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Cheap Seats: The NBA Player You’d Pay to See

Which NBA player would you pay to see? In this week’s Cheap Seats, the Basketball Insiders’ interns debate.

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.

This week, the interns discuss which NBA player they’d pay money to see:

Paul George

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – these are some of the players NBA fans would definitely pay to see play. James is the NBA’s all-around best player, Durant and Anthony are two of the best scorers, Paul is the best point guard and Griffin is the most exciting dunker. But I’ll pass on these great players, and pay to see Paul George play.

George came out of college without much hype or fanfare surrounding him. In fact, George’s name was lost in a list of names that included Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Al-Farouq Aminu and Xavier Henry. Four years later, Turner, the No. 2 pick, is on the trade block for the tanking 76ers, Johnson and Henry are on veteran minimum deals with the Lakers, Hayward is a solid piece in Utah and Aminu still cannot shoot consistently. George, however, has improved elements of his game each season, committed himself to being a defensive stopper and is now one of the 10 best players in the league.

George really made a name for himself in last year’s playoffs against the Miami HEAT. He was asked to slow down LeBron James; no big deal for the 23-year-old out of Fresno State, right? In Game One, after hitting an incredibly difficult three-pointer to tie the game, George let James blow by him for the game-winning layup. George did not go away quietly though. In Game Two, at the end of the third quarter, George managed to drive past James and throw down a monster dunk on Chris Anderson, who fouled him. George made his free throw and completed the three-point play. In response, James ran the ball down the court with five seconds to go and hit a long pull-up three pointer over George. LeBron said a few words to George, and the two exchanged a high five as they returned to their benches.

It was clear that George had earned the respect of the best player in the world. James would later say, “We’re just two guys trying to do what it takes to help our team win. He’s really good. He’s going to be a great one.” George would lead the Pacers to a win in Game Two, but the HEAT would win the series in seven games. Though the Pacers lost, it was a major step for the gritty team, and established George as their franchise player.

This season, George has cemented his status as an elite two-way player, a rare type of superstar in this league. He is the go-to player on offense, and is usually asked to guard the best wing player on opposing teams. Other players in the league who do this include James and… well, that is pretty much it. But remember, James was a high school phenom, he was always supposed to be one of the best players in the league. George was supposed to be solid, but never pegged as a potential superstar.

However, through hard work, and self-confidence, George has increased his scoring each year from 7.8 points per game, to 12.1, to 17.4, to 22.6 this year. After losing to the Pacers on November 20, 2013, Carmelo Anthony said, “He’s [gotten] a lot better offensively. All it takes is confidence in this league. I think George, that’s what he has right now, and it’s growing day by day, game by game, and you can see that when he’s out there on the court.” Anthony scored 30 points, but George held him to shooting just 10-28 from the floor. George managed to score 35, including nine of Indiana’s 14 points in overtime.

In his fourth year, George has taken the leap that other great players have taken. Compare the stat lines of these three players in their fourth year in the league:

Player A (PER 36): .457 FG%, .355 3PT%, .733 FT%, 6.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks, 24.1 points.

Player B (PER 36): .440 FG%, .365 3PT%, .852 FT%, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 22.3 points.

Player C (PER 36): .476 FG%, .319 3PT%, .698 FT%, 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 24.1 points.

These players are Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Paul George. Try to match these players with their stat line. You may get it right, but you may not, and that is what is amazing about George. In four years, he has managed to achieve similar levels of play to two of the best small forwards in the last two decades.

Player A is McGrady, who was an amazing player and could score the ball effortlessly. In McGrady’s fifth-year, he increased his scoring average to 29.3 points per 36 minutes. It is scary to think that George may be primed to make another leap in scoring similar to McGrady. What distinguishes George from McGrady, however, is that George is asked to be a lockdown defender in Indiana. In fact, many fans might think of George as a defender rather than an elite scorer. While George can score in a variety of ways, he commits himself to a team philosophy centered on defense. And it’s working. At 39-10, the Pacers have the best record in the league with George as their leader.

