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NBA PM: Willie Reed Enjoying His Opportunity with Brooklyn

Willie Reed made his NBA dream come true. Now, he’s working hard to improve all aspects of his game.

Cody Taylor

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Willie Reed Enjoying His Opportunity with Brooklyn

Over the past few seasons, the D-League has produced some of the NBA’s best up-and-coming players. As the NBA’s minor league system, the D-League has become a legitimate avenue for players trying to make it in the NBA.

Each year, teams are able to sign players to 10-day contracts beginning in January. Most of those 10-day contracts are used to sign players out of the D-League. Last season, a record 47 players received call-ups to the NBA, while 30 players have been called up this season.

It seems like each year we’re talking about which players should be called up. Most of the time, players who put together successful runs in the D-League will earn their way up to the NBA. Other times, we’re left wondering why some players haven’t yet received their opportunity.

One player that took full advantage of the D-League was Brooklyn Nets big man Willie Reed. After going undrafted in 2011, Reed spent the better part of the next three seasons in the D-League as he would go on to play for four teams during that stretch (and he would even have one stint in the Dominican Republic).

It was clear that Reed was by far one of the most talented players in the D-League during his three years with the Springfield Armor, Reno Bighorns, Grand Rapids Drive and Iowa Energy. He posted career averages of 15.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 145 games in the D-League while boasting a 21.3 PER.

Perhaps the most impressive part about Reed’s stint in the D-League was he was earning the respect of his opponents. It’s one thing to impress fans or those watching at home, but to earn the praise of guys they’re battling against each night is another thing.

“Man, Willie Reed was on a bus or flight for like eight hours,” former Canton Charge forward Tristan Spurlock told Basketball Insiders. “He hopped off and played us and I think he might have had 35 points — something crazy. I was like, ‘Who in the hell is this?’

“I was inactive that game, but I was like he is amazing. Who is this? He looked like Willis Reed. He killed everyone out there. He’s hitting jumpers. Everything around that basket you may as well have counted it. Willie was one of those guys where I knew he wasn’t going to be down there long.”

Fast forward one year later and Reed is nearing the end of his first full season in the NBA. Reed was signed last summer by the Nets in free agency after having a successful run with the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. Reed showcased his full arsenal with the HEAT as he became a focal point on the offensive end, while remaining a key part of their interior defense.

It was a game against the Nets in Summer League that likely proved to be the pivotal performance that got him into the NBA for good. He finished that game against the Nets with 17 points and nine rebounds. He signed his NBA contract that week with the Nets and joined them for the remainder of their time in the Summer League.

Now that Reed has nearly a full season in the NBA under his belt, he knows there is more work to be done in order to have success. He’s spent the past several years trying to make a dream become reality and knows his NBA career is in only the beginning stages.

“I know I have a lot to work on,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, I have to work on my offensive game – I have to get stronger. I’ve always been pretty strong, but it’s a totally different level here. The D-League was a little different, but the NBA I think that all of the things that I did in the D-League pretty much translated over to the NBA. My rebounding translated, rim protection translated and pick-and-roll offense. I’m just thankful to be here and I think that as I continue to learn the game more on an NBA level, I’m only going to get better and better.”

Reed’s start with the Nets began a bit rocky. He missed the first 18 games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. He suffered the injury after making his preseason debut with the Nets. He joined the team a few months later and made his NBA debut on December 11 against the New York Knicks.

Reed’s playing time with the Nets has been up and down, but he’s shown that he can be productive when given an increased role. He’s appeared in 39 games this season, while earning the start in two of those contests. He averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists per game in the starting lineup.

Per 36 minutes, Reed is posting averages of 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He posted his best game of the season on March 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves after recording 14 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

“It’s definitely tough when you don’t know how many minutes you’re going to play,” Reed said. “You try to find a way to make sure that you’re always ready no matter how much you play. If I’m not playing, I’m trying to make sure that I’m cheering my teammates on because I know that where I was last year when I was working a side job in [my family’s] warehouse and in the D-League that I was just dreaming of being here so I’m thankful for every moment that I get the opportunity to be here, even if it’s just cheering for my teammates.”

With just five games remaining on the schedule for the Nets, Reed and the rest of the team will be trying to end the season on a high note. This summer for Reed is going to be huge as he can become a restricted free agent once the Nets extend him a $1,215,696 qualifying offer.

Although he’s missed some time this season due to injury, he’s put together some good performances on tape, which help his chances of re-signing with the Nets this summer or getting a deal with a new team.

“You continue to do what you do best and don’t worry about the season coming to an end,” Reed said. “You just enjoy the moment and live in the moment. Play as hard as you can for as long as you’re out there and everything else will take take care of itself.

“This is going to be a huge offseason. I know that and that’s why every day when I come out here and I step on the floor – whether it’s practice, shootaround or games – I try to make the most of it so they know that I’m working as hard as I can and they believe in me enough to bring me back or another team believes in me enough that I’m an NBA player. I’m just going to continue to go out there and fight.”

With the salary cap set to rise to about $90 million this summer, a lot of teams are going to have money to spend. The Nets can have about $41 million in salary cap space, so this roster could change drastically by the time next season starts.

As things stand now, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick are the only players on guaranteed contracts for next season.

The team introduced a new general manager earlier this year, and they’ll likely end up hiring a new coach at some point this summer. They’ll be tasked at improving through free agency as they currently have no picks in June’s draft.

The team does have some intriguing young players on the team in Hollis-Jefferson, Thomas Robinson, Reed and Kilpatrick. With such a busy offseason ahead for Brooklyn, it remains to be seen if those players are in the team’s long-term plans, but Reed would welcome the opportunity.

“I definitely think that this is a good situation,” Reed said. “The new general manager and the assistant general manager are bringing great life to this city and this team. They’re getting the right type of game style together – passing the ball, cutting and they’re very defensive-minded.

“I think this is a great opportunity for me. Everybody here is really in the trial period where they’re trying to show that they should be here so we’re all in the same place and I’m just trying to prove that I belong.”

Podcast: More From Willie Reed

Check out the latest installment of the Basketball Insiders Podcast, which featured the aforementioned Willie Reed. Listen below:

 

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision.

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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