Over the course of the previous month, Tommy Beer has ranked and tiered the free agents at each position.
Today, he’ll combine these rankings in order to determine the top 50 free agents available.
1. LeBron James – Player option
Obviously, the best player on the planet sits atop this list. LeBron will likely opt out of his current deal this summer and sign another two-year contract with an option to become a free agent again in 2016. That will allow him to sign an insanely lucrative long-term contract with Cleveland next offseason, after the salary cap spikes to upwards of $90 million.
2. Kawhi Leonard – Restricted
Here is the complete list of all NBA players who have won both an NBA Finals MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point in their career: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and… Kawhi Leonard. Amazingly, Leonard earned both of those commendations before he turned 25 years old. The Spurs will obviously offer Kawhi the max (or match if he signs a max offer sheet from another team). The only question is, might Leonard be willing to gamble and sign just a two-year deal with an option to opt-out in 2016, which would allow him to sign a far more lucrative contract next summer? Last month, we outlined the pros and cons of this potential strategy that may be employed by top-tier free agents this summer.
3. Marc Gasol – Unrestricted
Gasol is the crown jewel of the free agent center crop. A terrifically well-rounded big man, he can score on the low block or face up. He can defend the rim and rebound. He’s also one of the best passing centers in the NBA. He’ll have plenty of options next month, but it would be surprising if he took less money and left Memphis.
4. Kevin Love – Unrestricted
Unsurprisingly, because it makes the most fiscal sense to do so, Love has decided to opt out of his current contract. He basically has two options: 1. Sign a contract that gives him an option to become a free agent again next summer – the most likely scenario would be a two-year deal with an opt-out clause after the first season, just as LeBron did last year and will likely do again this year. 2. Sign a long-term max contract (which would be a five-year deal with Cleveland or a four-year deal with a team other than the Cavs). The most likely outcome may be Love signing a two-year deal with the Cavaliers, spending one more season in Cleveland proving he is fully healthy, and then cashing in with a huge contract next summer.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge – Unrestricted
Early on in the proceedings, most assumed Aldridge would re-sign with the Blazers this summer. However, reports have indicated that he has all but ruled out a return to the Rose Garden, and may be keenly interested in returning to his home state of Texas and joining either the Mavericks or Spurs. Might Aldridge make the same gamble as Kevin Love? If LaMarcus signed a max contract in 2016 (when he’d have 10 years of experience and could sign for 35 percent of the cap), here is what that deal would look like:
6. Draymond Green – Restricted
Green struggled a bit in the first few games of the NBA Finals, but the big-picture reality remains: Draymond is the type of young, hungry, defensive-minded, versatile, unselfish, aggressive player that general managers covet. And it’s not just intangibles that Green brings to the table. His all-around contributions would improve any roster. This past season he just missed becoming the second player in NBA history to tally at least 110 blocks, 110 steals and 110 three-pointers in the same season.
7. Jimmy Butler – Restricted
Some were surprised when Butler turned down a long-term offer from Chicago last summer (likely in the neighborhood of $44 million over four years), choosing instead to bet on himself. Well, the gamble paid off. Butler blossomed into a legit star this past season. His scoring average jumped from 13.1 points per game in 2013-14, to 20 points per game in 2014-15, due mainly to the fact that his field goal percentage soared from 39.7 percent to 46.2 percent. He also set career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks. He’s going to get multiple max offers this summer.
8. DeAndre Jordan – Unrestricted
Jordan has steadily improved year-to-year, and has firmly established himself as one of the NBA’s best big men. He finished the 2014-15 campaign averaging 11.5 points, a whopping 15.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, while shooting a mind-boggling 71.0 percent from the floor. He joined Wilt Chamberlain as just the second player in NBA history to average at least 15 rebounds per game and shoot over 70 percent from the field. Jordan will demand max money on the open market. Yet, considering how invaluable he’s been for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, it’s hard to imagine Doc Rivers letting him leave L.A. (the Clippers will have his “Bird Rights” – which means they can offer a fifth season and significantly more money than other suitors).
9. Goran Dragic – Player Option
Dragic is the top point guard in what is a relatively weak group of free agents point guards. In 2013-14, Goran averaged 20.3 points per game and 5.9 assists, while shooting over 50 percent from the floor (LeBron James was the only other player to average at least 20/5.5/50 percent in 2013-14, and no player in the NBA matched those numbers this season). Dragic’s numbers weren’t quite as impressive in 2014-15 as he had to split minutes in a crowded Phoenix backcourt before being traded mid-season. The HEAT paid a steep price (two first-round draft picks) to acquire him from Phoenix at the trade deadline, so it’s safe to assume Miami will be willing to pony up and offer Dragic near-max money this summer.
10. Brook Lopez – Player Option
Lopez is arguably the best offensive center in the NBA. He’s averaged at least 20 points per game in five straight seasons. The problem is he’s also missed at least 65 games in two of his last four seasons. Even though he has a $16.7 million option he can exercise for next season, it appears he’ll opt out (while he’s healthy) and get a new long-term deal.
11. Paul Millsap – Unrestricted
Millsap had to settle last time he hit free agency. He ended up signing a two-year deal with Atlanta for just $19 million. Millsap was named an All-Star in each of his two seasons with the Hawks, and will be looking to cash in with a lucrative long-term deal this summer. However, is Atlanta willing to pony up to keep their core together (DeMarre Carroll is also a free agent this summer)?
12. Tim Duncan – Unrestricted
While Tim Duncan hasn’t yet beaten the undefeated Father Time, Timmy D has somehow managed to play him to a standstill. Duncan clearly can still produce at an elite level for another year or two. Will he retire, or sign one more contract with the Spurs before riding off into the sunset?
13. Dwyane Wade – Player Option
Wade is obviously no longer the player he once was, but he is a still capable of playing at an elite level. While durability is definitely a concern (he’s missed a total of 48 games over the last two seasons), his performance on the floor is still awfully impressive. Last season, he was one of just six players to average at least 21 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. The other six members of this exclusive club were Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Blake Griffin. Wade has a $16.1 million player option for the 2015-16 season. It will be very interesting to see if he opts out this summer in order to sign one last big contract.
14. Danny Green – Unrestricted
Green starred at the University of North Carolina, where he became the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals, yet still slid into the second round in the 2009 draft. He was eventually waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers before the San Antonio Spurs scooped him up. Green has flourished in the Spurs’ system ever since. He has played extremely well in big games, and helped propel the Spurs to a title in 2014. It could be argued that Green is the best all-around 3-and-D wing on the market this summer. Although he has publicly professed a desire to return to San Antonio, plenty of other GMs will come calling to test his allegiance.
15. Greg Monroe – Unrestricted
Monroe flashed elite talent and very intriguing upside early on in his career. As a 21-year-old, he averaged 15.4 points (on 52.1 percent shooting), 9.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in his second pro season. However, he’s never taken his game to the next level. His field goal percentage has dipped below 50 percent for three consecutive seasons. His steal and block totals have decreased three years in row. Still just 24, some team will throw plenty of money (and possibly even a max deal) his way.
16. DeMarre Carroll – Unrestricted
Carroll bounced around the NBA, playing for four teams over his first three years in the league, before signing a two-year deal with the Hawks in the summer of 2013. He developed into a terrific two-way player in Atlanta and returned tremendous value for the Hawks (Carroll made just $2.4 million this past season). He survived a scare in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when it appeared he had suffered a major knee injury. Plenty of teams will be knocking down his door on July 1 to eagerly offer him a major raise.
17. Tristan Thompson – Restricted
There was a lot of debate last summer when Thompson reportedly rejected a four-year, $52 million offer from Cleveland. Many pundits felt it was a foolish decision. Well, after Kevin Love was injured in the Cavs opening round series versus Boston, Thompson played arguably the best basketball of his career. In the process, he proved just how valuable he is to Cleveland. The league’s best offensive rebounder boosted his stock considerably in the process.
18. Khris Middleton – Restricted
Middleton, who slipped into the second round in the 2012 draft, has improved dramatically in each of his first three seasons of his career. This past season, he emerged as a solid starter for the up-and-coming Bucks, averaging 13.4 points with an effective field goal percentage of 53 percent. At just 23 years old, is he just scratching the surface of his potential? That enticing ceiling will result in plenty of lucrative offers – but the early word is the Bucks have every intention of matching any offer.