Player C is James. LeBron is an unbelievable talent, who may go down as the greatest player of all time. Similar to McGrady, LeBron was so highly regarded as a prospect that he skipped college and entered the draft straight out of high school. NBA rules now require players to spend one year in college before entering the draft. George spent two years at Fresno State, and was not the sort of prospect that would enter the NBA straight from high school anyway. Yet George can hold his own against LeBron statistically, and in a playoff series. With the Pacers and HEAT currently ranked atop the Eastern Conference, it is likely that George will get a second shot to out duel the best player in the league, which all NBA fans should look forward to.

Yes, George has struggled in early 2014 and shot 5-22 against the Portland Trail Blazers last night. It doesn’t matter. With roughly four minutes to go in overtime against the Blazers, George fought for an offensive rebound off a Danny Granger miss, and stole the ball from Robin Lopez, who had secured the rebound. George then missed an open three pointer, but got the offensive rebound and eventually would run baseline to get open for a dunk off a George Hill assist. Then, while up three, Indiana turned to George to seal the game. George smoothly took a step back jumper with 20 seconds to go and buried it.

This is why George is such a great player. Even when he isn’t scoring efficiently, he is still making plays defensively. This is not a criticism of players such as Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. They are almost unstoppable on offense. But neither player is considered a lockdown defender, and neither commits themselves to the defensive side of the ball like George does. George is not a better player than Durant, though he is arguably better than Carmelo. But this is not about paying to see the best player in the league. That title is held by LeBron James. This is recognizing the all-around elite play and commitment to defense that George displays, which many of the best players in the league never do. James is one of those few players, but he was expected to do that. George was not, and it makes him that much easier to appreciate as a player. As proof, George earned the Most Improved Player award last year, and could potentially win it again this season, which is a testament to his commitment towards improving his game.

Still need convincing that George is worth the price of admission? Then check out this dunk he threw down against the Clippers on January 18.

In a league that focuses mainly on scoring, Paul George commits himself to defense like only a handful of players have in recent memory. He is the number one scoring option, and the lockdown defender on the team with the best record in the league. George works harder on defense than he does offense, and that is what places him among the NBA elite.

That is why I would pay to see Paul George play.

– Jesse Blancarte

Stephen Curry

There are two players in NBA that are going to put fans in the stands no matter when or where they play, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is ascending in that direction and may very soon have to be included in the must see category with James and Durant.

Curry doesn’t possess the size or athleticism of James or Durant, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA today. The strongest attribute in Curry’s game is his lethal jump shot. He can be absolutely deadly from beyond the arc.  As a catch and shoot player he is nearly unstoppable. What makes Curry’s’ shot so difficult to guard and so entertaining to watch is his lightning quick release. He needs only the slightest bit of room from his defender to have enough space to get his shot off.

What separates Curry from other great outside shooters, is his ability to create his own shot. Curry isn’t one of those shooters that can only score by running off screens to shake his defender or spotting up and waiting for his teammates to penetrate the defense and find him.

His jump shot may be his greatest strength, but it is certainly not his only strength. Curry’s ball handling is brilliant to watch, he is able to create space and find open shots off the dribble at will.  The Warriors also run a lot of high pick-and-roll sets with Curry at the top of the key, which leaves his defender in a very adverse position; if the defender decides to go over the screen to prevent the three Curry will dribble to the elbow and knock down a mid-range jumper, but if the defender cuts off the dribble Curry will step back and drill a three-pointer.  Once Curry finds a rhythm and has a feel for how he is going to be defended, he can start to fill it up quickly.  He is the type of player that can put up 10-15 points in a quarter without even breaking a sweat.  Curry this year has had games scoring 44, 43 and 38 points, and last season dropped 54 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Maybe the most impressive way that Curry scores the ball is at the rim. He has an array of moves inside the paint and deft touch off the backboard. His ability to score at the rim is what makes him nearly impossible to defend.  There are not many players, if any, who at Curry’s size, have his ability to shoot from the outside and can drive down the lane and score over seven-footers.  He can finish with either hand in the paint and has mastered the floater.  Some of his finishes are awe-inspiring, and Curry is somehow able to consistently navigate through opposing big men and finish at the rim even when it seems he may be taking a very difficult shot.

