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NBA PM: Trying to Trade Carmelo Anthony

Trading Carmelo Anthony is complicated. Tommy Beer goes in-depth to break down some scenarios.

Tommy Beer

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So, in full disclosure, I have previously avoided dedicating a column to potential Carmelo Anthony trades primarily because Melo had made it crystal clear time and again that he had absolutely no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. Accordingly, it seemed to be a fool’s errand to conjure up hypothetical trades when it appeared there was no way Melo would ever approve any such deal.

Welp, after four straight losing seasons, and the looming likelihood of a fifth, in addition to a terribly fractured relationship with team president Phil Jackson and purported issues in his personal life, it seems we may have finally arrived at a point where Melo would actually prefer to be traded.

Thus, here we are. Now, let’s gets down to business.

From a Knicks perspective, there should be three primary objectives in any trade involving Melo:
* Clear cap space, and/or
* Acquire young, promising players on affordable contracts, and/or
* Obtain draft picks

History tells us it is almost impossible to get equal value in return when trading a star. And while Melo is clearly no longer an elite all-around player, he remains one of the NBA’s most accomplished and skilled scorers. However, Phil likely lost leverage and devalued his asset during his divisive diatribe after the end of the regular season. And, of course, there is the looming no-trade clause, which gives Anthony ultimate power and the final say on any proposed deal.

One other impediment to a deal is the trade kicker in Carmelo’s contract. Before we get to the fun exercise of examining and deliberating potential trades, let’s get some bookkeeping out of the way so we know how much the team that trades for Melo will have to accept in salary.

Back when Melo initially signed his massive, $124 million contract in July of 2014, Phil Jackson not only decided to pay Anthony $25 million more than any other team could offer, Jackson also agreed to include a no-trade clause and a trade kicker (a decision that was derided soon after it was announced).

Melo is owed $26,243,760 million in 2017-18 and has an Early Termination Option for the following season. If he does not exercise that option and opt out, he will be paid $27,928,140 million for the 2018-19 campaign.

Thus, Melo is owed a sum total of $54,171,900 over the next two seasons. Melo’s contract also includes a 15 percent trade kicker. 15 percent of $54.2 million is $8.1 million. If we divide that number by two (the remaining years on Melo’s deal), we get $4.1 million.

$26,243,760 (Melo 2017-18 base salary)
+$4,062,892
= $30,306,652

Thus, when configuring trades involving Melo, we have to use an outgoing salary for Melo of approximately $30.3 million as opposed to just his base salary of $26.2 million.

The bonus money owed to Anthony would be paid by the Knicks but it would go on the acquiring team’s salary cap.

So, because Melo’s outgoing salary would count as $30.3 million with the trade bonus included, the team that acquires Anthony will have to send back $24.2 million (125 percent of Melo’s contract plus $100,000).

Two caveats here: As will be discussed below, if the Knicks wait until after July 1 (the start of the new NBA year) to trade Anthony, then the salaries may not necessarily have to match up evenly. For instance, if a team is $20 million below the cap, they can use that cap space to absorb/offset the difference in outgoing salary. Also, Melo has the option to waive his trade kicker to facilitate a deal, just as Roy Hibbert did when he waived his $2.3 million trade kicker when the Pacers traded him to the Lakers in 2015.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s now talk trades…

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New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for J.J. Redick (via sign-and-trade), Austin Rivers and 2021 first-round draft pick.

Why it makes sense for the Clippers:
It’d be an easy decision for the Clippers. They would avoid overpaying an aging, slowing Redick and bring in a sublime scorer in Anthony, who just so happens to be BFF’s with Chris Paul, the free agent point guard who the Clips badly wants to keep in L.A. Assuming the Clippers re-sign Blake Griffin as well, that gives them an incredibly intriguing Big 4 of CP3, Melo, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer has already avowed he is willing to pay a hefty luxury tax bill for a superior product. This would be the best of both worlds for L.A.; they keep their core together but also infuse new life and shake things up with the exciting addition of 10-time All-Star.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It doesn’t. But before we break down this potential deal, let’s first discuss why a sign-and-trade with Blake Griffin is extremely unlikely. Assuming he opts out of his contract this summer, he can sign a max contract with the Clippers (who own his Bird Rights) for $175.7 million over five years. If he inks a deal with any team other than the Clippers, he can sign for “only” $128.5 million in guaranteed money over four years. When a player agrees to a sign-and-trade, they lose their Bird Rights in the process. Thus, the Knicks would be able to offer a max amount of $128.5 million. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Griffin willfully choosing to sacrifice nearly $45 million in order to leave a team that has won more than 50 games in five straight seasons so he can join a team that has won more than 50 games just once since 1996-97. Moving on…

