With nearly half of NBA teams projected to pay the luxury tax next season, it appeared that a league-wide cap crunch would make for a ho-hum deadline day. But then Cavaliers GM Koby Altman decided to hit the reset button and flip six of Cleveland’s roster spots.
Altman’s mid-season insta-rebuild provided some fireworks as the deadline approached, but the rest of the league was relatively quiet with mostly peripheral deals. Below, we assign grades for each team that made a move.
Three-way trade: Rodney Hood and George Hill to Cavs, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose to Jazz, Iman Shumpert and Joe Johnson to Kings
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin tweeted some strong comments from Altman about how serious the Cavaliers took the chemistry issues that prevented the team from meeting expectations.
“We felt like we were on a slow death march, and that’s not something I wanted to be a part of.”
Strong words from Cleveland GM Koby Altman on a media conference call about the culture of the Cavs he felt he had to change: "We felt like we were on a slow death march and that's not something I wanted to be a part of"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 9, 2018
Altman’s actions on deadline day were decisive and put him squarely in the conversation for NBA Executive of the Year. He addressed the fractured chemistry and made the team significantly younger and more athletic, all while preserving Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick. Take a bow, Mr. Altman.
Basketball Insiders on Tuesday broke down the hidden potential of former Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood. He ranks 101st of 106 shooting guards in defensive Real Plus-Minus and will be a significant defensive downgrade from Jae Crowder. However, on the offensive end, Hood is a multi-talented player who gets buckets but remains humble and low-key. He won’t replace Kyrie Irving, but he could develop into the best perimeter scorer LeBron James has played with since Irving departed.
While Hood struggles defensively, George Hill is known as a two-way stalwart. If he can remain healthy, he’ll provide exactly the leadership by example Cleveland needs after all the finger-pointing.
- Grade for the Cavaliers: A+
With Hood sharing the same position with emergent rookie Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz decided to get something for Hood rather than keep him as he entered restricted free agency. Crowder is known as one of the best defensive small forwards in the NBA and shot almost 40 percent from three in Boston last season. Normally such a three-and-D stud would be untouchable, but for some reason, it didn’t work out in Cleveland.
For the Jazz, Crowder is a worthy gamble who should lock down the other wing position next to Mitchell. He’s on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly deals with two more guaranteed seasons at under $8 million per. There’s some danger that Hood could blow up in Cleveland and make the Jazz regret this decision. Utah is expected to waive or buy out Derrick Rose.
- Grade for the Jazz: B
The Kings made a valiant effort to supplement a young core with veterans last summer, but it simply didn’t work out. With Sacramento lottery-bound despite its veteran investments, it was time to move off some salary and commit to youth. The Kings got out of $19 million Hill will make next season, and his absence should lead to better draft position.
Joe Johnson will likely be bought out but, according to league sources, Iman Shumpert is more likely to opt into the final year at $11 million remaining on his contract. Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler tweeted that he has that from a source close to Shumpert.
I have had this conversation – according to sources close to Shump, barring some eruption of production in Sacramento, far more likely Shump opts for $11 million than not. Injuries and bare marketplace a HUGE factor. https://t.co/ZTFJQWOg0C
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 8, 2018
The Kings will also receive a 2020 second-round draft pick.
- Grade for the Kings: B
Lakers trade Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson to Cavs for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Fry, and Cleveland’s first-round pick
There’s no telling, based on what he did with the Lakers, what Larry Nance can become. Can he be as good as Tristan Thompson? Only time will tell. But the key to this deal is that Cleveland moved on from Thomas and got two young, athletic players in return for a piece that didn’t fit. Losing Channing Fry’s floor-stretching ability will hurt with Kevin Love injured, but that was the cost of doing business.
- Grade for Cavaliers: A
For the Lakers, regardless of what Thomas does for the rest of the season, this was about opening two potential maximum salary slots for the offseason to pursue stars. Jordan Clarkson was the team’s third-leading scorer, but that doesn’t count for much when the team is destined for the lottery. The Lakers should also be applauded for getting Cleveland’s first-round pick in an environment where teams are clinging to their picks with a death grip.
- Grade for Lakers: B
Cavaliers trade Dwyane Wade to Heat
This one was tricky, and it’s again a tribute to Altman for the master craftsmanship he displayed ahead of the deadline. To give incoming guards Hood and Clarkson a real opportunity to assimilate, it was important to open up minutes for them. With Dwyane Wade still in Cleveland, that would have meant forcing those players to compete for minutes with one of James’ closest friends. Wade’s return to Miami allows him to finish his career the way he wants to while opening the floor for Hood and Clarkson to make their own imprint for the Cavaliers. Cleveland gets a protected second-round pick.
- Grade for Cavaliers and Heat: A+
Bulls trade Jameer Nelson to Pistons for Willie Reed
Basketball Insiders has already given the Pistons glowing marks for landing Blake Griffin in exchange for expendable pieces. With Reggie Jackson still ailing, point guard remains a major area of concern in Detroit. Jameer Nelson was solid for the Nuggets last season and should have a bit left in the tank as he rejoins Stan Van Gundy, his coach in Orlando. The Bulls are engaged in a youth movement and should dedicate point guard minutes to developing talent. Chicago has waived Willie Reed and will have the option to swap second-round picks in the deal.
