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NBA AM: Cavs Getting Closer To A Love Deal?

The Cavaliers and Timberwolves seem to be making progress, could a deal for Kevin Love ultimately get done in the coming weeks?… Can the current labor system be fixed?

Steve Kyler

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Getting Closer:  According to reports from ESPN’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, it seems the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves are inching ever so closer to an inevitable deal that would land Kevin Love in Cleveland in exchange for a package of assets said to include top overall pick Andrew Wiggins and last year’s top overall pick Anthony Bennett.

Wiggins is not eligible to be traded until after August 23, 30 days after the signing of his rookie scale contract. Both teams can only agree to a deal in principle before then, however there is an increasing sense that the two other suitors for Love, Chicago and Golden State, have started to move on and pull back from the table.

There is also a belief that Minnesota and Cleveland are looking to expand the scope of their trade to include a third team, which is commonly believed to be Philadelphia, who could be offering Thaddeus Young to the mix in exchange for rookie scale players and draft picks.

The Wolves’ stance from the beginning of this process was to obtain a mix of assets that would allow them to compete this year, while giving them a possible star in the future. The potential inclusion of Young could help in that regards while also giving the Wolves that future possible star in Wiggins.

Given that a deal can’t truly be consummated until August 23, there is a sense that Minnesota isn’t closing the door on other teams, but that the most current talks seems to be centered more and more around Cleveland, with a growing sense that Cleveland, as currently constructed, could get a deal done for Love.

Minnesota has held ongoing talks with the Bulls, Warriors and Denver Nuggets; however it seems Cleveland is far more willing to push the necessary assets onto the table than some of the others, making them the leader in the clubhouse.

Fixing The System:  With a new Executive Director in tow the NBA Players’ Association is likely going to look at massive changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement in July of 2017, if not sooner – more on that later.

While scrapping the entire system and starting new might sound easy, there are many facets of the current system that work, so let’s assume for a minute that the bulk of the current system stays intact, here are some out of the box concepts that could bridge the divide the players are currently feeling.

50/50 Is Not Changing:  There is an adage in sales that you can never effectively raise the price and expect to keep your customers. It’s always easier to come down on a number than go up. The fact that the players are in essence getting 50 percent of the revenue (this year they received almost 51 percent when you factor in salaries and benefits) it’s unlikely that number is going to go up in a meaningful way.

NBA teams are finally coming above the water line. The 50/50 split helped fuel revenue sharing and teams are profitable. The NBA unlikely gives any of that back.

What is possible to adjust the percentages in terms of how the cap number gets set and where the luxury tax line gets drawn, but thinking that more than 50 percent is going to go to the players is a pipe dream.

Franchise Max:  Currently players are eligible for varying percentages of the overall salary cap. The first tier is for players in the league for six or fewer years and allows for 25 percent of the cap. Players in the league seven to nine years are eligible for 30 percent of the cap and players in the league for 10 years or more are eligible for 35 percent of the cap.

These end up being massive numbers, anywhere from $14 million to $20 million as a starting salary and escalate from there.

The problem is the current agreement gives almost zero financial incentive for players to stay where they are. Most players are going to opt-out of their deals after three season to re-up on new terms, so the fifth contract year really only matters to those players you likely don’t want to give a fifth year to.

The out of the box idea would be a “Super Max Contract” – each team would be eligible to carry one. And to be eligible that player has to be in the league for six or more years and have been on the current team for at least six months.

The idea here is to super incentive staying where you are, so let’s call the value of the “Super Max” 40 percent of the cap. The wrinkles here are that a “Super Max” contract cannot be traded, and that whatever that player’s normal max would be, would be the cap and luxury tax value.

So this would give the home team the ability to offer in many cases 10 percent more money than a competing team, and it wouldn’t cripple the home team cap wise.

So for instance, LeBron James left Miami for Cleveland on a new deal starting at $20.6 million. Under the “Super Max” concept he would have been eligible for a new deal starting at $26.52 million. His cap and tax hit would be that same figure he got in Cleveland. The Player would net the additional money for remaining with his home team.

There are some issue here; first, there would need to be an established criteria for eligibility because second tier guys would want this designation. Maybe there are a fixed number of All-Star appearances required or other postseason accolades that make one eligible much as the NBA crafted with the Derrick Rose Rule for rookie scale extensions.

