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NBA Daily: It’s Time to Speed Up ‘The Process’

Drew Maresca assesses the Philadelphia 76ers’ start to the 2020-21 season and suggests trade targets to solidify their roster.

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The Philadelphia 76ers are fine.

Arguably last season’s biggest disappointment, the 76ers look much improved from last season. Meanwhile, as evidenced by a recent Tobias Harris quote, new head coach Doc Rivers seemingly has the team’s respect.

“I think it’s more what [Doc] gets out of the whole group,” Harris told the media after the 76ers’ 118-101 win over the Charlotte Hornets Monday night.

Currently 7-2 after their loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia has posted a +8.2 net rating on the season. They’ve posted the best defensive rating in the entire league, while they’ve also improved to the seventh-best three-point shooting team by percentage (38.7%) and have played at the second-best pace in the league, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks, a major improvement on last season when they ranked 19th.

Predictably, they’re getting great production out of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, while newcomer Seth Curry — who recently tested positive for COVID-19,according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — also hit the ground running in the City of Brotherly Love.

But the Nets, in the words of Philadelphia’s own Will Smith “put an end to that mess, real quick.”  And they did so without Kevin Durant, who has missed time due to the NBA’s COVID-19 contact tracing protocol, Kyrie Irving, who was cited as having missed the game for “personal reasons,” and Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s expected to miss the rest of the season after knee surgery. Despite those missing stars, Philadelphia struggled to keep Brooklyn off their spots on the perimeter and did little to help themselves with 20 turnovers (which the Nets turned into 35 points).

So, while they may be fine — improved from a season ago, anyway — let’s examine the 76ers a bit more closely.

It’s no surprise that Brooklyn managed 35 points off turnovers on Thursday night; Philadelphia has turned it over more than any team, save for the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT. Further, and despite their size in the front court, they rank just 22nd in offensive rebounds. Prior to last night, they’d played only the NBA’s 12th toughest schedule, with wins against the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Hornets. So while they are, in fact, 6-2, the 76ers record may prove a bit inflated by the competition.

Still, it’s not time to panic just yet. While they’ve played a light schedule early, there’s no question of the talent on Philadelphia’s roster, coached by one of the very best in the game. But they lack depth and, as the season goes on, that could be a big problem. Granted, “Trusting the Process” is a thing of the past, but the 76ers might want to try speeding up that process before they have to start an entirely new one.

Rumored to be interested in the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, the team knows that their roster is nowhere near complete. But, that said, Philadelphia, given the cost, may be better off investing in multiple players to fill out the roster rather than swinging for the fences with someone like Harden or the Wizards’ Bradley Beal. But which players could fit that mold?

The Versatile Four: Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Randle is a dynamic scorer that can absolutely bully his opponent down low. He’s averaged 23.1 points, 12 rebounds and 7.4 assists in eight games this season, while Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau has him playing significantly better on the defensive end than in year’s past.

Randle would bulk up the 76ers’ front line and would add a much-needed scoring option to the league’s 10th best offensive in terms of points per game. He may not help them on the perimeter, but if they can acquire the 26-year-old on the cheap, Philadelphia should jump at the opportunity. Unfortunately, the $18.9 million Randle is due this season would make any deal a difficult endeavor — if they want to make it happen, a third team may need to get involved to get it done.

The Shooter: George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder

Hill was the Bucks’ starting point guard last season while he led the league in three-point shooting (46%). He’s kept that up this season, as well, shooting 43.3% from distance. He’s also still a strong defender and he doesn’t need too many touches to be effective on offense.

Sounds perfect, right? Any team can take advantage of more shooters and spacing and, with how Curry has taken to the team and offense, expecting a similar bump from Hill wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

Further, Hill’s $9.5 million this season is certainly manageable — certainly easier to stomach than Randle’s $18.9 million. But what would it cost to get a deal done? It wouldn’t be a shock to see multiple teams interested in Hill at the trade deadline, so Philadelphia may have to add a bit of sweetener to any deal, even if they offer a first round pick.

The Former MVP: Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons

Blake Griffin might be a nice target, too, but the money left on his deal would make any deal nearly impossible (much less desirable). Rose, on the other hand, would be a fine consolation and, on a relatively cheap (and expiring) $7.6 million deal, Rose would be one of the easier, more impactful additions Philadelphia could make this season.

Rose has, once again, posted strong numbers: 15.3 points and 5.4 assists in just 24.3 minutes per game. And, while he hasn’t converted his shots as efficiently as he’s done throughout his career, Rose has been more than capable of putting the ball in the basket, as evidenced by his 24 points in 24 minutes against the Bucks. He would instantly bolster the 76ers’ second unit, injecting some much-needed energy and bringing another leader onto the court when both Embiid and Simmons are out of the game.

Philadelphia deserves to see what its core of Embiid, Simmons and Harris can do at their best. But, to be their best, they need more, supplemental talent, around them. Unless Morey and Rivers decide, collectively, that they’d prefer to go in an entirely new direction, trading for a player like Randle, Hill or Rose might just get the team over the hump. Maybe they even go all in and add two or more such players.

Either way, if they want to truly push for the NBA Finals, the 76ers will have to do something to bolster their chances.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years

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According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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