jumping at the first offer he receives. A number of teams are intrigued by Mekel, according to sources, and he could be the next floor general signed with other point guards like Price and Ish Smith off the market.
Quincy Miller, 21 years old, 2-year veteran – Unlike many of the players on this list, Miller is still extremely young and full of potential. If you recall, Miller was being projected as a future NBA star (and likely lottery pick) back when he was a high school star. While he hasn’t lived up to those expectations (dropping to the second round in 2012 and recently being waived by the Denver Nuggets despite having a guaranteed deal), it’s far too early to give up on the Baylor product. He has only spent two seasons in the NBA and played sparingly. However, he still has some upside as well as the versatility to play multiple positions. A number of teams are reportedly intrigued by Miller including the Indiana Pacers, L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets (with L.A. working him out later this week), so he’ll likely be signed sooner than later.
Will Bynum, 31 years old, 7-year veteran – Bynum was traded from the Detroit Pistons to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Joel Anthony, and then Boston waived him shortly after. Bynum suffered a strained hamstring during the preseason, but his camp insists that he’s completely healthy now. The veteran guard has been training in his hometown of Chicago as he waits to join a new NBA team. Last season in Detroit, Bynum averaged 8.7 points and 3.9 assists off of the bench. He has been a productive reserve throughout his seven years in the NBA, and could be brought in to strengthen a team’s second unit. Bynum’s 2014-15 salary ($2,915,908) was fully guaranteed, so he can afford to take his time and wait for the right situation to present itself.
Dante Cunningham, 27 years old, 5-year veteran – Six months ago, Cunningham was arrested for domestic assault and spent time in a jail cell. Later on, the charges were dropped and a police investigation found that the accuser had lied and tried to frame Cunningham by sending herself threatening messages. However, the incident was enough to keep Cunningham from being signed when his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired over the offseason. Now, Cunningham is trying to clear his name and resume his career. He’s working out near Penn State, where one of his college teammates is coaching, and waiting for a call from a team. His agent Joel Bell told the Associated Press that one team said they couldn’t afford the public-relations backlash that would come from signing Cunningham, given the negative headlines that athletes with domestic violence charges have made lately. The 27-year-old has been productive throughout his career and the facts seem to be on his side, so it’s possible that an NBA team will give him the benefit of the doubt and sign him at some point this season.
Jermaine O’Neal, 36 years old, 18-year veteran – It remains to be seen if O’Neal will suit up again in the NBA. Over the last few years, he has openly talked about retirement and seriously considered it over the summer. However, he didn’t announce that he was walking away from the game, so for now we’ll assume that he’s still a free agent option. O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he has held up pretty well. After a rough two-year stint with the Boston Celtics, O’Neal bounced back with two solid seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors. O’Neal was a solid rebounder and interior defender, and when pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he came through by averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13 games. Don’t be surprised if O’Neal joins a team this season and puts on an NBA jersey one last time.
Earl Clark, 26 years old, 5-year veteran – The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride for Clark. He spent training camp with the Memphis Grizzlies, who waived him in late October. The Houston Rockets immediately claimed Clark off of waivers, but then cut him three days later. He then joined the Iowa Energy of the D-League, only to be traded Rio Grande Valley Vipers the following day. Now, he’s still on the Vipers’ roster and can be called up by any NBA team. It was just two years ago that Clark emerged as a significant contributor for the Los Angeles Lakers, taking Pau Gasol’s starting job at one point. He wasn’t able to sustain that success with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then the New York Knicks, which is why he finds himself in the D-League. However, he could be an interesting call-up option, as he has shown that he can be a solid two-way player who provides energy off of the bench.
Rashard Lewis, 35 years old, 16-year veteran – Lewis inked a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks over the offseason, but the offer was pulled off of the table after he failed his physical. The Mavericks found that he needed surgery in his right knee. Dallas has said that they’ll consider signing Lewis once he recovers from the injury, but nothing is guaranteed. Mark Cuban has remained in touch with Lewis, who is working out in Dallas as he tries to get completely healthy and in game shape. Last postseason, Lewis showed that he can still play at a high level. His role with the Miami HEAT increased during the playoffs and he was moved into the starting lineup for eight games. He had a five-game stretch in the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals in which he averaged 13.8 points, hitting 18 three-pointers at a 52.9 percent clip. Lewis’ 1,787 three-point shots ranks eighth in NBA history.
Carlos Delfino, 32 years old, 8-year veteran – Delfino didn’t play in a single game last season with the Milwaukee Bucks after undergoing multiple surgeries on his foot. Over the offseason, he was traded to the L.A. Clippers and subsequently waived. He had surgery to remove a screw from his foot last month and there has been no timetable for his return to action. If he continues to have issues with his surgically-repaired foot, it’s possible that he won’t play for a second straight season. However, if he is healthy, expect some team to take a chance on him since he’s a talented reserve scorer who can spread the floor. He last averaged 10.6 points for the Houston Rockets in the 2012-13 season.