As if Curry’s ability to score and handle the ball weren’t enough, he is becoming one of the better passers in the NBA. This season Curry is averaging 9.1 assists per game, which is good for second best in the league behind only Chris Paul. Curry draws a significant amount of attention from opposing defenses night in and night out, as he should, with much of the opposition’s defensive attention focused on Curry it allows him to find open looks for his teammates.  Being the deadly outside shooter that Curry is, oftentimes more than one player will come to contest his shot and similarly when he drives the defense knowing that he can score in the paint in a variety of ways will collapse. When either happens, it allows Curry to locate an open teammate for an easy look.

Curry is a supremely talented player; he can singlehandedly lead the Warriors to victory every night.  Any given game he can score 40 plus points and knock down three after three.  At the same time, he doesn’t force his shot. If the defense commits to stopping him, Curry will go out and drop 13 or 14 assists.  His combination of shooting, ball handling and passing is unmatched in the league today.  He uses all three of these strengths to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.  Curry has become one of the most entertaining players in the league, edging closer and closer to being included with Durant and James in the NBA’s can’t miss category when you have the chance to go see them play.

– John Zitzler

Anthony Davis

In just his second season in the league, Anthony Davis has made huge improvements in several statistical categories, and if he continues this pace, he’ll be on track to join elite company.

Davis already has more double-doubles in 41 games this season (23) than he did in 64 games last season (20). A big contributing factor to that is the Pelicans are relying on him more this season, as his minutes have jumped from 28.8 minutes per game last season to 36 minutes per game this season. The Pelicans are simply relying on Davis more this season due to the injuries that have plagued them. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith have all missed games this season due to various injuries; there is no timetable for Anderson to come back, and Smith will miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery.

Through Davis’ first 41 games, he is averaging 20.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, and should he continue that pace, he’ll be the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-00 season to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game for an entire season.

Despite all of Davis’ improvements this season, he still wasn’t voted into the All-Star game during the original ballots, but given the injury to Kobe Bryant, Davis was announced as Bryant’s replacement in the game.

Part of what makes Davis so fun to watch is his 7’4 wingspan and ability to block shots. Davis currently leads the league in blocks with 3.24 per game, which is miles ahead of Serge Ibaka, the next closest player with 2.55 blocks per game. Davis has had 10 games with at least five blocks, including seven during his 22-point, 19-rebound effort against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 26.

Davis’ performance against the Magic is a perfect example of the challenge teams face when trying to plan against playing him. Davis used his superb athletic ability against the slower Magic bigs, a skill that is often only matched by a handful of bigs in the league. On one play in particular, Davis spent most of one possession guarding the basket, then E’Twaun Moore got the ball in the corner and attempted a shot, but Davis used his athletic ability to race out to the three-point line to block Moore’s shot and force the Magic into a shot clock violation.

“It’s hard to imagine getting much better than 20 and 10, but I think he can do it,” teammate Ryan Anderson told SiriusXM Radio.

The way Davis can run both sides of the floor is exactly why he is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Davis’ defensive play is almost reminiscent to that of Dwight Howard, when Howard won three-straight DPOY awards. The obvious difference to that argument is Howard’s bulk over Davis and the additional three rebounds per game Howard posted during his run. Conversely, Davis wins the blocks battle as Howard averaged 2.4, 2.8 and 2.9 blocks per game, respectively. Davis’ steals are also on target with Howard’s, as Davis is averaging 1.4 per game and Howard averaged 1.4 the final year he won the award. Those three years Howard won the DPOY award were arguably Howard’s best years of his career.

Davis isn’t like the average big man in the league, as his offensive possessions would indicate. According to Synergy Sports, Davis is scoring the bulk of his points on transition, cuts, pick-and-rolls and put backs. Due to Davis’ lack of bulk, his post-up possessions are at the bottom of his scoring options and isn’t something that he needs to rely on. Bottom line is Davis does most of his damage using his athleticism on transition and cutting toward the basket.