19. Reggie Jackson – Restricted
Jackson is coming off a roller-coaster 2014-15 campaign. Over the first 15 games of the season, with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sidelined for the majority of those contests, Jackson averaged 19.3 points, 7.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds. Jackson was one of only two players to average at least 19/7/5 over the first month of the season. However, Jackson landed in coach Scott Brooks’ doghouse shortly after Kevin Durant and Westbrook returned, and Jackson’s numbers nosedived. He was then traded to Detroit, and after stumbling a bit in his first few games, played terrifically for the Pistons. In fact, Jackson was one of only four players to average at least 17 points and 9 assists in post-All-Star break action. The other three were Chris Paul, Westbrook and John Wall. Will the Pistons, who have Brandon Jennings returning from injury next season, be willing to match a large offer to Jackson this summer?
20. Brandon Knight – Restricted
Knight has already played for three different teams in his short NBA career. He’s shown steady improvement, but he is just a career 41 percent shooter from the floor and maybe more of an undersized combo-guard than pure PG. Still, he flashed considerable upside in 2013-14, when he averaged just under 18 points and five assists per contest. There will be plenty of interested parties vying for the 23-year-old’s services.
21. Monta Ellis – Player Option
Ellis had a $9.1 million option for 2015-16, but has decided to opt out. He’s durable (playing at least 80 games in four of the last five season) and he’s an offensive force, averaging at least 19 points per game in each of the last seven seasons. However, Ellis’ game is not without flaws. He’s a volume shooter, and he can be a liability on the defensive end. At the right price point, he’d be a solid addition to nearly any roster. The issue is a GM may have to overpay to land him, which reduces the value of return on investment.
22. Wesley Matthews – Unrestricted
Matthews tore his Achilles tendon in early March and is facing a daunting rehab, which will scare off plenty of suitors and likely drive his price down considerably. Before the injury, the underrated Matthews was enjoying another solid season, playing well on both sides of the ball. In fact, he was leading the entire league in made three-pointers at the All-Star break. Recovering fully from an Achilles tear is certainly scary, but if his price tag drops far enough, Matthews could end up being a very shrewd signing.
23. Tobias Harris – Restricted
Harris is one of the more difficult free agents to peg. He’s dealt with some injury issues (missing 35 games over the last two seasons), and his defensive aptitude isn’t all that impressive. However, Harris has shown plenty of intriguing upside during his stint in Orlando. Last season, he was one of just six players to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and one steal per game. (The other five were: Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony). Still just 22 years of age, Harris has yet to hit his prime.
24. Tyson Chandler – Unrestricted
Rumors of Chandler’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The Knicks dumped the injury-prone Tyson, believing his best days were behind him. However, Chandler bounced back in a big way in Big D. He averaged a double-double and, amazingly, posted the highest PER of his career (20.1). A veteran and proven winner, he’ll have plenty of suitors this summer.
25. Timofey Mozgov – Team Option
Any doubt about whether or not the Cavaliers would exercise Mozgov’s option and bring him back to Cleveland was wiped away by his phenomenal play in the NBA Finals, which confirmed the Cavs have a valuable player, who’ll only get paid $4.9 million next season.
26. Thaddeus Young – Player Option
Young doesn’t have any one particular skill that will bowl you over, but he contributes across the board. He’s been stuck playing for bad teams the last few seasons, which has depressed his value as he’s been forced into a larger role than he’d prefer. A player like Young excels when he can thrive as a complementary piece of a bigger puzzle (as he did with the Nets after coming to Brooklyn in the Kevin Garnett trade). A long, lengthy defender, Young can guard numerous positions, and also contribute on the offensive end of the floor as well. During the 2013-14 season, he became the first player in eight years to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and two steals over the course of a full NBA campaign.
27. Josh Smith – Unrestricted
While Smith still uses his length and athleticism to contribute defensively, his offensive game is so inconsistent and inefficient that the net returns aren’t always positive. Consider this: In 2013-14, Smith was the only qualifying player in the NBA to shoot below 42 percent from the field and below 55 percent from the free-throw line. Then, last season, Smith did it again. And, again, he was the only player in this ignominious club. A team will inevitably take a chance on his upside, but how much will a prudent GM be willing to gamble?