Ivan Johnson, 30 years old, 2-year veteran – The Dallas Mavericks waived Johnson prior to the start of the season, and now he’s looking for a new home. The veteran big man played in the Las Vegas Summer League to showcase his game to NBA executives after spending last year in China. Prior to that, he was on the Atlanta Hawks for two years, averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds. Johnson is the epitome of a tough enforcer, which is attractive to some teams. Teams are constantly auditioning big men, so Johnson may get a chance to show what we can do at some point this season. As he so eloquently told Basketball Insiders during summer league, “I’ll f*** anybody that’s in front of me [to get back into the league].” Never change, Ivan.
Dahntay Jones, 33 years old, 10-year veteran – Jones was one of the last cuts by the Utah Jazz prior to the start of this season, and it’s possible that he could join another team at some point. Jones appeared in every Jazz preseason game, but Utah decided to keep some of the younger guards who had been guaranteed money. Not only can Jones provide solid perimeter defense and toughness to a team, he’s a veteran leader. Jones tried to help Utah’s young core as much as possible on and off the court during training camp and the preseason, and he could be a valuable piece for a team in need of a strong locker room presence.
Eric Maynor, 27 years old, 5-year veteran – It wasn’t long ago that Maynor was considered one of the better backup point guards in the NBA. He was very good during his first three years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, running the offense and rarely turning the ball over. Then, Maynor tore his ACL in January of 2012 and he hasn’t been the same since. The Thunder traded him the following year and he has since had stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards. His production dipped significantly, particularly during his season with the Wizards. Washington really hoped he could be the team’s backup floor general behind John Wall, but he struggled to the point that they had to trade for Andre Miller and move on from Maynor. He briefly suited up for the Sixers, but was waived after eight games. Because he has had some success in the league, it’s possible that he could get another look to salvage his career.
Travis Outlaw, 30 years old, 11-year veteran – Outlaw didn’t make the New York Knicks, losing his roster spot to undrafted rookie Travis Wear. New York traded Outlaw to the Philadelphia 76ers (to free up space for Wear) and then Philly waived him. Outlaw will receive the $3,000,000 he was guaranteed this season, so he’ll be paid whether he’s in the league or not. The last few years have been somewhat rough for Outlaw, as he has struggled (and parted ways with) the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings and Knicks. However, he has stuck around the league for 11 years as a role player and always seems to end up on a roster, so don’t be surprised if he gets another shot this season.
Ronnie Brewer, 29 years old, 8-year veteran – It wasn’t long ago that Brewer was a starter for the Chicago Bulls, playing a key role for them in the 2011-12 season. But since leaving Chicago, Brewer hasn’t been very productive. His numbers decreased during his stints with the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, playing very few minutes. He rejoined the Bulls toward the end of last season, but was let go in July. It’s possible that Brewer could get signed at some point this season, since he’s a solid perimeter defender and veteran presence. He knows his role and has plenty of playoff experience as well. He has averaged 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the course of his eight-year career.
Peyton Siva, 24 years old, 1-year veteran – The Detroit Pistons decided to waive Siva after his rookie season. He joined the Orlando Magic for training camp and the preseason, but didn’t appear in any games. When he signed with the Magic, it was with an understanding that he would be waived and then join the Magic’s D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks. The arrangement made sense for both parties, as Siva got some guaranteed money to supplement his D-League salary and the Magic ensured that they’d have him in Erie. That’s where Siva finds himself today, but any NBA team can call him up and sign him this season. It was somewhat surprising that Siva didn’t land on NBA roster over the summer since he’s still just 24 years old and played pretty well in the Orlando Summer League, averaging 10 points, five assists and a steal. He’s certainly someone to keep an eye on in the D-League, as he may be called up at some point this season.
Xavier Silas, 26 years old, 1-year veteran – Silas spent the last two training camps with the Washington Wizards and was the last cut each time. This preseason, he was productive, but the Wizards opted to keep 12-year veteran Rasual Butler over him. Silas has had stints in France, Israel, Argentina and the D-League, and had a stint with the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2011-12 season. If Silas does make an NBA roster, he will be suspended for one game since he left the bench during a preseason confrontation that took place between Paul Pierce and Joakim Noah.
