After the Miami Heat lost to the Brooklyn Nets on March 31, Hassan Whiteside was as furious and candid as could be. Not with losing to the Nets at home, but with how the Heat used him. Whiteside played only 20 minutes in the overtime loss, which he took issue with because, as he put it, “We’ve got one of the best centers in the league.”
Whiteside then raised some eyebrows when he followed that up saying, “A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They are going to use their strengths. It’s bulls—. It’s really bulls—, man. There are a lot of teams that could use a center.”
Perhaps Whiteside was just letting off some steam, and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra has since swept the matter under the rug, but as the old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If there’s fire to this one, then this summer just got a whole lot more interesting.
Since he exploded onto the scene in 2015, Whiteside has been one of the league’s most efficient bigs. In the last four seasons with the Heat, Whiteside has averaged a double-double each year while also leading the league in blocks in 2016 and rebounds in 2017. When he has his head on straight, Whiteside is a great weapon to have.
At the same time, getting value out of Whiteside might be difficult given that he’s owed $25+ million over the next two seasons. Not to mention, his market might be tough since relevant NBA names traded last summer such as Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George (presumably) were all sold off for scraps when they were dealt.
Still, if Pat Riley puts his highest-paid player on the trading block this summer, then he should expect a call from the following teams.
This is all contingent on if LeBron James decides to stay a Cavalier this summer, but if the King stays in Cleveland, then the Cavaliers should go all-in on Whiteside. For the past couple of years, Cleveland’s defense has fallen off the face of the earth, with this season especially being their worst. According to NBA.com, the Cavaliers currently have the league’s third-lowest defensive rating at 109.4 points per 100 possessions, they allow the league’s fourth-highest number of points on average with 109.6, and are 22nd in overall rebounding percentage at 49.1 percent.
Whiteside would instantly help the Cavs in those areas, since he’s currently ranked third in overall rebounding percentage this season according to NBA.com. Better yet, Whiteside’s career individual defensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference, is 98 points allowed per 100 possessions. Cleveland’s post defense is in desperate need of an upgrade, given that none of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, nor Larry Nance Jr has really held the fort down.
Cleveland doesn’t have much to offer besides the Nets’ pick that they acquired from the Kyrie Irving trade, which they rightfully would be hesitant to trade. However, they might not be so hesitant if Miami agrees to absorb Thompson’s contract. Alternatively, if Miami wants cap space, then trading Whiteside for George Hill (along with possibly Nance Jr.) could be an option.
Our own Steve Kyler reported back on Jan. 30 that the Bucks had their eye on Whiteside before the trade deadline. A deal never came to fruition, but if Whiteside becomes available, the Bucks should do everything in their power to make a deal. This is for two reasons.
- The Bucks really need an upgrade at center. John Henson has averaged merely okay numbers as a starter (8.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks), Thon Maker has disappointed, and Tyler Zeller is really suited for the second unit. Whiteside would be an immediate upgrade and would be the team’s first high quality two-way big since Larry Sanders.
- The Bucks are kind of low on options. The team hasn’t made much progress since Giannis Antetokounmpo’s second season in the league, and don’t have an avenue to get much better. They don’t have the cap room to pay a star a max contract, and they have a tough decision with Jabari Parker’s restricted free agency looming this summer. Whiteside’s not a franchise-changing player, but he’s a step in the right direction. Given that Milwaukee currently ranks no. 19 in defensive rating (107.2 points per 100 possessions) and allow 106.7 points a game (no. 16 in the league), Whiteside would be an immense help.
Acquiring Whiteside would probably require a sign and trade involving Parker and Henson, but that would depend on if Miami would want those two.
Since Dallas is going to have one of the top picks in this year’s draft, and since this year’s draft class is loaded with talented bigs, it’d be hard to envision Dallas going after Whiteside if they drafted a center. However, Mark Cuban has a reputation for going after the big fish, and Whiteside qualifies as a big fish.
Even if the Mavericks have been rebuilding for the last two seasons, what they care about most right now is Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas has been steadfastly loyal to the future Hall of Famer, and the team has done everything in its power to make the end of Dirk’s career worthwhile. Adding Whiteside would improve their standing enough to make Dirk’s last year(s) memorable.
To add to that, the Mavericks desperately need a center since the Nerlens Noel experiment has blown up in their face. Adding Whiteside to a team that has a promising youth movement with Dennis Smith Jr. and whoever the Mavericks draft, along with their group of productive veterans such as Dirk, Harrison Barnes, Wes Matthews, Jose Juan Barea, and Dwight Powell, would put Dallas back in the playoff conversation.
