Based on Basketball Insiders’ ranking of the Atlantic Division last week, it’s not hard to see the 2017-18 favorites in clear sight already. Top-heavy in nature, it should be the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors pushing for some of the Eastern Conference’s highest postseason seeds once again.
However, thanks to some shrewd moves from the middle of the pack, the division is shaping up to be its best incarnation in years. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets could, unsurprisingly, find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff bubble for another season, but they’ve made some positive steps nonetheless.
With that in mind, here are the top trades and signings this summer from the Atlantic Division, starting with the crown jewel of free agency: Gordon Hayward.
Boston Celtics sign Gordon Hayward
After winning 53 games and securing the conference’s No. 1 seed, naturally, the only possible follow-up is to sign the best available free agent, right? Hayward’s four-year deal worth $128 million comes after averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, even earning his first-ever All-Star selection in a stacked field. Sure, the Celtics had to part with the long-time menacing defense of Avery Bradley in order to clear the necessary cap space, but Marcus Morris isn’t a bad consolation prize either.
Hayward’s emergence as a reliable scorer and an underrated defender should make life easier for both Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, sliding in seamlessly with the rest of Boston’s hard-nosed roster. There’s not much hard-hitting analysis to be had here as, for the second straight summer, the Celtics landed an elite free agent target. With Hayward in tow and the Cleveland Cavaliers now reeling from the recent Kyrie Irving reports, the Celtics continue to position the franchise supremely well.
Philadelphia 76ers sign J.J. Redick
Next on the list is a win-win deal in Philadelphia, as J.J. Redick trusted the process and signed a massive one-year deal worth $23 million. For both sides, it’s the perfect fit. With Redick, the 76ers will massively upgrade their three-point shooting, one of the potential-laden roster’s largest weaknesses. Last year, Robert Covington was the only rostered player to end the season with an average of two or more made three-pointers per game, and the team ranked 7th in attempts but 25th in percentage.
Best of all, both parties were smart enough to sign up for the trial version before committing too far down the road. That way, if the team doesn’t meet expectations or the raw core of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid develops quicker than expected, Redick and the 76ers can go their separate ways without any messiness. At the end of the day, Philadelphia added one of the league’s best three-point shooters and Redick got his richest payday yet, all without sacrificing another long-term contract down the road.
Brooklyn Nets acquire D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov from Los Angeles Lakers for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick
Just a few days before the NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets finally traded franchise stalwart Brook Lopez after years of endless rumors. Despite flourishing from three-point range and becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer, the 29-year-old was entering the final year of his contract. The return, however, has Brooklynites salivating for the future. In order to move the remaining three years and $49 million left on center Timofey Mozgov’s contract, the Los Angeles Lakers had to part with the promising D’Angelo Russell.
Russell averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists over 28.7 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Los Angeles, but, at long last, the Nets finally have their bright centerpiece to build around. Deemed as expendable after the front office arrival of Magic Johnson, the former No. 2 overall selection will get a fresh start and plenty of opportunities to mold this fast-paced Brooklyn side. For an in-flux franchise, it’s possible that Russell even makes a push for the All-Star team in a suddenly weakened conference.
Toronto Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka
Boom – status quo achieved. While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same. Lowry’s deal is worth three years and $100 million, but for Toronto, the three-time All-Star is worth every cent. While there were some initial worries about Lowry fleeing towards the opposite coast, the Raptors have done well to bring the majority of their 51-win squad back to the court. Lowry averaged a career-high in points in 2016-17, tallying 22.4 of them per contest to go along with seven assists.
Following Lowry was the re-signing of Ibaka (at three years and $65 million), the shot-blocking power forward that was acquired from the Orlando Magic last winter. Ibaka is a model of consistency and he’s averaged more than 12 points per game in every season since 2012-13, even pulling down exactly 6.8 rebounds for four straight years as well. All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.
Brooklyn Nets acquire DeMarre Carroll plus 2018 first- and second-rounders from Toronto Raptors for Justin Hamilton
While the aforementioned Russell is a great building block and the roster’s other prospects – Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Isaiah Whitehead – exhibit potential, the Nets still aren’t done paying for that ill-fated Celtics trade from 2013, believe it or not. Even after missing out on Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Fultz just last month, Brooklyn still owes one final unprotected pick in 2018. The Nets’ move for Carroll, most importantly, gives general manager Sean Marks two more assets in his ambitious rebuild attempt, but the eight-year veteran should prove useful in that young locker room as well.
Nets were more than happy to take on the final two years and $30 million left on Carroll’s contract with plenty of cap space to burn. The forward struggled in Toronto, but his ability to hit three-pointers – a skill that Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker don’t currently possess right now – should make him a valuable addition as a stretch four. Although this is technically a salary dump through and through, the move reunites Carroll with head coach Kenny Atkinson, a pairing that thrived together in Atlanta three years ago.
Brooklyn Nets acquire Allen Crabbe from Portland Trail Blazers for Andrew Nicholson
This deal isn’t even 24 hours old yet, but Marks’ wheeling-and-dealing this offseason suddenly has a few reconsidering Jeremy Lin’s bold playoff prediction for the Nets. While Crabbe’s contract is certainly expensive, the Brooklyn-based franchise has clearly been enamored with the shooting guard for quite some time. Of course, the Nets lined up to give Crabbe $75 million before the Portland Trail Blazers matched the massive offer sheet last July.
Crabbe’s averages aren’t exactly eye-popping, even with his recent major increase in role, but he shot 44.4 percent from three-point range in 2016-17 – the second-best mark in the NBA for a guard, only trailing Kyle Korver at 45 percent. Crabbe will be freed from the blinding spotlight behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and could end up as a starter in Atkinson’s fast-paced offense. The Nets had no use for Nicholson, who averaged just 3 points in 10 games after Brooklyn acquired him at last year’s trade deadline, and the 25-year-old Crabbe perfectly fits the franchise’s generous rebuilding plan.
NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.