The fact that he’s not even done with his second season yet and is already posting these types of numbers is only going to solidify his place among the league’s best players in the coming years.

– Cody Taylor

Which NBA player would you pay to see? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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Aamir Simms Readying Himself for His Opportunity

Clemson’s Aamir Simms is a versatile big man built for the modern NBA. Drew Maresca spoke with Simms about the draft process, Clemson’s success last season and how he thinks he fits in the league.

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Clemson has produced some very good NBA players – including Elden Campbell, Dale Davis and Horace Grant – but not too many of late. The most recent Clemson Tiger who was selected in the NBA Draft was Jason Blossomgame in 2017. Before that, K.J McDaniels in 2014, Trevor Booker in 2010 and Will Soloman in 2001. Aamir Simms hopes to be the first in a while – and he hopes to stick in the league.

Statistically, Simms has everything you’d want in a prospect. He’s a 6’8” big who can defend multiple positions and shoot it from deep. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 2020-21, shooting 40 percent on three-point attempts and 82.5 percent from the free throw line.

Simms was also named to the second-team All-ACC this season, after being named to the third-team All-ACC last season.

But the NBA Draft is a crapshoot with hundreds of players competing for just 60 spots. Complicating matters is the fact that Simms was a four-year player – and age is not an asset in the NBA Draft.

But Simms proved a lot in his time at Clemson, and he feels that his ability and willingness to do whatever a team needs is an asset.

“My original position was the four,” Simms recently told Basketball Insiders. “But I’m comfortable playing small ball five (too). And later in my career, I want to work toward playing some three, too, like Jeff Green.”

Green, who played a major role in the Brooklyn Nets’ success this season, is among the players who inspire Simms. He obviously values what LeBron James and Kevin Durant do, but he sees the utility of players like Green, and he understands that mimicking players like this will be key in his success.

“Being a versatile four like Jae Crowder (would be ideal), Simms said. “Being able to defend guys his size. Having the mid-range and the face-up like Al Horford or Paul Milsap. The craftiness and versatility of Tobias Harris. And especially Jeff Green. He does a good job of shooting the ball, playing the post, guarding one through five.”

“And that’s something I’m excited to showcase in this combine, in workouts and even through summer league.”

Achieving that success requires serious skill and versatility, but Simms believes he’s already on his way. If you’re thinking “but there isn’t evidence that he can do that,” you’re not wrong. But it’s not uncommon for players to sacrifice their own success for the greater good of a college program – and that’s exactly what Simms did.

“My perimeter defense is something I am really ready to showcase,” Simms said. “At school, I was an undersized five, so I didn’t switch much for the sake of the team,’ Simms said.

But he can – and he knows it.

Clemson’s entire roster had only three players taller than Simms. Two of the three were Freshmen and the other – Jonathan Baehre – started just 10 games. Clearly, Clemson coach Brad Brownell had a vision for his team, which included Simms as an undersized center. And considering their entry into the NCAA tournament after the media predicted they finish 10th in the ACC in a pre-season poll, it’s fair to say it worked.

“I think there’s a lot of things that teams look at (in the draft process): winners, individual growth, changes in your stats, and consistency,” Simms said. “I think I’ve shown all those areas throughout this season.”

“Just the way I led my team, (along) with other guys on the team, I got us back to the tournament – because people didn’t really expect us to. We got ranked pretty highly. My shooting and numbers improved, especially my field goal percentage. I was a little streaky with rebounds, but I think I showed improvements in areas that would progress me in the prospect rankings.”

With Simms, shooting will initiate interest.  As mentioned above, Simms shot better than 40 percent on three-point over the past two seasons – but he wasn’t a knock-down shooter early in his Clemson career.

As a Freshmen, Simms shot a pedestrian 32.6 percent on three-point attempts. But credit Simms for identifying the problem and working to fix it

“The reason why I shot so low as a freshman was that my form was coming across the left side of my face, so when I released the ball I couldn’t see as much,” Simms explained. “From the middle of my freshmen year to Senior year, I worked with (assistant) coach Smith before he went to Florida State, as well as (assistant) coach Dean and (director of player development) Terrell Mcintyre.”