The idea here is to allow teams to overpay their franchise star and it not be a handicap to the home team. Players would still have the option to pass and explore free agency, but it would shift the money back towards the player and reward them for staying.

Supplemental Draft:  There was a time when the NBA Draft was seven rounds, so the current two round system is a huge departure from that. However, there are some that have called for an overhaul of the draft system entirely, with many suggesting the second round be abolished all together. Some, mainly agents, want to see 30 draft picks and the rest become unrestricted free agents. That’s not likely going to happen.

One problem that losing teams face is it’s hard to get talent quick enough to make meaningful changes.

The Players Association prior to the last Collective Bargaining Agreement suggested making the first round of the draft exclusively for the non-playoff teams, giving each non-playoff team two selections in the first round, while the second round would be for the playoff teams. As you can imagine that went over like a lead balloon.

However, the idea of getting those non-playoff teams additional assets is interesting. Why not institute a Supplemental Round? The NFL does something like this with their seventh round, where teams are awarded additional picks for a number of reasons.

Adding fourteen more selections wouldn’t kill the process, but it could allow for some interesting changes.

First a Supplemental Player can be paid a NBA wage, but assigned for an entire season to the D-League. Teams are currently doing this now, where they bring a player into camp, guarantee him a small amount of cash, then cut him and assign him to the D-League.

Why not make this more uniform? A Supplemental Player can be paid up to say $100,000 and it does not count towards the luxury tax or salary cap. No team can have more than two Supplemental Players in the D-league in any one given season. A Supplemental Player can be called up in his first year and becomes a normal roster player.

The Players’ Associations job is to create a many jobs and revenue opportunities for their constituents as possible. An area the NBPA has focused little attention on is the last tier of players, why not create 14 more professional jobs?

Fix It Or Get Out Of It:  The D-League offers so many possibilities for teams and for players. The problem is the D-League isn’t a very good business. It’s not a good business for the NBA and it’s not a good business for the players, but it could be.

Revenue has to come first. So how can the D-League generate revenue when they don’t have a very good product to sell? It’s gotten better as more teams enter into one-to-one relationships, but until elite level talent is playing in D-League nightly they have a revenue problem.

As I covered in the AM on Tuesday, one solution for the D-League is to tie the NBA’s desire for a higher age limit to better funding for the D-League, in essence trying to funnel those “one and done” players into the D-League for a year or two. Imagine what the D-League would have looked like if Andrew Wiggins was in it last year instead of at Kansas?

Why fight for a better minor league? It employs more than 204 players every season. Currently the 17 D-League teams are permitted to carry up to 12 players and have a salary cap of roughly $178,000 per team.

Again, this goes back to the concept that the Players’ Association has a responsibility to create as many high paying jobs in basketball as possible. With a maximum of 15 roster spots possible in the NBA, there are only 450 NBA jobs available. The D-League could create more jobs and more possibilities for the both players and teams, if properly funded.

Equally, if the D-League can become a profit center, instead of a cost center, things improve for everyone.

If really talented players were involved more, there would be a better product to sell.

Currently non-NBA Players sniff at the D-League but usually bolt for higher paying jobs in other countries. Those jobs are not regulated by the NBPA or the NBA and come with sustainable hardship and risk to the player.

Fixing the D-League, meaning getting it competitive financially with other non-NBA options isn’t overly expensive and should be a required concession if the age limit in the NBA is going to change.

There is new leadership on both sides of the NBA now. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has shown a willingness to look at all kinds of new ideas; the hope is that new NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts approaches things in much the same way.

There are lots of things wrong with the current economic system in the NBA, however looking at things in a new way could bring about some solutions without destroying or damaging the league like the last two labor fights ultimately did.

Fighting this thing out through another lockout in 2017 would be bad, especially when some creative thinking could solve many of the issues at hand.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA

NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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NBA

NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – May 6

With the regular season winding down, Tristan Tucker offers his latest Rookie of the Year ladder, with three outstanding freshman performances leading the pack.

Tristan Tucker

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With the NBA season winding down, there is limited left time for rookies to make their cases for the Rookie of the Year award. In all, three rookies are leading the charge and will likely be named the top three rookies of the season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the race has changed over the last few weeks.

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 1)

Rookies shouldn’t be able to do what Anthony Edwards can do. Edwards is still just a teenager, but he possesses some of the best natural talent the NBA has seen. Furthermore, there aren’t many rookies that have quite seen the game-by-game improvement that Edwards has shown.

