While some organizations are blessed with the on-court talent and executive personnel to lay out a pretty reasonable road map for the next half a decade, and other organizations have already admitted failure and have begun the purging and rebuilding process in earnest, there are some teams that really don’t fit into either extreme.
For the following two organizations, life in the NBA has been challenging this season, but the players on the roster are just promising enough to make the front office wonder if it would be wiser to hold onto the core players or just blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.
It’s a heck of a conundrum, and one that is likely to prove more challenging for Cleveland and New York than most of the other teams in the league.
Anybody who watched Kyrie Irving dominate the All-Star game knows this kid is for real. Statistically, he’s as overpowering and well-rounded as any point guard in the league, and while his leadership skills may not be fully developed just yet, it’s important to remember that he turns 22 years old this month. The kid’s got room to grow, and whatever else the Cavaliers do, they know they’ve got to put something around him to make him happy enough to want to stay in Ohio long-term.
Beyond the certainty of Irving, however, it’s a mess in Cleveland. Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng are about to hit unrestricted free agency, and the young guys with any sort of promise—Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett—are anything but sure things. The Cavs would love for those guys to work out, and the way they’re all priced right now there’s little reason not to give it another year or two.
By that time, though, Irving will be staring restricted free agency in this face. Cleveland would match any max offer, obviously, but what if Irving was unhappy enough to take the one-year tender and go unrestricted a year later? There is a sense of urgency in Cleveland, but unfortunately the trade value of their best young players is about as low as it could be. Even if they wanted to cash those guys out, what return could they get right now that outweighs those players’ potential?
Ideally, they’d strip down to Kyrie and rebuild around him, but they don’t have the time or the assets for that. So they’re forced to stay the course and hope everything comes up roses.
New York Knicks
Financially, the Knicks don’t really have a whole lot of freedom this summer, with Tyson Chandler making $14.6 million and Amar’e Soudemire and Andrea Bargnani all but certain to decline exercising their early termination options, which are worth $23.1 million and $11.5 million, respectively. J.R. Smith is on the books for $6 million next season, too, so it’s pretty obvious that the Knicks’ payroll is not pretty.
Those guys are all essentially sure things for next year, but star forward Carmelo Anthony is a bit of a different story. Not a lot of players would terminate a $23.3 million contract, but Anthony has one last shot at a massive multi-year deal, and cutting that last year loose would allow him to get the most of that last contract. New York is probably going to do everything they can to hold onto him, but should they?
Knicks could have had a reasonable shot at a top-five draft pick in this lauded 2014 draft (it was traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal), and while next year wouldn’t be particularly pretty, by the summer of 2015 they’d have tons of cap space, a couple of lottery picks, and a rebuilding plan that actually would made a lot of sense.
Now the Knicks have to decide if trying to keep Anthony is better than betting on the future.
With Stoudemire, Anthony, Chandler, and Bargnani off the books, New York would have no more than $17 million in committed salaries (not including future rookies) owed for 2015-2016. With a couple of decent youngsters and all that cap space, the Knicks could rebuild the right way. Meanwhile, somebody else could pay Anthony $25 million a season and discover the answer to the question of whether or not he’s good enough to lead a team to a championship.
It’s not easy making the decision to blow up a team that appears to have some really talented veteran players on the roster, but sometimes it’s a decision that just has to be made. What’s interesting is that the team that probably would love to rebuild, can’t, and the team that doesn’t look like they will, probably should.
However this all pans out, both teams have changes to make. Full rebuilds are possible, but neither will come back next season identical to this season. In other words, neither is truly standing pat.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN