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NBA AM: The Problem With Dwight Howard

Trading Dwight Howard would not be about any one thing, it would be about multiple issues converging at once… The Miami HEAT face a tough choice with Hassan Whiteside.

Steve Kyler

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The Problem with Dwight Howard: By now you have likely heard at least some incarnation of the trade rumors involving Houston’s Dwight Howard. There have been reports that he’s unhappy, that the Rockets have explored trading him and that at some point he’ll be dealt.

All of that my very well turn out to be true. However, the problem with those notions is that it’s based on a fundamental problem: NBA free agency.

Before we dig too far into the point, let’s clear a few things up. No one in Houston is happy. To lay all of the unrest on Howard radically marginalizes the severity of the discord around the team.

Howard has not asked for a trade, has not expressed an interest in a trade and, for the time being, is focused solely on righting his own game and trying to help his team get out of the rut they are in.

Howard does have a $23.282 million player option in his contract that he is likely going to pass on accepting, making him an unrestricted free agent in July. This is not at all a surprise to the Rockets; it was clearly articulated that Dwight would enter free agency in 2016 – that was part of the deal that got him to Houston and everyone has known from his first day with the Rockets that on July 1, Howard would be seeking a new deal. The option year was injury insurance and assuming Howard finishes the season healthy, he’ll be a free agent.

The problem teams in the NBA face with pending free agents, especially unrestricted ones, is the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement does not offer much of an incentive for players to stay in their current deals by way of an extension, so teams have a risk of losing a player for nothing in return.

Extensions are additional years added on to the current deal, and those new year values are based on the current year. In Howard’s case, if he hits unrestricted free agency he becomes eligible for 35 percent of the salary cap, which could be a starting salary as much as $30 million in the first year depending on where the actual 2016 salary cap is set. That’s roughly $6.8 million more than his option year.

This is where things get compelling. If you are the Houston Rockets, do you want to invest what could be four years and more than $120 million into a 30-year-old Howard, who is posting some of the worst numbers of his career?

The Rockets don’t have to bring Howard up to other teams when they call about trades. The other teams know exactly what Houston is facing, hence the rumors.

One of the things that gets lost in the trade rumors that make it to the media is that both sides of a conversation are savvy deal makers. It’s pretty rare that one team is shopping a singular player. The conversation is usually more vague and exploratory in a ‘what are you guys looking to do’ kind of way.

In Houston’s case, teams smell blood in the water so when the Rockets come calling – as they have done with virtually every team in the league – the other side tends to swing for the fences, knowing that Houston has to do something to salvage their season. Here is where Howard’s name comes up.

Houston is looking for a change. They have called on the likes of New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson and Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, but both teams want a lot more than the roster parts Houston would be willing to part with.

As the Rockets work the system to find a deal, those around the league understand what’s playing out.

There is a sense that for Houston to really make a major transaction they’ll have to move something of real value and Howard still carries tremendous value. Factor in his pending free agency and that’s where the stories come from. If Houston is middling in the Western Conference come the trade deadline, will they really stay committed to Howard?

Today that answer is absolutely, however tomorrow could yield a very different answer.

Given where the Rockets are in the standings, they would be foolish not to at least listen to incoming offers on everyone on the roster, but listening to an offer is a very different thing than having a willingness to deal on that offer.

The Rockets are not trying to trade Howard, that’s not where they are starting conversations, but there is a sense that eventually the Rockets will have to make a decision and that’s where the belief that Howard will ultimately be traded stems from.

It’s not because he’s unhappy. It’s not because no one in Houston is happy with where the team is at or how the team is playing. It’s not because of his contract option. It’s not because Howard isn’t playing at the top of his game. The Rockets may have no choice on Howard for all of those reasons combined and, for the biggest reason of all, he could return the most real value to a Rockets team that’s clearly going backwards.

If the Rockets had a clear cut advantage in free agency, trading Howard might not be a factor at all. But when you seriously survey the situation the ability to lose Howard for nothing, it puts him at the top of other teams wish lists – especially if there is a sense Howard would sign a new deal wherever he may land.

