The 2011 NBA lockout was universally hailed as an unmitigated win for the owners. They forced significant concessions from the players, reducing their percentage of Basketball Related Income from 57 percent to 50 while winning on so-called system issues as well. The players received almost no concessions in exchange. The system changes the owners fought so hard for were theoretically designed to level the competitive playing field between big and small markets while allowing teams to keep their superstars.
The only certain thing in such complex negotiations is that some unintended consequences will arise. Even the best of forecasters with carte blanche to design a system may struggle to anticipate the effects or regulation. When such regulations are the result of compromise or negotiation, they grow even more unpredictable. As a result, the 2011 CBA has resulted in some trends that may well have surprised its framers.
Small Market Teams are Less Competitive
The previous CBA featured a luxury tax* in which teams were taxed at $1 for each dollar of salary above the tax threshold. One of the key “system issues” the owners fought for in the name of competitive balance was to increase the luxury tax to far more punitive levels. Teams now must pay a minimum of $1.50 per $1 in salary over the tax, and that increases with each $5 million dollar increment, to $1.75, $2.50, $3.25, and then an additional 50 cents per $5 million after that. Teams that have paid the luxury tax four of the past five seasons add another $1 for each tax bracket, the dreaded “repeater tax.”
*Simply called the “tax” in the actual CBA.
The ostensible purpose of the more punitive tax was to preserve competitive balance by preventing large market teams from spending so much more than small market teams. However, the consequence of the more punitive luxury tax has instead been to widen the gulf between small and large markets, because under the heightened tax only the large market teams can afford to do so. Even worse, the inability or unwillingness to pay the tax has already hurt the title chances for some small market teams.
It was the case under the previous regime that the Knicks paid far more in luxury tax than any other team, with the Lakers also in the top four. But more important than that was the fact that nearly every team paid the tax at one point or another when they thought it was necessary to contend. Taxpayers included small market teams such as the Jermaine O’Neal-era Pacers, the Dwight Howard-era Magic, the early 2000s Kings, the Jazz in 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Timberwolves in their conference finals season of 2003-04, the Cavaliers in the later LeBron James era, the Spurs at various times, and many others. Only the Bobcats, Bulls, Warriors, Hornets, Sonics/Thunder, and Wizards did not pay the tax under the previous CBAs.
Why such an egalitarian distribution of taxpayers? Teams could actually afford to do it when contention warranted, or at least looked like it might. Meanwhile, under the previous two CBAs, the only contender that really hurt its chance at a title though active salary-reducing moves was Phoenix.*
*The Nash/Stoudemire era was the best of times and the blurst of times for Suns fans. Some of the moves: Did not match Atlanta’s five-year, $67 million offer for Joe Johnson (though they did get Boris Diaw and two first-rounders for him); traded Rajon Rondo to Boston to get Brian Grant off the books; traded two first-rounders, one of which became Serge Ibaka, to Seattle to get Kurt Thomas off the books; sold Rudy Fernandez to Portland for $3 million.
Contrast that distribution to the last two years. The only teams that have or will pay the tax so far are the Celtics, Nets, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, HEAT and Knicks. Aside from the mid-market HEAT, who have a unique mindset with Mickey Arison’s ownership and their three superstars, all of these teams are in big markets.
But even more notable than who has paid the tax is who has not. Three teams that have made the conference finals in the last two seasons have made blatant tax-avoiding moves.* While the Grizzlies’ trades of Marreese Speights and Rudy Gay a year ago were not fatal to contention, the Thunder and Pacers have really hurt their title chances. The Thunder traded James Harden to Houston for players who have not even begun to match his production. Meanwhile, the Pacers dumped longer-term salary by trading Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-rounder for Luis Scola to offset Paul George’s maximum extension and the coming extension for Lance Stephenson. Those trades may be the two worst of the last two seasons. Both teams have also resisted using their mid-level exceptions, or using other trade assets to add talent despite clear areas for potential upgrades.
*It is an open question whether small-market teams cannot afford to pay the luxury tax, or simply are using the more punitive tax as an excuse. Either way, the fact remains they are not doing it so far.
In past years, those teams might have been willing to suck it up and pay the tax to maximize their title odds. Now, only the large-market teams do that.*
*Even the HEAT decided to save cash through the amnesty of Mike Miller, a player who was very important in spots to their two title runs and absolutely would have helped this year.
