Nine months after engineering the Golden State Warriors’ first playoff appearance and series victory since 2007, General Manager Bob Myers sat down with Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan in the midst of another solid season. In part two of a two-part interview, Myers discusses the Warriors’ acquisition of Andre Iguodala, the extension of Andrew Bogut and the team’s approach with its core going forward. For part one, click here.
With Andrew Bogut’s three-year, $36 million extension, I believe that until Kobe Bryant’s extension, he was the only non-rookie extension under the new CBA. Why did that work for him and for you? For a lot of people, it doesn’t work because you can get more years as a free agent.
Myers: I think you said it right, in this day and age in a new CBA, a player that’s playing well likely will opt to wait because they can add years. Had he waited until this summer, he can get a five-year deal. The way that we structured it in the extension, all we have to give are those three years. From the player’s side, a lot of players don’t want to come to the table and discuss the extension because they’re forfeiting money in the future. But Andrew understood that this is a place he wanted to be, and he obviously wanted to get a fair deal. I felt like we offered a fair deal, obviously he did too because he accepted it. But to find veteran extension opportunities, sometimes you need circumstances where a player is willing to possibly forgo an extra year of money for the security of getting a deal then instead of playing a year out. If they’re playing on teams that are willing to commit and not make the player play out that extra year, and willing to commit to him early, there are always variables that play into it. Some financial, some situational; injury plays into it to some extent, age plays into it, whether that player feels like he can get another deal, happiness, how happy is the player in that market, on that team with his coach and his front office. A lot of things have to line up and that’s why I think you see few of those types of deals.
Going to the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade, at what point did the thought of opening up the cap space over last summer kind of come into focus for you guys? [Note: In July 2013, Golden State acquired Iguodala via a sign-and-trade. Golden State acquired Iguodala from Denver and signed him to a four-year, $48 million contract. To open up the cap space to sign Iguodala, the trade included offloading $24 million in salaries attached to Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins in addition to 2014 and 2017 first-round draft picks to the Utah Jazz.]
Myers: Our ownership is an incredible ownership with Joe [Lacob]. He’s always thinking aggressively as far as how to upgrade talent and how to move the team. Like any team, we look at the free agent pool and what players we felt like were able to help us and identified him as one of them. Now, I will also say that realistically we felt like it was an extreme long shot to get a guy like that, but after meeting with him in Los Angeles and seeing his desire to be a part of a group trying to build, that really motivated us. What started as a seed from our side in the situation, we felt like this would be a great guy to add to our roster, was cemented when we met with him and he echoed the same sentiments. From that point on, it was full steam ahead to try to find a way to do it. Even after that, though, my personal belief was that it remained a long shot. Just because we wanted to do it and he wanted to do it, that was nice and made us feel good about it, but you’d still put low odds on it – less than five percent. We had to find multiple trading partners taking a lot of money; it had to fit what they were trying to do. It really came down to the last 30 minutes, where his agent had said to us, ‘Look I’ll let you guys try and try and try, but you have a deadline now.’ He was very fair about it. So that really came down to the wire, and fortunately for us the league is comprised of 29 other teams and if you’re really motivated to do a deal, you can usually find a partner – sometimes you can’t and thankfully we did. I think it fit what Utah was looking to do, and it all lined up. All of the things that had to happen for it to happen, made it seem very unlikely. We’re just glad it came to fruition.
How much trepidation was there about surrendering those picks and also now the flexibility, not being able to trade the 2015 and 2016 pick? [Note: The NBA’s Ted Stepien rule prevents a team from trading its first-round pick two years in a row. Because the Warriors dealt their 2014 and 2017 picks to the Jazz to facilitate the Iguodala sign-and-trade, they are unable to trade their 2015 and 2016 picks.]