- Grade for Pistons and Bulls: B
Grizzlies trade James Ennis to Pistons for Brice Johnson
This is a peripheral move headlined by James Ennis, a former second-round pick of the HEAT who has shown some promise as an offensive swingman. The Pistons are leaving no stone unturned in the quest to load up for a playoff run. The Grizzlies also picked up a future second-round pick.
- Grade for Pistons and Grizzlies: B-
Knicks trade Willy Hernangomez to Hornets for Johnny O’Bryant
With Kristaps Porzingis lost for the season to a torn ACL and Joakim Noah in exile, the Knicks suddenly had minutes available to placate Willy Hernangomez. Instead, the team traded him for a pair of second-round picks from the Hornets and Johnny O’Bryant, whom the Knicks immediately waived. They will say it was about the draft assets, but this was a typical Machiavellian move. Porzingis lost his season then lost his best friend on the team in a matter of hours.
- Grade for the Knicks: F
For the Hornets, this was about getting a player that made the All-Rookie first team last year. With Dwight Howard starting and Cody Zeller coming back from injury, Charlotte doesn’t present a significantly-better opportunity for Hernangomez to find minutes. But this was a savvy move by the Hornets to grab a valuable player who was only available so cheap because the Knicks refused to showcase him before moving him.
- Grade for the Hornets: B
Three-way trade: Emmanuel Mudiay to Knicks, Devin Harris to Nuggets and Doug McDermott to Mavericks
Emmanuel Mudiay and Doug McDermott are former lottery picks who have not lived up to expectations. Devin Harris has been a quality backup point guard for a long time, but he’s getting toward the end of his career. Denver also picks up the Clippers’ 2018 second-round pick via the Knicks while the Mavs get a second from the Nuggets. There’s nothing to get overly excited about here for any of the parties involved.
- Grade for the Knicks, Nuggets, and Mavericks: C+
Magic trade Elfrid Payton to Suns for second-round pick
Speaking of former lottery picks that haven’t panned out, the Magic finally decided to move on from Elfrid Payton. Keep in mind that Orlando also gave up on Payton’s former backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who is now an All-Star for the Pacers. Payton has improved his outside shot but doesn’t appear to have that kind of potential. By trading him, the Magic can improve the odds of landing a top draft pick.
- Grade for the Magic: C
For the Suns, who have suffered a similar run of draft picks that haven’t panned out, this move is low-risk and potentially high-reward. Phoenix has nothing to lose other than more games on its way to another lottery pick.
- Grade for the Suns: B
Pelicans trade Dante Cunningham to Nets for Rashad Vaughn
The Nets had just traded Tyler Zeller to the Bucks to obtain Rashad Vaughn before moving him on to the Pelicans for Dante Cunningham. Vaughn is another young point guard who failed to carve out a role in Milwaukee. Cunningham became expendable in New Orleans after the Pelicans traded for Nikola Mirotic. He could help the Nets win a few more games, which could hurt draft position for the Cavaliers, owners of Brooklyn’s unrestricted 2018 first-round draft pick. There’s not much cause for exuberance among the directly-involved parties.
- Grade for the Nets and Pelicans: C
Trail Blazers trade Noah Vonleh to Bulls for Milocan Rakovic
Continuing a theme, Noah Vonleh is another former high draft pick who hasn’t become a significant contributor. Players are always the right opportunity away from taking the next step in their career, so a fresh start in Chicago could be just what he needs. For the Trail Blazers, this was about getting under the luxury tax. It may only buy Portland a season out of luxury tax territory, but that means the clock isn’t ticking toward repeater tax penalties. This was a sensible move for both parties.
- Grade for the Bulls and Trail Blazers: B
Hawks trade Luke Babbitt to Heat for Okaro White
In 34 games Luke Babbitt started for the HEAT between Jan. 17 and March 29 of last year, Miami went 26-8. With the Hawks, Babbitt hasn’t been able to carve out a significant role. The Miami Herald has speculated that the trade for Babbitt might have to do with the strained shoulder Kelly Olynyk suffered, which caused him to miss Wednesday’s loss to the visiting Rockets. It was Olynyk’s first missed game of the season. The Hawks, which have already waived Okaro White, are on pace for one of the top picks in the draft and don’t need Babbitt.
- Grade for the HEAT and Hawks: B
Wizards trade Sheldon Mac to Hawks for protected second-round pick
The Wizards are facing so massive a cap crunch that even the little bit of space saved by sending away Sheldon Mac makes a difference. The Hawks also received cash considerations and have already waived Mac.
- Grade for the Wizards and Hawks: B
Raptors trade Bruno Caboclo to Kings for Malachi Richardson
It’s the end of an era in Toronto with the departure of Bruno Caboclo, one of the oddest draft picks in recent memory. When he was announced as the 20th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, dismay set in among Raptors fans since few draft observers had Caboclo on their boards. Analyst Fran Fraschilla quipped on ESPN’s broadcast of the draft that Caboclo looked “two years away from being two years away.” Four years later, it appears Fraschilla overestimated Caboclo.
- Grade for the Raptors and Kings: C
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.
2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players
Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.
The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.
But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.
The Top Dogs
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).
To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.
Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.
With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.
While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.
Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.
Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.
The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.
Best of the Rest
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.
Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.
NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers
The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.
Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers
While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.
It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.
So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.
Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.
The Potential Future All-Stars
DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players
Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs
The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust
Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs
Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.
If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.
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