Trading for Whiteside would be simple given that Dallas has approximately around $60 million in payroll next season. Miami could hand him over for a first or two, or the two teams could potentially agree to a sign-and-trade involving Noel, who on paper could replace some of Whiteside’s production. Better yet, with Tyler Johnson’s salary set to almost quadruple next season, Miami could cut down their luxury tax bill significantly if they rid themselves of Whiteside’s salary.
Another intriguing option would be the Washington Wizards, who could also definitely use an upgrade at the five and have some attractive young assets like Kelly Oubre Jr., but Miami probably wouldn’t want to trade Whiteside to a division rival, especially since both teams have playoff aspirations.
That’s what this all comes down to for Miami. They’re not really in a position to rebuild. They’re losing their pick to Phoenix this season and again in 2021 thanks to the Goran Dragic trade. Also, between now and 2024, the Heat will have one second-round pick.
If Heat look to trade Whiteside after this season, they’re going to want players that will help them win now in return, not a few years down the line. The potential conundrum they face is, will the players they trade for be able to replace Whiteside’s production?
NBA Daily: Can the Milwaukee Bucks be Real Contenders?
Do the Bucks now have the talent and coaching to legitimately contend for this year’s championship?
The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t very good in 2017.
While they had one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the court at almost all times, they struggled to win games under then Head Coach Jason Kidd. While things improved with the transition to Joel Prunty, Milwaukee and its underperforming roster ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics, sans their two best players, in the first round of the postseason.
But with Mike Budenholzer, one-time Coach of the Year award winner and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, in the fold along with some new personnel, are the Bucks good enough to challenge the top teams in the NBA?
If their 2018 debut is anything to go by, the NBA needs to be on alert.
On the road against the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee looked completely dominant at times with the Greek Freak leading the charge in a 113-112 win. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self and finished the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.
The most important take away from their season debut, however, has nothing to do with Antetokounmpo. It’s the fact that he got a sizeable amount of help from his supporting cast.
The Bucks often looked like a one-man show last season, with Antetokounmpo doing his thing while the rest of the team failed to pull their collective weight. They often looked slow and were worse than average, defensively; Milwaukee was just 20th in pace-of-play and 18th in defensive rating last season. And, amidst the NBA’s three-point revolution, the Bucks ranked just 25th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage.
In a nutshell, the Bucks system wasn’t an ideal workspace for its star player. Antetokounmpo, who isn’t a great long-range shooter himself, needs all the spacing he can get in order to be the best version of himself. And that is why the 2018 version of the Bucks could be so dangerous.
Going back to the 2013-14 regular season, Budenholzer’s first as the Hawks head coach, here is how Atlanta ranked compared to the rest of the league in three-point attempts: 2nd, 7th, 7th, 16th, 7th. Budenholzer has instilled that same three-point happy offensive system in Milwaukee. Not only have they played faster, but they are shooting more; the Bucks attempted 34 shots from beyond the arc, 10 more than they averaged per game last season.
More importantly, the Bucks have the players to take advantage of that system and clear the interior as much as possible for the multipositional and uber-athletic Antetokounmpo.
Khris Middleton, the often underrated two-way wing, is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Eric Bledsoe, who struggled at times last season, has been solid from behind the arc for his career as well. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, two big men who have steered into the three-point evolution of the NBA, have both shot 34 percent or better from three-point range over the last two seasons. Even rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went two-for-four from three-point range against Charlotte, was a long distance specialist at Villanova and shot 37.8 percent from three during his three years with the school. The roster is loaded with more shooters than ever and they are being put in a position to shoot the long-ball, thanks to the gravity that Antetokounmpo has on the floor and Budenholzer’s system.
Now, as with almost everything, there could be some complications.
While shooting more shots per game could equate to more makes and, therefore, more points, it could, by the same logic, yield more missed shots as well. The Bucks aren’t a strong defensive team, nor have they been for the last four seasons or so, and those extra possessions for the opposition could kill the Bucks in the final stretch of games. Likewise, playing quickly can lead to more turnovers, creating further opportunities for opponents and hurting Milwaukee even further.
But, for now, the benefits seem to outeight the risks, and Antetokounmpo can cover up a lot of mistakes with the talent he possesses.
One game may seem like a small sample size to go on, but, if the Bucks can limit their offensive mishaps and defensive blunders, they have the chance to be a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference crown and, perhaps, the NBA title.
NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.
All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.
First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.
Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.
Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.
The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.
De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.
Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.
Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.
There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.
The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!
Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.
There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.
Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”
NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact
Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.
Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts.
Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason.
- Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard).
- DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place.
- New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
- Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
- Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.
One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.