28. Luol Deng – Player Option
Deng’s production has trended in the wrong direction the last few seasons, but he still plays hard and plays the right way. For the right price, he’d improve any team he’s a part of.
29. Enes Kanter – Restricted
Kanter remains a bit of a mystery. He’s been in the league for four years, but just turned 23 and has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game in any season. He got a chance to play heavy minutes down the stretch in Oklahoma City last season and made the most of his opportunity, averaging 18.7 ppg and 11 rebounds. Will a team make a serious offer and force the Thunder to match? What offer would be high enough to scare OKC away?
30. Robin Lopez – Unrestricted
Not nearly as accomplished on the offensive end as his brother, Robin is a better defender and rebounder than Brook. Robin has also been far more durable. He’ll be available at a relatively affordable cost compared to the rest of the centers listed here. If you have plenty of offensive firepower on your roster, Lopez is solid fit as he will be happy to clog up the paint, board and bang.
31. Patrick Beverley – Restricted
The ball-hawking Beverley has been one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenders since elbowing his way into the Rockets’ rotation. However, his health is a bit of a question mark after missing the end of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left wrist that will require four months of recovery. This may decrease demand for his services. If so, he may end up as one of the better values on the market.
32. Rajon Rondo – Unrestricted
It seems like only yesterday when it was all but a forgone conclusion that Rondo would have teams beating down his door to offer him a max contract when he hit the open market. However, Rondo’s stock, which was dipping, bottomed out in Dallas. After an uninspired effort in Game 2 of their playoffs series, the Mavericks sent him home and refused to pay him a postseason share. While Rondo’s performance this past season was undeniably disappointing, the signs of regression were certainly evident. Not only is he injury prone (Rondo has missed at least 14 games each season this decade), his production even when healthy is no longer elite. Once a feared defender, Rondo is now merely average. And his offensive efficiency has gone from bad to worse. He’s a career 26 percent three-point shooter and last season he became the first player in NBA history shorter than 6’6 to shoot below 40 percent from the free-throw line over the course of a full NBA campaign. We know he won’t be back in Dallas, but where will he end up? And for how much? The Rondo situation is extremely interesting and largely unpredictable.
33. David West – Player Option
One of the most respected professionals in the sport, West’s significant contributions are not limited to what he does on the floor. West’s role as a mentor and team leader greatly increases his value and overall worth.
34. J.R. Smith – Player Option
Employing Smith is akin to riding a roller-coaster, as his defensive effort and on-court focus often wax and wane. Still, he’s undeniably one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA.
35. Lou Williams – Unrestricted
Lou Williams bounced back in a big way for the Raptors this season. He tore his ACL in January of 2013, but proved he was fully recovered last season, averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game en route to winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Williams is ideally suited for any team that needs a scoring spark off the bench.
36. Iman Shumpert – Restricted
Shumpert showed flashes of star potential as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 2.8 assists and earning First Team All-Rookie honors in New York. He also finished in the top 10 in steals that season (1.7 per game), and was recognized as one of the preeminent young perimeter defenders in the NBA. However, his game has regressed in the years since, possibly due to an ACL tear in 2012. He’s not quite the same feared defender, and his offensive game hasn’t improved (his free throw percentage has actually decreased in each of his last three seasons). Still, he’s a hard worker who’s yet to reach his full potential. He’ll draw interest on the open market.
37. Paul Pierce – Player Option
Pierce is obviously no longer the superstar he once was, but he clearly demonstrated his value during the Wizards’ playoff run last month, when Washington leaned on him heavily in the clutch and he came through time after time. Furthermore, his important contributions as a locker room leader may be more important than his on-court offering at this point of his career. Recent rumors have, once again, linked him to the Clippers.
38. Kosta Koufos – Unrestricted
It will be very interesting to see what offers Koufos fields once he hits the open market. Backing up Marc Gasol, his playing time has been limited. However, his Per-36 minute averages are impressive: 11.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
39. Arron Afflalo – Player Option
Afflalo, who dealt with a number of nagging injuries last season, is coming off an extremely disappointing 2014-15 campaign. He shot below 43 percent from the floor for the first time since his rookie season and posted near career-lows in rebounds and assists. He finished the year with a putrid PER of just 10.7, well below the league average. Afflalo opted out of the final $7.75 million on his contract, eager to prove last season was an aberration.
