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.
Wendell Carter Jr. — The Future at the Five
Duke’s Wendell Carter could be the future of the center position in the NBA, writes Shane Rhodes.
The future of the NBA center resides in the 2018 NBA Draft. Only it may not be who you think.
The incoming class has more than a few standouts bigs: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba and others all have flashed dominance throughout their time at school. Ayton has the body to thrive in the NBA, Bagley is an uber-athlete who is constantly working and Bamba has the skills to be an elite defender at the next level.
However, as versatility grows in prominence and importance throughout the modern NBA, there may be no one more prepared than Wendell Carter Jr.
While he hasn’t seen the same hype that envelops the aforementioned trio, Carter, standing at 6-foot-10, has the tools to be one of the next great NBA big men. By virtue of playing with Bagley, Carter’s stat line — 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and two assists — doesn’t exactly jump off the page. However, while some excelled in one specific area, Carter did a little bit of everything during his lone season at Duke.
“I knew what I could do, I knew how I could affect the game without necessarily scoring the ball,” Carter told Basketball Insiders. “So I did those things. I did those things exceptionally and I just found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”
Carter, with his combination of size and high basketball IQ, has what it takes to be a multifaceted threat on the offensive side of the ball. Not only can he post or face up on the block and back down his opponents, but Carter has soft hands, can finish near the basket with both his left and right with finesse and has a multitude of moves he can turn to should he find trouble. He is also smart enough to recognize and know where he should be on the floor and when, whether he be cutting to the basket, setting the screen for another ball handler, or otherwise.
An exceptional shooter for his size, Carter posted an effective field goal percentage of 59.1 percent while netting 41.3 percent of his shots from three and 73.8 percent from the free throw line. And while he wasn’t given many opportunities to show it, Carter can be a force in the pick-and-roll as well, both as a pick-and-pop shooter or as a big man rolling to the basket.
In a non-scoring capacity, Carter is a capable passer as well. His high IQ allows for quick reads when he has the ball and, more often than not, he makes the right pass accurately and on time. While he averaged just two assists during the season, his passing ability will be a more than helpful at the next level and, with higher skilled shooters, Carter could net a few assists every game. Carter did well boxing out his man and going for the rebound as well. He averaged 2.9 offensive rebounds per game 13.5 total rebounds per 40 minutes.
Again, because of Bagley and other talented scorers, Carter took on more of a secondary role offensively. He believes, however, that it was a boon for his NBA prospects and prepared him for the next level.
“I think it did wonders for me,” Carter said. “I think it showed that I’m able to play with good players and still maintain my own.”
Defensively, Carter provides switchability as well as versatility at the next level. Playing either the power forward or center positions, he has both the size to bang down low with the bigs as well as the quickness to keep up and defend when switched on to smaller guards.
With a wingspan stretching 7 feet 4.5 inches, Carter has the length to protect the rim but is light enough on his feet to close out on and contest shooters around the perimeter. He rotates well and will rarely give up on plays. He will continuously fight for position if players attack him in the post. His hands are always active as well, with good timing on both blocks and steals. Across 37 games with the Blue Devils, Carter posted a defensive rating of 92.8.
While he is not a prospect without faults, Carter is more prepared than most for the NBA. With some seasoning at the next level, he could be a force to go up against as a player who can attack you, both offensively and defensively, from multiple different angles.
Carter has already met with multiple teams, both in and outside the lottery, including the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Regardless of where he lands, however, Carter knows he’ll be ready.
“You’re not just playing the game, you’re playing for a business,” Carter said. “And I’m ready for it.”
NBA Daily: With No Regrets, Hamidou Diallo Is Primed For Next Step
Hamidou Diallo spoke at the NBA Draft Combine about his decision to return to school, what he learned and the advice he’s given to his teammates.
When potential first-rounders return to collegiate basketball, it’s typically about raising their stock. Every year, somebody goes back to school and, more often than not, that player goes higher in the draft the following year. It’s a nice story, sure, but it doesn’t always end up that way. Not everybody goes back to school and dominates. Not everybody goes from a fringe first-rounder to a no-brainer lottery pick.
In some instances — even despite receiving real, tangible on-court experience — they fall even lower.
For Hamidou Diallo, that’s exactly what happened — still, he’s not sweating it at all.
“Everybody’s different — let me just start off by saying that,” Diallo said at the NBA Draft Combine last week. “Everybody’s a different player, everybody has different needs. Everybody has a different family base. Everybody’s put in different situations. I’m just happy I was put in a situation I could make either or decision — go back to school or come out.
