Basketball Insiders has recently started a new series detailing the top free agents by position as a primer for the free agency period beginning on July 1.
As a short recap, or if you’re looking for more pre-research, we’ve got you covered. Drew Maresca grabbed the point guards, then Jordan Hicks hit up the shooting guards a day later. On Friday, Spencer Davies went into the available small forwards — which now brings us to this point.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.
If you want a full list of players in the pool, feel free to refer to this page for a list of all the notable free agents-to-be.
Kristaps Porzingis* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $5,697,054
Needless to say, this category both begins and ends with the Latvian unicorn, an insanely unique power forward that the Knicks had to ship off ahead of an oncoming trade demand. Although Porzingis himself has floated the idea of accepting the qualifying offer — a move that would make him unrestricted in 2020 — the Mavericks seem absolutely committed to keeping him around. Of course, Porzingis is currently in the latter-end stages of ACL recovery but the talents are undeniable. The last time he was healthy, the seven-footer was averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 39.5 percent from three-point range. So being paired with Luka Doncic for the next decade, that’s a seriously dangerous core.
As reported, the Dallas appears ready to offer Porzingis the full five-year max worth $158 million — and, more, that the generational talent will accept it.
Naturally, it is worth noting the active rape allegations against Porzingis — although quiet currently — but it will not impact his free agency at this point in time.
Where Does He Fit: Everywhere, but Dallas will keep him.
New Deal: We’ll say 5 years/$158 million with the Mavericks.
Near Max Guys
Julius Randle – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $8,641,000
In March, this writer looked hard at Randle’s career-year and discussing his impending major payday — at long last, it’s almost here. Randle was surplus in the offseason that brought LeBron James to Los Angeles, so, instead of signing a long-term deal, the power forward bet on himself in a big way. Randle averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 52.4 percent from the floor in New Orleans, a team that openly struggled with Anthony Davis’ mid-season trade request. He’ll have no shortage of suitors this summer — although those with the available money that Randle commands will be chasing bigger fish — Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, etc. — during the opening week of free agency.
Where Does He Fit: The amount of teams that could use a bullish, high-scoring power forward is not a short one, although the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls are all reportedly interested in his services.
New Deal: The Knicks, after missing out on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, move to a Plan B that includes young, potential-laden players like Randle. In New York, Randle grabs a well-deserved 4-year/$72 million deal and joins forces with Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett. All things considered, it’s a nice fallback plan for the Knicks.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Nikola Mirotic – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $12,500,000
Although his numbers bounced a bit after joining the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks in February, Mirotic has put himself in the crosshairs of a big offseason. Prior to that deal, Mirotic was thriving with the Pelicans, just like Randle, to the tune of 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 three-pointers per game on 36.8 percent from deep. In today’s NBA, Mirotic is not a unicorn by any means, but the stretch four is a position that every legitimate contender will chase this summer.
At 28 years-old, the Montenegran will be looking for a juicy, long-term deal and the Bucks have plenty of other big free agent concerns on their plate — Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon in particular.
Given Giannis Antetokounmpo’s swift rise to MVP status, it would behoove the Bucks to keep surrounding him with elite shooters and Mirotic fits the bill. But with all that other business taking precedence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another team in need of shooting attempt a scoop on the 6-foot-10 flamethrower.
Where Does He Fit: Again, everywhere, especially teams that can make up for his defensive deficiencies like the Bucks or the rumored Utah Jazz.
New Deal: Mirotic could receive offers in the range of $13 million according to Jordan Brenner of The Athletic. Again, we’ll need to wait and see on a number of other conclusions before Mirotic becomes a priority, but the Bucks should remain the favorites for a 3-year/$39 million contract.
Bobby Portis* – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,494,346
Bobby Portis wants as much as $16 million per year, according to The Athletic’s Tony Jones and Fred Katz, but the market is still very murky for the young forward. For their efforts, the Wizards have tendered a qualifying offer to Portis, thus making him restricted this offseason, but they’re not expected to match a huge offer.
The 24-year-old averaged 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game between two teams in 2018-19, continuing his ascent up the positional ladder. As an added bonus, Portis has improved his three-point shot along the way too, even hitting on 1.7 three-pointers on an excellent 40.3 percent clip.