A deal centered around J.J. Redick would be an awful move for the Knicks. Redick will be 33 years old when he signs his next contract. It’s been rumored Redick will be seeking around $16 to $18 million annually. While he is still an elite shooter, a skill that has increasing value in today’s NBA, Redick is on the downside of his career. Last season, he averaged less than 15.2 points per game and shot below 45 percent from the floor for the first time since 2012-13. In the 2017 postseason, Redick averaged 9.1 points on 38.0 percent shooting. In the two most important games of the Clippers season, Games 6 and 7 vs. Utah, Redick was invisible. He scored a total of seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. As noted above, if/when the Knicks move on from Melo, the team needs to embrace a complete rebuild and focus on the future, i.e. building a young foundation that can grow with and around Porzingis. If the Knicks clog up their cap space going forward by overpaying a defensively deficient guard creeping towards his mid-30’s because he would be a great fit in the Triangle Offense, it would be a major mistake that sets the franchise back years. Furthermore, it would likely force the Knicks subsequently trade Courtney Lee, New York’s current starting shooting guard. While Lee had an up-and-down season in New York, a young 3-and-D wing on an affordable contract is preferable to Redick.

Rivers is a decent player, but obviously not a difference maker. While his 2017-18 salary ($11.9 million) isn’t terrible considering his skill set, he has a player option for 2018-19. Thus, even in the best case scenario of him playing very well and exceeding expectations, the Knicks would be forced to offer him a raise and long-term contract next summer to keep him in New York.

Would Anthony accept a trade to L.A: We have to assume the Clippers would be one of his top choices, if not his preferred destination.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Boston Celtics in exchange for Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller and Memphis’ 2019 first round draft.

Why it makes sense for the Celtics:
There are a lot of unknown variables that have to play out before Boston considers trading for Carmelo. If the C’s advance past Wizards and put up a strong fight vs. the Cavs in the Conference Finals, they may be unmotivated to make a major move, especially considering they will be adding a top-tier prospect via a top-three pick in the 2017 Draft (courtesy of the Nets). Also, because they will have upwards of $30 million in cap space to spend this summer, Danny Ainge and company will likely target a younger, max-level player. Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately under Brad Stevens at Butler, is presumably the apple of their eye.

But what if the next few weeks and months play out differently? Maybe the Wiz come back and knock off Boston in round two. Or the Cavs crush them in the Conference Finals by shutting down Isaiah Thomas, with Boston unable to produce offense elsewhere. Then, come July, Hayward re-signs with Utah. At that point, maybe Ainge is willing to roll the dice and bring in Anthony. Maybe a hungry, motivated Melo is viewed as the piece of the puzzle that takes Boston over the top.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It’s a no-brainer for the Knicks. While not nearly as gifted as Melo offensively, Crowder is a terrific defender with an improving offensive game (he shot a career-best 39.8 percent from 3-point territory this past season). Best of all, Crowder is just 26 years old and locked into one of the more attractive contracts in the league, which would clear a ton of cap space for New York. Crowder will make a total of $21.9 million through 2020, or an average of just $7.3 million annually over the next three seasons.

The Celtics are swimming in extra picks. The Knicks would benefit greatly from any additional draft selections they can acquire. The salaries don’t match, but Boston would be able to absorb the excess salary into their cap space. (Safe to assume that Phil Jackson was hoping that Rajon Rondo had not gotten hurt and the Celtics flamed out in round one, as it would have increased the chances Boston would be willing to deal.)

Would Anthony accept a trade to Boston?
The C’s would seem to check a lot of boxes for Melo. Boston is a major market on the east coast and just a few hours north of NYC. And, with a top rookie and Melo added to an already stellar collection of talent, the Celtics would enter next season as a legit contender for the crown.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Toronto for DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Pascal Siakam and Toronto’s 2018 first-round pick

Why it makes sense for the Raptors:
The Raps have a solid nucleus, which has carried them to playoffs in four consecutive seasons. The problem is they have stalled once arriving in the postseason, unable to get past Cleveland, the cream of the crop in the East.

