The so-called 2014 Plan has taken its place alongside the phrase “basketball reasons” among bitter Chicago Bulls fans who decried the team’s failure to retain Omer Asik, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer in the summer of 2012. But a key reason for letting Asik walk to Houston was the massive near $15 million cap hit the Bulls would have taken for his salary in the upcoming 2014-15 season if they had matched the Rockets’ offer sheet. Time has proven the wisdom of letting Asik go, especially considering how the success of Joakim Noah playing big minutes would have continued to render him somewhat superfluous. With the possible amnesty or trade of Carlos Boozer this summer, the Bulls go into the offseason as major players in the free agent market. So what should they do with their newfound flexibility?
Where the Bulls are Now
Under the most likely scenario going forward, the Bulls should open the 2014-15 cap year on July 1 with about $69 million in salaries committed for 2014-15. If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million, that would leave them approximately $52.7 million in salary and cap holds, or approximately $10.3 million in cap room under the projected $63 million cap.*
*For the nerds, the analysis makes the following assumptions: 1. Joakim Noah’s and Taj Gibson’s cap numbers increase by $500,000 and $250,000, respectively, due to incentives reached or probably reached this year which are then included on next year’s cap as “likely” bonuses (scroll down). 2. Kirk Hinrich is renounced. 3. D.J. Augustin is renounced to reduce his small cap hold even further to the rookie minimum. If he’s re-signed, it will be through cap space or an exception anyway, as the Bulls do not have Bird rights for him. 4. Nikola Mirotic has a cap hold at the level of this year’s 23rd pick, unless he and the Bulls sign a letter saying he will not play in the NBA this year. If he does not actually sign a contract, the cap hold stays on the books until the parties sign such a letter or the first day of the regular season. 5. The 16th and 19th picks are retained and used, providing cap holds of 100 percent of the Rookie Scale amounts for those picks. Teams typically sign rookies to 120 percent of the Rookie Scale amount, but the Bulls could wait to do this until after other transactions were complete. Also, the Bulls have the non-guaranteed salaries of Lou Amundson, Mike James, and Ronnie Brewer that total approximately $4 million that could be used to facilitate a trade, after which they would be released by the acquiring team, but for simplicity they were not included.
Also key to the discussion is 2011 draftee Nikola Mirotic. We dealt with his situation extensively here, and I recommend reading that piece as a companion to this one.
How much would it take to get Mirotic at this point? Because Mirotic is limited to negotiating with the Bulls, they should be able to get him far more cheaply than on the open market. The best figures I have found on Mirotic’s current salary indicate he makes approximately $1.4 million per year, with a buyout of approximately $3.4 million. The Bulls can pay $600,000 of this buyout. It might then be realistic to sign Mirotic to a three-year contract starting at $3.5 million per year with the maximum allowable 4.5 percent annual raises. For this contract, his maximum 15 percent signing bonus of approximately $1.6 million, the maximum allowable salary advance of 25 percent of his $2.9 million base salary at signing and then another 25 percent on the earliest allowable date of October 1 would enable him to pay his buyout with Real Madrid assuming some modicum of flexibility from the Spanish club on the payment date. He would still keep about $1.5 million for 2014-15, followed by $3.1 million and $3.2 million the next two years. That would exceed his Real Madrid salary and allow him to move up the timeline on a second contract.* Moreover, he could likely deduct his buyout against income for tax purposes.
*Hopefully for Bulls fans, Real Madrid’s upset loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague Final would not leave Mirotic reluctant to leave Europe due to unfinished business there.
On the court, Mirotic’s shooting would be nearly unparalleled at the power forward position. He also brings excellent passing, the abilities to attack off the bounce on closeouts and post up smaller players.* His defense and rebounding will not be a strength, but he is tough and shouldn’t be any worse than, say, a younger Luis Scola in those facets. He is worth perhaps as much as $8 million a year on the open market, so securing his services for only $3.5 million a year to start is probably the most efficient possible use of the Bulls’ cap space short of acquiring a true superstar.
*Mirotic’s shooting could conceivably allow him to play together with Gibson and a center in an arrangement where Mirotic plays small forward offensively and Gibson guards 3s on defense.
This analysis will also assume, as the Bulls must, that Derrick Rose will be healthy and a reasonable facsimile of his former self. Rose’s contract is so large* that the Bulls have little other choice. Counting on Rose may be high-risk, but such strategies are often how championships are won.
*He cannot be amnestied since his contract was signed after the 2011 CBA entered into effect.
With all that in mind, let’s move on to the potential realistic* options, presented in order of desirability.
*This assumes Dirk Nowitzki and the Miami trio stay put.
Trade for Kevin Love
As Kevin Pelton noted at ESPN.com there is an argument that Kevin Love might be the most desirable player traded in nearly 40 years this offseason. Love’s shooting, passing, rebounding, post-scoring, and age (25) should make him the Bulls’ number one target. If he is willing to opt-in for the last year of his contract as a condition of a trade, the Bulls should move nearly any asset needed to pair him with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. They obviously will start by offering much less, but Chicago can put together a very attractive package featuring some combination of their two first-rounders this year, any future first-rounders, a top-10 protected pick from the Sacramento Kings, and Taj Gibson. They could also take back bad salary from the Wolves like Kevin Martin or Chase Budinger to make things more palatable. Boozer would of course be included for salary matching.
This package would probably be the best of any team with which Love might actually want to re-sign once he is traded. Other potential suitors might include Houston, Phoenix, and Golden State, but none feature the combination of Love-appeal and assets that the Bulls possess.
Trading for Love could be a risk if Derrick Rose suffers through another injury-plagued year or is ineffective, because he could end up leaving as a free agent. In effect, the Bulls would be doubling down on Rose’s health, and be bereft of assets if he cannot deliver and Love leaves. That, however, is a risk worth taking.
