Let’s play make believe.
You’re a standout free agent who has played 10 years in the league. Let’s say you’re 29 years old and seeking a maximum contract.
You get the meeting you coveted with the team of your dreams and have an opportunity to ask the owner one question before you sign on the dotted line and commit yourself to spending the next four years with this franchise.
What do you ask?
My question would be simple.
Do you value winning a championship more than your bottom line?
I wonder if Kevin Durant asked general manager Sam Presti that question and I wonder if he was able to pose it to Clay Bennett.
And if they told him that winning was the most important thing, I wonder how they can look at him with a straight face as the team seemingly repeats their James Harden history with Reggie Jackson.
So, I ask you, winning, or greenbacks?
Players are posed with this dilemma all the time, thanks to the NBA’s new (albeit soon expiring) economic model that encourages them to accept less than their market value so that their team, in theory, can spend elsewhere in pursuit of championship glory.
If the Thunder followed that edict, they would have re-signed Harden when they had the opportunity and be poised to overthrow the San Antonio Spurs this year (if they hadn’t, by this point).
Instead, as I have been told, the Thunder drew a line in the sand with Harden, putting their budget above keeping one of the three players responsible for the team winning the Western Conference in 2012. Just imagine, four months after having what appeared to be one of basketball’s upstart, homegrown, potential dynasties, the Thunder willingly broke it up because they were not willing to pay Harden the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement.
Some may call it business. I’ll call it dumb.
The Thunder traded Harden and received a package centered around Kevin Martin. Martin played 77 games for the team in 2012-13 before being signed-and-traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a maneuver that saw the Thunder take back no immediate salary on its ledger.
As part of the Martin trade, the Thunder also received future draft picks, one of which became Steven Adams. Already, we know that Adams is talented enough to be a starter in this league and he is just another of the many bright spots for the Thunder’s scouting department.
All that appears to mean, though, is that there will be yet another youngster with whom the Thunder must decide to either invest or divest.
After the Harden fiasco, can someone please explain what in the world are they doing with Reggie Jackson?
As it stands, the Thunder have until October 31 to reach an extension agreement with him, otherwise, the team can make him a restricted free agent in July 2015. With Jackson’s emergence since the team traded Harden and his admirable performance during the 2013 playoffs where he started in the absence of Russell Westbrook, the bottom line is this: a team that wishes to win a championship in today’s NBA simply cannot afford to continue to allow young talent to walk out through the door.
Granted, there may be some long-term concerns over how well Jackson and Westbrook would mesh in the backcourt for the Thunder, especially as full-time starters. There are also concerns about whether or not, like Harden, Jackson is content with willingly taking on a permanent, third-fiddle role behind Westbrook and Durant.
But, like Harden, if the Thunder open up their checkbook, they could have a player that they seem to need, and one whom they especially need now due to the extended absence of Durant.
In all likelihood, you will see Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie before you see Durant on an NBA floor once again, only furthering the apparent need to re-sign Jackson.
Yet still, here we are, Jackson is unsigned, just like Harden was.
It’s deja-vu, all over again.
Odds are, if you own an NBA franchise, it is because you are an astute businessman and understand simple concepts such as risk-reward and return on investment. Invariably, front offices and NBA players and agents will have financial arguments and disagreements—it comes with the territory. However, what we do often see in this league is the success of a front office causing hubris.
Case in point: deep down inside, the reason why the Thunder are willing to play hard ball with Jackson is probably because they see him as a career sixth man who effectively plays both ends of the floor. They probably see him as an important part of their team’s culture and identity, but they probably do not see him as a diamond in the rough. They do not see him as irreplaceable.
Just like they didn’t see that in James Harden. Whether they were correct or not still remains to be seen, but they certainly have not achieved as highly since Harden was dealt to Houston.
As for the front office in Oklahoma City, when you become good at something—scouting and drafting players in this case—your confidence may eventually get the better of you. If you are Presti and the Thunder, your drafting acumen may have you believe that, deep down inside, you can scour the ranks and find another player to play the role of Jackson. If you did feel that way, you wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. Logic would be on your side considering the Thunder have consistently scored with their draft picks. Aside from the obvious Durant and Westbrook selections, we can immediately cite Harden, Jackson, Adams and Serge Ibaka as positive statistics.
The problem with that approach, however, is two-fold.
The first and most basic is time. The clock is ticking on both Durant and Westbrook. Because they rose up as contenders at such an early age, it is difficult to believe that Durant and Westbrook are only each about 26 years old. Health permitting (which is a whole different story, all together), the two should have a long period of time with which they can compete for championships. However, as the Thunder have seen first hand, injuries can have a way of disturbing that.
