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NBA Saturday: Recapping the 2014 Rookie-Contract Extensions

Basketball Insiders recaps which 2011 rookies agreed to extensions before yesterday’s deadline.

Jesse Blancarte

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Yesterday was the deadline for first-round picks from the 2011 draft to agree to an extension of their rookie contracts. This year’s extension class featured a lot of quality players, but many of them are not clearly worth max-money. Further complicating matters for this year’s extension candidates is the uncertainty created by the NBA’s recently agreed to TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, which will cause a significant rise in the salary cap.

With this in mind, here is a recap of which notable 2011 first-round draft picks agreed to an extension with their teams, and which are heading to restricted free agency next offseason (Note: this list excludes players that have fallen out of the league completely and those who are not extension eligible this season due to staying in overseas for a season or more).

Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz: The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Wednesday that extension talks between the Utah Jazz and center Enes Kanter had broken off.

“We just looked at it and both mutually decided to wait to negotiate again next year,” Kanter’s agent, Max Ergul told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Enes can concentrate on the future. This is an important year for him and the Jazz. It will set a precedent for years to come.”

Kanter has posted impressive per minute stats, is a skilled offensive player, and has the potential to improve moving forward. However, Kanter was supposed to be the long-term answer at center for the Jazz, but proved ineffective in the starting lineup along power forward Derrick Favors. One major issue is Kanter’s defensive limitations. Last season, the Jazz started the season 1-14 with Kanter starting next to Favors, forcing Kanter to the bench. This issue is exasperated by the presence of promising young center Rudy Gobert, who has length and athleticism that rivals players like DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee.

Kanter’s defensive limitations, the TV deal and Gobert’s continued development all factored into Kanter not receiving an extension. Kanter has a $7.4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson will test restricted free agency next summer as he and the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to agree to a rookie-scale extension. Several media outlets reported that there was optimism that a deal could get done, but the Cavaliers seemed more focused on locking up big man Anderson Varejao, who agreed to a three-year, $30 million extension with Cleveland.

Thompson will be a restricted free agent, and will get a lot of attention from teams if he has a breakout season playing behind Kevin Love. If Thompson signs an offer sheet with another team next offseason, the Cavaliers will have the option of matching the offer and retaining Thompson. However, if the offer is too big, the Cavaliers may let Thompson go considering Love is already on the roster.

Thompson has a qualifying offer for $6.7 million next season.

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets: The Charlotte Hornets did not agree to an extension with big man Bismack Biyombo, who was selected seventh overall in the 2011 Draft.

Biyombo saw a huge drop-off in playing time last year with the arrival of Al Jefferson. Biyombo, in 13.9 minutes per game, averaged 2.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks last season. Biyombo has talent, and is an especially good shot blocker, but at this point, his effectiveness is limited.

The Hornets had another player that was extension-eligible in Kemba Walker, who was clearly their main priority.

Biyombo has a $5.1 million qualifying offer for next season.

Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks: On Friday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that extension negotiations between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brandon Knight had ended and Knight would enter restricted free agency next July.

Knight is a solid point guard, but at this point it is hard to determine how much he is worth in comparison to other point guards. Knight has career averages of 14.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Last offseason, the Bucks signed Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague a four-year, $32 million offer sheet (which the Hawks eventually matched). Teague was coming off of a season where he averaged career highs in points (14.6) and assists (7.2) per game. Considering this, the Bucks were probably offering Knight a deal that falls short of the deal offered to Teague, which Knight probably rejected with the new TV deal in mind.

Knight has a qualifying offer for $4.7 million next season.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: On Thursday, the Charlotte Hornets and Kemba Walker agreed to a four-year, $48 million extension.

Walker has career averages of 16 points, 5.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Walker arguably could have held out for money considering he puts up numbers in the same ballpark as Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who received the same contract as Walker this offseason, but is four years younger than Lowry.

Nevertheless, now Walker has financial security and can focus on helping the Hornets take the next step in their development. He already rewarded the Hornets with a game-tying three-pointer on opening night against the Bucks, which forced overtime and led to a Hornets’ victory.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson agreed to a four-year, $70 million extension on Friday, just hours before the deadline. The Sacramento Kings reportedly made a late push to swing a trade for Thompson, offering anyone but DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.

Thompson’s contract situation caught more attention than just about any other player. He is arguably the best two-way shooting guard in the league, and with Stephen Curry comprises arguably the NBA’s best backcourt. The Warriors highly value Thompson, as evidenced by their reluctance to offer him up in trade negotiations for Kevin Love this offseason.

Alec Burks, Utah Jazz: On Friday, the Utah Jazz and guard Alec Burks agreed to a four-year, $42 million extension (including incentives that could drive the deal as high as $45 million).

The Jazz are starting to make big time investments in their core of players as they already locked up Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. However, as previously discussed, the Jazz did not lockup Enes Kanter, and will let him hit restricted free agency.