The Rockets are not trying to trade Howard; the harsh reality is they may have very little choice given all of the factors combined, especially if they want to turn things around.

That’s the real problem with Dwight Howard.

The Problem with Hassan Whiteside: While we are on the subject of trade rumors involving starting centers, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has found his name in the mix as it relates to rumors involving Houston’s Dwight Howard and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.

Both Houston and Sacramento have done their very best to squash the idea that either of their big men are available in trade, and the HEAT have done the same with Whiteside.

Denying trade rumors is a big part of December and just like the rumors themselves, denials should be taken with a grain of salt, because what else would a team say?

For Miami, they face an interesting predicament with Whiteside since they do not hold Bird Rights on his free agency, meaning to retain him beyond this season the HEAT would have to use their cap space to re-sign him.

Whiteside was drafted in 2010 by the Sacramento Kings and was ultimately waived. He’s had a few stops in the NBA, mostly as a camp invite until he landed in Miami last year and exploded into one of the better centers in the NBA. As a result of his journey, Whiteside will not be a restricted free agent in July, he will be unrestricted and looking for the largest contract he can receive.

The HEAT could have the money for Whiteside depending on how they manage their cap holds and pending free agents, but with a starting salary expected to be north of $20 million on a multi-year deal, the HEAT have a tough choice to make. Do they look to lock up Whiteside and call it an offseason, or do they look to let Whiteside walk and spend that free agent money on another higher profile player?

The HEAT have eyes for Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, and while that may be a pipe dream, they won’t have cap space to make an offer to Durant and keep Whiteside without a sign and trade or someone taking radically less than market value, which in Whiteside’s case is not going to happen.

As things stand right now the HEAT have what looks to be $48 million in guaranteed contracts. Assuming the salary cap comes in at the rumored $92 million, the HEAT would reasonably have about $44 million to play with. On the surface that seems like more than enough room to go after another player and pay Whiteside, but Dwyane Wade will carry a cap hold worth $30 million while Luol Deng will carry a $13.19 million hold. Assuming the HEAT renounce Deng, they still have to get Wade signed or renounced before they’d have cap cash to spent on Whiteside.

If the HEAT hang on to Wade, his new number eats into the $44 million in space, then the HEAT would have to ink Whiteside, leaving Miami with what could be less than $10 million to flesh out what could be six to seven roster spots.

The good news for Miami is that they have a level playing field on re-signing Whiteside. The bad news is they may not have the ability to do a lot more than sign Whiteside this summer (if they go that route) given the lack of Bird Rights.

The other problem for the HEAT is if they have decide that Whiteside isn’t going to be worth the money next summer, his $981,348 contract this year won’t return much value in trade all by itself.

Miami is saying all the right things about Whiteside, but given his situation, the HEAT might be better suited exploring other options in free agency, unless Wade is willing to give the HEAT a massive discount in July, which did not play out well last summer.

Unless Miami is willing to pack in a ton of other roster pieces, finding a trade that really returns value for the HEAT might be harder than you’d think for a player of Whiteside’s caliber because any team that acquires him would face the same Bird Right problems and would need cap space to sign him, which then bring up the notion of why give up assets for a player you have no advantage in re-signing in July?

That is the problem with Hassan Whiteside, as favorable as his contract seems today, it’s going to be a challenge to re-sign him and improve the roster.

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, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA, @iamdpick, @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Dylan Thayer

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In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being. 

Can anyone new break in this year?

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.

Myles Turner

The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.  

Kawhi Leonard

The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8. 

Andre Drummond

The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland. 

Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris

The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.

 As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.

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NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21

Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.

Tristan Tucker

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Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.

With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.

1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)

Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.

While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.

On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.

He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.

2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)

Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.

His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.

Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.

3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)

After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.

Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.

With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.

4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)

With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.

For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.

If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.

5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)

Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.

That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.

His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.

6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)

Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.

However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.

Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.

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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises

The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.

While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.

The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.

The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.

The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.

Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.

Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.

Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.

Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.

Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.

When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.

Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.

The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.

Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.

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