40. Corey Brewer – Player Option:
Brewer is set to make $4.9 million next season. It’s safe to assume he’ll opt-out and hit the open market, as he’s due for a raise and a longer contract after a solid showing in Houston over the second half of the 2014-15 season and especially in the playoffs.
41. Brandan Wright – Unrestricted
Wright had the best season of his young career in 2013-14 in Dallas, when he averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, while shooting 67.7 percent from the floor. Still, there are noticeable flaws in his game. Can he handle the rigors of starter’s minutes? Is he worth upwards of $6 million a season? We shall see….
42. Amir Johnson – Unrestricted
He’s played 10 seasons in the NBA, but he’s still just 28 years old. We know what Johnson is at this stage of the game: A solid rotation player with some obvious limitations.
43. Ed Davis – Player Option
Davis slid through the cracks last summer and had to settle for a low-ball offer from the L.A. Lakers. After a decent season in L.A., he’ll be a free agent again this summer.
44. Jordan Hill – Team Option
While he wasn’t quite as efficient this past season as he was in 2013-14, Hill posted career highs across the board in 2014-15, scoring 12 points and grabbing 7.9 rebounds per game.
45. Rodney Stuckey – Unrestricted
Stuckey filled in solidly for the Pacers last season, shooting a career-high from both the floor (44 percent) and from behind-the-arc (39 percent).
46. Al-Farouq Aminu – Player Option
His counting stats will never jump off the page, but the former lottery pick (eighth overall selection in 2010) continues to steadily improve. His PER and Win Shares have increased each season he’s been in the league. He was a tremendous value signing for the Mavs last summer, as Dallas paid him less than a million bucks this past season. He will undoubtedly opt-out (his player option is for just $1.1 million). This improving, defensive-minded wing could still be a solid value if signed for the right price.
47. Manu Ginobili – Unrestricted
He’s clearly still talented, but certainly not the same player he once was. Does Ginobili come back for one last stint in San Antonio, or ride off into the sunset?
48. Jae Crowder – Restricted
After seeing limited and sporadic minutes over his first few seasons in Dallas, Crowder got a chance to shine in Boston after a mid-season deal sent him to the Celtics. Efficiency is an issue (he posted just an eFG below 47 percent), but the energy and defensive effort he brought to the table reportedly impressed Celtics management. We shall see what kind of offers Crowder might receive this summer, and if Boston will match.
49. Jared Dudley – Player Option
Every good team needs a ‘glue guy’ like Dudley. A solid shooter with a high-basketball IQ, Dudley is the type of veteran bench contributor that GMs desire when fleshing out a roster. Dudley has yet to decide if he will exercise his player option (he has one year and $4.3 million left on his current deal).
50. Marco Belinelli – Unrestricted
As more and more of a premium is placed on three-point shooting league-wide, sharp shooters such as Belinelli will always have value.
NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT
Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.
209 wins, 202 losses.
That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.
Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.
Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.
But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.
Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.
Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.
Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.
Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.
While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.
This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.
All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.
Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.
The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.
Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.
After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.
Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?
The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?
That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.
They have Butler now. They have their star.
Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.
Simple Problems With Difficult Solutions
Matt John takes a look at three teams that need to address weaknesses in their rosters and the challenges each team faces in doing so.
Remember when Carmelo Anthony was out of the NBA? That seems so long ago now even though his stint in Portland started less than a month ago.
Let’s go back to that time. In ‘Melo’s almost one-year exodus from the NBA, fans, media, and even players alike were begging for his return. To be fair, this was based more on his reputation as one of the best scorers of his time rather than his recent play with his previous two teams.
Looking back, it was a little odd that for almost an entire year, absolutely no one wanted to roll the dice on Carmelo. Not even on a non-guaranteed contract. But, what was even odder was that although he had plenty of advocates on his side, said advocates couldn’t collectively decide which team really needed him.
At this stage in his career, it was a little tricky to figure out what role he could play because it wasn’t clear how much he had left in the tank or how he’d adapt to his decline after his underwhelming performances with both Oklahoma City and Houston. There was a lot of demand for Carmelo to come back to the NBA. Where he should make his comeback was the question.