Toronto will almost certainly make every effort to re-sign Kyle Lowry and keep Serge Ibaka in Toronto by inking him to a new deal. Obviously, they are in “win now” mode. Much like the aforementioned Celtics, the Raps might believe they are just a key player away from dethroning the Cavs. A starting five of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Melo, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, with Norm Powell and Delon Wright coming off the bench would surely have to excite fans north of the border. Furthermore, they’d rid themselves of Carroll’s onerous contract, which was a rare swing-and-miss by GM Masai Ujiri.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Carroll’s contract ($14.8 million in 2017-18 and $15.4 million in 2018-19) is certainly not cap-friendly, but it will be off the books in two years. In addition, Carroll is owed far less than Melo and obviously doesn’t have a no-trade clause. A gaggle of smaller pieces will be easier for Phil Jackson to flip in future deals down the road.

Cory Joseph is an above-average backup point guard. He is owed $7.6 million next season and has a $7.9 million player option for 2018-19. He’ll most likely opt out in July of 2018, clearing cap space in the process. Assuming the Knicks draft a point guard with their lottery pick next month, Joseph can serve as a starter for a season and help mentor the Knick neophyte. Siakam was the Raps first round pick in 2016 and showed flashes of promise as a rookie, starting 38 games. If those pieces don’t fit for either side, the Raps have plenty of other attractive assets to dangle in a deal. I’m sure New York would be very interested in adding Delon Wright or Jakob Poeltl as opposed to one of the other principles in the deal.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Toronto?
Toronto is further away from NYC, but much of what was said above about Boston applies to Toronto. If he values winning, Melo has to be at least intrigued by joining a stacked Raptors lineup.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kevin Love and Kay Felder

Why it makes sense for the Cavs:
This is another hypothetical trade dependent upon future events. If the Cavaliers defend their title this season, they would have no reason even to consider breaking up a core coming off back-to-back titles. However, if they were to get knocked off in the NBA Finals, or, especially, if they were tripped up in the East, the Cavs might investigate shaking things up.

One other factor in play here is the fact that both Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have the opportunity to become free agents this summer. All four friends have been open about their desire to team up and join forces at some point in their careers. While LeBron somehow figuring out a way to make “Team Banana Boat” a reality in Cleveland is extremely unlikely, it’s not impossible to envision him pressuring Cleveland management to trade for his buddy Melo.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Yes, Kevin Love has some flaws, but he’s also an extremely skilled big man who is five years younger than Anthony. Granted, he’s not an ideal fit alongside Porzingis, but if you’re Phil, you make the trade and figure out how to realign the remaining chess pieces later in the game. Love is not only younger than Melo, but he also has a lower annual salary.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Cleveland?
Melo has nearly every individual accolade a player could hope for. At this stage of his career, considering the toxic work environment in New York and the roster assembled around him, one has to assume he’d now jump at the opportunity to join his friend LeBron and compete for a championship.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier and Portland’s 2018 first-round pick.

Why it makes sense for the Blazers:
After going on a shopping spree last summer and doling out $350 million in long-term contracts, the Blazers will be bumped up against the cap for the foreseeable future. They will have to wheel and deal if they want to substantially improve their roster, just as they did in acquiring Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick from the Nuggets in exchange for Mason Plumlee. After stumbling out of the gate last season, Portland made a remarkable run to qualify for the postseason. Nonetheless, they squeaked into the playoffs and were quickly swept by Golden State. Afterward, Dame Lillard, the face of the Blazers franchise, discussed how the organization needs to find a way to compete with the vaunted Warriors. Procuring a talented veteran in Melo would provide an upgrade and allow the Blazers to start three elite scorers (Lillard, Anthony, and rising star C.J. McCollum) and a big man in Nurkic. Basketball Insiders’ own Moke Hamilton broke down this intriguing possibility last month.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Making the salaries match would be difficult. Inserting Allen Crabbe in place of Harkless would get the job done, but Crabbe is owed $56.3 million over the next three seasons. That would be a tough contract for the Knicks to swallow. Harkless, who was born and raised in Queens, NY, is set to earn just $30.9 million over the next three seasons. Considering both players are comparable, Harkless is the more desirable option. In this scenario, a third team would be needed to absorb some of the excess salary.

Noah Vonleh hasn’t lived up the hype after being selected ninth overall in the 2014 draft. However, he’s still just 21 years old and played the best basketball of his career this past April, averaging 8.7 points (shooting 57.1 percent from the floor) and 9.1 rebounds. Shabazz Napier hasn’t had a chance to play consistently since his rookie season in Miami. The Blazers have a glut of picks they can include to spice up any deal. Portland has three first-round selections in the 2017 draft (15, 20 and 26th overall picks).

Would Anthony accept a trade to Portland?
A couple of factors to consider regarding Melo waiving his no-trade clause. First, he has a player option for the 2018-19 season. Thus, Anthony would only have to option of spending only one year with his new team before opting out and becoming an unrestricted free agent. Secondly, he gets to collect a cool $8 million via the trade bonus if he approves any deal. In Portland, Melo could revive his career playing alongside young, hungry players on a team with a high ceiling.

