Short-term contracts are a beautiful thing in the NBA. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is going to be a part of a franchise for the long haul, it does mean that player is going to give it his all to earn a payday in the following offseason.
There are multiple reasons for somebody to sign a one-year deal. Maybe it’s a “show ‘em, prove it” type of situation. Perhaps it’s a veteran whose career is winding down but still has a desire to play the game and teach those who are younger.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a beneficial tool for both the provider and the recipient. Teams don’t have to be hooked on for long-term money at first, and if they like a guy enough, they can come to terms at a later time if desired.
Let’s look at this summer’s one-year signees and their respective situations. For the purpose of this article, we’re only going to mention players going to new teams, not ones who are coming back (e.g. Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, etc.)
Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets ($2,029,463)
The case of Thomas is proof that nothing in this league is guaranteed. From an MVP candidate on the brink of earning a maximum contract to sustaining a devastating hip injury, to being traded twice in one season, to signing a veteran’s minimum deal this offseason—the fall was not a graceful one.
Still, this contract will help accomplish two things. One, it will give the Nuggets a backup floor general they’ve desperately lacked over the last few years. Two, it will allow Thomas to get some sort of momentum back headed into 2019 free agency. He can still score and get to the rack. A summer of healing—physically and mentally—should only help that.
Anthony Tolliver – Minnesota Timberwolves ($5,750,000)
This is a flat-out steal of a signing for the Wolves. While Tolliver isn’t getting any younger at 33 years old, he is one of the most underappreciated veteran forwards in the league. He had a fine season with the Detroit Pistons one year ago, knocking down a career-best 43.6 percent of his triple tries.
His best quality, however, is the way he defends. We all know how much Tom Thibodeau loves his hard-nosed, experienced players. With the Wolves losing Nemanja Bjelica to the Sacramento Kings in free agency, there’s an opening at the backup four position behind Taj Gibson, and Tolliver fits into it perfectly.
Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans ($3,000,000)
There’s a homecoming in the Bayou. A former Rajun Cajun from Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton will likely be as comfortable as he ever has in the NBA. Let’s not forget how talented the 24-year-old maestro is. He’s the definition of an all-around point guard, which should help him in the long run as the game requires all-around play.
As Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins headed west, the Pelicans nabbed Payton and Julius Randle to re-tool. Payton should serve well as not only Jrue Holiday’s backup, but could also see action on the floor along with him depending on how Alvin Gentry wants to tinker with his rotation. It’s a new team, new haircut and new life for the fifth-year guard.
Mario Hezonja – New York Knicks ($6,500,000)
Like Payton, Hezonja is another former Orlando Magic first-round draft pick who hasn’t quite panned out, but has looked solid when given ample playing time. Year three was a big jump for all intents and purposes, considering his first two seasons in the NBA were a flop. He was able to step up when others were injured, providing production for a depleted bunch that needed it—and carved out a bigger role because of it.
Enter Hezonja on a Knicks team that is down its superstar Kristaps Porzingis for potentially most, if not all, of the upcoming season. They’re going to need somebody to help score the basketball next to Tim Hardaway Jr. and promising rookie sensation Kevin Knox. It’ll be interesting to see how Hezonja fills that void and how he responds to playing in the Big Apple.
Trevor Ariza – Phoenix Suns ($15,000,000)
The rebuild is officially underway in the desert. There are a new coach, a new roster and a new set of young talent eager to gain experience at the professional level, and Ariza is there to set the tone of a championship mindset right from the get-go. With one touch of pen to paper, he became the highest-paid player for the 2018-19 season on the roster, and maybe the most important.
Having been a part of many playoff teams in the span of his 14-year career, Ariza’s locker room presence will help new head coach Igor Kokoskov establish a winning culture right off the bat. He’s a guy who’s “been there, done that” in almost every situation since he’s been in the league, so he knows how things work on and off the floor. Between Ariza and Tyson Chandler, the inexperienced Suns will have plenty of advice.
Brook Lopez – Milwaukee Bucks ($3,382,000)
As mentioned in last week’s “Odd Men Out” series highlighting the central division, John Henson’s tenure in Milwaukee could be coming to a screeching halt. Mike Budenholzer is a new head coach with his own system and philosophy coming into town. The Bucks are going to be moving the basketball like a hot potato and getting shots up like it’s nobody’s business.