Sign-and-Trade Carlos Boozer and Assets for Carmelo Anthony
Of the non-Love options, this is by far the best. They shed the salary of Carlos Boozer—included for salary matching purposes–while staying over the salary cap. This would enable them to keep and use their bi-annual exception (BAE) of up to a two-year contract starting at $2.1 million and the mid-level exception (MLE)* consisting of up to a four-year contract starting at $5.3 million. The latter could be used in whole or in part on Mirotic (he must sign a minimum three-year deal if he signs anything above a rookie contract) while the remainder could be used to fill in holes at backup point guard and big man. Staying over the cap would also facilitate using the non-guaranteed $4 million salaries of Amundson, James, and Brewer to trade for additional salary or promulgate another smaller sign-and-trade for a mid-level free agent. If the Bulls get under the cap, they would have to release these players and forfeit the option of using them in a trade to acquire more salary.
*The BAE and the MLE may be used in the same year, in whichever order. Both can be split up to sign multiple players if the team so desires. Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that to use both the BAE must be used first.
A starting lineup of a healthy Rose, Butler, Anthony, Gibson, and Noah with Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy and other exception-added depth off the bench would certainly be a championship contender. While assets such as some of the Bulls’ first-rounders and Tony Snell would likely be necessary to induce New York to agree to the trade, it would be worth it to be able to attract Anthony by paying him the over $20 million he would likely demand. Meanwhile, the ability to stay over the cap and use the exceptions would be worth giving up some future assets, especially if it enabled the import of Mirotic.
While Anthony would be making a king’s ransom for his 34 year-old skills in the last year of the approximately 4-year, $96 million contract the Bulls would give him in this scenario, there would be little cost in flexibility due to the fact that his contract only runs one year longer than Rose’s. Overpaying for Anthony in the last years of his deal would be worth it to put together a clear championship contender early on.
Sign Anthony With Cap Space, But Only If He Comes Cheap
This scenario would start with a Boozer amnesty. The Bulls would then need to perform some additional gyrations to get to about $15 million in cap space, likely in the form of trading Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy, and one or both of their first-rounders this year for future assets. Getting Anthony for that price would clearly be worth it. However, he might not be particularly interested in signing for a contract starting at that amount given the fact he could get as much as about $22 million to start in other scenarios.
Unfortunately, if the Bulls cannot trade for Anthony getting to the point where they can offer Anthony his full $22 million starting salary via cap room is not worth it. They would have to trade away Taj Gibson to clear that kind of space, but would then have only the two-year, $2.7 Room Exception and the league minimum at their disposal to fill in the roster around Rose, Butler, Anthony and Noah. They would have no means by which to acquire Mirotic this year either, because even if he were willing to take the Room Exception and Real Madrid were willing to reduce his buyout, it would not work because he must sign at least a three-year contract if he is to exceed the Rookie Scale.
This option would be great if Anthony is willing to reduce is salary demands enough to allow the Bulls to keep Gibson, but that would entail him taking a massive paycut that seems unlikely.
Sign Kyle Lowry
Assuming Anthony does not work out, the Bulls would have their potential $10 million in room without a seemingly great fit in free agency.. Their greatest need is on the wing, but the top wings Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng are not worth that kind of money. Nor do they provide the outstanding shooting the Bulls desperately need.*
*Ariza shot well on threes this year, but that is an outlier for his career. And Bulls fans are well-familiar with Deng’s limited touch from outside.
To find a $10 million a year type of player, the Bulls will need to think outside the box by looking at a point guard. Kyle Lowry would be the best player available. Admittedly, he seems a poor fit with Derrick Rose defensively, as one of them would have to take shooting guards. But that problem would be mitigated by having Butler, Gibson, and Noah behind them. Butler could guard any truly threatening wings, allowing Rose to hide out on the other team’s worst wing.
Meanwhile, Rose and Lowry could make a great pairing on offense. One of the two would have the speed advantage against an opposing wing, and they could both handle the ball and run multiple pick and rolls off ball reversals. Rose is much more effective shooting set shot threes on kickouts than off the dribble, while Lowry is an excellent threat from behind the arc. He took 46 percent of his shots from there and drilled 38 percent. Finally, Lowry would offer great insurance if Rose misses time again.
The Bulls could potentially offer Lowry up to a four-year contract starting for as much as $12 million per year and totaling $51.2 million with a few of the cap methods mentioned in the Anthony section. This would be a pretty big overpay, but less so than offering a wing player their available cap space.
This plan does have flaws. Lowry may not want to play with Rose, as he has been prickly about splitting time in the past. On the other hand, with Rose he would still be a clear starter, and Rose doesn’t shoot any more often than Demar DeRozan in Toronto.
An alternative Lowry scenario also offers some reason why the Bulls would want to trade away Carlos Boozer with an asset into the cap space of a team like Philadelphia rather than amnestying him. I have previously said there was no possible reason to do this other than cost-cutting by the ownership, but on further reflection there is a scenario in which such a trade makes sense.
For example, it is unlikely Toronto would take back Boozer in a sign-and-trade for Lowry without significant concessions, but if the Bulls attached an asset to trade Boozer elsewhere it would create a giant trade exception. This exception would enable the Bulls to stay over the cap even once Boozer was gone, because exceptions count against the cap unless renounced. With the threat of cap space (which would not actually be realized until the trade exception were renounced), the Bulls could induce Toronto to sign-and-trade Lowry into the Boozer trade exception and create their own useful trade exception*, with the Bulls potentially throwing in a small asset as well to obtain Toronto’s compliance. The advantage to the Bulls of staying over the cap would be retaining the BAE and MLE.* If they signed Lowry outright with cap space, they probably could not bring over Mirotic without dumping further money and would be limited to the $2.7 million Room Exception just as if they signed Anthony with cap space.
*Because it would be a sign-and-trade, the amount of this exception would be the greater of 50% of Lowry’s new salary or the $6.2 million in his last contract.
**This is a similar model to what Golden State did last summer with Denver and Utah after agreeing to terms with Andre Iguodala. They never went under the cap so they were able to retain their exceptions.
By all accounts Lowry is happy in Toronto, but they might not be willing to match an offer of four years, $51.2 million. More money in a situation more likely to win than Toronto with lower taxes could well appeal to Lowry.