Myers: We wanted to build upon what we had established as far as some level of success in the organization. We thought it might be difficult to keep two core guys in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry at the numbers we would have liked to have kept them at. They were paid well and they deserved to be paid well. We were looking at a situation where if we wanted to maintain and keep the same team, we’d be heavy into the luxury tax. So it wasn’t just adding Iguodala, it was adding Iguodala along with clearing up a lot of salary on our books that really made us believe the deal was worth it from our side. If somebody wanted to compartmentalize the deal, you’d say one pick was for Iguodala and one pick was to get off $24 million. Would we do that in a bubble? Yeah, we felt like that was worth it, because it wasn’t just two first-round picks for Iguodala. We would have been looking at a team, should we not have done anything and stood pat, likely the same team coming back at the five starter spots, but also without Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, who were huge in regards to our success last year. That likely would have set us back and we didn’t really want to take a step back after having some success for an organization that hadn’t had any in so long. We wanted to try to not just maintain, but take a small step forward. That was the motivation behind the deal and moving the picks. You never know how things could have worked out, you never know in any deal. Our thought at the time when we did it and constructed it was that it was worth it.
With David Lee being 30, Andrew Bogut being 28, Andre Iguodala being 29 and Steph Curry now being is his prime, is there a feeling that these next two years or so are really the organization’s best window to win, at least in the short-term?
Myers: Actually, really no. We feel like we’ve still got players, more than two and three years where we think our core can play at a high level. We think continuity — although maybe some physical tools diminish with age — and your mind improves. Like look at a team like the Spurs and some of these teams that are a little older, even the HEAT to some degree, have some veterans that have been in the league a long time on their team and have experienced success. You look at some of the Celtics teams before they decided to go in a different direction. Continuity and playing together can overcome athletic ability, speed and quickness, and things like that. We feel like we’ve got a healthy window here to evaluate this team, and we’re going to give it a shot to see how it goes. I think it was perceived to be a win-now type move, where internally we more perceived it as this makes us better; we think it’s worth it for all of the reasons aforementioned. It wasn’t a situation where we feel like we’re playing Texas Hold ‘Em, where we put all of our chips on the table. We feel like as an organization, we’ve made a bet and put some chips on the table and we felt like we had a good hand. But we also have a stack of chips that we haven’t played. We don’t feel like this trade or the acquisition of Iguodala makes us limited and this is it for the next two, three years–if it doesn’t happen then we’re nowhere. We don’t have that mindset in our front office and ownership side.
Obviously trades can always be made, there’s no such thing as someone being untradeable in the NBA. With Andrew’s extension and Andre having a 15 percent trade kicker, it’s going to be relatively difficult to make further moves, but I assume this core going forward is one that you’re very comfortable with?
Myers: Yeah, we’re comfortable. I read today that the starters are 21-7 and I don’t know how much stock to put into something like that. I guess it’s better than 7-21, but we do feel like it can be a competitive group heading into the future. We feel like it hasn’t hit its ceiling or even close to it, we hope, both for this year and beyond. We are comfortable with it. We have time to see how it develops. You have to sometimes be patient as you progress as an organization. We are not thinking that if we don’t win a championship this year, it’s a failed season; we don’t have that dialogue, we don’t believe in that mentality. We obviously want to compete and compete at the highest level. We feel like we’re going to give this core and these players a healthy amount of time to see if it works. We also believe that we maintain now and believe in the future a healthy amount of assets on our roster. We’re very attractive, we have a lot of talent. It allows you to have flexibility should you want to make moves. I think you’re right, we’re going to give this a good go and believe this team can compete with some of the best teams.
Did you know that these starters, this five-man unit would be as good as they’ve been?
Myers: No we didn’t. Realistically you do your best, but you don’t know. You’re putting it together; there are so many different factors that equate to success. It’s not always about putting the best five individual players together. Sometimes you have to see a guy like Iguodala that has to be less aggressive for our team to be a better team. Is that the right thing? We’re figuring that out. What roles should each player take within our team to make us the most successful as a team? It’s always a work in progress. I don’t think a sample size of 28 games is enough to really make any concrete conclusions from.
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
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