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2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks were the surprise team of the 2014-15 season, winning 41 games and making the playoffs as the sixth seed. This was an amazing turnaround, considering just one season before they had a league-worst 15 wins. Now, all signs point to Milwaukee continuing to improve due to internal development from their young core, the addition of free agent Greg Monroe and the return of a healthy Jabari Parker. Just how good could these young Bucks be this year?

Basketball Insiders previews the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

Head coach Jason Kidd enjoyed a so-so campaign as a rookie head coach with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. But Kidd found his stride in Milwaukee despite facing numerous obstacles such as Jabari Parker’s season-ending knee injury, Larry Sanders’ unexpected retirement and a trade deadline that swapped Brandon Knight (who had been the team’s most productive player) for Michael Carter-Williams. Those types of events typically derail teams, but Milwaukee persevered and made the playoffs. The Bucks’ addition of forward/center Greg Monroe via free agency adds the necessary firepower to expand on the team’s success. The return of Parker in the lineup gives Kidd even more flexibility. Milwaukee should flirt with 50 wins this season, if they can find some outside shooting to create spacing for their offense.

3rd Place – Central Division

-Lang Greene

I can’t wait to watch the Bucks this season. As if getting Jabari Parker back from injury wasn’t enough, the addition of Greg Monroe gives Milwaukee an even scarier young core. While I think the Bucks are still two or three years away from contending, there’s no question in my mind that this is a playoff team and they’ll continue to gain valuable experience in the postseason (just as they did in their closer-than-expected battle with the Chicago Bulls last year). The Bucks had the second-best defense in the entire NBA last year, and now they add Parker and Monroe to strengthen their offense. Right now, this is a very good team and, barring something unexpected, they will soon be great.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Alex Kennedy

A few weeks ago, I proclaimed that the Bucks will eventually win the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that depends on whether management continues to spend the requisite money to keep this team intact. But if they do, goodness gracious, look out. This coming season, the Bucks will find a more balanced offensive attack with the addition of Greg Monroe and we will get to see Jabari Parker continue to fulfill his immense potential. So long as Jason Kidd’s team continues on what seems to be a normal and natural progression, a return to the playoffs is a guarantee and this time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucks earned home-court advantage in the first round. And yes, they will win the East… just not this year.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Moke Hamilton

The Milwaukee Bucks quietly reached .500 last season and made the playoffs without making much noise. More impressively, they did this in spite of losing Jabari Parker to injury. This season, Parker will be back and the former second overall pick is poised to make an impact on this intriguing Bucks teams. They landed a big free agent signing this offseason in Greg Monroe, who gives them a dominant anchor in the middle. The Bucks have pieced together a talented young core with players in the early stages of their careers who can grow and improve as a unit. Michael Carter-Williams (23 years old) will be in his first full campaign with the Bucks after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers last season; Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 years old) nearly doubled his scoring last season; and Khris Middleton (24 years old) averaged 16.8 points after the All-Star Break. Reaching the postseason is an accomplishment, maintaining playoff contention is a challenge. The Bucks will have to jell early with the new additions to prepare for the long haul of 82 games.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Jessica Camerato

Everybody is going to tout the Greg Monroe signing as the thing that ultimately pushes the Milwaukee Bucks to another level of success this year, but Jabari Parker’s return is likely to have just as much (if not more) to do with any imminent success. Parker and Monroe are two gifted offensive players who can consistently combine for 30-40 points a night, which is something the Bucks were sorely missing a year ago. Last year’s team had the defensive prowess, but not the offensive talent. This team has an insanely long starting lineup with plenty of athleticism (Monroe notwithstanding), but the bench is deep too. New ownership has re-energized this organization, and there is every expectation that the Bucks contend for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs next year.

3rd Place — Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Jabari Parker

Assuming he’s back for opening night, as some reports suggest, Parker’s offensive influence on this team would be massive, as Milwaukee was a team last year that simply could not score the ball with any sort of consistency. Parker, meanwhile, has diverse skills and extended range and should, over the course of the season, work his way toward alpha dog status in Milwaukee, particularly on the offensive end. A minutes count at the start of the year could limit his output, but he’s still the most offensively talented player the Bucks have.