****

Here are a few more potential (albeit somewhat unlikely) trade scenarios.

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer and Larry Nance Jr.

If the old management group were still in place (the one that handed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $136 million last summer in a desperate attempt to become an adequate team), it would be easier to imagine the Lakers trading away a couple of their young pieces to net a notable name such as Carmelo. However, with Rob Pelinka now calling the shots in L.A., it’s safe to assume they would have no interest in renting Melo for a year or two on a team that is nowhere near a title contention. The Knicks could surely pique the Lakers interest by discussing a deal that included the dead-weight contracts of Deng and Mozgov along with young talent, but that would be counter-productive for New York.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Miami HEAT in exchange for Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts

This would only be possible once the HEAT cleared Chris Bosh’s salary off their books. It also assumes McRoberts exercises his $6 million player option for 2017-18.

Miami was rightfully ecstatic when Winslow fell to them at No. 10 in the 2015 draft. He was immediately viewed as a cornerstone piece for the franchise. However, his first two NBA seasons have not gone according to plan. He appeared in only 18 games during the 2017-18 campaign before a torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season prematurely. In the 18 contests he played in, Winslow shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 20.0 percent from three-point territory and 61.7 percent from the free throw line. All that said, he is still only 21 years of age and projects as a terrific perimeter defender with a high basketball IQ.

Nevertheless, might Pat Riley be tempted to trade his prized youngster for a player that would be able to provide significant help right away. The HEAT went 30-11 over their final 41 games last season. The Golden State Warriors (33-9) were the only team in the entire league to tally more victories over the second half of the season. The HEAT have to believe they are close to being a real threat in the East. Miami would be able to trot out a starting five that included Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside, with Tyler Johnson coming off the bench. The issue for Miami is that they would not only have to part with Winslow, but they’d also have to use most of their coveted cap space to absorb Melo’s contract.

For the Knicks, it’d be a no-brainer. As for Melo, one would think he wouldn’t mind spending a (tax-free) season on South Beach.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn to the –
Detroit Pistons in exchange for Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

How desperate is Stan Van Gundy shake up things in Motown? Would he be willing to dismantle the roster he built?

Based on preseason predictions/expectations, the Knicks were quite possibly the NBA’s most disappointing team last season. You could make a strong argument that the Pistons were a very close second. After winning 44 games and qualifying for the postseason in 2015-16, Detroit was expected to take that “next step” in their progression this past year. Instead, they took a major step backward. The team appeared to quit down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs. Van Gundy was outwardly optimistic at the end of the year and said all the right things, but he had to have been incredibly frustrated. Playing in the first season of a five-year $130 million contract, Drummond was not nearly as impactful as he should have been. Reggie Jackson, who is owed over $51 million over the next three seasons, fought through knee tendinitis all season. He missed the first 21 and the final nine games of the year. Even when Jackson was active, the team was often better with Ish Smith running the point. Still, there would be little motivation in trading away their flotsam for the Knicks jetsam.

On the flip side of the coin, New York would love to get out from under the Noah contract, but how enthused would they be about trading for Drummond and Jackson, knowing that dynamic duo would account for approximately 40 percent of their cap going forward? More importantly, Melo would likely squash this before it even got serious. Moving on…

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Kent Bazemore, Mike Dunleavy, and Malcolm Delaney.

The Hawks are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference and appear to be trending in the wrong direction. Paul Millsap is a pending free agent. Dwight Howard is unhappy with his role in the offense. The organization consistently has trouble selling tickets. Anthony could be appealing on a number of fronts.

It’s not an overly exciting package from the Knicks perspective, but they do get younger and upgrade defensively. Bazemore struggled to locate his stroke for much of the season but has a relatively high floor due to his solid perimeter defense. Delaney is a backup point guard on a cheap deal. The final year of Dunleavy’s contract is non-guaranteed.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Khris Middleton and Matthew Dellavedova

At first blush, it seems unlikely that Melo would consider moving to Milwaukee; but, upon further inspection, maybe he would entertain the possibility.

The Bucks are a fresh, up-and-coming team that features one of the game brightest young stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anthony also has a good relationship with Bucks coach Jason Kidd. Melo enjoyed his greatest success as a Knick playing alongside Kidd back in 2012-13. And, again, Anthony would pocket millions by agreeing to the trade, and he’d have to spend just one season there if he was unhappy.