“And those guys helped me improve my form and stick with it. And then, it was just spending my summers getting up hundreds of shots – 500 every morning and 500 every night to get that muscle memory down.”

But there’s more to Simms game than just shooting, and that’s what he hopes to prove throughout the draft process – beginning on Sunday, June 20 at the G-League Elite camp.

The G League Elite camp is an opportunity for 40 players to showcase their abilities in front of NBA and G League scouts, as well as coaches and front-office executives. The camp will consist of five-on-five scrimmages, as well as strength and agility drills. Top performers will earn an invite to the 2021 NBA Draft combine, meaning the camp can catapult players into very real consideration by NBA clubs. And Simms understands the opportunity at hand.

“Getting invited to the combine (is the goal),” Simms said. “That’s where the best of the best goes. I belong, but I’m fortunate to get the invite because there are other good guys who didn’t get an invite.”

This season, Simms faced off against at least two lottery prospects in Scottie Barnes (Florida State) and Jalen Johnson (Duke). Both will probably be used as measuring sticks of Simms’ potential; but considering defensive schemes, all matchups aren’t equal.

Simms underperformed against Florida State, scoring just 5 points on one-for-three shooting. But Florida State eliminates post opportunities and is known for its swarming defense.

“Florida State gets up in you, (they) switch one through five. They sit on you and take you out from catching the ball deep in the post,” Simms said. “I understood I wasn’t going to be as involved as I wanted entering it.”

But regardless of how you view Simms’ performance against Florida State, he demonstrated a big heart in coming back and playing well against Duke just one week later. While Clemson lost by 26 points, Simms performed well in a head-to-head matchup with another high-profile forward, scoring 19 points on seven-for-thirteen shooting.

“I have shown since my junior year that your ranking doesn’t matter,” Simms explained. “You play lottery picks a few times every year. That one was more of a bounce back after Florida State. That’s another one where we weren’t together, but the individual performance was what it was. It was in a losing effort so I didn’t focus on it, but it shows that I can play with anyone. I don’t care if you’re top 10 in the draft or wherever. I always feel I perform at a high level against highly projected players, and that was an opportunity to remind people who I am.”

Having to prove oneself self after four seasons at a big-time program would probably bother a lot of prospects, but it doesn’t bother Simms. On the contrary, Simms uses it as motivation.

“I am just thankful to be in the position I am because a lot of guys work for it and don’t get the opportunity,” Simms said. “It can be frustrating to be asked to prove yourself over and over, but the majority of great guys in the game have to do that at some point, too, so that’s fine.”

“I (already) have a chip on my shoulder,” Simms continued. “I come from the worst situations you can imagine, so being asked to keep showing my game and my progression is easy. Being able to put the ball in the basket and play hard isn’t something I stress over.”

“I’ve been through way darker times,” Simms continued. “Playing basketball is fun. I’ll have to show it over and over, but at least I’m doing what I love. Passion takes care of all of that. My faith pushes me through, God pushes me through. So if they ask me to do it 100 times, I’ll do it 101. I belong in the league. I believe I’m NBA-ready. If they want me to do it this week and another week after that, I’m ready.”

Simms is focused on getting the right opportunity with the right team. He’s spoken to his friends in the NBA including Mamadi Diakite (Milwaukee Bucks) and Nic Claxton (Brooklyn Nets), both of whom speak about the mental toll of going from being “the guy” to getting DNPs. But they’re not bitter. They emphasize the importance of getting into a good situation with a patient team and how it enables players to build confidence away from the pressure of the NBA game.

Still, you never know when your number will be called and rookies have to be perpetually ready. They also have to understand a team’s needs and the system that’s run. But Simms isn’t worried about that aspect. As the 2021 “Skip” Prosser Award winner, emblematic of the top scholar-athlete in men’s college basketball, he’s always been one to hit the books – and he intends on approaching an NBA opportunity the same way.

