Now more than ever, it pays to be a member of the NBA’s middle class.
Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets recently became the latest example when it was learned that he and the Nuggets had negotiated a four-year, $84 million contract extension for him to remain with the team through the 2021-2022 season.
By nature of the collective bargaining agreement that governs the league’s economics, rookie salaries are fixed. On the other end of the spectrum are players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. The fact that an individual maximum player salary ensures that there’s a ceiling on how much transcendent players can earn funnels money into the NBA’s middle class of players. The main reason for that is a little-discussed rule of the collective bargaining agreement that mandates that each team spend 90 percent of the league’s salary cap on its payroll.
In other words, the $99 million salary cap for the 2017-18 season means that, by rule, each team must spend $89 million on payroll for this coming season.
Indeed, it pays to be Gary Harris, just like it paid to be Tim Hardaway, Jr.
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As a rookie, Hardaway certainly had his high moments as a member of the Knicks. For whatever reason, though, the Phil Jackson-led front office decided that Jerian Grant was a better fit for the club and opted to move Hardaway to the Atlanta Hawks in a draft night deal that brought Grant to New York.
After spending his first two seasons in New York, Hardaway appeared to have grown appreciably in Atlanta. His game was marked by discipline and consistency and last season, he put up career-high per-game numbers across the board: 14.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 45.5 percent shooting from the field. At just 25 years old, it appeared that Hardaway was on his way to accomplish greater things as a starting shooting guard in the league.
Eventually, the Knicks would sign Hardaway to a four-year, $71 million offer sheet that the Hawks opted to not match. He had become an important part of their team, but with front office changes, the trading of Dwight Howard and the front office’s refusal to meet All-Star Paul Millsap’s asking price, it was obvious that the Hawks were starting over.
Generally, there were two schools of thought as it related to Hardaway’s contract. Some called it the worst contract of the NBA offseason, while others felt that the deal was par for the course in what has become the NBA’s new economic era of $30-$40 million annual salaries.
If one were to look at things in the simplest of terms and without context, the following seems to make perfect sense: Player A is a 23-year-old guard coming off of his third pro season. He averaged 14.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists on a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs, but one that has shown tremendous promise for the near future. He looked impressive in all 56 of his starts and shot a remarkable 42 percent from the three-point line.
Player B is 24-year-old shooting guard who has just completed his fourth year in the league. He has proven to be versatile and durable and is coming off of a year in which he averaged 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field, but 35 percent from the three-point line. He is considered to be a standout defender at his position.
Player C is a 25-year-old shooting guard who is coming off of a career-best season and played a major role in his team qualifying for the playoffs. He has made strides defensively and has had a few clutch moments where he has thrived. His 14.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game were much-needed in his team’s quest to qualify for the playoffs. And of the three, he’s the only one that can boast being on a postseason team.
On paper, and without context, each of the three players appear remarkably similar.
Player A is Gary Harris. Player B is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Player C is Tim Hardaway, Jr.
While Harris and Hardaway each signed four-year deals, it should be noted that Harris’ begins next season, as this coming season is the final year of his rookie scale contract. He will earn $2.55 million this year before receiving his huge payday. It should also be noted that Harris’ contract is guaranteed for $74 million, with $10 million in incentives. NBA contracts contain what are referred to as “likely” and “unlikely” incentives. Let’s assume that Harris is able to earn half of the incentives, making his final contract worth $79 million, as opposed to the full $84 million.
In terms of their annual salary, Caldwell-Pope (“Player B”) will earn $20 million on average and Harris will earn $19.75 million while Hardaway will average $17.75 million.
Comparing the salaries of these three young shooting guards against the salaries of some of their predecessors isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison since guards that entered the league before didn’t enjoy the timely free agency as the salary cap spiked.
On paper, it’s easy to see why those that support the Hardaway signing and contract feel that, especially when compared to other players that appear to be somewhat comparable in talent, his deal represented fair market value. In this day and age, a starting-caliber shooting guard’s market price is between $15 million and $20 million per year.
While it’s easy to see this perspective, though, all things need to be taken in context, and that’s where those that opposed Hardaway’s signing get credence to their argument.
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Most front office executives would agree that a player’s salary isn’t as important as the amount of years that are committed to him. In the case of Caldwell-Pope, while he will earn $20 million this coming season, he is only under contract for this coming season. Therefore, as the Lakers look toward next season’s free agency class to jumpstart life after Kobe Bryant, he will have no impact on their ability to spend. With a four-year commitment to Hardaway, the Knicks can’t say the same.