Lopez is going to be a beneficiary of that change. Over the last two seasons, he’s become a rather reliable three-point shooting big that can stretch the floor. Pulling out those centers to the perimeter will allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to wreak havoc in the paint and collapse opposing defenses with ease. And if they ever want to use the veteran seven-footer as a post threat, he’s a solid passer on the block, too.
Carmelo Anthony – Houston Rockets ($2,400,000)
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Anthony’s memorable stay with the Atlanta Hawks will be remembered forever…just kidding. But his single season with the Oklahoma City Thunder will actually go down as one of the worst in his career. Whether it was the role he was placed in, an off-shooting year, or just father time catching up, he didn’t look like the same Carmelo.
That said, the Rockets are banking on seeing him return to form. While many are writing him off already from the start, it’ll be interesting to see how playing with Chris Paul and James Harden affects Anthony’s drive. Will he play within former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and buy into what Houston is selling? Only time will tell, but this deal is necessary for both sides, especially with Ariza moving to the desert.
DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors ($5,337,000)
Seeing Cousins go down with an Achilles injury while he was in the midst of one of the best seasons in his career was brutal. You’d be hard-pressed to not think of the “what-if” concerning New Orleans’ run in the playoffs and the second-round exit…which was ironically courtesy of his new team, the Warriors.
Nobody likes to hear it because of Golden State’s dominance of the NBA, but this agreement makes a ton of sense. Steve Kerr has lacked a reliable offensive center for almost the entirety of his time in the Bay. It’s the one element the team has lacked to cover all bases, and now, it’s gone…kind of.
Cousins probably won’t be seeing much action in the first part of the season. It takes a good chunk of time to fully recover from an Achilles injury, and there will be no rush him on the floor. But once he is cleared, the Warriors are going to be scarier than they already were. And if he looks like his All-Star self, Boogie could be looking at a solid payday next summer.
Tyreke Evans – Indiana Pacers ($12,400,000)
It’s easy to forget what Evans did last season because it happened with the Memphis Grizzlies. They were battered and bruised from the jump. There was a controversial early coaching change. It wasn’t a good year for the franchise. But it was a good year for him.
Evans put up numbers that he hasn’t produced since his rookie season back in the 2009-10 days in Sacramento. He was the leader of the team and was quite frankly the only consistent player that the Grizzlies could depend on nightly. He stayed healthy for the most part, and sat out at the end of the season to ensure he earned a good deal in the offseason.
And so, the Pacers came calling to add another playmaker to insert next to Victor Oladipo. Evans can attack the basket, distribute and shoot like he did early in his career. His best basketball is clearly ahead of him. This is a dynamite move by Kevin Pritchard to bolster the talent and depth of this roster as Indiana looks to take advantage of a wide-open Eastern Conference.
DeAndre Jordan – Dallas Mavericks ($22,897,000)
Jordan was the last domino to fall in the era of “Lob City” in Los Angeles. With Blake Griffin getting traded to the Pistons last year and Chris Paul going to Houston the summer beforehand, it was only a matter of time until the third member of the group had to exit.
Give kudos to Jordan—he stuck it out. Through thick and thin, through the trade rumors and all of the madness, he honored his contract and 10 years with the Clippers without a peep of drama. That’s all you can ask of a player these days. Now, though, it’s ironically on to a team he negotiated with and came close to signing with three years ago, the Mavericks.
Paired with playmakers like Dennis Smith Jr. and highly-touted international rookie Luka Doncic, Jordan will be a part of a Dallas team aiming to bounce right back into the playoff picture. Harrison Barnes will likely be slotted back at small forward on the outside more, while Dirk Nowitzki should give him enough spacing to corral those offensive rebounds and jam some putback dunks. We know he’ll be catching those alley-oops every night, too.
In the end, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle get the guy that they’ve wanted all along—and Jordan gets paid along with an opportunity to really cash in a year from now.
As you can see, there’s a lot of value to these one-year contracts for both sides. We’re going to witness the best out of these players as they chase after the real prize next summer in a growing, stacked class of free agents.
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.