Nevertheless, the Jazz are starting to assemble and lock in a core of young, promising talent.

Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns: The Phoenix Suns went all in on the Morris twins more than a month before the extension deadline. Markieff received a four-year, $32 million extension after averaging 13.8 points, six rebounds, and 1.8 assist per game last season.

Markieff is expected to step up and fill in for the loss of Channing Frye, who signed a contract with the Orlando Magic this offseason (though he will need to raise his career 33.2 three-point percentage to do so effectively).

Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns: Marcus Morris received a four-year, $20 million extension to stay in Phoenix with his brother. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough knows that the Morris twins are more effective when they are playing with one another, so investing in Marcus makes a lot of sense.

“We wanted to lock these guys in for as long as possible,” McDonough said last month. “The twins and Leon Rose really wanted to get it done. Marcus and Markieff saw the value of playing together. If they went into restricted free agency without extensions, I don’t want to say it’d be impossible to stay together but it would’ve been harder.”

It’s not clear what either Morris twin may have received in free agency, but by extending them now, the Suns ensure that they keep both in Phoenix without worrying about another team overpaying for one of them next offseason.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: Last season’s Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will test his worth in restricted free agency next year. The San Antonio Spurs declined offering Leonard a max-extension now, and will re-explore the situation next summer.

Here is what Leonard’s agent Brian Eflus had to say about the situation.

“We feel Kawhi is deserving of a max contract, and we are disappointed that something couldn’t get done,” Elfus told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no debating Kawhi’s value. The market has been set. He’s done everything the Spurs have asked of him, exceeded all of their expectations. Coach [Gregg] Popovich has gone out of his way to call Kawhi the future face of the franchise. We have great respect for the Spurs organization, but here, we simply agree to disagree.

“There will be no shortage of teams interested in Kawhi’s services next year. There will be a lot of contract scenarios available to us, and we will explore them all.”

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, many league executives highly value Leonard and expect that he will command a max offer sheet on the market next offseason (though the Spurs would likely match any offer for Leonard).

Leonard has a $4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic: On October 21, the Orlando Magic and Nikola Vucevic agreed to a four-year, $53 million extension.

Vucevic has established himself as a double-double machine, and is one of the better all-around centers in the league. He has started off this NBA season strongly, averaging 19 points, 17.5 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in the first two games of the season.

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: It has been known for over a month that the New York Knicks would not negotiate an extension with shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

Shumpert is a promising young player, but struggled with his offense all of last season. Shumpert was never going to receive an extension with Tim Hardaway Jr., on the team and the Knicks looking to stay as financially flexible as possible heading into next offseason.

Shumpert has a $3.7 million qualifying offer for next season.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris will become a restricted free agent next summer as he and the Orlando Magic failed to agree to an extension. Both sides say they want to stay together long term, but with the Vucevic extension and Mo Harkless also on the roster, the deal never came together.

Harris has a $3.4 million qualifying offer for next season.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: Earlier this month, the Denver Nuggets and Kenneth Faried agreed on a five-year, $60 million contract. The contract was soon after amended to four-years, $50 million as the original deal was in violation of the CBA. Under the four-year deal, Faried will make $500,000 more per season.

Faried has shown substantial improvement in his game over the last year, and was a standout this offseason for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup Tournament.

Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder did not reach an extension with guard Reggie Jackson.

Jackson filled in admirably for Russell Westbrook last season, and is one of the better young combo guards in the league. Jackson has ambitions of being a full-time starter, but it seems that Thunder coach Scott Brooks is still unconvinced of that.

Failing to extend Jackson conjures up memories of 2012 when the Thunder failed to reach an extension with James Harden and instead traded him to Houston for assets.

Jackson has a $3.2 million qualifying offer for next season.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls: On Friday, Jimmy Butler rejected the Chicago Bulls’ final offer for an extension and now plans on testing his worth in free agency.

“It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself,” Butler told Yahoo Sports on Friday. “It was about me believing that I put the work in this summer to become a better player with the hope that my improvement will give the Bulls a better chance to win a championship.”

Butler is one of the best perimeter-defenders in the league, but struggled with a lingering foot injury last season. Butler is highly thought of around the league and could receive an offer in free agency that makes it difficult for the Bulls to retain him.

Butler has a $3 million qualifying offer for next season.

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: Though he was drafted in 2009, Rubio did not officially play in the NBA until 2011. For this reason, Rubio was extension-eligible this year. On Friday, just three hours shy of the extension deadline, Rubio and the Timberwolves agreed to a four-year, $55 million extension. Rubio will earn $13.75 million per season, making him Minnesota’s highest paid player (replacing Nikola Pekovic, who will make $12 million this season) and the eight highest paid point guard in the league.

Rubio’s deal envisions the potential Rubio has, and the player he may become one day. While Rubio is a gifted passer and underrated defender, his inability to shoot the ball consistently limits his effectiveness.* Consider that Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry both agreed to four-year, $48 million deals, while putting up bigger per game numbers, and it is apparent that the Timberwolves expect major growth in Rubio’s game.

