Before You Get Too Far
Both the NBA and the Players’ Association have said recently that talks toward a new labor deal in the NBA were progressing in a good and productive way. That should be good news to NBA fans who have endured lockouts over the last two labor deals and are used to a continuous and combative process that historically has cost the NBA games.
This time around, not only does it seem like the NBA and the Players may be able to reach a new deal without the bloodshed of a lockout, they may actually reach a deal before the December opt-out deadline both sides have in the current deal.
Sources involved in the process say the NBA and the Players have been meeting fairly frequently for months, and that both sides have approached this in a very business-like manner that has yielded a lot of positives – enough positives for many to believe a deal is around the corner.
While there are things everyone in the equation does not like about the current system, there is hope that a new labor deal could solve some problems without up-ending the so-called apple cart.
Here are some ideas that both sides should consider before inking the new deal:
Super Max Contract
In the NBA now, there are situations where what a team pays to a player is actually different than how that contract is booked against the salary cap. Some time ago, the NBA installed an incentive for teams to sign older players by eating a portion of a minimum deal, making signing a 10-year player basically the same cost as signing a two-year player. The player’s deal is subsidized by the NBA.
A better example might be how Poison Pill offer sheets like the one the Nets gave to Tyler Johnson. Had the HEAT not matched that deal, Johnson’s deal would have been booked against the salary cap as an average amount, higher than the first year he was actually paid in the offer. That would have allowed the Nets to pay Johnson a huge third and fourth year salary, with a much lower cap hit.
The current labor system does not incentivize a star player to remain with their current team. Sure, proponents of the current system say the fifth contract year and higher annual raises matter, but the truth of the current system is that Kevin Durant will earn $26.540 million playing for the Warriors this season, which was exactly what he’d have earned had he remained in Oklahoma City.
There wasn’t a day-one incentive for him to stay. Sure, he could have done a longer-term deal, but the reality is other than taxes, he gets exactly the same leaving as staying.
Here is a possible solution: Grant each team one “Super Max” contract. This deal is only available to a player who chooses to stay with his current team. The deal must be for five years and is never tradable. Also, no team can have more than one “Super Max” player on the roster at a time.
The deal pays 40 percent of the salary cap in cash, but is booked against the cap as a normal maximum contract.
So take Durant, for example. In this “Super Max” scenario, he’d have earned $37.6 million this year versus the $26.5 million he was offered by the Warriors.
For the player, it is immediately more money than he could get anywhere else; at 40 percent of the cap, he would stay way ahead of even the craziest balloon in the salary cap system.
For the team, most would gladly pay the extra money to ensure they retain their very best player. There is risk in the long-term for sure, but ask yourself, would the Thunder have blinked at a five-year deal for Durant?
As for the non-trade concept, many players want that in their deal anyway.
There has been talk of a Franchise Tag system or some type of disincentive for top-level player movement. Doing a Super Max contract solves the biggest gripes in the current system: Top-level players are not paid enough, it’s too easy for top-level players to change teams, and it likely hinders the formation of super teams.
The Third Round
The NBA is investing and expanding the D-League pretty aggressively; there will be 22 NBA D-League teams heading into the 2016-17 season and there are more on the way as the NBA continues to see the importance of a true minor league system.
The problem is how do you stockpile talent there, and how do you make it attractive so would-be players go there, especially given the economics of the current salary system?
So with that in mind, how about a Third Round to the NBA draft? Agents hate this idea, but hear me out on this.
Each team gets a third-round pick, that pick comes with a guaranteed $100,000 salary and is for one year. The third-round pick will play Summer League for the drafting team, attend training camp for the drafting team, but spend the entire season in the D-League with no call up. This player does not count against the 15-man roster limit.
After the one-year deal, the home team either signs the player to at least a one-year fully guaranteed NBA contract or releases him as an unrestricted free agent.
Here are the two caveats. The one year played in the D-League as a third-round pick counts as a year of NBA service and the NBA home team provides some level of pre-arranged loss prevention insurance in case of a career ending injury.
Adding 30 more picks on draft night might be too much for the TV audience, so like the NFL that could be a Day 2 process that’s not done on the podium at midnight.
If NBA teams are going to spend $6-$7 million in expansion fees to own D-League teams, creating mechanisms for them to get players at a competitive salary needs to be considered.
The Two-Way Contract
Speaking of the D-League, the NBA is pushing pretty aggressively for the adoption of a two-way contract. These deals would have specific values for when a player plays in the NBA and when they play in the D-League.
Currently, teams are giving players partially guaranteed money to come to training camp only to cut them and subsidize the D-League salary system and park them in their D-League program.
The problem with that is while it really is a “wink-nod” arrangement, teams are not protected from losing a player they gave money to.
For example, last year the L.A. Lakers gave guard Michael Frazier $50,000 to come to camp, under the agreement he’d play in the D-League for them. The only problem is the Lakers had to waiver Frazier and lost any rights to him.
The two-way contract prevents teams from losing a player they like, but may not yet be ready to put on their major league roster.
Building a smart two-way contract would offer some security to the NBA team and potentially get more players signed to deals.
Maximum Salary Criteria
This summer was arguably the craziest spending spree we have seen in the NBA. While the players side of things will argue there should be no limitation on what a player can earn and many teams would agree that they should be able to offer a player whatever value they feel is fair to them, is there any doubt that not everyone is a maximum-salary player?
No offense to Harrison Barnes, but is it good for basketball for everyone to be able to earn a maximum deal?
There are some that would like to see maximum caps done away with all together; however, if the NBA went that route, you’d have two classes of players: guys making $20 million and guys making $1 million and there would be no middle class.
The middle class is important, because that’s where the bulk of players play, and having some sort of equality in salary only helps that idea.
With that in mind, shouldn’t there be some minimum qualification to earn a maximum contract?
The NBA in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement added a rule tied to rookie-scale extensions called the Rose rule that was meant to reward players on rookie-scale deals who exploded into the NBA as superstars.
Under the Rose rule, a player is eligible for a larger contract if they are named to the All-NBA First, Second or Third team at least twice, get voted as a starter in the All-Star game at least twice or named the NBA Most Valuable Player at least once.
While that criteria might be a bit extreme, having some level of qualification seems smart.
Some will argue that there is no question Miami’s Hassan Whiteside should have gotten a maximum deal and he would not have met anything close to the criteria mentioned, but shouldn’t there be some level of criteria?
The NBA and Players seem to have a positive dialogue going. Both sides remain very optimistic that a new labor deal could get reached this year, well in advance of the doom-and-gloom of a July lockout.
Nothing is done at this point, but the more both sides talk about where things are in the process, the more likely it seems a new deal is coming. The question is, how much will the system change?
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NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors
Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.
The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.
Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.
Steph Curry edges out Bradley Beal to win the 2020-21 scoring title. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/GmiTD26aJK
— theScore (@theScore) May 17, 2021
With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.
After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.
Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.
The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.
Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.
After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.
One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.
While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.
Andrew Wiggins is gonna end the regular season averaging ~19 & 5 on 48/38/72 shooting.
Missed only 1 game, and that was for rest. Was tremendous defensively, night in and night out.
He’s had a great year.
— Brian Witt (@Wittnessed) May 16, 2021
As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.
Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.
As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.
Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.
Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.
Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.
Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
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.
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.