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Six Best Deals In The Southeast Division

Spencer Davies looks at notable offseason moves from the Southeast Division.

Spencer Davies

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We continue our division-by-division look at the best moves each team has made here on Basketball Insiders by taking a glance at the third and final group of five in the Eastern Conference.

One blockbuster trade, two returning faces and a couple of new veterans highlighted the summer of the Southeast.

Here are six moves that should impact the direction of the division.

John Wall signs extension with Washington Wizards

While one of the East’s top point guards is unsatisfied with his situation and asking for a trade, another just got paid a lot of money to stay with the team that drafted him.

One week ago, it was reported that Wall agreed to a four-year, $170 million supermax contract extension to remain with the Wizards as the face of their franchise. The deal includes a player option for the final season (2023-24) and a 15-percent trade kicker. Washington confirmed the agreement Wednesday.

By locking up Wall, the Wizards have kept together a dynamic backcourt between himself and Bradley Beal for years to come. As you’ll read later in this piece, they were able to bring back another key piece of their young core for the long haul as well.

Aside from a head coaching change last summer, Washington has been one of the most stable organizations in basketball. Teams around them have made dramatic changes to bolster their respective rosters, but the Wizards have gone with the approach of sticking with their guys that have been with them from the start.

Entering his eighth year as a pro at the young age of 26, Wall hasn’t even come close to reaching his ceiling yet. He’s about to hit his prime. For the first time in his career, the All-Star point guard averaged over 20 points and more than 10 assists per game last season. He did this on a career-high 54.1 true shooting percentage to boot. If Wall can get a little more consistent from deep, it’ll be very difficult to exploit a weakness in his game.

Following years of mediocrity after the Gilbert Arenas era, Wall was the one to start the renaissance in D.C. It’s only right that he gets to continue that with a team that is certain to be a contender this upcoming season and beyond it.

Charlotte Hornets acquire Dwight Howard and No. 31 overall draft pick from Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and No. 41 overall draft pick.

Talk about a trade that was a complete heist for Rich Cho.

Knowing that the Hawks were going into a rebuilding stage with the loss of Paul Millsap, Charlotte jumped in and pounced on the first opportunity they saw to land Howard.

It was a steal for the Hornets, who will be the big man’s fifth team in his career, but the trade made sense even if Atlanta’s return wasn’t the best. With a slew of promising young talent about to gain meaningful experience in their development, Howard was no longer a fit. The homecoming only lasted one year, but this next opportunity should excite him.

Joining forces with Kemba Walker and Nic Batum might take some getting used to, however, the transition might not be so hard. Steve Clifford, who previously worked with Howard for six years when he was an assistant with both the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, will reunite with him as the head coach of the Hornets.

Howard doesn’t have the same legs as he did when the two were last together, but he’s a perfect fit for the style Clifford wants to play. Charlotte is a team that hangs its hat on hard-nosed defense and toughness, and the 31-year-old veteran can bring that. He still crashes the glass with aggressiveness (ranked fifth with 12.7 rebounds per game) and can finish inside like he always has.

The Hornets have been looking for a true center for a while now. It’s understandable to be a little skeptical considering Howard’s bounced from team-to-team over the last few years, but something about this situation seems too ideal for it to flop.

Washington Wizards match Brooklyn Nets offer sheet and re-sign Otto Porter

The Georgetown alum stays true to his city’s roots and earns a huge payday in the process. $106 million over four years to be exact.

Just like Wall and Beal, the 24-year-old Porter is going to be a part of something special in D.C. For the first time since the mid-2000s, the Wizards have an established trio with a ton of talent.

Last season was a breakout one for Porter, speaking from every aspect of his game. The most eye-opening improvement was his confidence shooting the basketball from three, which leaped from 36.7 to 43 percent in just one year. His assertiveness and discipline on both ends of the floor were vital to Washington’s success during the season and in the playoffs.

In his fourth year in the league, Porter placed fourth among those playing over 30 minutes per game in true shooting percentage (62.8). That ranks above superstars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden.

Furthermore, Porter was the best catch shooter in the NBA with a 47 percent clip on five or more attempts per game. He also had the fourth-highest catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (44.4) amid players taking four or more shots from the perimeter per contest.

If this past season is any indication of where Porter can go in his career, the Wizards will have themselves a special player to pair with a star-studded backcourt, and it won’t be long before they’re the elite of the East.

Orlando Magic sign Jonathon Simmons

Based on value alone, this was an excellent addition made by the new front office duo of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond.

Simmons is one of the up-and-coming two-way wings in this league, regardless of being older than most players with as little experience as he has.

His athleticism is off the charts and he’s proven he can be a solid scorer with a bulldog mentality. When Kawhi Leonard went down for the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, Simmons showed multiple times that he wasn’t afraid of the spotlight.

The championship DNA he’ll bring to Orlando for Frank Vogel will prove to be beneficial for a young Magic team searching for success. He’ll be a great mentor for Jonathan Isaac and will lead by example.

The chase-down blocks are fun to watch, but Simmons is a consistent energetic defender that will help on that side of the floor tremendously. He’ll give you some memorable highlight dunks to pair with Aaron Gordon’s flash as well.

Miami Heat re-sign James Johnson

A deal like this has been a long time coming for Johnson, who has matured immensely as a person and as a ball player.

In an expanded role under Erik Spoelstra, Johnson flourished as one of the toughest and most important members of the Heat. His veteran leadership and on-court contributions were one of the main reasons Miami didn’t throw in the white towel after an 11-30 start to the season.

After a career-year as an offensive threat, the 30-year-old’s defensive prowess has only gotten better as the years have gone on. Look for his success to continue.

Orlando Magic sign Marresse Speights

Similar to signing Simmons on the cheap, the Magic got Speights on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. As talented as he is as a scorer in bunches, the addition makes a ton of sense.

Speights has played a bench role for the majority of his career, but there’s no doubt how quickly he puts points on the board and gets those rebounds, too. That’s without mentioning his willingness to shoot the three nowadays.

There are three franchises that can realistically compete for first place in the Southeast division. The entire trio may even find a way to make the playoffs in a declining Eastern Conference.

There’s a lot of potential in this division and it’s only going to get better from here.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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