The 2014 rookie-extension class is one of the most interesting in several years due to the high number of quality players entering their fourth seasons. As most readers likely know by now, teams have until October 31 to reach extensions with first-rounders entering their fourth season or the players become restricted free agents next summer. This year, many of these players fall into the fascinating middle ground between total busts and obvious max outs, and their negotiations are further complicated by the unknown effect of the league’s recently-announced new TV deal.*
Due to the rising cap, it is useful to think of new deals in percentage terms. For example, a $10 million contract under the $58.044 million cap in 2012-13 was 17.2 percent of the cap. For the 2016-17 season, assuming the cap is $80 million for that year, an equivalent contract would be $13.8 million.
Age: 25 (September 14, 1989)
Draft Position: 30
2013-14 PER: 13.57
2013-14 ORPM: 0.90
2013-14 DRPM: 1.23
2015-16 Cap Hold: $5,021,870
Butler’s extension talks may be the most fascinating on the board. He is universally considered one of the league’s best defenders on the wing at either position. That is the principal source of his value, and is just about unquestioned among basketball cognoscenti.
Yet despite the fact he has featured prominently in nightly jokes about Tom Thibodeau’s minutes the last two years, we still do not know what he is offensively. Which of these two players is he?
In 2012-13, Butler shot 38.1 percent on 105 three point attempts, raising hopes that he could evolve into one of the league’s best three and D wings. Those subsided some a year ago. Butler upped his three-point attempt rate to 34.6 percent, but his percentage cratered to 28.3 percent on 240 attempts. Overall he was a ghastly 39.7 percent on field goals. His usage rate increased, but only to below-average 16.8 percent of the Bulls’ possessions. The only saving grace offensively was his gargantuan free throw rate, which allowed him to salvage 52 percent true shooting. This was a very disappointing performance offensively, and one that casts doubt on his ability to avoid being an offensive detriment in big minutes on the wing. That is exacerbated by the fact that he is not a natural ballhandler either, possessing little ability to create off the bounce in the pick-and-roll even on secondary action. The Bulls have devoted most of their resources to point guard and the frontcourt, while Doug McDermott (another non-driver) is the long-term three. Butler’s inability to handle is a structural concern for a squad that must improve its offense to get into championship contention.
But two major caveats apply: The first is that Butler really struggled with a toe injury that cost him 11 games in November and December. Afterward, he seemed to lack his signature lift and shot miserably from the field. The second is that the Bulls had perhaps the fewest shot-creators of any team in the NBA for much of the season. Butler’s open looks were few and far between, which should be far less of a problem on a Bulls team that will have much more firepower going forward.
It seems reasonable to conclude that Butler’s shooting will settle in at a level between his last two years. Recent research has shown that three-point shooting takes about 750 attempts to really stabilize, and Butler has less than half that amount so far in his career. Nevertheless, it seems likely he will always be a made rather than born shooter who is only going to take wide open attempts. The question is whether they go in. The league average on three-pointers is 36 percent, and it probably makes sense to project him a bit below that number at least over the next couple years.
Butler has helped his bid for an extension by coming into camp in phenomenal shape. The bounce has returned and he looks absolutely ripped. He’s been all over the floor in the preseason with steals, blocks, offensive rebounds and hard cuts to the basket off the Bulls’ post players. The only thing missing has been the three-pointer, although his midrange jumper has fallen at a solid rate.
So what is one of the best wing defenders in the league worth? Butler is not quite at the Tony Allen level where he can plausibly shut down a superstar like Kevin Durant for large portions of a game or series, but just about nobody is. Butler makes life as difficult on wings as just about anyone else.
Over the last five years when the cap remained relatively flat prior to this summer, the going rate to extend a rookie contract for a solid starter with upside on the wing has been around $10 million per season. Nicolas Batum (four years, $46.1 million), Danilo Gallinari (4/$44 million), DeMar DeRozan (4/$38 million) are three recent examples, although they were all a few years younger than Butler and thus had a bit more upside. Among free agents, Andre Iguodala signed for 4/$48 million as a 29 year-old in the summer of 2013.