“If I am lucky enough to get drafted, I am going to spend that time starting the first night to get a feel for the team,” Simms said. “Learn the roster, who’s the primary and secondary guys and seeing where I fit.”

“No matter what, one thing you can do is rebound and defend. So that’s something I am going to do from the jump, (as well as) doing what coach asks of me. I’ve always been very coachable.”

Getting drafted is obviously the goal. But Simms understands that there is an opportunity beyond the draft. And conversely, he knows that getting drafted doesn’t guarantee success.

“Too many guys get caught up with their name being called, and that can land them in a bad situation,” Simms said. “It takes a lot of maturity to understand that it’s OK if you’re not drafted. A lot of guys who aren’t drafted or are taken late second-round are standing out (currently). Look around the league, guys come from the G League or overseas… if you can get over the idea of getting drafted and just focus on getting your foot in the door, that’s most important. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Simms has spent at least the last four years preparing himself for this moment – now it’s time to prove that he belongs. His mix of athleticism, size and skill will get him noticed, but his patience and cerebral approach are real differentiators. Even if Simms’ name isn’t called on July 29th at the draft, this writer believes he’ll find his way onto an NBA roster for the 2021-22 season, one way or another.

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Now What? – Portland Trail Blazers

From Neil Olshey’s top choice to replace Terry Stotts to whether they should trade CJ McCollum and who they might get for him, Bobby Krivitsky examines what’s next for the Portland Trail Blazers as they work to convince Damian Lillard to stay.

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ search for a new head coach has not gotten off to a smooth start. Less than 24 hours after Damian Lillard made it known Jason Kidd was his top preference to replace Terry Stotts, Kidd withdrew his name from the running.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups, San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, University of South Carolina and USA Women’s coach Dawn Staley, Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni, and Spurs executive Brent Barry are among Portland’s top candidates.

It’s vital that throughout this process, the Trail Blazers respect Lillard’s opinions. That doesn’t mean they have to hire one of their franchise player’s top choices, but if what he has to say isn’t holding the proper weight, it could fracture the relationship. According to NBA reporter Sean Highkin, Billups, who has a good relationship with Lillard, is Olshey’s preferred candidate.

Speaking of Olshey, in an attempt to deflect blame, he took an unnecessary parting shot at Stotts during his exit interview following the Trail Blazers getting eliminated by a depleted Denver Nuggets team in six games. 

He also said not to expect many changes to the Trail Blazers roster.

To put it mildly, it’s in poor taste for Olshey to show prospective head coaching candidates they shouldn’t expect him to have their back if the situation turns sour. On top of that and the uncertainty regarding whether Lillard will ask to get traded this summer, those interviewing for this position shouldn’t anticipate many roster changes despite Portland’s first-round exit, which marked the fourth time that’s happened in the last five years.

There’s also the possibility the amount of roster turnover is small but significant. To that effect, it may be time for Portland to break up its potent backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum. The latter can still play at a high level, as evidenced by him averaging 23.1 points, 4.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and only 1.4 turnovers per game during the regular season. He then produced 20.7 points, six rebounds and 4.3 dimes per contest in the six-game series against the Nuggets.

However, the Trail Blazers have struggled to overcome their lack of balance between their offensive proficiency and defensive shortcomings. McCollum turns 30-years-old in September, and while there may not be a dip in his performance, it’s hard to believe now is when Portland will start experiencing more postseason success, especially if Olshey’s telling the truth about minimal changes to the roster.

Trading McCollum for someone who can help make the team more dynamic while flanking Lillard as the team’s second-best player could lead to lengthier stays in the playoffs. Two names that come to mind are Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. The former is again experiencing postseason struggles, which could prompt Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, to reconstruct the team’s roster around Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ top-two players remain a clunky fit without a more reliable closer. However, Simmons is a three-time All-Star, he recently got named to the All-Defensive First Team for the second time in his career, and he’s an elite floor general when pushing the tempo. Simmons could also form a potent pick-and-roll partnership with Lillard, including when he turns to one of his most reliable scoring methods in the half-court, faking the handoff, then darting to the rim.