Of course, now, we’ve seen that Carmelo can still bring it – so far – if given the right opportunity. The simple problem, in this case, was that Carmelo needed another chance in the NBA. The difficult solution was that, at the time, there was no clear-cut team that would have been perfect for him to go.
That brings us to this season. We are approaching the 1/4th mark in the NBA regular season and now we’re starting to see the true colors of some of these teams. The following teams have simple problems that need to be fixed. At the same time, how they’re going to solve them will be tough to figure out.
San Antonio Spurs
With every minute that passes, the playoff odds are looking less and less in the Spurs’ favor. When was the last time anyone said that about San Antonio? 1996? The naysayers have been dreaming of this day for longer than Vince Carter’s entire career, but this might just be the moment they’ve been waiting for – the end of an era.
San Antonio is currently 8-14, they have a point differential of minus-4.0, and worst of all, they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the NBA. Maybe it would be different if Davis Bertans or Marcus Morris were around, but that doesn’t change that it’s only going to get harder from here.
Twenty-two games into the season and it’s clear the Spurs’ established stars – DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge – do not mesh well with one other, sporting a net rating of minus-7.2 together. Any three-man lineup with DeRozan/Aldridge plus one of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White has a frighteningly negative net rating – all are minus-7.3 or lower.
It gets worse. Both DeRozan and Aldridge have very negative net ratings – Spurs are minus-10.5 with Aldridge on the court, minus-13.3 with DeRozan. All three of Murray, White, and Forbes have negative net ratings as well, but why it looks worse for the former All-Stars is because those two are supposed to be the main ingredients of a projected playoff team and they’re most certainly not that right now.
Trading them would be the advisable next step but to who is the million-dollar question. Both of them are really good players. They’re just not great players. They’re both lethal scorers. Both of them can put up 20-30 points on any given night. The real issue is that even if they put up their usual numbers, that doesn’t always equate to a win. If you don’t believe that, look at the Spurs’ record again.
Aldridge would be easier to trade on paper because his contract is more favorable since it’s guaranteed for next season, but potentially trading for DeRozan is a little more delicate of a situation. DeMar has a player option after this season, which can be a catch-22 for players like him. If he plays well, he’ll opt out of the contract and go for his next payday. If he doesn’t, he’ll opt-in and drag the cap down another season.
That makes it harder for teams to invest assets for a guy like him. He would usually be worth more if his contract was longer, but the risk of him leaving after less than one season is too big to give up something good for him. There are teams that could definitely use the offensive boost that DeMar provides, but they may not have the matching contracts nor be willing to offer the young value that the Spurs would want in a deal.
Some retooling definitely looks in order for San Antonio, but this situation is a lot more complicated than it was last year.
At 15-5, the Celtics are both exceeding expectations and are fun to watch. In other words, they look like a Brad Stevens team again.
Boston’s offense has looked much-improved thanks to both better production from Brown, Hayward and Jayson Tatum as well as letting their most egregious ball stoppers walk. By having less pure scorers on the team, there are a lot more touches to go around, which has made the offense look more fluid than it did last year.
What’s more surprising than their more team-oriented offense is their stingy defense. The Celtics have the sixth-best defensive rating, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions, despite losing Al Horford and Aron Baynes.
Marcus Smart’s ability to cover just about anyone on the basketball court provides so much cushion for them on the defensive end. Brown, Hayward, and Jayson Tatum have all been stingy switchable wings that make life harder for opponents. Even guys like Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams have proven to be passable options as undersized centers.
Even their pure bigs haven’t been that bad. Daniel Theis has been excellent as the team’s most reliable rim protector, allowing opponents to shoot just 52 percent at the rim, and Enes Kanter has the third-best net rating among rotation players, as Boston is plus-5.6 with him on the floor.
Despite that, no matter how good this Celtics crew may look, the knock on them will be the same until they change it: They need an upgrade in the frontcourt.
Theis has been about as good as the Celtics could have hoped for from him, but as of now he can only reasonably be counted on for 20-25 minutes at most. The Celtics have done a great job covering Kanter’s holes, but is that going to hold up in the postseason? Robert Williams III has made substantial progress, but the young mistakes he makes demonstrate that he’s still a year or two away.