That type of consistent rise might be worth investing in for a team that strikes out big, but wants to add a piece with potential nonetheless.
Where Does He Fit: The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks all have interest in the rangy Portis, as reported by Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Additionally, the Knicks may increase their interest – a la Randle — should their Plan A goes sideways.
But if Favors moves on in Utah — or returns on a much, much smaller deal — Portis seems like an intriguing marriage, although his defense leaves much to be desired.
New Deal: Portis won’t quite reach his $16 million per year asking price, but the Mavericks will come close with a deal near 4 years/$52 million.
Derrick Favors** – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $16,900,000
Favors, a long-time consummate piece for the steadily-growing Jazz, has a $17 million deal set for 2019-20 — but the Jazz have until July 6 to guarantee it. If not, Favors will become unrestricted — in fact, reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, he will field interested calls when free agency opens just in case. Favors, who turns 28 next month, averaged 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and paired perfectly with Rudy Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Where Does He Fit: Favors is a high-percentage forward that rebounds well, so although he wouldn’t command another $16 million-plus deal, there will be a market with little question. The nine-year veteran is the type of defender that can help transform a unit without eating up offensive possessions either. He won’t drag defenders away from the hoop, but he’s excellent at shutting down the opposition at the rim — so expect many, many teams to kick the tires.
New Deal: If the Lakers opt for depth over star status with that new-found cap space, Favors would be a fantastic option for Los Angeles. With Anthony Davis’ injury history and LeBron James’ need to rest up more often, Favors provides no-nonsense defense and strong rebounding at a reduced cost. If he doesn’t stay with Utah, it’s feasible to see Favors to the Lakers on a 2-year/$24 million agreement.
Thaddeus Young – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $13,764,045
The perennially-underrated Young hits free agency as a will-be targeted piece for many on-the-edge franchises. It’s not difficult to see how Young, a strong scorer with range and a big-time motor, could find a home across most of the league. As a highly-regarded team player, Young averaged around 12 points and 6 rebounds over 81 games in back-to-back seasons for the upstart Pacers. But with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner developing nicely, the need to bring Young back has certainly lessened with Indiana in search of a valuable point guard instead.
Young is not a standout at any one thing, but he’s averaged 10 or more points in every campaign since 2008 and has a nose for tough, clutch baskets — often just when the Pacers needed it the most. Favors is the better defender, so expect the former to grab a slightly bigger deal, but Young won’t be far behind.
Where Does He Fit: Need a locker room guy? Hello, Phoenix. Need to plug some holes? The Boston Celtics sure make sense there. Hell, if the Jazz end up waiving Favors and need a new plan, Young would thrive in Utah, too.
New Deal: For this exercise, Young does the trick for a suddenly-thin Boston frontcourt at 2 years/$22 million.
Jabari Parker – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $20,0000
Even with the tough injuries Parker has suffered over the years, it’s hard to believe that we’re here with the talented 24-year-old. After signing a two-year deal worth a whopping $20 million per season with the Chicago Bulls last summer, Parker dipped in and out of the rotation before he was traded with Bobby Portis to Washington. Parker can undoubtedly score, but he’s far removed from the campaign in which he averaged 20 points and 6.2 rebounds per game back in 2016-17 — still, it may be a worthy endeavor. The Wizards declined their option on year two of that aforementioned deal, but there’s mutual interest to negotiate a new one, reportedly.
Where Does He Fit: Parker fits well on a roster like Washington, a place where the expectations are low and their playoff chances are stuck in fifth gear. They’ve got Bradley Beal, obviously, but beyond that, the Wizards don’t have any choice but to keep looking for solutions that do work. Parker’s not a shooter with consistent range yet, unfortunately, but teams like Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte should all do their due diligence on the 6-foot-8 bucket-getter.
New Deal: Parker’s got a next-to-no chance of receiving the same financial amount from last summer — but the structure might be similar. Memphis takes the dive at a 2-year/$20 million agreement, plus that all-important team option for year two once again.
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Ed Davis – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $4,449,000
Davis was a beacon of shining light in Brooklyn, often gobbling up rebound after rebound as the Nets surprised everybody. Although he wasn’t a starter and much of the highlight-reel plaudits went to Jarrett Allen, Davis was, as always, one of the most valuable players on the roster for Brooklyn. He outpaced Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Nets’ best defender by rating (102.2) and had 32 outings with 10 or more rebounds in just 17.9 minutes per contest. When Davis left the Trail Blazers as surplus last summer, Portland fans rioted. Wherever Davis goes, he’s well-loved.