With respect to Harris, although the Nuggets didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season, they won 40 games and finished just one game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed. Harris was a major part of that, but more importantly, he wasn’t re-signed by the team with any sort of belief that he would be the alpha. That designation rightfully belongs to one of the most gifted big men we have seen in quite some time, Nikola Jokic. Jokic was rejuvenated with the February trade of Jusuf Nurkic. It cleared space in the front court and allowed him to be the team’s featured player.
Harris was re-signed to serve as a secondary player to Jokic—a player who has shown early signs of being truly special.
Conversely, in New York, Hardaway was signed to a team that knew it was trading Carmelo Anthony and one that should have been trying its best to divest itself of all big money contracts in preparation for a multiyear rebuild.
Rather than adding Hardaway for four years and about $18 million per year, the Knicks could have been better served by looking for ways to clear money off of their books and use any available money under the cap to absorb unwanted contracts from other teams and help to facilitate trades. The Philadelphia 76ers made a habit of doing that under Sam Hinkie and often walked away from trades with a future draft pick to show. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, this past offseason, general manager Sean Marks was able to absorb the contracts of both Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll because the Blazers and Raptors each desperately needed to trim their payroll.
It would have been wise for the Knicks to operate in the same manner, especially since few believe that Hardaway is capable of being the difference between the Knicks being a team that merely fights for the playoffs, as opposed to one that has a chance to be a contender.
Both viewpoints are reasonable. The fairest conclusion to draw would probably be that Hardaway’s four-year, $71 million contract isn’t a bad contract, per se. In context, it just happened to be a bad contract for the Knicks.
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In the end, Hardaway will have every opportunity to live up to the expectations that his contract yield. As the Knicks embark on their long rebuild, the team will rely upon the draft and a few wise free agent signings to bring them back to respectability.
Whether you love the Hardaway contract or hate it, from a monetary standpoint, it represents fair value.
Gary Harris and the Nuggets just helped to reinforce that point.
NBA Daily: Warriors Depth Shines on Opening Night
The Warriors have lost some key veterans but opening night showed they still have the depth to reign supreme, writes David Yapkowitz.
With the Golden State Warriors emerging victorious on ring night behind big performances from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, and the summer addition of DeMarcus Cousins, it’s easy to see why many have penciled them in for a three-peat.
When Cousins returns to the court, the Warriors will be able to play a lineup of five All-Stars with Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With all of that star talent they possess, it’s easy to overlook the surrounding depth that they’ve managed to accumulate.
A successful organization like the Warriors becomes successful because they have a great front office in place who can identify talent and a good coaching staff who can develop that talent. Having superstars in place certainly helps, but all championship teams need to have that key depth.
Last night, the Warriors showed that they don’t just consist of their superstars, they’ve got some weapons on the team that are very capable of having big nights of their own.
The past few seasons, the Warriors depth in the frontcourt consisted of older veterans such as Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and David West. Pachulia and McGee signed elsewhere while West retired. With Cousins still recovering, that leaves the majority of the frontcourt minutes to younger, more inexperienced players such as Damion Jones and Kevon Looney.
Neither Jones nor Looney has seen much action during their first few seasons in the league. Looney had his fourth-year contract option declined a year ago, and this summer he received very little interest in free agency before re-signing with the Warriors. Prior to last night, it seemed as if Jones would follow the same fate as the team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his fourth-year option.
If last night was any indication, however, the Warriors would be wise to keep both around for as long as possible.
Making his first ever career start, Jones passed his initial test. He looked like a perfect compliment to the Warriors All-Stars. He ran the pick and roll to perfection, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. He can finish around the rim, and he also had three assists.
Defensively, he blocked three shots and matched up well with Steven Adams all night.
Coming off the bench, Looney had a productive game of his own. He had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Eight of his rebounds came on the offensive end, helping the Warriors gain extra possessions. He also had two assists and two blocked shots.
Both big men, Jones in particular since he’s the starter, will have a few more tests coming up as the Warriors travel to Utah and Denver. Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic await them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to that. For the duration that Cousins remains out, the Warriors will be relying quite a bit on their young big men.
Should either one falter at any point, the Warriors still have Jordan Bell waiting in the wings. Bell proved to be a second-round steal last season, but only saw six minutes of action on opening night. Bell brings a bit of a different skill set to the table than Jones and Looney. He’s a versatile big who can guard multiple positions.
As the season goes on, what was once thought of as an area of weakness for the Warriors, might turn out to be a position of strength. And if that occurs, that bodes ill for the rest of the league.
NBA Daily: Instant Reactions From Day One
With the NBA beginning its new season last night, Matt John analyzes all that’s happened so far in the season’s first two NBA games.
The NBA is BACK everybody!
After an agonizing five-month wait, the 2018-2019 season was born Tuesday night. As always, the NBA likes to start off the season with only two games, but with four teams who should play a big role in how this season turns out.
This year, it was Boston against Philadelphia and Golden State against Oklahoma City. The best part about it is that, this time, nobody had to leave with a season-ending leg injury five minutes into the game, so it’s already better than last year’s opening night!
Now, of course, it’s a long season – which to every NBA junkie is a good thing – but since we only got a taste of what this year could bring, it’s only appropriate to air out some knee-jerk reactions after day one of the new NBA year.
Some of these reactions will be about the players. Others will be about the team in general.
Game One: Boston Celtics 105, Philadelphia 76ers 87
The Atlantic Division rivals had a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite what the final score may say, this was a tight game until Boston pulled away in the fourth. Both teams had the jitters, as the very first shot this season was an airball three-point attempt by Robert Covington. Boston missed its first five shot attempts, and Philadelphia made only one of its first six tries.
When both finally shook off the rust, it was a game of runs. When one team got going, the other followed suit. The Celtics may have led for most of the game, but the Sixers refused to back down.
What’s to think of how these teams did in their season opener? Let’s take a look.
- Ben Simmons looked every bit like the reigning Rookie of the Year. In 43 minutes, Simmons put up a near-triple-double, scoring 19 points, corralling 15 rebounds and dishing out eight assists. He didn’t do much to disprove the skeptics who constantly point at his almost non-existent jump shot, but Simmons is such a freight train in transition that it might not even matter.
- Joel Embiid put up a usual Joel Embiid stat line – 23 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, but he coughed up five turnovers and even committed a frustration foul or two. Aron Baynes and Al Horford always seem to give Embiid fits because they make him earn his buckets. If the Sixers hope to get past the Celtics, Embiid has to overcome their pesky defense.
- Markelle Fultz looked a bit out of place. Putting up five points on 2-for-7 shooting, committing three turnovers and recording the lowest plus-minus with a minus-16 isn’t a good look for him. Still, he wasn’t a complete disaster, and Philadelphia knows he’s a work in progress.
- The real disaster for the Sixers was their turnovers. Philadelphia led the league in turnovers last year with 16.4 per game. If they hope to improve on that, Tuesday night wasn’t the best start, as they surrendered 16 giveaways.
- As talented as they are, the Sixers have some holes that need to be filled, primarily with their shooting. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova gave the Sixers more floor spacing to help them go on that late-season surge last season. With them gone, the Sixers might have a spacing problem if neither Mike Muscala nor Wilson Chandler fills the void.
- Coming into the season, many believed the Celtics’ calling card would be their depth, and the opening game showed why. The most notable statistic for them: Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward combined for 6-for-26 from the field, yet Boston still won by 18 points against a team many believe will be its toughest opponent in the conference.
- While Irving looked off his game, Hayward definitely looked rusty. It’s been said that Hayward still lacks explosion off his left foot, and it definitely looked that way. Still, Hayward hit a few long jumpers and showed hustle and great defense. Even if he won’t be 100 percent from the get-go, the Celtics can afford to be patient.
- Another telling statistic: The Celtics top nine rotation guys were in the game on a range from 19 to 30 minutes. If this is is what their minutes output will look like this season, then the Celtics’ stamina will be at an unfairly high level when the playoffs come around.
- Both Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier continue to prove that their performance from last postseason was no fluke. Tatum continued to demolish any defender Philadelphia threw at him. Rozier, on the other hand, played well enough that Brad Stevens decided to go with him in the finishing lineup instead of Irving. To be fair, Irving couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
- The Celtics’ versatility also shined. Their starting lineup was Irving, Tatum, Hayward, Horford, and Jaylen Brown. To start the second half, they replaced Hayward with Baynes. Before Philadelphia waved the white flag, the Celtics’ finishing lineup was Horford, Hayward, Tatum, Rozier, and Marcus Smart. Should they stay healthy, the Celtics have limitless options.
Game Two: Golden State Warriors 108, Oklahoma City Thunder 100
We got round three of Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant. The only problem? No Westbrook, as he sat out to rest his knee. Despite missing both Westbrook and Andre Roberson, the Thunder made the Warriors work for the win. Though the game looked like a typical Warriors route in the beginning, the Thunder impressively kept up with the reigning NBA champions until the very end.
The Warriors won because, well, they’re the Warriors. They’re a ridiculously talented team that shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon. Although, this matchup should become all the tighter when the Thunder become fully healthy. Onto the reactions!
Oklahoma City Thunder
- The headline for these guys: Moral Victory. OKC gave Golden State all they could handle – even taking the lead at one point – down to the final minute. That’s not an easy task when you’re down your best player and arguably your best defender. Even if the season started with a loss, the Thunder can only build off of this.