Top Defensive Player: John Henson

A player as tall as Henson can accomplish a lot with a 7’5 wingspan, and even though he’s still not a starter this season, he’ll get plenty of minutes protecting the rim for a squad that has had some frontcourt depth issues since Larry Sanders excused himself from the team and Ersan Ilyasova was traded. Last year, Henson held opposing big men to 37.9 percent field goal shooting and dropped their percentages 14.8 percent below league average inside of six feet. He played only a little over 18 minutes a game but still averaged a couple blocks per contest, all of which places him among the most interesting young big man defenders in the league. With more minutes this year, he should be even more effective.

Top Playmaker: Giannis Antetokounmpo

While the Antetokounmpo point guard experiment wasn’t exactly a successful one a year ago, the burgeoning Greek star has proven that his combination of size, length, speed, athleticism and handle is enough to allow him free passage to the cup almost whenever he wants it. Twenty more pounds of muscle would go a long way toward making him truly unstoppable, but he’s a playmaker if ever there was one. His specialty is tapping away a shot on defense and then sprinting down the court in what looks like four loping strides to stuff one home in transition. He makes his own opportunities, and he’s only getting better at doing it.

Top Clutch Player: Khris Middleton

In March of last year, Middleton had this great last-second three-pointer to beat the Miami HEAT, but that wasn’t his only big shot of the year. He had another great one against Phoenix back in December and certainly hit his fair share of shots in big moments beyond those two game winners. He’s proven he can rise to the occasion in big moments, and until Parker establishes himself as “The Man” in Milwaukee, the ball feels very safe in Middleton’s hands at the end of big games.

Top Unheralded Player: Greivis Vasquez

Vasquez is an absolutely perfect fit for the Bucks as a reserve this season, not only because they really needed a competent and consistent backup point guard behind the shaky and offensively-challenge Michael Carter-Williams, but also because the Bucks are a little thin in terms of reserves at the wing positions and Vasquez can play both the two and the three, as well. He’s a good three-point shooter, too, and has enough experience to help supplement all of the youth currently on the roster. He’s going to fit in nicely, and should be a huge help both in terms of veteran presence and on-court ability.

Top New Addition: Greg Monroe

The way Detroit is talking about how much the loss of Monroe is going to help their spacing and offense, one would think he were an absolute albatross eating up the paint and ruining everybody’s lives, but make no mistake; Monroe is a great fit in Milwaukee and should help bring some consistency on offense. While he’s not among the league’s elite defenders by a long shot, he plays on a good defensive team that can mask that weakness, and it’s not as if Carter-Williams needs the lane clear to be effective. Monroe posting up and knocking down high-percentage shots is a good thing for this group, and they’ll go as far as he can take them this year. Without question, Monroe was one of the better free agency signings of the summer.

-Joel Brigham

Who We Like

Giannis Antetokounmpo – He’s still really young, and it certainly does seem that people are expecting more out of him than he’s capable of, but there’s no denying the fact that Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting and physically imposing presences in the NBA. While still rail thin, he’s a small forward with a 7’4 wingspan, which explains why he’s so disruptive defensively and so quick to the bucket on offense. He has a long ways to go, but so far there haven’t been any missteps in his development. Expect another giant leap in 2015-2016.

Jabari Parker – The Bucks played as well as they did last year without their franchise savior, who tore his ACL early in the season and really wasn’t able to contribute to the organizational growth they experienced. Still, the idea always has been for him to become the face of the franchise, and this should be the year where he starts to take on that role. He’s really only got about a quarter of an NBA season under his belt, but he’s a tough, skilled kid with plenty of room to grow. This should be a good year for him to get his footing and start planting his roots in as the leader in Milwaukee.