On the year, Edwards is averaging 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from three. But to take a look at his improvement, Edwards’ numbers before and after the All-Star break paint the picture.

Before the All-Star break, Edwards averaged 14.9 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from deep in 36 games. In the 30 games since then, Edwards is shooting a much better line of 44.7/35.2/75.2 and is averaging 23.7 points and 3.2 assists per game.

In his most recent 42-point outburst, which tied his career-high, Edwards broke the franchise record for most threes made in a game by a rookie. There’s a consensus in Minnesota that this won’t be the last record the rookie breaks.

2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: Not Ranked)

Ball’s previous “not ranked” placement wasn’t a dig at him but instead an unfortunate testament to when the league thought he was out for the season with an injury. And then, miraculously, Ball returned just in time for a likely Charlotte postseason appearance. Because of his return and ensuing excellent play, Ball is penciled into one of the top two slots to end the year.

Although he likely missed too much time to be named Rookie of the Year, Ball’s first season is something to behold. On the year, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals and is a team leader for an exciting Hornets squad. Furthermore, Ball proved to be a much better three-point shooter than most thought he would be, connecting at 37.3 percent.

Ball is still over 100 days from turning 20-years-old and he’s already one of Charlotte’s best players. 

3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)

The timing of Haliburton’s injury is unfortunate, as it quickly followed the loss of De’Aaron Fox that all but sealed Sacramento’s postseason hopes. However, Haliburton showed that the franchise has much to look forward to with his explosive and competent play.

While Haliburton had some up-and-down moments and didn’t get the starting opportunities of Ball and Edwards, he still had a fantastic year. Since his injury will likely take him out for the remainder of the regular season, Haliburton finished the year averaging 13 points per game. To go along with his fantastic scoring, Haliburton blossomed as a polished playmaker, averaging 5.3 assists per night.

In the five games he started at point guard without Fox in the rotation, Haliburton averaged a fantastic 17 points, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Once they reach their respective peaks, Fox and Haliburton have the talent to hang with the best of the backcourts in the NBA.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, Haliburton showed a great shooting form with fantastic results. The guard out of Iowa State shot 47.2 percent from the floor to go along with a 40.9 percent clip from three on over five attempts per game. While Haliburton isn’t likely to come away with the award, he certainly showed that several teams made mistakes in passing on him.

4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 3)

Bey won’t end up in the top three of voting for the Rookie of the Year award, but he still set his name in the record books. Bey’s been a historically good three-point shooter, currently connecting at a 37.9 percent clip from deep on 6.4 attempts per game.

The rookie out Villanova currently sits at 11th all-time for three-pointers made as a rookie, tied with Edwards, with 155. However, Bey needs just 14 more threes to jump all the way up to third all-time. With six games remaining in Detroit’s schedule, there’s even more opportunity for Bey to make history.

5. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)

While there weren’t many bright spots for a Rockets season filled with turmoil, the team’s rookies and sophomores looked impressive. From Kevin Porter Jr. to Kenyon Martin Jr. to Tate, this team boasts some of the most underrated young talent in the league.

Tate in particular had an outstanding rookie season that is now likely over due to his entry into the health and safety protocols. If this truly is the end of the year for Tate, he wrapped up the year averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Since Basketball Insiders’ last rookie ladder, Tate averaged 12.9 points and upped his offensive production to 3.9 assists per game.

Tate is the ultimate hustle player and is a glue guy that championship contenders need to take it to the next level. Look for the Rockets to be much more competitive next season under a good coach in Stephen Silas and a potential top pick to join a talented young corps.

6. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: NR)

Like Bey, Quickley quickly became one of the best shooters in the draft class, but also offered promising guard play for a competitive Knicks squad. Because of stellar performances up and down the roster, the Knicks look likely to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.

While Quickley stagnated a bit toward the middle and end of his rookie season, he still held down the backup guard spot for New York. On the year, Quickley is averaging 11.7 points and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 39.7 percent from downtown.

Ultimately, the Rookie of the Year race is going to come down to the wire between Edwards and Ball. For a 2020 rookie class that originally looked bleak, these rookies have vastly altered that perspective. Even though much is left to be determined for the eventual award winner, one thing is certain: the league is in good hands.

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