Milwaukee would obviously hate to give up Middleton but would be happy to dump Delly’s deal. Dellavedova signed a four-year, $38 million pact last summer but was replaced in the starting lineup by Malcolm Brogdon in late December. Brogdon, who is favored to win the Rookie of the Year award, is clearly the Bucks PG of the future.

The PG-starved Knicks would be more than willing to add Dellavedova if that was the price to pay for acquiring Middleton as well.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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How Magical Can Orlando Be?

In an Eastern Conference full of unknowns, the Orlando Magic stand out as one of the most prominent in that category. Matt John takes a look at the three players who should play a role in their progress this season.

Matt John

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As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is wide open.

It definitely has its favorites, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. But even they have their question marks.

There are teams who could be at that level, or possibly higher should things break their way, like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But, that remains to be seen; how they do depends on if their previously injured stars are back to normal and how much their young talent progresses.

Then there are others like the Brooklyn Nets, who honestly may have to wait a year before they’re put in the conversation, and the Miami HEAT, who just got their biggest free agent since LeBron James and could sneak their way into the conversation if they make the right moves.

And then, there’s the Orlando Magic.

There’s a lot of optimism coming out of the Magic Kingdom. And why shouldn’t there be? Orlando made its first playoff appearance in seven years, they had one of the best records in the league following the trade deadline (18-8) and they brought pretty much everyone back and even some reinforcements.

And yet, of all the teams in the East, Orlando’s the one that has no consensus. Or, more specifically, no one knows where they will fall in the conference. They might just be the biggest wild card in an Eastern Conference that already has plenty of them.

If all their hopes and dreams come true this season, the Magic could very well be right up there with the Bucks and the Sixers. If it goes the opposite way, they could find themselves back in the lottery.

But this Orlando team is good. They can make the playoffs, but they should be wary of their other competitors. The Toronto Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard but, as of now, they’re not going anywhere. Same goes for the Detroit Pistons. There is also a lot of buzz around two particular and young up and coming teams- the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.

If the Magic are to prove themselves better than those teams and as good as those aforementioned ones, they’ll need contributions from several particular players. They already know what they’re going to get out of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wes Iwundu and DJ Augustin, but for the following players, Orlando’s odds of getting to that next level depends on their individual progressions.

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon has already proven himself an above average player. He’s an excellent athlete, a hard-nosed defender, has improved his three-point shot over the years and, in this past year alone, has shown improved playmaking ability, as his assist percentage shot all the way up to 16.6.

But now, entering his sixth season in the NBA, he still has yet to prove that he’s a truly special talent. We’ve been waiting for a couple of years to see an explosion from Gordon, the transition from raw talent to the superstar we anticipated he’d be. It’s not entirely his fault; previous Orlando management forced Gordon to play out of position for too long, which may have hurt his growth as a player.

It didn’t ruin his career, but it didn’t help one bit. Two years later, Gordon has some playoff experience under his belt. His first go-round was honestly quite solid for a playoff rookie. 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists while putting up 47/40/52 splits is promising, but those are satisfactory stats for a complementary player.

Gordon’s ceiling right now is still that of a future star. And, at 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for him to reach that level. Last season, Steve Clifford wanted the young player to be more a defensive specialist, a role in which Gordon performed very well in. Now with higher expectations from the team, Gordon should be expected to take his game another step further.

We got an explosion from an athletic, defensively stout power forward who showed off the three-point range last season that we keep expecting from Gordon, but it came from Pascal Siakam. If Gordon is to take that next step, he should look at Siakam’s last season as an example to build his game on.

Jonathan Isaac

Jonathan Isaac is only 22-years-old. He’s 6-foot-10. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays more like a wing but does things on the court that any big would be capable of doing. When people think of Isaac, they think of raw talent.

Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Isaac did okay offensively in his first full year, averaging 9.6 points on 43/32/81 splits while also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Defensively, there was a lot to be excited about, as Isaac averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals while also putting up a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.13.

With his insane physical measurements, there’s a lot to like about Isaac’s game and potential. His body frame has garnered comparisons (albeit unfairly) to Kevin Durant, but the potential he has makes it hard not to see a great future for him.

He knows how to use his length to bother his opponents; there are just too many advantages he has physically to not already be a good defender. Offensively, he’s not at the same level. But, every so often, Isaac showed he was capable on that end. There were even times where he took over games last season.

As of now, Orlando already has Vooch, Fournier, and Ross to handle the scoring load. If they want to take that next step, Isaac’s offensive progression would not only vault them higher in the standings, but it would also add a whole new dimension to the team.