As for Ingram, an All-Star in 2020, this season, he averaged 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while converting 38.1 percent of the 6.1 shots he attempted from beyond the arc, which is reflective of his growth as a three-point shooter. He’s far from a lockdown defender, but at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he’s more versatile on that end than McCollum.

The other decision the Trail Blazers have to make is much easier; whether to re-sign Norman Powell. The former Toronto Raptor quickly acclimated to his new team after Portland acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for a package centered around Gary Trent. Powell averaged 17 points per game in 27 regular-season contests with the Trail Blazers and maintained that production during the playoffs. It’s a safe bet he won’t exercise his $11.6 million player option. At his exit interview, Olshey reiterated the franchise’s desire to work out a new contract with Powell, saying they “made the Norman Powell trade hoping that he’d be a part of the future.”

As the Trail Blazers work to make sure one of the most loyal athletes in sports doesn’t decide it’s time for him to take his talents elsewhere, it starts with hiring the right head coach. In regards to their roster, the challenge is figuring out how to add upgrades while handcuffed. Portland doesn’t have a first-round pick this year due to the trade to get Robert Covington. They also lack cap space and players who hold great value on the trade market. Parting with McCollum is a choice that could backfire; it’s also possible Lillard voices his opposition to such a move, in which case, the return would have to be better than expected to go through with that decision. Otherwise, the Trail Blazers’ path to improvement centers around making the difficult choice to trade a fan favorite in the hopes that becoming a better-balanced team translates to more success in the playoffs.

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Now What? – Golden State Warriors

The past two seasons have been incredibly difficult for the Golden State Warriors. While they are eager to return to their winning ways, their path back to championship contention could take some time – if it happens at all.

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For the better part of a decade, the Golden State Warriors were the darling of the league. After three championships and five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Warriors fell off the horse. Injuries to their star players and the departure of Kevin Durant left the franchise in a state of despair. Now that they have picked up the pieces, they are ready to get back to being championship contenders.

Nothing in life is that easy though, especially when so many other teams have improved and accumulated their own star power. With another brutal injury to Klay Thompson, an aging Stephen Curry and a devastating injury to their prized rookie James Wiseman, the path back to greatness doesn’t look so golden after all.

The Curry show was in full effect this past season, as the two-time MVP dazzled fans with his play on the way to winning the scoring title. The 33-year old is ready to share the load with his teammates but it could be a rocky start for them as they try to shake the rust off as they battle in the loaded Western Conference.

Several key items must be examined before the Warriors can go back to being a championship-caliber team.

Strengths

Everything the Warriors do rests on the shoulders of Curry, who was spectacular once again this season. The seven-time All-Star earned his second scoring title this year in an epic duel with Bradley Beal. The first time he did so was the 2015-16 season when Golden State won a record 73 games in the regular season but fell short in Game 7 of the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year was quite different, as they finished 9th in the Western Conference with a 39-33 record.

A healthy Curry is incredibly important but a healthy Thompson is crucial to their success. After missing two full seasons due to two significant injuries, his return to the court is everything to this team. When at 100 percent, the Warriors have the best backcourt in the league but it will take Thompson some time to ease into things and to clear the mental and physical hurdles associated with his return to play.

Draymond Green reminded everyone of his value and his impact on the game. The former Defensive Player of the Year demonstrated that he is still arguably the best defender in the league, capable of guarding multiple positions. His passing and ability to get guys open have always been his greatest strengths. His impact might not be the same if he were playing for the Orlando Magic but he is the perfect fit alongside Curry and Thompson.

Outside of their core three players, one other person to keep in mind is head coach Steve Kerr. With Rick Carlisle’s resignation yesterday, Kerr now becomes the third-longest tenured head coach in the league behind Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra.

Even with a constantly changing roster, Kerr was able to guide this team to the Play-In Tournament. They were able to finish the regular season with the fifth-best defensive rating in the league, and while much of the credit goes to Kerr and Green, Andrew Wiggins deserves some praise as well.