Superstars Are More Likely to Leave as Free Agents
Another big priority for the owners was to help teams keep superstars like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony rather than allowing them to so easily leave for greener pastures. Class of 2003 draftees James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade all negotiated Early Termination Options (ETOs) into their rookie contract extensions. Owners like the Cavaliers’ Dan Gilbert apparently believed that seven years of team control for rookies was insufficient, so the owners negotiated for a number of key changes:
- Maximum rookie extensions now must be at least four years, exclusive of any option years.
- ETOs are only allowed on five-year contracts, and can only lop one year off the contract.
- The amount a player could receive in a sign-and-trade was limited to what he could receive as a straight free agent signing with another team, namely four-year contracts with 4.5 percent annual raises rather than five-year contracts with 7.5 percent annual raises if he stayed home.
- To avoid what happened with Carmelo Anthony’s 2011 trade from the Nuggets to the Knicks, contract extensions within six months of a trade are limited to three seasons (including the current season) with 4.5 percent annual raises rather than four seasons with 7.5 percent annual raises.
Unfortunately for the owners, they also decided to limit contract extensions in an effort to save them from themselves. Under the previous CBA, teams gave out ludicrous eight-figure per year extensions to veteran players like Richard Hamilton and Stephen Jackson long before they were due to become free agents. In an effort to curb this, the new CBA limited any extensions for veterans (i.e., players not coming off rookie contracts) to four years, including the current season. Because the “current season” in this instance continues until June 30, the longest extension that can ever be given before a player becomes a free agent is three years.
As a result, it makes almost no sense for any decent player who is not coming off a rookie contract to extend before becoming a free agent, because the player can receive a five-year new contract from his current team.* Even if he signs elsewhere, he can still get a four-year contract with another team rather than only three years had he extended.
*A player who has been in the league eight years, including the last four with the same team, can also get a no-trade clause if he becomes a free agent and re-signs a new contract with his prior team. This is not possible with an extension.
Thus, much of the work the owners did to deter free agents from leaving was undone by taking the best method for retaining players–preventing them from becoming free agents in the first place–out of the owners’ hands. To date, only Andrew Bogut and Kobe Bryant (who was encouraged by the Over-36 rule) have signed veteran extensions in the nearly three seasons of the new CBA.
Consider the case of Dwight Howard. Had the Lakers been able to offer him a four- or even three-year maximum extension upon his arrival in Los Angeles in the summer of 2012, he very well might have taken it, especially considering he was recovering from major back surgery at the time and the Lakers appeared to have assembled a superteam. Instead, due to the limitations on extensions he was essentially forced to wait and become a free agent, the Lakers imploded, and Howard left for Houston.
Mediocre Teams Cannot Get Anything For Their Stars
Now, consider the fact that shorter contract lengths and extensions mean that all players, including superstars, are going to be free agents more often. Moreover, players are generally closer to becoming free agents than they were under the previous regime. Unfortunately for mediocre teams with superstars, this means both that they are more likely to lose such players in free agency and that they cannot get as much for them in trade even if they are sure to leave.
Consider the case of the Timberwolves and Kevin Love, who can be a free agent in the summer of 2015. Even if they come to the realization that he is likely to leave, Minnesota cannot expect much return because a potential trade partner has no guarantee he will stay either. It still makes sense for Love to become a free agent rather than extend, and only the best teams can be confident that a player like Love would choose to re-sign. Even that can go awry, as we saw with the Lakers and Howard. In past years, a small-market team with a ton of assets like the Jazz could offer picks or young players to the Wolves after working out an extension with a player like Love. Now, they would be fools to trade much for him knowing he will be a free agent.
Trading Season is Much More Boring
All of the above factors combine to make trades a lot less interesting than in past years. In addition to the disincentive to trade or trade for superstars, the new CBA restricts cash payments in trades to only $3 million per season rather than $3 million per transaction, while the punitive luxury tax makes cost-controlled first-round picks too valuable to trade for a mere rental of a free agent-to-be. This year’s trade deadline proved this to be the case. Not a single first-round pick changed hands, and no stars did either.
NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles
Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.
Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.
That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.
Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.
All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.
Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.
The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”
The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.
Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.
Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.
Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.
After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.
By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.
Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.
“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”
Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.
For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.
While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.
“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”
Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.
From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.
With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.
Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench
David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.
The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.
He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.
“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”
Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.
The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.
“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”
For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.
In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.
“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”
In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.
“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”
At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).
It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.