There’s no rush for him to become a star, but if Isaac can show even more improvement in year three, then the Magic should become a lot harder to stop.

Markelle Fultz

Now this is where the Magic’s ceiling gets interesting.

Markelle Fultz was a project from the day it was announced that he was traded to Orlando. It was clear he no longer fit Philadelphia’s timeline and that he needed his own timetable to get his game back on track. That said, he’s a project worth investing in; Fultz was a top overall pick for a reason.

Unlike Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland reached for back in 2013, Fultz has the tools to be something special. It’s only been injury and mental gymnastics that have held him back. Now he has a fresh start and a team that can afford to be patient with him.

Because of all the off the court drama that was going on with Fultz, there’s no concrete data to support anything that he could do this season. All we have now are just preseason videos to see what Fultz can do. But, in the few preseason games that we’ve seen, the returns look promising.

With or without a reliable jump shot, Fultz is definitely an NBA-caliber player. He has good court vision.

He can attack the basket.

And he has shown good instincts on the defensive end of the floor.

Then there’s his jumper. His jump shot looks… better? It doesn’t look like it’s completely fixed, but when your jumper is so ugly that it would have made Shawn Marion grimace, you have nowhere to go but up.

We’ll have to see how his new and improved jump shot will fare when the real competition starts. If it’s for real, then Markelle becomes a much more lethal scoring threat. He’s already shown that he can be a useful tool in the offense. His abilities as a scorer would make him all the more dynamic.

The reason why Fultz’s potential could pay more dividends than Gordon or Isaac this season is that the one area where the Magic desperately need improvement is at the point guard spot. DJ Augustin had one of his most efficient seasons ever last season, but that didn’t exactly take Orlando that far. If Fultz is to show that he was worth the top pick – which, at this point, may be unrealistic – then Orlando becomes so much better.

Gordon’s and Isaac’s improvements would definitely take the Magic up a notch. Fultz could vault them up so much higher.

We’re not going to include Mo Bamba on this list because, as long as Vooch is around, Bamba won’t be relied on to do much besides be a back-up five. Even in that role, he has some competition.

Now say these guys all progress enough to stay promising, but not enough that the Magic would take a major leap forward. Then comes the possibility of trading some of their youth for an established star.

Orlando has the assets to acquire someone good. Players like Blake Griffin or Bradley Beal could be had if they have an offer sweet enough to entice their respective teams, but it all depends on the progress of the roster as a whole. They may have to decide whether to try and open a win-now window by pairing Vucevic and Fournier with an established star or to build for a more glorious future around Gordon, Isaac, Bamba and Fultz.

Either way, this Magic team should be up next. What is left to be determined is how “up next” they truly are.

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Zach LaVine, Charting a Path Toward Analytics Superstardom

Zach LaVine made headlines by decrying his team’s preference to avoid long twos. But however reluctantly, the Chicago Bulls guard is charting a path toward analytics superstardom.

Jack Winter

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The widespread hand-wringing about Zach LaVine’s stated hesitance to shirk mid-range jumpers in favor of shots at the rim and from beyond the arc was largely overblown.

While the Chicago Bulls would no doubt prefer he publicly embrace the coaching staff’s plan this season to further prioritize high-value field goal attempts, the truth is that LaVine has gradually been cutting long twos from his game for years. His share of shots that came from mid-range last season was 17.8 percent, a career-low mark that’s dwindled on an annual basis ever since he entered the league in 2014-15.

It’s not like LaVine openly flaunted the Bulls’ preference to hunt efficient shots and employ a more egalitarian style of offense during the preseason, either. Just four of his 54 shots in exhibition play were non-paint twos, and a whopping 48 of his field-goal attempts were taken from deep or in the restricted area. The result has been by far the best basketball of LaVine’s five-year career, a remarkable blend of production and efficiency that makes it easy to forget the meaningless stakes of preseason basketball – and just as easy to believe he’s on the verge true stardom.

LaVine won’t average 34.8 points per-36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 75.1 come the regular season. Stats like that are reserved for video games and, it turns out, a four-game stretch of the preseason slate. Still, LaVine’s jaw-dropping performance over the past two weeks hasn’t received nearly enough attention league-wide and, perhaps, positions him as basketball’s most imminently dangerous long-range shooter and perimeter penetrator this side of James Harden.

LaVine showed last season that he had the goods to earn that distinction. None of the 11 players who averaged more drives than his 13.6 per game shot better than LaVine’s 36.9 percent on pull-up threes, according to data compiled at NBA.com. The insane degree of difficulty of Harden’s off-dribble triples pushed his accuracy just below LaVine’s, and Kemba Walker, who averaged 15.2 drives per game, nearly eclipsed his three-point shooting percentage despite taking nearly double the number of long-range pull-ups.

