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What the Bulls’ Summer Could Look Like

Nate Duncan looks at the Chicago Bulls’ best options for improvement this summer, including some out of the box ideas yet to be discussed.

Nate Duncan

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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.*

Bulls Salaries

*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.

Bulls 2015 Plan Salaries

*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.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Are The Knicks For Real?

Ariel Pacheco breaks down the New York Knicks and their start to the season. Might they be able to push for a spot in the postseason?

Ariel Pacheco

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The New York Knicks are on a four-game losing streak after their hot 5-3 start to the season. Yes, their play has been inconsistent, but their effort has yet to wane. And, while they are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, the team has some solid wins under their belt and has seen, arguably, their best start in years.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over this team. Combined with the positive start, it begs the question: do the Knicks have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East? 

The Knicks have been competitive mainly due to Julius Randle; he’s played like an All-Star to start the season to the tune of 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Randle’s drastic improvement from a season ago has been a major boon to New York, as he’s kept them in close games and, at times, been their lone source of offense. His stat line would put him in elite company, as one of only four to average at least 20, 10 and 5 this season.

The other three? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis. 

Behind him, Mitchell Robinson has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far. He’s third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 10th in blocks. Beyond that, it’s hard to overstate how impactful he’s been on the defensive end — when he’s off the court, the Knicks’ defense completely craters. And, while his offensive game is limited to mostly dunks and layups, Robinson provides the team a vertical threat in the paint with his elite lob-catching skills. 

Kevin Knox II has also shown signs of becoming a rotation-level NBA player. He’s shot 41.7% from three and, while he still needs work on defense, he hasn’t been nearly as detrimental the team’s efforts on that end as as he has in years past.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. First and foremost, they lack the shooting to consistently put teams away and win games. And, of course, teams have taken advantage of that, as the Knicks have faced a zone defense — an effective defense, but one that can easily be shut down by a consistent presence beyond the three-point line —  in every single game they’ve played this season. Of every Knick that has shot over 20 threes this season, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox II are the only two that have shot above 35%, while no starter has shot above league average from deep on the season. During their latest four-game losing streak, they’ve shot just 31% from deep as a team.

RJ Barrett, who has really struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor to start the year, is arguably New York’s biggest culprit here. Currently, Barrett has shot a bad 37.2% from the field, an even worse 18.5% from three and a better but still below average 70.2% from the free throw line. He’s also struggled to finish near the basket. Of course, more spacing in lineups that feature Barrett, as opposed to the clogged lanes he stares down alongside guys like Randle and Robinson, could go a long way in improving those numbers.

But, unfortunately, the Knicks just don’t have the personnel, or depth, for that matter, that they can afford to take those guys off the floor for extended minutes and expect to succeed. There’s hope that Alec Burks’ return could provide some much-needed range and scoring punch from the bench, but Burks alone might not be enough to turn things around here.

The Knicks have also been lucky when it comes to their opponent’s shooting. Opponents have shot just 32.8% from three against the Knicks, well below league average. On three-point attempts that are wide-open, which the NBA defines as a shot in which no defender is within six feet of the shooter, opponents have shot just 33.9%. If that number sees some positive regression — and it likely will as the season goes on — New York may struggle to stay in games. 

There are a litany of other issues as well. The point guard position is certainly an area of concern; Elfrid Payton’s range barely extends beyond the free throw line, while Dennis Smith Jr. just hasn’t looked like the same, explosive player we saw with the Dallas Mavericks and Frank Ntilikina has struggled with injuries to start the year. Immanuel Quickley has looked solid with limited minutes, but Thibodeau has been reluctant to start him or even expand his role. And, as there is with every Thibodeau team, there could be legitimate concern over the workload of his top players: Barrett is first in the NBA in minutes played, Randle is third.

Right now, there would seem to be a lot more questions than answers for the Knicks. As currently constructed, they certainly can’t be penciled in as a playoff team. There’s too much evidence that suggests they won’t be able to consistently win games. 

That said, New York should be somewhat satisfied with their start to the season. And, if they continue to compete hard, tighten up the defense and if their younger players can take a step forward (especially from beyond the arc), they might just be able to squeeze into the play-in game in the softer Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: Raul Neto Seizing His Opportunity in Washington

Tristan Tucker examines Raul Neto who, in the midst of a career resurgence, has provided the Washington Wizards with some much-needed stability at the point guard position in the absence of Russell Westbrook.

Tristan Tucker

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Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto is coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. Waived by the Utah Jazz, Neto joined a Philadelphia 76ers’ roster in 2019 that had some serious championship aspirations. Unfortunately, like the 76ers, Neto’s season fell flat.

For many former second round picks, a rough season could signal the conclusion of a career. But not for Neto, who has persevered and turned his career around to start the 2020-21 season.