Boston has been better than what many thought they would be, but they’d rest easy knowing they had another dependable option in their frontcourt.
Where do they get one though? They don’t have any expendable contracts to give up in a deal. They’ve made it clear that neither Hayward nor Smart are going anywhere, and for good reason. The only other big contract they have on the books is Kemba Walker, and they’re definitely not trading him.
Since Theis and Kanter get paid $5 million each, it’s hard to combine them for an upgrade because the hypothetical upgrade they would need would cost more than that. Since those two are Boston’s most proven bigs, it’d be hard to see them getting rid of both. Their only option might be the buyout market in February, which is a risky game to play.
As good as Boston has been, they haven’t squelched the fears surrounding their frontcourt issues. It only makes you wonder what this team would look like if they still had Al Horford.
They may not be a good team right now, and probably won’t be a good team for a couple of years, but how can you not like this young Memphis Grizzlies team?
They’ve hit two consecutive bulls-eyes with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They’ve got some good complementary veterans in Jonas Valanciunas and Jae Crowder as well as good complementary young guys like Brandon Clarke and Dillion Brooks.
It might be weird to say this, but even though they are one of the worst teams in the league, they’re ahead of schedule. The pieces are in place. They are forming a good culture. They probably will get another high lottery pick depending on what record they finish with. It’s a far cry from the Grit-n-Grind era, but the promise the young Grizzlies possess is undeniable.
There’s only one elephant in the room – Andre Iguodala. He’s been an issue that they’ve been avoiding ever since they acquired a first-round pick by adding his “services.” The word “issue” should be taken with a huge grain of salt because it’s not really causing any disruption. Iguodala wants to play for a winner, and Memphis wants to get something good for him.
It makes all the sense in the world. Neither side owes the other anything. Iguodala shouldn’t be spending what’s left of his career on a team that just pressed the reset button. Memphis shouldn’t let a guy with his skillset go if he can be had for something. Even at almost 36, Iggy is still a valuable player.
Besides the fact that no one is going to offer a first-round pick for a role player in his mid-30’s on an expiring deal, the biggest issue for the Grizzlies is that hardly any team vying for his services has an expendable matching contract to trade for Andre and his $17+ million contract.
Most teams who have expendable deals in the NBA are ones that don’t have any use for Andre because they’re not going anywhere. Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit are all teams that have guys on overpaid deals that are worth giving up, but the likelihood that they go for a guy like him with the place they are at now isn’t likely.
Teams like the Clippers, Blazers or HEAT could certainly put themselves in the bidding, but that would require sacrificing guys who are thriving in their rotation, like Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless, or Kent Bazemore.
The one option that makes sense is Dallas. They have a player currently out of their rotation that is being paid enough to be used to get Andre – Courtney Lee. They definitely need some help along the wing, and Iguodala would bring championship experience to a team that has exceeded all reasonable expectations.
What Dallas might do is try to see if they can get a better overall player since the team has both Lee’s and Tim Hardaway Jr’s contracts that can be used to acquire a star. They don’t have a lot of assets, but that may be worth looking into first before looking at Iguodala.
Releasing Iguodala would be Memphis’ last resort, which they don’t want to do, but finding an acceptable trade partner is going to be difficult especially if they want to get something back for him. The longer they wait, the lesser the value.
Summer League Standouts Faring Well
Jordan Hicks takes a look back at some of the most notable All-Summer League Team players and discusses the contributions they’ve made up to this point in the NBA season.
The NBA season is in full swing and players are seeing their impact being felt throughout the league. Veterans continue to lead their respective franchises, and role players continue doing what they can to push the scales in their team’s favor.
While the more tenured professionals capture the bulk of the headlines, the first and second-year players often go unnoticed. There’s the occasional breakout star here and there, but for the most part, the young guys do what they can to find time on the court and help their club in any meaningful way.
Every summer, the NBA hosts the now-famous tournament in Nevada, the Las Vegas Summer League, where the stage is open for up-and-coming players to make their first mark in the NBA. Year after year, some newcomers supply the NBA loyalists with enough highlights to keep them happy until mid-October.