Known as a defensive liability for most of his career, Wiggins finally took pride in his defense this season. He has always had the tools with his length and quickness, but his energy and effort always seemed to be lacking. Whether or not Kerr and the staff challenged him before the season, the fact is he made a major stride in that area, which ultimately helped the team win many close games. If he continues that heading into next season, it will go a long way in getting them back into the mix.

Weaknesses

One major weakness for Golden State this year was rebounding. They ranked 22nd in the league overall and dead last in the offensive variety of that category. This is not a product of playing small ball or just a lack of size in general. The Warriors were notorious for not boxing out and being out-hustled on the glass. The second-chance opportunities for their opponents to score often killed them in close games. This is something that must be addressed both in free agency and with the current players on the roster.

Another area of weakness that can be solved this offseason is the lack of veterans on the roster. Aside from their top four players, nearly everyone on the roster has three years or less of experience. The good news is that many of these guys seem to have some potential. Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Mychal Mulder all played a lot of minutes for the Warriors. Sharing the floor with Curry and Green will ultimately help them achieve their goal of becoming a key contributor for this team.

Turnovers were another trouble spot for this team, as they committed 15 per game during the regular season. Only four teams averaged more per game but the Warriors were often dealing with new young players that didn’t have the experience to negate many of those. They also committed 21.6 fouls per game, which was the second-most in the league trailing only the Washington Wizards. Those are two areas that will need to be cleaned up, regardless of who is or isn’t on the floor.

Opportunities

The Warriors will be back in the lottery for next month’s NBA Draft but they likely won’t have a top pick as they did a year ago. They should still be able to acquire some talent that can help them right now, either on the floor or in a future deal. With Thompson and Wiseman still easing their way back, and impending free agents of their own, it will be important for whomever Golden State selects to be ready to contribute immediately.

The Warriors only have two hitting free agency players this summer, in Kelly Oubre Jr and Kent Bazemore. Despite his roller-coaster season, Oubre is seeking around $20 million annually, which the Warriors simply cannot afford. He won’t be needed as much this season with Thompson eventually reclaiming his starting role. Golden State won’t have much to spend but they should be able to find what they are looking for in free agency.

Only six players are under contract after next season, which could open the door for some of the younger players should they carve out a role for themselves. Seven players are set to be on expiring contracts heading into next season. Curry is one of them, as his salary for next season is just under $46 million. The other six players have a combined salary of around $14 million. This will give Golden State some flexibility in terms of trades next season.

Threats

Obviously, the largest threat that looms over this franchise is another setback for Thompson or another injury to one of their other stars. The same can be said for every organization but the way things have transpired for this team over the last two years makes it even more critical. Curry is not getting any younger and while he has reaffirmed his desire to stay with the Warriors, he will be a free agent after next season. If the future looks cloudy at all, it could be in his best interest to explore other options.

Thompson will turn 32 next season and his comeback will be closely monitored around the league. While being a prolific shooter himself, he has much more to offer on the defensive side of the ball than Curry. Earning All-Defensive honors during the 2018-19 season, Thompson has always been an elite-level defender, especially on the perimeter. He uses his feet well to stay in front of his man while not getting his hands in the danger zone against crafty offensive players like James Harden and Trae Young.

While the focus from the outside will be on his offensive game, the key to Golden State’s return to the top-tier will depend on how well he plays on the other side of the ball. Coming off of two devastating injuries, will he still be able to lock down players on the perimeter at his age? Only time will tell, but everyone in this organization will be holding their breath every time he is on the floor.

One thing that Golden State has going for them is the culture they have created. The environment between the players, coaching staff and the front office is a good one. Everyone appears to be on the same page and there is never any panic. The continuity and chemistry they have with each other can be utilized to their advantage over less tenured teams.

The other thing that threatens their future is out of their hands. The Western Conference is oozing with talent. That is nothing new, but the way they are set up doesn’t bode well for Golden State. Playoff teams are loaded with young star players, who will only get better as time marches on.

Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr, Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. These are just a handful of names that reside in the Western Conference.

A return to glory would be a wonderful story for this organization, but it won’t be easy. Knowing how this group is wired, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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