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The Ugly: What Has Gone Horribly Wrong Around The NBA

We continue our look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly around the league with today’s focus on the latter.

Jabari Davis

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We continue this week’s multi-part series that began with the ‘Good‘ and ‘Bad‘ teams thus far in the 2014-15 season with today’s focus on the downright ugly situations around the league. These are the teams that made additions or have chosen strategies that have yielded results ranging from flat-out bad in some cases to full-on catastrophes in others:

Philadelphia 76ers

Beyond the fact that Philadelphia is 0-17 on the year and in danger of breaking the 2009-10 (then) New Jersey Nets’ opening record of futility (0-18), you’d like to think we still live in a basketball-loving society that would understand why a team that has amassed just a 53-128 record over the last two years (and change) would be the clear-cut ugliest of ugly circumstances. Yes, we realize the stockpile of young talent they are putting together, but only have to look back as far as the 93-94 to 2003-04 Los Angeles Clippers for an example of why there are absolutely no guarantees of success when a team relies upon simply having a plethora of lottery picks.

That team boasted 12 lottery picks over the stretch, including two in 2002 (Chris Wilcox and Melvin Eli) and still never won more than 39 games in a single season throughout the decade. Not to completely dismiss the Sixers’ recent efforts, but at a certain point the loyal fans of the Sixers deserve to look forward to more than the NCAA tourney and draft night.

New York Knicks

Not that Knicks’ fans would ever be accused of  having unrealistic expectations, but there were some that at least anticipated a slightly smoother transition into the Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher era of basketball life in New York City. The reality is, it is simply going to take time for this new regime to not only get the right players and personnel in place, but to instill the basketball philosophies and mindset Jackson’s teams have each shared. Once that process is complete, the challenge will be to get Carmelo Anthony to not only embrace the direction, but actively champion the cause in a leadership role.

The trouble for New York is that with just their 2015 first round pick in tow over the next four seasons, Jackson and Co. will have to be creative in reshaping the roster into his vision. With only about $32 million committed in salaries for next season, the Knicks should have a ton of cap space to operate with as we move forward, but if the last  couple free agent classes (other than Anthony) taught us anything it is that today’s players aren’t always solely into taking the highest offer. Players want to see the plan or direction of the franchise these days, and in many cases would like to see both the talent they’ll be playing alongside as well as the coaching strategies they’ll be following. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers about banking on having the deepest pockets in July.

Detroit Pistons

Needless to say, when you are losing home games by double-digits to multiple teams on this list – you deserve to be on the list. The frontcourt trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith worked out about as well as many of us anticipated, and has resulted in Monroe actually playing as a reserve at this point. They may boast the most random roster of individualized talent in the league, but in fairness, we should expect it to take a bit of time for Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower to right the ship as well. Much of this damage was done under the previous administration, but the current braintrust is responsible for cleaning up the mess nonetheless.

Previously considered to not only be a player on the rise, but this organization’s “franchise player,” Andre Drummond followed up an inauspicious run with Team USA with his slowest start since his rookie campaign. Drummond is still rebounding (11.9 RPG) and blocking about as many shots (1.7 BPG), but has looked a bit lost and marginalized when asked to play with his back to the basket on offense. A career 59.4 percent shooter, Drummond is struggling to the tune of 44.3 percent from the field (46.6 from the free throw line) so far this season. Van Gundy has proven the ability to work with, mold and develop big men with raw talents in the past (see Dwight Howard), so there is still faith that true promise will come from just a bit more patience in Motown.

Charlotte Hornets

The tough start for Charlotte comes as a bit of a surprise following a successful run in 2013-14 and an offseason that was initially seen in a very positive light by most analysts and fans. Noah Vonleh’s rookie campaign has been slowed by a sports hernia, but the unavoidable concern has to be with the situation surrounding Lance Stephenson. Not only has the addition of Stephenson failed to live up to most of the preseason hype, but the 24-year-old shooting guard has gone from being pegged as someone that could potentially put them over the hump and permit them to challenge as a surprise team in the Eastern conference to seeing his playing time reduced and having his career placed into perspective by his own head coach. Steve Clifford was dead-on when he said we prematurely anointed Stephenson as a “star” after his last couple years in Indiana.

In fairness, we aren’t completely at fault, as we were merely captivated by the very same skill set and talent that led to the team signing Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million deal this past summer. Although some of his statistics are still impressive (team leading 7.7 RPG and 5.4 APG), Stephenson has looked completely lost on offense at times, and simply hasn’t been able to develop any type of rhythm or sync with his backcourt running mate Kemba Walker.

Stephenson shouldn’t shoulder the full blame for this team’s struggles, as they are also not living up to last season’s defensive standards as a unit. The 2013-14 Hornets (Bobcats) were actually one of the better defensive teams in the league as they were fourth-best in opponents’ PPG (97.1) and were ranked as the fifth-most efficient team defense as well. They are surrendering 101.1 PPG (20th) through 16 games so far, and don’t appear to be trending in the right direction, having given up 105 or more points in their last 7-9.

Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers’ fans are now faced with the ugly reality so many other fan bases have had to endure for years: the team isn’t talented enough to compete for a playoff spot, but isn’t quite horrific enough to guarantee a top pick in next June’s draft. Add to that the fact that their 2015 pick is only 1-5 protected (Phoenix Suns) and they’ve already lost 2014’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle for what will likely be the remainder of the season, and you may have a situation where the team could finally find rock bottom.

Likely by design, but this is a team that appears to be built to both entertain and compete on a fairly consistent basis, but not one that should be expected to win a ton of games. No one prefers to see Kobe Bryant’s illustrious career winding down with the team in full-rebuild mode around him, but the end of any great era is often far more painful than history will remember.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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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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