Sign Isaiah Thomas
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Thomas is an even worse fit defensively with Rose than Lowry. He is undersized at 5’9 and struggles to close out on shooters, and of course can be posted up in the wrong matchup.* But much more importantly, he is also the best scorer of any free agent that is likely to be available aside from Anthony, scoring 21.1 points per 36 minutes while posting an above-average .574 True Shooting Percentage. His overall usage rate of 26.3 percent is perfect for a secondary scorer. Thomas is also a good enough shooter to open things up off the ball, taking 36 percent of his shots from downtown for his career and hitting 36 percent of them. IT2 likewise excels at getting to the rim–the layup master shot .685 within three feet last year—and the free throw line. The Bulls’ biggest need, even with Rose, is scoring. Thomas provides that in spades. Like Lowry, Thomas provides more of what the Bulls need as well as more bang for their buck than the available wings.
*One way to think about it: Thomas is probably no worse than D.J. Augustin on defense, and Rose is approximately the same size as Kirk Hinrich. The Bulls were able to make it work defensively with the Augustin/Hinrich pairing in extensive minutes last season, so Thomas/Rose could work. And the Bulls could always go bigger with Rose at the 1 if Thomas were really getting torched.
Even more importantly, the Washington product is only 25. A four-year contract would lock him up during his prime years without the back-end overpay likely required for nearly any other free agent on the market as he reaches his decline years.
The biggest problem is that Thomas, as a third year player selected in the second round, is a restricted free agent, allowing the Kings to match any offer. The plan with Thomas should be to bring over Nikola Mirotic at the same time, which as we discussed would likely require at least a $3.5 million starting salary to make it worth his while. That would leave approximately $8 million as a starting salary for Thomas.* Would a four-year contract totaling $34.2 million with the maximum allowable annual 4.5 percent annual raises be enough to dissuade the Kings from matching?
*The Bulls could also attempt the same strategy from the Lowry scenario of trading Boozer and trying to trade for Thomas using the trade exception. Or, they could throw in an asset to convince the Kings to sign and trade Thomas in the same fashion as the Pelicans did with Tyreke Evans last year.
Thomas has always seemed somewhat ancillary to the Kings’ plans, as each year saw them bring in a player to try to unseat him, only to have Thomas clearly beat him out. His size and draft position have resulted in perhaps a lower esteem from management than was warranted. Nevertheless, players with 20 PERs don’t grow on trees, and Kings’ management seems inclined to try to compete as soon as possible.
The fate of Thomas may be intertwined with Rudy Gay and the Kings’ draft pick. Gay has a $19 million player option for 2014-15. If he exercises it, the Kings will be at approximately $68 million in salary even without Thomas. Add in their number eight draft pick, and an $8 million a year starting salary for Thomas brings them perilously close to the luxury tax of approximately $77 million.* It seems unlikely Sacramento ownership would be willing to go into the luxury tax for what is looking like a very mediocre team. If they trade the eighth pick for an established player, the salary could creep even higher. It is also quite possible Sacramento drafts a point guard, which would theoretically make Thomas expendable.*
*Incidentally, what a shame for Sacramento fans if the money spent signing Carl Landry and trading for Derrick Williams ends up costing them Thomas.
With such uncertainty, a run at Thomas is worth a shot for the Bulls, despite some disadvantages. The Kings could match the Bulls offer sheet and tie up their cap space for three crucial July days while deciding to do so. And, ironically, signing Thomas could make the Kings worse and mean the Bulls do not get the top-10 protected pick from Sacramento that they are owed from the Luol Deng trade until later on. But Thomas’ scoring and playmaking would be worth the gamble.
Keep the Powder Dry for the 2015 Plan
If none of these free agents are receptive to the Bulls’ overtures, the best option is likely to just bring Mirotic over, make their selections at 16 and 19 in the draft (or combine them in an attempt to move up) and make changes at the margins. The Bulls would also have to wait on extending Jimmy Butler if he were unwilling to agree to a very cheap extension starting at below $5 million per year. This 2015 plan would include either A) amnestying Boozer in the summer of 2014 and using any remaining cap space and the room exception on one-year deals for veteran wings and a backup scoring point guard, or B) retaining Boozer and his expiring salary as a potential trade chip. The latter becomes a more palatable strategy if Love is not traded in the offseason. Another player who could become available by trade in-season is LaMarcus Aldridge if the Blazers were to regress next year and he makes it clear he does not plan to stay by the trade deadline.
Failing such an in-season deal, the Bulls could still be a potential contender in the Eastern Conference with the additional depth if Mirotic becomes an immediate contributor. Next summer, the Bulls could make a play for Aldridge, Love, or any other 2015 free agent such as Goran Dragic or Wesley Matthews. As the chart below shows, they would have about $7.9 million in cap space in the summer of 2015,* and could easily open up maximum cap room by moving some combination of Mirotic, Tony Snell, one of the 2014 draftees, the 2015 first-rounder, renouncing Butler, or trading Gibson. The Bulls could benefit from waiting in that free agents might be much more interested in the Bulls if Rose can make it through an entire year healthy.
*This assumes 1) Mirotic signs for about $4 million a year originally with 4.5 percentage annual raises; 2) Jimmy Butler is not extended and his cap hold will be $5 million (250 percent of his 2014-15 salary because he is coming off the fourth year of a rookie contract with a contract less than the Estimated Average Player Salary), 3) nobody signed in the summer of 2014 has a guaranteed contract longer than one year; 4) The Bulls will get approximately the 23rd pick in the 2015 draft; and 5) the 2014 rookies will sign for 120 percent of the rookie scale amounts. The analysis also assumes 6) a projected cap of $67 million for the 2015-16 year, but it could well be higher given how well the league has done of late.
Keeping the powder dry is a far superior option to overpaying for one of the available wings in 2014 and greatly complicating any attempt to add a second star going forward. Much as it may vex Bulls fans, the 2014 Plan could well become the 2015 Plan.
Addendum: Why No Lance Stephenson?