Greg Monroe – Usually it requires some kind of trade to bring in a seven-footer who averages 15.9 PPG and 10.2 RPG but all the Bucks had to give up to bring in Greg Monroe was money. It was lots of money, but still, Wisconsin never has been much of a free agency destination and landing a fish that big was a testament to the quality of work the front office and coaching staff are doing in Milwaukee. Only 25 years old, Monroe is just entering his prime, and he’s doing it alongside a similarly tall and talented Bucks starting lineup.

John Henson – With Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova gone, this frontcourt has gone from loaded to relatively barren. The only players behind Parker and Monroe at the four and five spots are Johnny O’Bryant III, Miles Plumlee and John Henson, with Henson clearly the best bench option they have to spell either starter. He’s a defensive stalwart whose coach knows how to use him relatively effectively on offense, and that is good considering the uptick in minutes he’s due to play this coming season. Eighteen ticks a night is a thing of the past; Henson officially is a much bigger part of this team.

Khris Middleton – On the one hand, $70 million feels like a lot for a player that nobody has ever come even close to discussing as a potential All-Star, but he was a player who averaged over 13 PPG last year and shot over 40 percent from deep. He’s only 23 years old and really developed some chemistry with Antetokounmpo toward the end of the last year, so he always was going to be a keeper. Milwaukee never even thought twice about keeping him around. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how the scoring hierarchy shakes out with Parker back, Monroe in and Middleton a year wiser. It’s a good problem to have.

-Joel Brigham

Strengths

So much has been made of the height and length of the Bucks’ starting lineup, but it’s impossible to ignore since there really isn’t a lineup even remotely like it in today’s NBA. Monroe and Antetokounmpo are both 6’11, Parker is 6’8, Middleton is 6’7 and Carter-Williams is 6’6, and that’s not even mentioning wingspans, which are equally impressive. Parker and Middleton both have a 6’11 reach, Carter-Williams has a 6’7 reach, and both Antetokounmpo and Henson have a 7’5 reach. This shows why they’ll be such a dominant team defensively, because long arms disrupt passing lanes and block a ton of shots. Last season they were 8th in the league in points allowed with 97.8 and 5th in opponents’ field goal percentage. They also were first in team steals and 11th in team blocks, and there’s nothing that has happened in the offseason to suggest that much of that will change.

-Joel Brigham

Weaknesses

Frankly, the Bucks are an incredibly young team, with their six best players ranging between 20 and 25 years old. Even the “veterans” on this team, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez, don’t have much by way of deep playoff experience under their belts, and that could prove quite a roadblock for a team looking to mature and blossom in a season with high expectations. Veteran leadership is important for a young group like this, and for the most part it doesn’t look they have it right now.

-Joel Brigham

The Burning Question

Are the Bucks really ready to make the leap?

With a strong showing in the playoffs last season, the return of Jabari Parker, the addition of Greg Monroe and the further development of the team’s talented young core, there are a lot of really smart basketball people pegging Milwaukee for a huge year and a real shot at postseason success come May of 2016. But are the Bucks really ready to crack 50 wins? Are they really ready to win a playoff series or two? Inexperience and lack of familiarity with each other could ultimately trump length, athleticism and seemingly unlimited potential. Whether this is the year they make a huge jump or not, the Bucks are on the right track, and success almost certainly is right around the corner.

-Joel Brigham

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free-agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind-bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked within the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5-year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of an NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two-part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also a side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the sideshow that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick, the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick, the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20 is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks’ selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably affect the NBA game beginning on Day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot-blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented frontcourt and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game-changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdanović add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, the free agency period went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be a good value for the Sixth Man of the Year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanović will be a great get, maybe on the high side money-wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of the direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assumed he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30-year-old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did manage to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career-high in rebounds (6.7), but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets’ future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bogdanović slipped through their fingers.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head-scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly-average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted in to a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering from an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One Move We’d Like To See:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go with Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. This is why if Houston wants all the Nets’ and Wizards’ cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless of which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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Headlines

#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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