“I feel like I made the right decision and if I had to do it again, I’m doing the same thing — I’m going back to school and playing a year at Kentucky and trying to make it work.”
Coming out of high school, Diallo was ranked as the No. 11 prospect back in the class of 2017, a five-star athlete sought after by not just Kentucky, but many of Division-I’s annual royalty — Connecticut, Syracuse, Kansas, Arizona and Indiana — as well. During his senior season at Putnam Science Academy, Diallo averaged 19 points, six rebounds and three assists per game and his ability to play above the rim rightfully anointed him as a can’t-miss teenager.
Shortly after enrolling early at Kentucky in January, Diallo redshirted that spring semester in order to practice and lift with the Wildcats without sacrificing potential NBA stock or losing a year of eligibility. The plan was to learn the playbook, adjust to life at the collegiate level and prepare for the 2017-18 season. Of course, that decision did leave an interesting wrinkle in the mix. If he wanted to, Diallo could’ve gone pro without ever playing a game for Kentucky — and he almost did.
Diallo could only watch as De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo took Kentucky all the way to the Elite Eight — but that didn’t stop the high-flyer from joining the three future lottery picks at the NBA Draft Combine last spring. Among other impressive physical measurements, Diallo took down a combine-best 44.5-inch vertical leap and left many franchises wondering if the then-18-year-old could be an intriguing first-round option..
Just minutes before the pre-set midnight deadline for collegiate returners, Diallo took his name out of the draft pool. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Diallo didn’t receive a guarantee high enough to keep him in the draft — it still ultimately made sense to stick his original plan.
So, he went back to Kentucky.
Diallo would start all 37 games for the Wildcats this season, averaging 10 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. Admittedly, it was not the breakout year most had anticipated from Diallo, but he played an important role for a Kentucky squad that won 26 contests before reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed. But according to Diallo — now one year stronger, wiser and better prepared — his on-court action wasn’t the only big step he’s taken in this extensive process.
“I learned how to face adversity — I was put in points throughout the whole year where I had to face adversity, where I had to see what type of person I am,” Diallo said. “So I learned how to fight myself, and the biggest thing Coach Cal told me was how to fight myself. How to conquer yourself — that was the quote we heard a lot, each and every day.
“Conquer yourself — that’s one thing I learned how to do pretty well. When things aren’t going my way, I learned how to play through it and I learned how to play for the team — it was a great year for me.”
Still, presumably, Diallo will be drafted at a lower position than he would have a year ago — for better or for worse. In the grand scheme of things, Diallo looks like he has no regrets about trading a little money for a full season of collegiate basketball, gaining experiences and routines that will ideally shape a long, successful professional career. Currently, Diallo is projected all over the map — from No. 42 in Basketball Insiders’ 60-pick mock draft to No. 55 in NBADraft.net’s most recent edition.
Even with his draft fate soundly undecided at this time, Diallo still offered support for fellow prospective draftee Anfernee Simons, a 6-foot-3 guard that spent the year training at IMG Academy instead of in Division-I.
“100%, I support him, I’m all for him,” Diallo said. “Coming out, some guys are just not into college as much. Some guys want to go on to be a pro, it’s been his dream ever since he was young. He sees himself as one of the best players in the draft and for him to make the jump.
“I’m happy for him, maybe it becomes a trend, maybe it doesn’t — but for a guy to be chasing a dream, I can’t be nothing but happy for him.”
Diallo himself signed with an agent in April, which means he can’t return to Kentucky for another season — there’s no turning back now. Once again, Diallo measured well at the NBA Draft Combine, but he still declined to participate in the 5-on-5 portion, opting to leave some mystery in the tank ahead of his private workouts. Although Diallo could’ve certainly used the boost from a stellar scrimmage performance in Chicago, he’s always stuck to his plan — no reason to change his mind now.
Wherever Diallo ends up being selected in June, he’ll know that it’s just the next step in a particularly unusual road to the NBA. And whoever drafts Diallo will gain a hyper-athletic 19-year-old with all the physical tools to become a tenacious defender and a talented scorer. Detractors may point to his below average rate from three-point range last season (33.8 percent), but he also notched plenty of impressive individual outings along the way — like his 22-point, eight-rebound, one-steal and two-block effort in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
For those that continue to sleep on Diallo, he’ll be as ready as ever to prove them wrong for the indefinite future — now, he just needs his chance. But when Diallo was asked about any advice he had imparted on P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, two of Kentucky’s water-testing youngsters, he offered up something that’s clearly driven him since he went back to school.
“For P.J. and Jarred, I went through the process last year, I mean, just make the right decision for you and your family,” Diallo said. “Nobody can tell you what’s right, you’re going to be the one that’s gonna have to live it. So, if you feel like it’s right for you to leave, then so be it. If you feel like it’s right for you to go back to school, then go back to school.
“But don’t let anyone dictate that decision for you, just have you and your family sit down and make the right decision.”
At long last, that career-changing decision is about to finally pay off for Hamidou Diallo.
NBA Daily: Troy Brown Poised To Bring Versatility To The Next Level
Coming into the NBA Draft with just one season of experience at the collegiate level, Troy Brown feels that his wide range of skills makes him a player who has a lot to offer.
Coming into the NBA Draft with just one season of experience at the collegiate level, Troy Brown feels that his wide range of skills makes him a player who has a lot to offer.
Originally recruited as a point guard by Dana Altman at the University of Oregon, the 19-year-old naturally fell into the wing position as his body matured, but he wasn’t your average one trick pony.
“It wasn’t really an option,” Brown said of the transition at the Draft Combine in Chicago. “It was more so because I grew, just a lot of size and stuff like that and playing with a lot of smaller guards. It hasn’t really been a problem for me.”
In his freshman year with the Ducks, Brown filled the stat sheet. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in over 31 minutes per game and finished third in the Pac-12 with 55 total steals.
Among his class across the NCAA, Brown was one of four players to put forth those averages in scoring, crashing the boards and dishing out passes. If you can’t tell, there’s more than one strong suit in his game and he feels the same way.
“I would just say being able to rebound at my size,” Brown said of what he best brings to the floor. “I feel like being able to push it and not having to kick it up to a guard. Being able to create fast breaks for my teammates and stuff like that and get guys open really helps a lot.”
Brown measured in close to 6-foot-7 and 208 pounds on the dot with over a 6-foot-10 wingspan, which ideally will make slot him as a three at the professional ranks. He’s a solid defender as well, though he’ll definitely need to put on more weight to match up with the bigger wings in the league.
That being said, he is absolutely capable of playing point forward and already has modeled his game after a mix of different guys in the NBA, including veterans and rookies who impact their teams on a nightly basis.
“I definitely grew up and watched Penny Hardaway a lot,” Brown said. “Ben Simmons is a really big guard—triple-double type of player, that’s how I feel like I am.
“Even the role players like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston. Just big guards. Jayson Tatum, even though he played at the wing a little more, just a great mid-range game and post game.”
Most of those talents he mentioned have the all-around game, including a reliable perimeter presence. That’s where the biggest knock on him comes into play.
On over three attempts per game beyond the arc, Brown shot just a hair over 29 percent from three. As the game has become more and more driven on stretching the floor, that won’t cut it in the constantly evolving pro environment.
The numbers aren’t in his favor, but Brown believes his performance wasn’t indicative of his true ability with his jumper.
“I never felt like I couldn’t shoot before and I still don’t feel that way now,” Brown said. “I’m still very confident in my jump shot. Right now it’s just getting adjusted to the new three-point line, the NBA line. Once I get that locked down, I feel like I’ll be really good.”
If you’re familiar with the Oregon basketball tree and the league itself, there were a number of players who made the most of their opportunities this past year.
Jordan Bell is a fast up-and-coming forward for the Golden State Warriors. The Memphis Grizzlies got a gem in Dillon Brooks. Even Tyler Dorsey got a shot at significant minutes late in the season with the Atlanta Hawks.
Brown didn’t play with any of them, but admits he’s had conversations with Brooks about the entire pre-draft process, receiving “words of wisdom” whenever they’ve gotten the chance to talk.
As for his own expectations for year one in the NBA, Brown agreed that those types of roles are a good starting point and hopes to follow that path before bigger things come his way.
“Of course I want to be the best I can,” Brown said when asked about his goals. “I want to be the best player, but coming in as a rookie you have to really stick with yourself and know what teams you’re coming in and playing with and your role on the team.
“I feel like the more you perfect your role, the more minutes you’ll have. By doing that, I feel like I can climb up the board and become a starter.”
In order to do that, he’ll have to improve his consistency from game-to-game.
But make no mistake about it—Brown has the tools, the work ethic and the personality to become a potential first-round steal outside of the lottery.
And with a toolbox as deep as his, there’s no reason to believe Brown won’t achieve his aspirations.
“Ultimately I feel like because of my versatility on the court, I can do a lot of different things,” Brown said.
“It’s just playing with the ball in my hands I feel a lot more comfortable making plays for my teammates and making the right plays and playing the right way.”