A few commentators have asked why Lance Stephenson was not included in this analysis, so a short explanation is in order. I certainly should have at least mentioned him along with Ariza and Deng, but I do not think he would be a good signing at all. First off, I believe he is almost certain to be retained by the Pacers because they will be over the cap and have no ability to replace him. The new higher cap and tax figures should help them get to a market value contract for him. But more importantly, I think he is an awful fit for the Bulls. He is a much worse shooter and scorer than Lowry and Thomas, taking only 28 percent of his shots from downtown. While he has hit 35 percent this year, his shooting form is not the best and the playoffs have shown he is not respected enough by defenses to create spacing for a Pacers team that desperately needs it. Stephenson also is not a good enough shooter to really pull up behind the arc with consistency off the pick and roll, which Thomas and Lowry have no problem doing. Stephenson also rarely gets to the foul line, and his usage rate is pretty average on a Pacers team that desperately needs scoring. While his signing would help the Bulls defensively more than Lowry or Thomas, he simply is not really an above-average offensive player. That is what the Bulls need.
Finally, Stephenson does not fit the Bulls’ culture at all and he appears to be responsible for at least some of the ups and downs the Pacers have experienced this year. He isn’t worth a big contract for the Bulls.
Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers may not be as different as you think, especially with most of their Finals core returning from last season. They may not be contenders, but the question is can they stay in the playoff hunt while their big contracts age off the books? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Cavaliers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are no longer the talk of the town in the Eastern Conference. The King has left his post for a venture westward and the organization he was the face of is now on its own.
With a mixture of veterans and inexperience, it’s going to be a roller coaster season for the wine and gold, but they’ll be better prepared this time around for the departure of LeBron James.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Losing LeBron James is a tough blow (obviously) but there are still enough solid players on Cleveland’s roster to compete for a playoff seed this season. The main question is whether Kevin Love can recapture his superstar form from years ago when he was playing in Minnesota. It has been a while since Love was the go-to player on a team, so only time will tell if he is able to lead this team to the playoffs. The Cavaliers will also try to get more production out of players like Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and George Hill. These guys can produce but were inconsistent last season. My focus will be on the play of Collin Sexton, whom the Cavaliers drafted eighth overall in this year’s draft. Sexton has the attitude and talent to be a quality point guard and could be a nice sparkplug for the Cavaliers this season.
4th Place – Central Division
– Jesse Blancarte
It’s hard to pinpoint which direction Cleveland is going. They actually did a pretty solid job this summer outside of losing the best basketball player of this generation. Drafting Collin Sexton, extending Kevin Love and adding under-the-radar players such as Sam Dekker and David Nwaba were sensible decisions. Sad to say, their current roster is now only good enough to be conversation for one of the lower seeds in the east. That may not be the best idea since they owe Atlanta a top-10 protected first-rounder this year. Still, there should be plenty of interesting storylines for them this year, which include how well they perform post-LeBron (again), how good of a coach Tyronn Lue really is, and what they have in Sexton.
4th Place – Central Division
– Matt John
Much more prepared for the second time LeBron James left the franchise, the wine and gold are poised to create a team-first environment with a healthy culture in the building. Kevin Love will have to take the reigns and Rodney Hood will be heavily depended on to put the ball in the basket. Larry Nance Jr. is going to be tasked with protecting the paint. Player development is going to be the sole focus, but winning is an absolute priority for the Cavaliers. Eighth overall pick Collin Sexton will have the chance to showcase his skills right away with plenty of young talent surrounding him. They’re not looking to tank as some speculated they would post-LeBron, so we’ll see if it pays off. Considering the Eastern Conference is wide open, there’s still a chance they could sneak into the playoffs.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Spencer Davies
In their second go-round after losing LeBron James in free agency, there’s definitely hope in Cleveland that things won’t go quite so poorly for the Cavs. Last time, as many will recall, they went from the league’s best record to its worst in just a single season when The King departed. This time? There’s even playoff hope still abound in Cleveland, though whether it’s realistic or not is up for debate. Much of those hopes rest on Kevin Love, who is now armed with a new extension that’ll keep him paid through 2023. Many forget that Love was once a perennial All-Star and considered a borderline top-five player in the NBA in his Minnesota days – does he still have that level of play left in him as the lead dog? The Cavs still have solid shooting in Love, George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and others, but there are real concerns about whether this roster will have enough playmaking or defense to make any noise. Still, the relative weakness of the East makes a playoff appearance possible.
4th Place – Central Division
– Ben Dowsett
The Cavaliers are going to take a huge step backward, that’s not news or shocking, but to think the Cavs will fall off the map might be misplaced. Kevin Love is an All-Star, and he still has a lot of proven guys around him. The Cavs draft pick, Collin Sexton, should get all the opportunity to be the next guy and has star potential and Ty Lue is a good player-centric coach. The 8th seed isn’t out of the question for the Cavs, and that’s not bad for a team that lost its franchise player for nothing in return.
4th Place – Central Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Kevin Love
The five-time All-Star forward is going to have his hands full. There is no LeBron anymore. There is no Kyrie Irving anymore. Ironically, he is the last man standing out of the former big three and just signed a long-term deal this summer to be “the man” in Cleveland.
For years, basketball fans have been begging to see Love return to the same player as he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This season, he has the opportunity to become that dominant force once again. We all know he’s a double-double machine who can stretch the floor and crash the glass, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the Cavaliers establish him on the block more often.
According to NBA.com, on a minimum of three possessions per game, Love had the sixth-lowest frequency, yet scored 0.98 points per possession in post-up situations. Only Karl-Anthony Towns and LaMarcus Aldridge were ranked above him in PPP. Last year’s offense was full of isolation and drive-and-kicks, leaving little opportunity for the 30-year-old big man to work down low.
He’s coming off his best perimeter-shooting season since 2010-11, too. It might take a few games to get re-acquainted to being the go-to guy without LeBron there, but Love will now have the chance to remind everyone that he is one of the most forceful inside-outside threats in the league.
Top Defensive Player: Larry Nance Jr.
The 2017-18 Cavaliers were an abysmal defensive team. Whether it was a veteran-heavy roster failing to get their legs under them, poor effort, flawed schemes or too much miscommunication on switches—it was not pretty.