At the close of the tournament, a handful of players will make the All-Summer League Team – similar to an All-NBA Team for the regular season. Let’s take a look at how a handful of the All-Summer League Team members have fared this season and what their potential outlook looks like moving forward.
Brandon Clarke — First Team
The former college All-American out of Gonzaga University had quite the impact in his Summer League debut. Not only did he earn first-team All-Summer League honors, but he also took home the Summer League MVP and Tournament MVP, too. He was a statistical monster and a clear reason why the Memphis Grizzlies took home the coveted — to some at least — Summer League Championship trophy.
Clarke currently finds himself in a sixth man-style role. He’s sixth in the team in minutes per game and is doing plenty in that span. He’s averaging 11.8 points on 63 percent from the field and a more impressive 45.5 percent from three. He’s also bringing in 5.9 boards and just under a block [er game. His effective field goal percentage of 66.4 percent is currently good for fifth-best in the entire NBA.
In per 36 minutes, that would be 20.1 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on average. He’s not getting starter minutes just yet, but it’s more than safe to say that the Memphis Grizzlies are receiving incredible value out of their 21st overall pick.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker — First Team
Selected with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Alexander-Walker contributed in a big way during the Summer League in Las Vegas. His athleticism is clearly a strong suit but his tenacity on the court is what helps him get minutes.
He’s playing a tad over 14 minutes per game for the New Orleans Pelicans thus far, netting 6.5 points and 2.1 assists on average. New Orleans’ roster is flooded with talented guards, so it’s no surprise Alexander-Walker isn’t getting more minutes, but he seems to be doing an admirable job with the minutes Alvin Gentry gives him.
In a loss to Miami a few weeks back, Alexander-Walker went 6-of-9 from three and finished with 27 points. He followed that performance with 19 points and 4 assists in a win against the Golden State Warriors. His minutes have been sporadic so far, but he’s contributed when given a chance. As the season goes on, look for Alexander-Walker to find more time in Gentry’s lineups.
Kendrick Nunn — First Team
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all the young players this season, Nunn has proven to be quite a threat on the offensive side of the court. He’s averaging 15.3 points per game, good for third on the talented Miami HEAT roster. He led the team with 22.4 points per game in October and was averaging 16.9 points through the first 10 games, but he’s cooled a bit.
For a team that was already planning on starting the season strong, the fact Nunn has managed to carve out 29.4 minutes per night is a testament to his nightly contributions. He has taken the confidence he earned from his Summer League accolades and is supplying the HEAT with stellar play on a nightly basis. There’s a chance his scoring will continue to die down a bit, but he’s already proven worthy of his roster spot in such a short amount of time.
Rui Hachimura — Second Team
The Washington Wizards are currently playing the fastest pace in the NBA and oddly enough have the fourth-best offense to date, too. Hachimura is a key reason for this.
He’s averaging 13.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 50.4 percent. He’s also pulling down 5.6 boards and dishing out 1.7 assists per game. His season-high is 30 points on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s scored in double-figures on 12 out of 19 games this season.
Hachimura’s long frame, coupled with his elite athleticism, allows him to get to the rim and create opportunities for himself as well as for his teammates. He’s still figuring the game out — his flaws on defense are easy to spot — but he has the ability to develop into a great basketball player.
Other recipients of Summer League honors include second-year players Mitchell Robinson, Lonnie Walker IV, Anfernee Simons and third-year player Jarrett Allen. Each of these guys has been producing for their respective teams in big ways.
The Las Vegas Summer League can sometimes be an interesting topic. Each year, second-year guys may or may not return to their Summer League squads and new faces abound. But if there’s anything that recent history has shown us, it’s that cream will always rise to the top. The guys that notch the All-Summer League honors will usually contribute to their teams almost immediately.
Each of these guys mentioned — and even the ones not discussed — will continue to cement their presence in the NBA and may very well become the regular season All-Stars of the future. It’s hard to decipher a player’s value based solely on box score statistics, but when one first enters the league, it’s never a bad thing to see the box score go up. For the young guys, it’s all about finding comfort and learning in which ways they can contribute best. Some may end up being the scorer, while others will develop into a defensive savant or playmaking maestro.
Whatever the future holds, remember the names above. They all have a solid chance of being the face of a franchise someday.