- Goodness, the Thunder might just be the most athletic team in the league. Aside from world-class athletes such as Westbrook and Paul George, OKC has some high-flyers including Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. No matter how good they’ll be this season, we should brace ourselves for some exciting dunks from the Thunder this season.
- Props should go to George, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder for not backing down in their time of adversity – especially Schroder. Filling in for a former MVP candidate on a good team is no easy task, so his performance should really excite Thunder fans.
- While the Thunder are in salary cap hell and it may be difficult, they need to do everything in their power to get more shooting. Last season they tied for No. 24 in three-point shooting percentage at 35.4 percent from deep. The only team that ranked lower was the Spurs. If they want to make noise, they need a pure shooter on that team. It could open up so many possibilities for them.
- Billy Donovan could find himself on the hot seat this season. Since Kevin Durant’s departure, the Thunder have only mustered three playoff wins in the last two years. Now that George is committed long-term and the Thunder have re-tooled, he has to feel good about himself after their game against the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
- No matter how much fans outside of the Bay Area hate them together, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make beautiful basketball together. On their ring night opener at Oracle Arena, they combined for 59 points on 20-for-41 shooting and 15 assists. It may be frustrating, but it has always been a spectacle. Even if this is the last year they play together, Durant and Curry should go down as one of the league’s most potent scoring duos to ever play together.
- Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Klay Thompson or Draymond Green – at least in regards to this game. Neither of them was impressive to start the season. Thompson had 15 points on 5-for-20 shooting, including 1-for-8 from the perimeter. Green had two points on 1-for-6 shooting with six turnovers. His 13 rebounds made up for it, but it still was not his best performance.
- Who would have guessed that centers Damian Jones and Kevon Looney would play a big part in the Warriors toppling the Thunder? The two of them combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds on 11-for-18 shooting. If either of them has a legitimate role on the team, then the Warriors may have more frontcourt depth than we might’ve thought.
- It feels weird to say that the Warriors aren’t actually fully healthy at the moment with DeMarcus Cousins out indefinitely. It’s almost as if him being on the team is overkill. Though the Warriors’ act has grown tiresome, thinking of what this team could be with Cousins should excite any basketball junkie out there.
Overall, it was a satisfactory day one for the young season. The biggest takeaway is that the NBA has returned, which should make everyone as giddy as can be.
NBA Daily: What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?
With the passing of Rich DeVos in Orlando and Paul Allen in Portland, what’s next for those franchises?
What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?
The NBA lost two massively influential owners this year in Orlando’s Rich DeVos and yesterday’s news of the passing of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen.
While it’s early in the process, there is a growing sense in both situations that the teams both titans owned will likely change hands in the not so distant future.
Here is what we know at this point:
In Orlando’s case, the team’s ownership was moved into a family trust some time ago, with the prevailing hope from the elder DeVos that the team would stay in the family after his passing. The team is currently controlled by Dan DeVos, who is chairman and governor of the team.
DeVos has said recently that the family has no intentions of selling the team, yet there are not very many in NBA circles believe that will be the case in the longer term.
The Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of changing owners, however, they are not a team that can relocate given the very restrictive lease terms they agreed to when they landed their arena deal.
Another factor with the future of the Magic is the massive development taking place across from the Amway Arena that’s been led by the current Magic ownership. The project is just getting underway, and league sources believe the value of the Magic franchise could take a big jump up once that project is finished.
There has been talk for some time in NBA circles that current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers would have interest in an ownership stake in the Magic should the team become available. The same is true of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who currently has a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings. O’Neal has been vocal over the years that he’s ready to talk should the Magic hit the market.
In Portland’s case, obviously, the news of Paul Allen’s sudden passing makes the Blazers future murky. Allen’s holding company Vulcan Inc. technically owns the team, and the belief is nothing will change on that front in the short term.
As John Canzano chronicled for the Oregonian, Allen’s sister Jody is his closest surviving relative and there is a sense she may not want to own the Blazers in the medium-term.
Bert Kolde, who is Vice Chairman of the Trail Blazers, will continue to run the day to day aspects of the business according to reports and insiders. There is some concern that, with Allen’s passing, the unlimited green light to spend and acquire assets that had become so common under Allen’s leadership may not be as aggressive.
During the summer, one insider commented that the Blazers were always active in trying to move around for draft picks and assets and never afraid to leverage cash to get things done. That may change with Allen’s passing.
If the Blazers hit the market, and many expect that they might in the near term, it’s believed re-locating the franchise wouldn’t be a consideration, especially with how successful Portland has been as a smaller NBA media market.
One thing to keep in mind is that, with NBA franchise valuations well over the $1 billion mark, a fast transaction in either team’s situation isn’t likely.
As with all things in the NBA, these are fluid situations, especially with the Blazers – so both will be situations to watch.