Tyrus Thomas, 28 years old, 7-year veteran – Thomas hasn’t played in the NBA since being amnestied by Charlotte, but he recently told Basketball Insiders that he’s trying to make a comeback. He is still getting into game shape after recently undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his back, but he’s working out twice a day in San Antonio and looking good. He’s determined to show that he has matured and change how he’s perceived, because he’s the first one to say that he made some mistakes and took things for granted while he was in the NBA. Thomas is still very young compared to many of the players on this list, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get another chance in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Josh Howard, Kenyon Martin, Hasheem Thabeet, John Lucas III, Greg Oden, Elliot Williams, Richard Hamilton, Mickael Pietrus, Earl Barron, Dwight Buycks, Marquis Teague, Lamar Odom, Stephen Jackson, Marcus Camby, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike James, Daniel Gibson, Seth Curry, Doron Lamb, Damien Wilkins, Keith Bogans, Terrence Williams, Jason Kapono, Donte Greene, Adonis Thomas, Arnett Moultrie, Robert Covington, Jeff Adrien, Erik Murphy, Josh Powell, Brian Cook, Bernard James, Hassan Whiteside, Kwame Brown, Jason Collins, Dexter Pittman, Solomon Jones, Andris Biedrins, Chris Johnson, Aaron Craft, Khem Birch, Renaldo Balkman, Malcolm Lee, Andrew Bynum
Next week, we’ll take a look at some players who are currently abroad and who may be signed by an NBA team after they complete their overseas commitment.
NBA Daily: A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors made some bold moves this off-season, but will those moves be the beginning of something new or the beginning of the end of Raptors run in the East?
A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors were clearly at a crossroads after being swept unceremoniously by the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. It was a microcosm of their situation – good enough to win the East in the regular season, but not good enough to win in big playoff games.
The Raptors went on to fire Dwane Casey as head coach, despite him ultimately being named Coach of The Year. The idea behind the firing wasn’t an emotional reaction to the swept; it was the acceptance of the reality that Casey wasn’t going to evolve as a coach, at least not the way management had hoped.
Casey’s ouster wasn’t the only change; the Raptors also traded away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan in a “dare to be great” trade with San Antonio for forward Kawhi Leonard.
From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard is an upgrade in almost every way to DeRozan, a multi-time All-Star in his own right. The problem with Leonard isn’t what he is as a player, its what he’s become as a person. No one saw the divorce in San Antonio coming, nor the lengths his camp would go to force an exit and leave countless millions on the table for a new start.
The problem for Toronto is the new start Leonard was seeking never included them. So, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did a year ago with Paul George, the Raptors are hopeful that a long and successful courtship of Leonard could win him over and into a new long-term deal. If that sounds like a pipe dream, it probably is.
Let’s be real about a few things.
Toronto is a beautiful and passionate basketball city, but is that enough to sway a kid from Southern California to stay? The Raptor faithful will point to DeRozan as an example of yes; he did exactly that when he signed his current deal. But is the situation ideal for Leonard, again the answer might be yes, especially if he is fully recovered from the quad injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
There is no doubting that the Raptors are built to win right now. They won 59 games with arguably the same roster and will enter an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James in Cleveland.
Sure, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are formidable challengers for supremacy in the East and let’s not forget about the Indiana Pacers, who could be in that same pack of teams vying for the top spot. But are any of them far and away better than the Raptors in terms of proven in their prime players?
The script seems to be written for the Raptors to either explode and cement themselves at the top of the East or implode on their own decisions.
New Raptors coach Nick Nurse is as a good as they come from the assistant ranks. He is a bright basketball mind, and he knows his players and has relationships with most of them. The question is will he be as good as advertised? If he not, this dance could be over before it starts.
Leonard has so much to prove after orchestrating his exit from San Antonio. If he gets back to MVP form in Toronto how can the Raptors not be considered the front-runner for the East? Yes, Boston is going to be really good too, but if you were betting on two players – MVP version of Kyrie Irving or MVP version of Leonard, who are you taking?
The problem for the Raptors is what if Leonard isn’t that guy again? What if all the negativity becomes too much? What if not being coddled and sheltered by the Spurs is a problem? No, Leonard isn’t a baby that needs mothering, but if you have followed anything about Leonard, he’s not this rock of a person that can handle anything. It’s a real question only he can answer with his play on the floor.
Equally, what if the quad isn’t fully healed or he goes Isaiah Thomas and tries to come back on to make it worse and needs surgery?
These are not easy questions to answer.
If the Raptors come out on top of most of these decisions – Nurse and Leonard are what people hope them to be — then things could swing in a very interesting direction for the Raptor franchise.
That’s what makes the “dare to be great” move interesting.
Thunder GM Sam Presti made news when he was quoted in Paul George’s ESPN docu-series, saying one of his favorite Lyrics was from Tribe Called Quest – “Scared money don’t make none” — in rationalizing his all-in approach to George.
It seems like Raptor president Masai Ujiri may have stolen a play from the Thunder playbook, because the franchise is now all the way in on the make or break moves of this off-season.
This could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Raptors, or it could end being the moves that cratered something special.
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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.