Last summer though, the wing market exploded for even restricted free agents. Normally RFAs experience a chilling effect on offers due to the incumbent team’s ability to match, but the league’s desperation for wings fueled maximum offers for Chandler Parsons* and Gordon Hayward, both of which started at about $14.7 million.
Butler is by far the superior defender to either player, although he cannot compare to either with his playmaking. But if he continues to play as he has in the preseason offensively, or if he returns to 38 percent from beyond the arc on reasonable volume, it is conceivable he could receive a maximum offer sheet as well from a team desperate to upgrade its defense. The Bulls would also run the risk that he receives the now-famous Parsons offer, which could allow him to reach free agency again in two years or stick out a third-year player option. With Butler turning 26 years old next September, a chance to hit the market again before turning 28 could allow him another fat contract under the new TV deal. If he were a free agent right before turning 30, another big long-term contract would be far less likely.
On the other hand, this could be the year he cements himself as an unacceptably bad three-point shooter. That could cast doubt on his ability to be a starter on a championship-level offense.* Butler and his agent Happy Walters can still sell the possibility of an improvement from beyond the arc at this point. If he shoots poorly again this year, that may not fly.
The usual caveats about the security of an extension may apply even more to Butler, who has made comparatively little as the 30th pick in the 2011 draft and must survive another season in the Tom Thibodeau wing minutes meat grinder to get paid sans extension. But the Bulls also face risk if Butler blows up. They would be forced to match a maximum offer sheet for him, since they will be capped out with no way to replace him in free agency.
A maximum offer sheet also poses a particular risk to the Bulls since it could imperil their ability to sign free agents using the full $5.464 million mid-level exception (MLE) and $2.139 million bi-annual exception (BAE), especially should they wish to retain Mike Dunleavy.
If the Bulls have to match a max offer sheet to Butler, they will be only about $3 million short of the projected Apron, including Dunleavy’s cap hold. If they use either the MLE or BAE, they would be hard-capped at the Apron for the season. Even if they were to let Dunleavy go, they would have difficulty using both the full MLE and BAE while staying below the Apron.* They also might reenter the luxury tax, although after two years below it and a rising cap in the succeeding years the repeater tax would not be a concern. A maximum offer sheet for Butler could really crimp the Bulls’ 2015 offseason, and potentially their profits.
A compromise could be a four-year contract starting at $11-12 million per year for Butler. While this is potentially overpaying for Butler, it acknowledges his potential market value if he blows up while giving him security and allowing the Bulls to use the MLE and BAE in 2015. This compromise also acknowledges Butler’s leverage because the Bulls will have no way to replace him since they are capped out. Butler should have a relatively high floor considering his defense and the fact that his offense almost certainly will improve at least a bit from 2013-14, so they will still get quite a bit out of him even if he it not quite “worth” the money.
By percentage of the cap, this contract would be similar to those of Gallinari, Batum, DeRozan, and Iguodala in past years. And the Bulls would be about $7 million below the Apron even with Dunleavy’s cap hold, and by even more if he were to re-sign for less or be let go. This would allow far more flexibility in potentially using their full exceptions. A lower salary for Butler in the summer of 2016 could also allow the Bulls to open up maximum cap room with some maneuvering if they were to move on from Joakim Noah (extinguishing his likely $20 million cap hold) at that point, when he will be 32 years old.
Unfortunately, one other potential reason for delay looms—that of which Chicago fans must not think of, but management should. If Derrick Rose were to suffer another major injury this year, it would change the entire direction of the franchise. Counting on him would become foolhardy, and could require a total reload in advance of the summer of 2016. Rose will be on the books through 2017, but Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah are all potential trade pieces in that scenario. If the Bulls are looking for major signings in the summer of 2016 or 2017, paying a lot for Butler could become a lot less palatable than when they projected to be capped out with this group for the foreseeable future while trying to contend. Getting more information about Rose and the ultimate direction of the franchise is a powerful reason to wait.
Despite the possibility of this doomsday scenario, the incentives seem aligned for a compromise in line with previous wing contracts given the significant risk to both sides from waiting.
NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.