With that said, there was a small silver lining in that ugliness, and it was Nance Jr. From challenging bigs at the rim to moving his feet and making it tough on guards, he immediately made an impact as a versatile defender when healthy. Per Cleaning The Glass, with Nance Jr. off the court, Cleveland allowed 9.9 points per 100 possessions more. Opponents’ effective field goal percentage also increased by 4.5 percent as well.
Entering his second season with the wine and gold, Nance Jr. is going to play a huge role in forcing turnovers and making it hard on his assignments. The more floor time he receives, the better he will get.
Top Playmaker: Collin Sexton
A label held by LeBron for the past four years will be taken over by a rookie. There is no replacing the best player in the world in any way, shape or form. It’s all about creating a new star, and that’s what the Cavaliers are planning on doing with Sexton.
You will find no shortage of confidence or explosiveness watching the Alabama alum play the game. Not to use NBA Summer League as the best of examples, but just go back and look at his body language during that tournament, especially against Josh Hart and the Los Angeles Lakers. He is a surefire competitor, which is exactly why Cleveland selected him with the eighth overall draft pick.
He’s able to make things happen for both his teammates and himself. Sexton can change speeds quickly and get to the rim with conviction, pass on the drive and kick and get out in transition. Getting used to the speed of the NBA level will take some adjusting, as will playing with new teammates and learning their tendencies, but the man dubbed “Young Bull” is poised to have a breakout debut year.
Top Clutch Player: Kyle Korver
Who takes the big shot at the end? Who gets the big stop? Who makes the game-altering pass? All of these questions were answered with “LeBron” in the snap of a finger before. The question now is who will assume that responsibility.
At the moment, it’s a collective team effort. One night it could be Love, another it could be Sexton. Maybe Rodney Hood even gets the ball from time-to-time in a late-game situation. The point is, we don’t know the answer quite yet.
Purely based on who had the second-highest net rating in clutch situations to LeBron in a minimum of 30 games played in crunch time, Korver gets the nod here. The veteran sharpshooter’s offensive rating and true shooting percentage were both the highest on Cleveland as well. If you get the 37-year-old the ball on the outside, he’ll likely knock down a big bucket.
The Unheralded Player: Cedi Osman
When you look at the Turkish swingman’s statistics from last year, you’ll probably question what the fuss is all about and why he is getting invited to private workouts with the likes of LeBron, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Here’s why: He has the desire to play the game the right way.
Osman is only 23 years old. He already has the potential to be the perfect glue guy in his second season at the NBA level. Something about his game just provides a spark. It might be the energy he brings to the floor, or maybe it has to do with how aggressive he is on both sides of the boards.
Playing for his country in FIBA, there’s already been an improvement with his jump shot. He’s been drilling threes, specifically on off-the-dribble and pull-up attempts. Remember, he did work with Korver last season often. Maybe the veteran’s pointers will pay off for Osman.
Best New Addition: Collin Sexton
Cleveland desperately needed to add a playmaker to the roster. They severely missed that last year without Kyrie Irving. The 19-year-old rookie is going to have his ups and downs, but more importantly, he’ll be fun to watch develop. Learning under a veteran like George Hill could do him some good, regardless of whether or not the seasoned guard finishes the year out there.
– Spencer Davies
WHO WE LIKE
1. Rodney Hood
It was a difficult second half for Hood last year. Being traded to the Cavaliers at the deadline, some thought he could just fit right in and score 17 points per game as he did with the Utah Jazz. But unfortunately, the league isn’t a 2K simulation where teams can just plug and play with no issues. It took time for him to learn to play off LeBron. His usage was down nearly 10 percent as well. Year two in The Land should allow him to get back to his usual confident self. Tyronn Lue thinks the world of him, so we’ll likely be seeing a lot of trust put into Hood.
2. David Nwaba
On a one-year deal, Nwaba is looking to prove he’s worth a bigger deal in the long term. He’s only going into his third season, but since making waves a couple of years ago in the Lakers’ G-League system and on the big club, he’s been scratching and clawing his way up. He started over 20 of the 70 games he played in for the Chicago Bulls in 2017-18. He’ll likely play a key role in the second unit., but the more playing time he’s gotten, the better the production has been. Nwaba has athleticism through the roof and is already one of the top defenders on the Cavaliers.
3. Channing Frye
Frye is a fan-favorite and an important part of the team culture Cleveland is aiming to instill in the locker room. He’s the perfect person to loosen things up if they get tense, almost like a player-coach type. On the floor, he’s still going to provide valuable production offensively as a knockdown shooter. Off of it, he’ll be a mentor to his younger teammates and a calming presence to the others. That’ll be necessary for an up-and-down season.
4. Tyronn Lue
With no LeBron around, we’re going to really see what Lue is made of. There were plenty of detractors last season due to the rotations he played and the way he managed minutes. Here’s his shot at proving the doubters wrong. Losing the four-time NBA MVP is going to make life harder on everybody in the franchise, but there’s a free range of what to do with this team now. Versatility and youth are available to him now like they never have been before. The pressure has been lifted a bit with the expectations tampered down a bit. It’s time to see if Lue can walk the walk.
– Spencer Davies
The Cavaliers finally have a chance to focus on the long-term, while addressing the now. General manager Koby Altman said it himself: This organization is getting back in the player development business. With the moves they made over the offseason, that couldn’t be clearer. Players who haven’t gotten too many opportunities—Sam Dekker, Isaiah Taylor, Kobi Simmons, Nwaba—are going to have a chance to show the coaching staff what they’re made of in training camp. The youth movement started early at the deadline last season with the acquisitions of Jordan Clarkson, Hood and Nance Jr. It’s full speed ahead now.
– Spencer Davies
This team lost its best scorer, its best playmaker, its best clutch option—pretty much all of the above. Filling the void of LeBron is impossible. In one year without him, it’s not going to be pretty at times. Depending on who is starting these games, you’re going to see errors and mistakes you haven’t seen in a while with the Cavaliers. They’ll show flashes of what they can become in due time, but for the most part, there will be plenty of teaching moments. It’s not going to happen overnight. Everybody involved probably knows, but we’ll see what the reaction is once things are set in motion.
– Spencer Davies
THE BURNING QUESTION
What is the plan with these veterans and their contracts?
Cleveland has a tall task ahead of them when it comes to shedding salary. We can start off with the $19 million contract of George Hill, followed by the $14.72 million that J.R. Smith is making this season. Both of these veteran guards do not have guaranteed big money next season, though, if waived in the summer of 2019. Only $1 million of Hill’s deal is guaranteed until July 1 and $3.7 million of Smith’s deal is guaranteed until June 30, respectively. If these two are waived before said dates, a team would not be on the hook for the last season of their contracts (Hill at $18 million, Smith at $15.68 million). Because of that, those two players would likely be easier to move for the Cavaliers than Tristan Thompson, who has two fully guaranteed years left on the deal he signed before the 2015 season.
Considering the shift in direction that the franchise has made, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if at least two of these three were moved in the future. Whether that’s mid-season, at the trade deadline or next offseason, we’ll have to wait and see.
– Spencer Davies
NBA Daily: Four Trades For Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler has told the Minnesota Timberwolves he would like to be traded. If the team decides to deal, what might they get back in return?
The Jimmy Butler and Minnesota Timberwolves saga feels as though it’s dragged on forever. In reality, it was only 15 months ago that he was traded to the Timberwolves from the Chicago Bulls for what now seems like a king’s random: Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, with the only other asset going back to Minnesota being the sixteenth overall pick.
Regardless of what was given up for him or how long the relationship lasted, it seems as though the two will part ways sooner than later. After a drawn out and fairly public back-and-forth on social media about when and where the two parties would ultimately meet, Coach and President Tom Thibodeau and Butler finally sat down on Wednesday. It was then that Butler informed the Timberwolves he would like to be traded. So much for a happy ending to the Thibodeau-Butler reunion.
But Butler doesn’t simply want out of Minnesota. He wants to be traded to one of three teams: the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers or the New York Knicks. Reports have read that Butler will only sign an extension with one of his preferred destinations. The subtext of the leak – regardless of who leaked it – indicates that teams beyond those three need not apply. And in fairness to Butler, he recognizes that he is in the prime of his career and prefers to begin establishing himself in a hand-selected location.
Butler is scheduled to make $19,841,627 this season. Below, Basketball Insiders explores the likely trade packages each of the three teams Butler would like to play for might put together, as well as one additional team that may be able to convince Butler to re-sign. Lots of other scenarios exist, including three-team deals and packages in which Minnesota ships out additional players. But we only focused on two-team deals in which Butler is the only player departing the Wolves roster.
Los Angeles Clippers
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers are the preferred destination for Butler. The Clippers have numerous players with the requisite salary to get the deal done, but little in the way of desirable young players to entice the Wolves.
From a salary standpoint, the Timberwolves would likely have their choice of veterans to pry from the Clippers roster. Danilo Gallinari makes more than Butler and his deal stretches another year after 2018-19. Besides, Gallinari’s age and injury history make him an unlikely candidate. Marcin Gortat is on a $13.565 million expiring deal. But unfortunately for the Clippers, Gortat’s value is relatively low. While the Clippers probably prefer to hang onto Avery Bradley to form a tenacious one-two defensive punch, would be the likely starting point considering his value. But Bradley cannot be traded until December 15. If both teams are willing to wait, then Bradley will likely be the main piece for salary purposes. Otherwise, the Clippers may have to part with one or more of Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson and Patrick Beverley.
But none of the aforementioned veterans would be the centerpiece of the trade. And the Clippers are unable to trade away another of their first round picks before 2022. So the deal is likely to be predicated on the inclusion of either Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Jerome Robinson, both of whom were drafted by the Clippers with back-to-back picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. However, the team should think twice before trading both. Other recent trades involving superstars – Paul George –haven’t returned two lottery picks of late. If possible, the Clippers should be steadfast in insisting that only one be included.
The Wolves will likely prefer Gilgeous-Alexander given the buzz that he created in the summer league. If the Clippers are serious about acquiring Jimmy Butler, they should begin rebuilding around Butler before they miss out on him altogether (see the Lakers’ recent failed-before-it-even-started pursuit of Paul George).
Clippers Get Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves Get Tobias Harris, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jawun Evans
The Nets are one of Jimmy Butler’s (second tier) preferred destinations. On the one hand, the Nets have limited developed talent to pair with Butler in 2018-19. On the other, the Nets open up an enormous amount of cap space next season, allowing them to sign at least two max-level free agents, one of whom could be Butler. If Butler went ahead and included Brooklyn on his list of destinations, then so be it.
Spencer Dinwiddie is an up-and-coming young guard and among the most valuable assets on the Nets roster. Trade discussions would probably begin there. But Dinwiddie only makes $1.6 million this season, the last year on his deal. The recently acquired Kenneth Faried makes a fairly significant $13.7 million and his contract also expires after this season. Throw in a Jarrett Allen for good measure and you’ve got the framework of a deal. In this situation, a protected pick would be needed as well.
Nets Get Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves Get Kenneth Faried, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and the Nets 2019 First Round Pick (top 8 protected)
New York Knicks
The Knicks held their press day on Monday, at which time team President Steve Mills professed the team’s strategy of avoiding sending out assets for players that are free agents-to-be. If this is actually true, the team will have a hard time blowing the Timberwolves away with an offer.
But the team can still put forth a respectable package, which would begin with a young guard named Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina is an incredible defender who can be the lead guard or play off the ball. He is a 6-foot-6 20 year old with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Ntilikina is alluring to almost any front office in the league.
Beyond Ntilikina, the Knicks actually have a talented veteran who can fill most of the salary requirements – Courtney Lee. Lee is slightly older than Butler, but can bridge the gap until Ntilikina is ready to take on a bigger role along side Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Timberwolves would probably prefer to net more than just one solid prospect in a deal for Butler, but Butler put them in a precarious situation when he gave them a wish list of preferred destinations. The Knicks would be wise to offer this and no more.