But the numbers are the numbers, and they provide even more evidence to suggest LaVine is on the cusp of becoming a scorer tailor-made for the analytics era, despite his apparent preference otherwise.

LaVine took 3.1 off-dribble threes per game last season, 21st-most in the league. If the preseason is any indication of his style of play to come, expect him to easily beat that average in 2019-20. All but seven of LaVine’s 25 three-point attempts in the preseason came off a live dribble, a total that extrapolates to 6.8 pull-up tries per-36 minutes of play.

LaVine rarely deviated from the offense to launch those looks, either. Chicago made a concerted effort in each of his four exhibition games to free LaVine for off-dribble threes early in the shot clock, whether by drag screens as he brought the ball up the floor or staggered ball screens coming middle off the catch. He’s also already developed a nice wink-wink chemistry with Tomas Satoransky, who boasts natural playmaking ingenuity the Bulls have long lacked next to LaVine in the backcourt. And on the few occasions LaVine has isolated before pulling up from deep, his burst off the bounce and cat-quick shot release have caught defenders flat-footed, unable to manage an effective contest.

LaVine isn’t Harden, and he never will be. Expecting any player, no matter how explosive an athlete or how smooth he is with the ball, to function as a close approximation of the Houston Rockets’ superstar is flatly unfair. He’s the most accomplished off-dribble three-point shooter ever, and even before earning that distinction proved impossible for defenders to keep out of the paint.

LaVine isn’t nearly as comfortable as Harden putting a series of high-level dribble moves together before letting fly, and Chicago isn’t asking him to play that way. But the threat of his pull-up jumper looms large nonetheless, which makes LaVine an even more devastating penetrator than his all-world physical tools alone suggest he would be.

Over his first couple seasons in the league, LaVine routinely drove at full speed, often getting all the way to the rim but arriving out of control. He’s slowly, but surely, added more nuance and patience as an attacker in recent years, honed ability that combined with his pull-up jumper made him more effective than ever getting to the basket during the preseason. Playing beside frontcourt shooters like Lauri Markkanen and Luke Kornet affords LaVine extra space to manipulate help defenders with fakes and hesitations behind the initial line of defense, too.

It took years for LaVine to develop the understanding needed to take advantage of defenders’ missteps by doing things like rejecting screens and splitting defenders, reads that come easy for some high-usage ball handlers. He drew more free throw attempts on drives last season than every player in basketball but Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Spencer Dinwiddie. LaVine needs to get more comfortable with his left hand and still lacks a reliable floater game, but should be one of the league’s most productive penetrators this season regardless.

Even if LaVine proves his eye-popping preseason play wasn’t a complete aberration, the stats will nevertheless convey a more glowing assessment of his overall impact than his real on-court influence. LaVine was still prone to tunnel vision with the ball in his hands, often missing simple kickouts as defenders converged on his drives, and is unlikely to improve from his low defensive baseline despite a stated desire otherwise. At 24, dreams of him realizing his utmost, Hall-of-Fame potential as a dynamic primary ball handler who doubles as a dogged, disruptive defender are pretty much long gone.

But LaVine has made so much progress as a shooter and attacker that for now his weaknesses only matter on the margins. And as long as he continues on the path toward becoming basketball’s most reluctant analytics darling, the Bulls will be best served building an ecosystem around them – just like the Rockets with Harden’s.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Bradley Beal Extension Signals Long-Term Plan for Washington

After signing Bradley Beal to a two-year extension, the Wizards will try to return to relevancy. While it will be difficult, there is a long-term plan materializing in Washington.

Quinn Davis

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Yesterday Bradley Beal inked a two-year 72 million dollar extension with the Washington Wizards. The extension, which kicks in beginning in the 2021-2022 season, includes a player option for the second year and could potentially keep him from reaching free agency until the summer of 2023.

Following a summer defined by player movement, Beal’s signing marks a change of pace for NBA superstars. After a season marred by John Wall tearing his Achilles and culminating in the Wizards’ lowest win total since 2012-13, many expected Beal to be a marquee name on the trade market.

Instead, Beal will stay with the team that drafted him and attempt to right the ship. In a recent interview following the extension, Beal explained his motivation:

“I guess just legacy at the end of the day. This is where I’ve been for the last seven years, going on eight, and I have an opportunity to turn this thing around,” Beal said.  “It’s a beautiful market. I love it. I love D.C. This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and this is where I want to be for the rest of my career.”