Neto exploded onto the scene for the Wizards and has really shown an ability to hold it down on the court, especially in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s injury. He’s averaged career-highs almost across the board so far, recording 8.9 points and 1 steal per contest on outstanding percentages; Neto’s shot 52.7 from the field and 42.4 percent from three, both by far the highest of his career and, among Wizards with at least 10 games played, rank fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.

“I think I have been around different teams and I try and do whatever the team needs on the court,” Neto said. “If it needs to play with more pace or if it needs more scoring, I will try and do whatever I can to help. I think that’s how I fit so quickly on the team.”

Neto began his professional career in Brazil when he was just 16 years old, playing for the World Team in 2010 at the Nike Hoop Summit and then heading to Spain for the 2011-12 season. After two impressive seasons, the 28-year-old point guard was selected with the 47th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta then traded Neto to the Jazz where he eventually signed on for the 2015-16 NBA season.

Immediately, Neto was cast into a big role with the Jazz, starting in the season opener and starting in 53 of his 81 appearances that season. His efforts earned him a spot as a member of the World Team in the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.

Neto would go on to play a majority of his next three seasons in the G-League, finding a hard time sticking to a role that suited him in Utah. When Philadelphia tried to remake its roster in the 2019 offseason, Neto was called in to give the team an able-shooting ball-handler, one that they desperately needed. However, Neto was, again, miscast and, while he was getting good minutes, the team as a whole struggled to find their identity and, as a result, everyone’s play suffered.

In the 2020 offseason, Neto was able to find a roster spot on the Wizards, who saw him as a potential diamond-in-the-rough type and a player that they should take a chance on. And their gamble has paid huge dividends as, at the moment, Neto has given Washington a reliable piece to play next to All-Star Bradley Beal.

“[Neto] does a tremendous job of running the team, running the offense,” Beal said after a Wizards’ preseason game. “He gets after it, he’s a real pest. I always make fun of him because he has a strong build…he’s very strong.”

Traits that likely stood out to Washington were Neto’s calm demeanor and his ability to run the offense, something that a few of his younger teammates could learn from and, hopefully, pick up themselves. Players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura have shown much promise as scorers and playmakers and should continue to benefit from players like Neto that are able to get them the ball accurately and consistently.

“Deni [Avdija]’s very talented, he’s very very talented,” Neto said. “He’s young so he’s got a lot to learn and get better. He’s a very good player, he’s been playing professionally overseas for a while…Rui [Hachimura] is also a very good player. Strong, plays hard and very good defense. Probably going to be our guy, like today he was guarding [Kevin Durant], he can go against guys in this league that are tall and can score.”

While the Wizards are in the midst of a disappointing season, something that may prove worthwhile in the long run may be to give Neto, who’s averaged just under 17 minutes per game, a larger role, perhaps as the team’s sixth man. When Neto is on the floor, Washington’s already potent offense gets even better — multiple lineups that feature Neto have posted an offensive rating of at least 130 points per 100 possessions — and, while it isn’t that cut-and-dry, it would behoove the Wizards to experiment and see what he can do in a larger role.

“I just try to play my game,” Neto said. “With my new team, I’m trying to understand my teammates and play the game the way Scott [Brooks] wants us to play and just move the ball and be a player out there that tries to help the team and do whatever I have to do. If I have to shoot, if I have to score depending on who I am on the court…”

“I think, number-wise, I did great,” Neto said after the Wizards’ preseason opener. “I think there’s always room for improvement and I think I’m going to work on that and take advantage of my opportunities.”

“[Neto] has heart, he has grit, he has everything we need,” Beal said. “He can shoot the leather off the ball which is what I love about him too.”

Neto isn’t the solution to all of Washington’s problems — of which, there are many — but there’s no denying the impact he’s had, even in his short time with the team. With the turnaround he’s seen, Neto has not only proven that he belongs in the NBA, but that he can serve as a solid veteran spot-starter or bench piece. Not just for a Washington team that can use just about anyone right now, either, but for any team looking for a consistent shooter and leader on the court.

“It’s easy when you have teammates like we do,” Neto said following a preseason game. “I’m just trying to work hard and play the right way. I think we have improved…we’re still going to get better.”

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Point-Counter Point: Where Should The NBA Expand?

For the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion. The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?

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From time to time there are things that surface in the NBA landscape that requires a little debate, we call that Point – Counter Point. We have asked two our of writers to dive into the topic of NBA expansion, which for the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion,

The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?

The most popular candidate among cities that haven’t been home to an NBA franchise previously is Las Vegas, whihc makes a ton of sense and has to be a heavy favorite if the NBA does expand.

The market and potential for revenue have long made sense from a financial perspective, but the stigma around ‘Sin City’ was an issue. Things have changed quickly, though, and professional sports and the public, in general, are much more accepting of sports gambling than in previous years.

The NHL was the first professional league to enter the market with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. The team won the Stanley Cup in their first year as an expansion team and have quickly become a popular team in the league.

The WNBA and NFL have since joined the NHL in Las Vegas with the Aces (WNBA) and LAs Vegas Raiders (NFL). The NBA could soon be joining them. Vegas is the 28th most populous city in the U.S. and generates a ton of traffic from all over the world. It just makes too much sense.

Another reason it’s only a matter of time is the NBA’s already established in the city as a league. For years the NBA Summer League has been held in the area and it has become quite a popular event. Many from the industry attend, from media to players.

Finally, Vegas has a home stadium ready to go in T-Mobile Arena.

London could be a huge move for the league and sports in general, but the timing isn’t right. Given the current circumstances in the world, London doesn’t seem as likely as other cities. That’s unfortunate, as it makes a ton of sense from the league’s perspective. Not only would it be the first NBA franchise to be based in Europe, but it would also beat the other major U.S. sports leagues in getting there.

The timing would be great too, as the league has a number of up-and-coming players from Europe. That’s caused an increase in popularity worldwide, so surely fans would be excited to get a team of their own.

Given the things that would have to be worked out to have a team playing so far from most of the league, it’s hard to imagine the NBA going through those obstacles on top of the global situation as of today. Patience will be key for London, but it’s one of the best options if things were different right now.

The last two cities that come to mind in terms of contending cities are Mexico City and Louisville. While the NBA would be wise to wait to expand overseas, Mexico City could be a great option. There’s an untapped market south of the U.S. border and it would be much easier to add to the league in short order than somewhere in Europe.

Louisville makes sense as well as a city that offers a market not being maximized by the league. It’s a great basketball city for college hoops, as is the state of Kentucky in general. Residents would buy in right away and it may offer the most loyal fanbase the NBA can establish in little time.

– Garrett Brook


The city that immediately comes to mind when thinking of expansion in the NBA Is Seattle. Home to the SuperSonics from 1967-2008, the team was a staple of the city before being bought in 2006 and subsequently moved to Oklahoma City two years later.

The SuperSonics had a lot of success in Seattle during their 41-year stint, making the playoffs 22 times, the NBA Finals three times and taking home one NBA Championship in 1979. The SuperSonics have maintained national relevance since their departure.

In a poll done by the Herald Net at the beginning of the year, 48 percent of responders said it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back to Seattle. In a Twitter poll done by a journalist at the same newspaper, 77 percent of respondents said that it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back. And, because the NHL is expanding to Seattle, the city is currently building a brand new $930 million stadium.

One of the primary reasons the team pulled out of Seattle in the first place was because the team wanted a new stadium, and the city refused to invest the money necessary to build one. All of this packaged together with Seattle’s rapid growth as a city, over 400,000 people have moved to the Seattle metro area since the SuperSonics left, which means if the NBA decides to expand, don’t be surprised if Seattle is the immediate favorite.

Another city that comes to mind when speaking of expansion is Vancouver, the former home of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Vancouver Grizzlies didn’t have much success in their six seasons, thanks mainly to poor management in the front office. If given a more successful team, Vancouver could play host to an NBA team yet again.

Attendance started in the middle part of the league in the Grizzlies opening couple of seasons in the NBA, showing that there is interest in basketball in the area, but as the team continued to struggle year after year, they slipped to the back half of the league.

Another reason cited for the Grizzlies’ departure from Vancouver was the value of the Canadian dollar at the time compared to American dollars; that is less of an issue now as the Canadian dollar has become much closer in value to the American dollar over the last 20 years. It stands to reason that a good team would draw more interest than it did in their first run in the city, especially with the sport of basketball growing in Canada as a whole.

If the NBA wants a team further east, Pittsburgh is a city with a passionate group of sports fans that would almost certainly rally around a team were they to have success early on. Pittsburgh features successful franchises in the NHL, NFL and MLB, so it stands to reason an NBA franchise would succeed in the city as well. There would also be no worries over having to build a stadium in Pittsburgh since the Penguins stadium, PPG Paints Arena, has a capacity of 19,758, which is more than the average capacity for an NBA arena.

Kansas City is another place that has a lot of basketball history, even if it was over 35 years ago. The Sacramento Kings were initially located in Kansas City from 1972-1985 and even made the Western Conference Finals in the 1980-81 season with a team that featured former Wizards’ general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Kansas City did struggle with attendance during that period, but since 1985 the city of Kansas City has grown quite a lot, with the city’s population going from 1.15 million in 1985 to nearly 1.7 million at the start of 2021. Plus, the success of the Chiefs and Royals have both had in the city in recent years – both have won championships in the last 10 years – indicates that an NBA franchise would have the ability to succeed there as well.

– Zach Dupont

EDITORIAL NOTE: While the NBA is exploring the viability of expansion, there is no timeline currently being discussed. Obviously, with the current state of the pandemic, NBA expansion is not going to happen soon, but as the world normalizes in a post-vaccine world, expansion seems more likely in the NBA than it has in almost two decades, so expect to hear more about this topic.

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