Knicks get Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilikina, Trey Burke and Damyean Dotson
Lots of teams will throw their respective hats in the ring on Jimmy Butler. On paper, the Celtics make the most sense given their abundance of young talent and accrued draft picks. And let’s not forget that earlier this summer, rumors began to spread about Kyrie Irving’s desire to team up with Butler.
The Celtics have enough draft assets to swing a deal in which they give up limited players, instead leveraging their future draft picks. Remember, the Celtics not only own their own picks, the team also possesses the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 first-round pick (top-one protected) and the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2019 first-round pick (top-eight protected).
But is that the right answer? After all, the Celtics already have a mini-logjam at the wing between Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart. But maybe, instead of parting ways with future assets, the Celtics secure Butler and shorten up their rotation, which could potentially disrupt the team’s success into the playoffs with the entire roster entering the season seemingly healthy. Disclaimer — the Celtics would likely seek assurances from Butler that he would be open to re-signing before trading away a young star like Jaylen Brown.
Celtics get Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart
Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers could end up almost anywhere in the West – their outlook is that unclear. If they can’t be elite, could this be the end of the road for this roster? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Trail Blazers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.
The Portland Trail Blazers surprised many last season when they ended up with the third best record in the Western Conference behind only the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a New Orleans Pelicans team that was probably a bit better than their record and sixth place finish indicated.
Despite that, the Blazers should feel good about themselves. They’ve got an All-Star backcourt with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Sure they may not be on the same level as the Rockets or Warriors, but after that, the West is seemingly wide open. And with a little luck, maybe an injury here or there, anything can happen once the postseason rolls around.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
The Portland Trail Blazers are a really good team. But being really good in the Western Conference just doesn’t get you very far, unfortunately. Like the Utah Jazz, Portland is a dangerous team that could beat just about anyone on any given night. But I don’t see this year’s team being able to push the elite Western Conference teams in a seven-game playoff series. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are explosive and continue to improve. The Blazers’ role players, like Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic, are solid. The team even has some interesting prospects, such as Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons. Having said that, I think the front office needs to try and make an honest assessment about this team’s ceiling and decide whether it’s time to be aggressive and start making some serious changes to the roster. It’s odd saying that since this is a really good team. However, the goal for Portland is a championship, but I just don’t see this roster having a real shot at that.
4th Place – Northwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
The Blazers won 49 games last year and return a very similar roster, yet many are picking them to finish outside the playoff picture in the West – and it’s not that crazy to imagine. The conference is just that tough. Last year’s team was pretty similar to the year before: They had one remarkable run in the mid-spring period (a 13-game winning streak from just before the All-Star break through the middle of March), then were roughly .500 the rest of the year. They’re always a threat to explode offensively with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the backcourt, but it seems pretty clear this group has a limited ceiling that falls well below championship level. It’s also one Portland has a lot of money committed to even beyond this season. Is this the year the Blazers seriously consider making some big moves and resetting things if they aren’t in the hunt among legitimate contenders?
5th Place – Northwest Division
– Ben Dowsett
The Blazers have to do something. They may have a fine roster. They may have some excellent players. They may be well-coached. Unfortunately, they just don’t have enough. After suffering that embarrassing postseason defeat, the Blazers didn’t really do anything to improve their team. They are capable of making the playoffs and maybe could win a playoff round if everything goes their way. However, that’s as high at their ceiling gets and that’s if everything goes their way. Seriously, does anyone think they can actually compete with the Warriors or the Rockets? Are they even better than the new-look Lakers? If they don’t change things for the better, then the Blazers may approach the dreaded “treadmill team” label.
4th Place – Northwest Division
– Matt John
It was a quiet offseason for the Blazers, who are coming off a solid season that abruptly ended in the playoffs against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. The tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is still one of the best one-two punches in the league today. Jusuf Nurkic is continuing to grow and build chemistry with his teammates going into year three with Portland. The loss of Ed Davis will impact the bench unit, but Zach Collins will have an opportunity to expand his role. Guys like Wade Baldwin and Jake Layman could see more floor time as well. While there won’t be a regression, Terry Stotts and company will need to fight tooth and nail in a tough Northwest Division to secure a postseason berth in the Western Conference.
4th Place – Northwest Division
– Spencer Davies
This has to be the year, right? It has to be the year the Blazers break through and become an elite team or management and ownership has to break it up, right? The Blazers have two elite level guards and a gob of money tied up into the rest of the roster. They have a good but not great head coach, so it either has to click and start to happen or leadership has to make bold changes. Let’s be real, the Blazers have tried to be aggressive, not only in trades but in free agency, so this team isn’t a product of sitting on their hands. But as West has gotten tougher and more developed, the Blazers haven’t necessarily kept up, so it has to happen now and there is a sense the Blazers get that. On paper, this arguably should be the best team in the Northwest Division, it’s just not assured they will be.
1st Place – Northwest Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Damian Lillard
To this point, Damian Lillard has blossomed into arguably a top-ten player in the league. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He’s got unlimited range and is very difficult to stop when he’s attacking the rim. Last season, he averaged 7.4 free throw attempts per game which he converted at a 91.6 percent clip, both career-highs.
The 26.9 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting were both the second-highest marks of his career. At 28 years old, Lillard is right in the prime of his career and a true star. He’s capable of exploding and having a huge scoring game on any given night. Many other teams in the NBA would love to have a player of that caliber. As long as Lillard is in Portland and producing at this level, the Blazers should remain competitive.
Top Defensive Player: Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu has quietly become the best defensive player on the Blazers roster. He’s a long and athletic wing who can slide between forward positions defensively as well as take on the challenge of staying with some guards. Aminu was a big part of Portland’s strong defense last season. He’s good at transition defense, and he’s good at recovering and helping out when the guards get beat off the dribble. As the season went on, Portland had one of the better defenses in the league and Aminu was a major part of that.
Top Playmaker: Damian Lillard
There isn’t much that Lillard can’t do on the court, and as it stands, he’s their best when it comes to running the offense. As explosive as he is at scoring the basketball, he can be just as deadly carving up a defense and creating opportunities for his teammates.