With Beal committed to the franchise, the team can look to the future knowing they have a potential All-NBA player in tow. The question now becomes, where can they go from here?

Firstly, there is the Wall-sized elephant in the room when it comes to the Wizards’ future roster construction. Shortly after signing a four-year supermax extension, injuries began to plague the former top overall pick.  

Wall played only 41 games in 2017-18, and then only 32 games in 2018-19, before tearing his Achilles by slipping and falling in his home last February. Wall is expected to miss the entirety of this season as he rehabs.

The supermax extension signed by Wall in the summer of 2017 begins this season and will pay him 170 million dollars over the next four years. This will keep Wall on the roster through the 2022-23 season, assuming he picks up the fourth-year player option on the deal.

It is unclear how Wall will return from such a devastating injury. There is a poor track record for NBA players returning from an injury of this nature. The outlook could be even grimmer when factoring in Wall’s reliance on speed and athleticism.

With that in mind, along with the consensus projection that the Wizards will be a lottery team, many will question the decision to extend Beal rather than undergo a full rebuild. The question is certainly a valid one, but there may still be a path back to competitiveness for the franchise with Beal on the team.

The options to improve the team in the short-term will be limited. They are hard-capped for this season and will have no more than 16 million in cap space for the coming summer, should the projected salary cap number of $116 million remain unchanged.

The plan for the next two seasons will likely be to foster internal development, while remaining somewhat competitive with Beal and any veterans they can add to the fringes. There is excitement about rookie first-round pick Rui Hachimura, who had a nice showing in the FIBA World Cup and thus far in preseason.

The Wizards also have Troy Brown Jr. and Moritz Wagner on their rookie contracts for the next two seasons.  Brown, particularly, showed an ability to finish at the rim and draw fouls last season. He shot 70 percent at the rim and drew shooting fouls on 9.8 percent of his shot attempts. Those numbers were in the 90th and 71st percentile for his position, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass.

If Brown and Hachimura can blossom into a starting quality wing duo, the Wizards’ future outlook could gain a little optimism.  

The team will also have Thomas Bryant on a team-friendly contract for the next three seasons. The 22-year-old center showed flashes of ability to not only fill a rim-running role in the pick-and-roll last season, but to space the floor as well.  Bryant finished 80 percent of his shots at the rim, and shot a serviceable 34 percent from beyond the arc, per Cleaning the Glass.

Encouragingly, the Wizards offense scored at a top-three level when Beal and Bryant shared the court without Wall last season. Tomas Satoransky, who ran point guard during most of those minutes, is no longer here. Ish Smith will slide into that role, and while his speed and passing are helpful, he will not space the floor as Satoransky did.  

That spacing loss could be offset with the addition of three-point marksman Davis Bertans, who will operate as a stretch four next to Bryant. There is also the option of running Beal at the point, an experiment that was successful in limited minutes last season.

Bertans and fellow signee C.J Miles will both provide spacing and a veteran presence to the lineup, but both are on one-year deals. It is likely that the Wizards will continue to sign veterans to short-term deals going forward to round out their core.

With all that said, the ceiling for this Wizards team this season is likely the eighth seed in the East. The defense will still be an issue this season unless the younger players, specifically Bryant, take massive leaps on that end.

The expected mediocrity will require smart drafting by Washington going forward. Hachimura looks like a decent pick at 9th overall, but it would be unwise to make any declarations at this stage.  It is also very difficult to consistently hit on late lottery to mid-first round draft picks.  

If the Wizards do manage to draft well, they could build themselves a solid core to develop over the next few years while they wait out Wall’s contract and hoard cap space for the summer of 2023.  Anything Wall can provide after his return from the injury would be a bonus.

The possibility of a trade down the line still remains as well. Beal made it clear he was committed to staying with the Wizards, but there is ample evidence as to how quickly things can change in the NBA.  Another lottery season or two and what once seemed like a strong long-term plan could feel like a lost cause.  

But, assuming Beal and the Wizards are both true to their word and stay in this for the long haul, the team will need to bank on internal development and hope for some good luck. The size of both Beal and Wall’s contracts will make it nearly impossible to bring on another star, even without factoring in the tall task of convincing such a player to relocate to D.C.

First-year GM Tommy Sheppard has a long road ahead, but the first step of signing Beal signaled a commitment to the team’s star and could help foster a culture to build on over the next few seasons. While 2023 is a ways away, the team does have a long-term plan in place to field a solid team around Beal while developing young players in the meantime.

In the NBA, it is impossible to say if this vision will pan out, but having any vision at all is half of the battle.

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