*Note: Several news outlets are reporting that Rubio’s deal includes a $1 million incentive, which is tied to serveral shooting benchmarks, including field goal and free throw percentage.

This has been one of the more active seasons for rookie-scale extensions. A lot of players landed nice extensions that offer significant financial security, but there will be plenty of good players like Kanter, Thompson, Leonard, Jackson and Butler who will  test their worth in the restricted free-agency market next offseason. Only time will tell whether gambling on themselves over accepting guaranteed money now was the right choice.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?

The Toronto Raptors made some bold moves this off-season, but will those moves be the beginning of something new or the beginning of the end of Raptors run in the East?

Steve Kyler

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A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?

The Toronto Raptors were clearly at a crossroads after being swept unceremoniously by the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. It was a microcosm of their situation – good enough to win the East in the regular season, but not good enough to win in big playoff games.

The Raptors went on to fire Dwane Casey as head coach, despite him ultimately being named Coach of The Year. The idea behind the firing wasn’t an emotional reaction to the swept; it was the acceptance of the reality that Casey wasn’t going to evolve as a coach, at least not the way management had hoped.

Casey’s ouster wasn’t the only change; the Raptors also traded away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan in a “dare to be great” trade with San Antonio for forward Kawhi Leonard.

From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard is an upgrade in almost every way to DeRozan, a multi-time All-Star in his own right. The problem with Leonard isn’t what he is as a player, its what he’s become as a person. No one saw the divorce in San Antonio coming, nor the lengths his camp would go to force an exit and leave countless millions on the table for a new start.

The problem for Toronto is the new start Leonard was seeking never included them. So, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did a year ago with Paul George, the Raptors are hopeful that a long and successful courtship of Leonard could win him over and into a new long-term deal. If that sounds like a pipe dream, it probably is.

Let’s be real about a few things.

Toronto is a beautiful and passionate basketball city, but is that enough to sway a kid from Southern California to stay? The Raptor faithful will point to DeRozan as an example of yes; he did exactly that when he signed his current deal. But is the situation ideal for Leonard, again the answer might be yes, especially if he is fully recovered from the quad injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

There is no doubting that the Raptors are built to win right now. They won 59 games with arguably the same roster and will enter an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James in Cleveland.

Sure, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are formidable challengers for supremacy in the East and let’s not forget about the Indiana Pacers, who could be in that same pack of teams vying for the top spot. But are any of them far and away better than the Raptors in terms of proven in their prime players?

The script seems to be written for the Raptors to either explode and cement themselves at the top of the East or implode on their own decisions.

New Raptors coach Nick Nurse is as a good as they come from the assistant ranks. He is a bright basketball mind, and he knows his players and has relationships with most of them. The question is will he be as good as advertised? If he not, this dance could be over before it starts.

Leonard has so much to prove after orchestrating his exit from San Antonio. If he gets back to MVP form in Toronto how can the Raptors not be considered the front-runner for the East? Yes, Boston is going to be really good too, but if you were betting on two players – MVP version of Kyrie Irving or MVP version of Leonard, who are you taking?

The problem for the Raptors is what if Leonard isn’t that guy again? What if all the negativity becomes too much? What if not being coddled and sheltered by the Spurs is a problem? No, Leonard isn’t a baby that needs mothering, but if you have followed anything about Leonard, he’s not this rock of a person that can handle anything. It’s a real question only he can answer with his play on the floor.

Equally, what if the quad isn’t fully healed or he goes Isaiah Thomas and tries to come back on to make it worse and needs surgery?

These are not easy questions to answer.

If the Raptors come out on top of most of these decisions – Nurse and Leonard are what people hope them to be — then things could swing in a very interesting direction for the Raptor franchise.

That’s what makes the “dare to be great” move interesting.

Thunder GM Sam Presti made news when he was quoted in Paul George’s ESPN docu-series, saying one of his favorite Lyrics was from Tribe Called Quest – “Scared money don’t make none” — in rationalizing his all-in approach to George.

It seems like Raptor president Masai Ujiri may have stolen a play from the Thunder playbook, because the franchise is now all the way in on the make or break moves of this off-season.

This could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Raptors, or it could end being the moves that cratered something special.

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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking

Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.

Spencer Davies

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Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.

If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.

1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick

The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”

Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.

Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.

They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.

Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.

But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?

It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.

What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.

In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.

In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.

The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?

Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.

Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.

A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.

General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.

Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.

They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.

It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.

Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.

While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.

In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.

We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?

The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.

With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?

Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.

There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.

Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.

At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.

Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.

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NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires

There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.

Matt John

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Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.

Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.

That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.

It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.

Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.

That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.

Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.

Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer

Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.

Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.

It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.

Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).

Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.

Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey

Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.

Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.

Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.

It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.

One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…

Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse

There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.

This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.

Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.

James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets

Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.

Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.

Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.

Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.

Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.

As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.

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