The 6.6 assists per game that Lillard dished out last season were the second-highest in his career. This was with not having too many offensive options to work with outside of McCollum. The Blazers were last in the NBA in assists per game, largely due to that fact, but Lillard made do with what he was given. He still managed to turn other guys into offensive threats. The Blazers are going to need much more of that this upcoming season.
Top Clutch Player: Damian Lillard
With the game on the line and a big shot needed, one could argue that you’d be comfortable with the ball in McCollum’s hands. He can create his own offense and is also a dead-eye shooter from anywhere on the floor. But overall, when a big play is needed for the Blazers, you’d still want the ball to be in the hands of Lillard.
Lillard’s ability to score is unparalleled on the team. He’s more adept than McCollum at getting to the rim in crunch time situations and thus, able to get a better look at the basket or draw contact and get a couple freebies. And when he inevitably draws the defense, his playmaking enables him to set someone else up for a big play.
The Unheralded Player: Al Farouq-Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu may have emerged as the Blazers best defensive player, but he also might have just become their third best player behind Lillard and McCollum. He doesn’t draw much media and national attention, but he contributes in many different ways that help the Blazers win games.
Since entering the league, he’s improved his offense tremendously. He was always a solid defender, but his offense, in particular his shooting, was a weakness of his. This past season, he knocked down a career-high 36.9 percent of his attempts from three-point range. He also took a career-high 4.9 attempts per game. He’s their perfect 3&D guy. He’s also one of the best rebounders on the team, especially on the defensive glass. He can guard multiple positions. For the Blazers to continue to take leaps in the West, they’ll most certainly need Aminu.
Best New Addition: Seth Curry
The Blazers had a couple of weaknesses last season, bench depth and outside shooting. They’re hoping that Seth Curry can address both of those issues. Sure he owns the distinction of being Steph Curry’s brother, but he’s become a solid NBA player in his own right. He missed all of last season due to injury, but if he’s healthy, he’ll provide Portland with exactly what they need.
During the 2016-17 season, the last in which Curry played, he averaged a career-high 12.8 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent shooting from the three-point line. The Blazers guard off the bench role was filled by Shabazz Napier last season. Napier did an admirable job but he’s now off to Brooklyn. Curry can help fill that void with a capable ball-handler off the bench. He may even see time in the lineup with either one or both of Lillard and McCollum.
– David Yapkowitz
WHO WE LIKE
1. Zach Collins
Portland’s lottery pick from a year ago, Zach Collins was thrown into the lineup as the season went on, and he showed vast improvements. He and Ed Davis became an effective big man tandem off the bench. He’s got range out to the three-point line and he is an effective defensive player. It got to the point where he was sometimes finishing games over starting center Jusuf Nurkic. He allowed Portland to feel comfortable letting Davis walk and allowing Collins to be the primary big man off the bench.
2. Anfernee Simons
It’s tough to envision Anfernee Simons getting minutes right away this season, but there’s no denying the oozing potential he has. For a playoff contender like the Blazers, a draft pick like Simons is a huge gamble. Portland has major playoff aspirations and someone like Simons isn’t going to be ready to contribute now. But his long-term outlook is what intrigues Portland. He is very gifted athletically and he’s already a good shooter. In Summer League, he showed off an ability to create his own shot. If his development goes well, Portland could end up with one of the best players of the 2018 draft.
3. Gary Trent Jr.
His fellow rookie Anfernee Simons might not be able to contribute right away, but Gary Trent Jr is a little more NBA ready. For a team that often lacked bench production, Trent can definitely help in that regard, even as a rookie. Physically, Trent is better adapted to the NBA grind than the slight Simons. He also gives the Blazers some much-needed perimeter shooting. In a recent survey of NBA rookies, Trent was voted by his peers as one of this rookie classes best shooters and most likely to be a draft steal. If he can come in and contribute, the Blazers bench might be very much improved.
4. Caleb Swanigan
A year ago, Caleb Swanigan had a very impressive summer league. He played sparingly for the Blazers this past season, but due to some roster departures, he’s going to be counted on to provide production off the bench. He’s a decent passer for a big man and he can score in the paint. He’s more of a traditional big man, which seem to be a dying breed in today’s NBA, but perhaps with his passing, he can make an impact on the court. With Davis gone, the other bigs on the bench such as Collins, Jake Layman and Myers Leonard, are all better suited to the changing game. But this is going to be an important training camp for Swanigan to prove that he should get a chance to help the team.
– David Yapkowitz
Defense. The Blazers turned into one of the better defensive teams in the league last season. Sure neither Lillard nor McCollum would be confused for All-Defensive players, but even that didn’t matter too much. Jusuf Nurkic is a decent shot blocker, and Collins showed great defensive potential. Aminu is an incredibly underrated defender. And then there’s the enigma known as Moe Harkless. He can either be very good, or non-existent. He’s got the tools to be a superb wing defender. If they want to continue their ascent in the West, they’re going to need to continue to be a good defensive team.
– David Yapkowitz
Outside shooting and reliable bench production were two of the Blazers main weaknesses last season. Three of their main contributors from last season’s second unit, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton and Ed Davis all signed elsewhere. They’re hoping that a few new roster additions, as well as some internal development, can help alleviate that. Based on the development he showed throughout the season, Collins appears ready to take another step forward. Trent and Curry will help with outside shooting. They’re going to need a couple of these guys to really step up and contribute if they hope to keep afloat in the West.
– David Yapkowitz
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Blazers continue to take a step forward and become an elite Western Conference team?
Sure the Blazers grabbed a top-four seed in the West last season, but they might be skirting around dangerous territory. Looking at their roster, they might be floating around the NBA’s dreaded no man’s land. That is, a team not bad enough to benefit from a lottery pick in the draft, but not good enough to make any serious noise in the playoffs. They’ve got an All-Star backcourt, and that definitely counts for something. But after that, it can get a bit murky. Their depth isn’t on par with some of the other elite West teams. They’ve got some guys capable of filling those roles, but it’s still a question mark. They’re probably good enough to keep their hold on a playoff spot, but it most likely will be a lower one than where they finished last season.
– David Yapkowitz