And if he took a discount to play for Brooklyn last year, he’s probably won’t do it again, per Michael Scotto of The Athletic.
The most the Nets can offer, via Bird Rights, is around two years at a total of $11 million.
Where Does He Fit: Whew, the flexibility! If the Nets snuck a fast one past the NBA last summer, the secret is definitely out now: Ed Davis, without a doubt, makes your team better. He, too, should be an option for just about everybody — but the Lakers should be the first to make that call. The Clippers, Jazz, Pelicans, Celtics and more, the list goes on as most franchises could use a rebounder like Davis.
New Deal: After bouncing around the league for much of his nine-year career, Davis can settle in with the Nets. He continues to fill a very real need, but until Jarrett Allen gets bigger and stronger — as well as the recently-drafted Nic Claxton — the Nets will need somebody like Davis. If he likes the opportunity for consistent minutes on a likely playoff-bound team, Davis could take the 2-year/$11 million offer and stay put.
Marcus Morris – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $5,375,000
The Morris-wrapped enigma has been tough to nail down as of late, but he was an essential piece of that deep Boston roster. Over the last two years, Morris has done well both as a starter and off the bench alongside Al Horford and company. Notably, Morris has made one-plus three-pointer per game in every season since 2012 but also made a career-best 1.9 on 37.5 percent last year. When the Celtics were going through their mid-season slump, Morris didn’t mince words in the locker room and was key in righting the ship — so what team wouldn’t love a veteran like that?
Where Does He Fit: Morris may be Mirotic-lite from three-point range, but he’s a much better defender. The 6-foot-9 forward can play in a featured role or thrive as an energy piece off the bench. The Lakers need shooting, while the Kings need some new veterans to steer the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles towards their respective next steps. With a nearly non-existent frontcourt, however, it might make sense for Morris to stick around in Boston too.
New Deal: Deep shooting and solid defense would be worth the mid-level exception/2-year partnership for the young and fast Sacramento Kings.
Taj Gibson – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $14,000,000 DeMarre Carroll – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $15,4000 Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601 Jordan Bell* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
JaMychal Green – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,666,667
Zach Randolph – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $11, 692,308
Noah Vonleh – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Kenneth Faried – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $683,661
Mike Scott – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,320,500
Other Notable Free Agents
Ryan Anderson** – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $20,421,546
Daniel Theis* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Luc Mbah a Moute – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $4,320,500
Dante Cunningham – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $2,487,000
Maxi Kleber* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Richaun Holmes – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,6000,520
Dragan Bender – Phoenix Suns — Last Year’s Salary: $4,661,280
Marquese Chriss — Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $3,206,160
Markieff Morris – Oklahoma City Thunder — Last Year’s Salary: $427,288
Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
Georges Niang** – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Jonas Jerebko – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Lance Thomas – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $7,119,650
Michael Beasley – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $3,500,000
Jeff Green – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Trey Lyles* – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $3,364,249
Anthony Tolliver – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $5,750,000 Mike Muscala – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000
Darrell Arthur – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,464,912
Jarell Martin* – Orland Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,416,222
Udonis Haslem – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Sam Dekker – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,760,095
Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Henry Ellenson**** – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $341,831
Quincy Acy – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $85,458
Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,874,640
Chris Boucher** – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $457,418
Ivan Rabb** – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Alize Johnson** – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $838,464
Duncan Robinson** – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $9,474
Ray Spalding – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $184,746
Isaiah Hartenstein** – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $838,464
Yante Maten** – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $18,948
Gary Clark** – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $596,873
*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, the player becomes a restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If the player is waived by his current team before the contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes an unrestricted free agent)
***Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent)
****Team Option (The team has the choice of whether to pick up a player for another year or opt-out to have him become an unrestricted free agent)
Although this position isn’t as star-studded as the others, there are plenty of notable pieces worth adding. There are potential-laden youngsters and hard-working veterans to be hard — but most of these names won’t come off the board until the big shopping is done and dusted. Tomorrow, our series will wrap up just ahead of free agency opening, so be sure to stay tuned into Basketball Insiders.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”