In the NBA, tomorrow is not promised.
If a team has the goods and the personnel, the best course of action is to lock up the pieces that you have, put your chips in the middle of the table and go for it.
It is true, in the grand scheme of things, Jackson may be a replaceable player—it may not be too difficult to draft a player who has his virtues with a mid-to-late first round pick.
However, seldom do we see NBA players walk into the league and light it up from the very beginning. There have been exceptions to this rule, but even Durant himself took a few years to come into his own. Kobe Bryant spent the first two years of his career coming off the bench, mind you.
In other words, if you are the Thunder and you are depending on finding the third (or fourth) cog of your championship dreams to come to you via the draft, odds are, you will be waiting for him to mature as a professional, for at least a few years.
Do Durant and Westbrook have the time? Do they have that patience? Could they stomach losing Jackson after also losing Harden? Seeing a talented teammate walk away is a gut-punch to any NBA superstar who hopes to win a championship. Players know when their teams have taken a step back and losing Harden, for the Thunder, was a major step back. Two years later, they are still looking to replicate their success.
The second issue is alpha-male syndrome.
One striking similarity between both Harden and Jackson is that they both want to be starters in the NBA, and they both have the talent to be starters. Asking a young player to sacrifice himself, his livelihood, his legacy and his personal goals is a difficult thing, and it is especially difficult for a player who is entering the league to fulfill what he believes is (or can be) his destiny. From the day a player is drafted, he is thinking about life after his rookie contract. The dream and goal for most players entering the league is to secure a five-year, maximum extension when they are eligible.
Being drafted to a team like the Thunder or Spurs gives you zero chance at fulfilling that. Some young players who think that highly of themselves and their potential may have trouble accepting that and putting their team first. It may cause locker room disharmony; it has in the past.
For a youngster coming into the league—one who is playing for his family’s financial security and is in a career with a finite time limit—asking him to subjugate his personal want to be great is a big ask and drafting him, even if he has the talent, is a big risk. In fact, the elevated talent makes him an elevated risk.
In the end, finding a player that has both the personality-type and the necessary talent level to both play that third fiddle role but simultaneously be good enough to be the third best player for a championship team—that is quite difficult.
The Thunder found that player in Harden, who was willing to remain in Oklahoma City, and they seem to have found another in Jackson. The prevailing belief amongst their front office is probably that they can continue to find those players.
Maybe they are correct, but thinking so is a gamble and frankly, it’s a gamble that the Thunder need not and would be wise to not make.
Even as the Thunder enter the 2014-15 season with Durant on the sidelines and LeBron James back in Cleveland, an opportunity at a championship awaits. The Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors are amongst the teams out West that will attempt to topple the San Antonio Spurs. Doing so will be no easy task, but doing so will require a hefty investment in terms of acquiring and retaining talent. If you want to win in this increasingly competitive league—especially as a Western Conference team—you’ve simply gotta open up your checkbook.
The NBA is full of young players who are either getting paid (Chandler Parsons comes to mind), soon to be getting paid (think of Kyrie Irving) or will be getting paid (Damian Lillard).
Jackson may not be of their caliber, but he is certainly a keeper.
Unfortunately, as some teams become more successful, they attempt to cut costs while maintaining the same level of success. The Miami HEAT did just that by amnestying Mike Miller and effectively replacing the traded Joel Anthony with Greg Oden. How’d that work out?
The two aforementioned players could have potentially been the difference between the HEAT accomplishing the three-peat and James opting to return for his final year in Miami.
What may have only been a few million dollars now could have led to many more millions later, not to mention the potential championship(s) and ensuing glory.
Had the Thunder bitten the bullet and given Harden what he wanted, they may have been champions by now.
Instead, back in 2012, fresh off the an appearance in the NBA Finals, the Thunder made an abrupt decision to irreversibly alter their core and they did it to protect their bottom line.
Now, four years later, as the clock ticks down on Jackie’s extension expiration date and the potential for him to hit the restricted free agency market in July becomes more realistic, history may very well be repeating itself.
It just happens to be the type of history that wiser men would learn from, not allow to repeat.
NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe
Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.
Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.
No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.
And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.
“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”
While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.
Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).
He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).
It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”
Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.
And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.
A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.
“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”
Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.
And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.
The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.
“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”
Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.
“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”
Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”
So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.
NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future
David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.
One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.
House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.
He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.
“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”
This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.
Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.
When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.
Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.
“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”
Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.
In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.
“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”
Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.
In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.
“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”
As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.
The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.
“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”
PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.