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NBA PM: Why Isn’t Anfernee Simons Played More?

Despite showing numerous flashes of potential to this point of his young career, Anfernee Simons hasn’t been able to put his talents on full display. Will he ever be able to as a member of the Portland Trailblazers?

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In the modern NBA, the pathway of going straight from high school to the league has been abolished, forcing the overwhelming majority of talented young basketball players to play in the NCAA. Most people think that it is required for a high school basketball prospect to play at the collegiate level if they want to succeed in the NBA, but that is not always the case. Since there has to be a year elapsed after graduating from high school to enter the NBA Draft, some teens have found a loophole. Anfernee Simons is one of the latest examples of this, as he entered the 2018 draft following a post-grad year at IMG Academy. Simons would end up making a smart decision as he would get picked 24th overall by the Portland Trailblazers. 

In his first season, Simons rode the end of the bench only playing in 20 games as the Blazers chose to ease him into the league since he didn’t have college experience under his belt. Simons came in as a very raw prospect full of upside, with lightning speed and a good handle of the ball, while having the physical tools to develop into a solid defender on opposing guards. While he averaged a meager 3.8 points per game across the 20 contests he played in, he let the league know why he was ranked the ninth-best prospect for the 2018 high school class by ESPN, in the last game of the season against the Sacramento Kings.

In this contest, Simons went off. He scorched the Kings for 37 points on 13-21 shooting while hitting 7-11 of his three-point attempts to go along with 6 rebounds and 9 assists. This game was not very close for the majority of it and at one point in the second quarter, the Blazers were down 70-45, per Basketball-Reference. The sweet-shooting stroke off the dribble, that many people had doubted Simons could consistently provide, was put on display as he led the Blazers reserves to a comeback win. It would be one thing to say that since Simons played the whole 48 minutes of the game, he should have been expected to go off, but when it’s known that he led a starting five of Skal Labissière, Jake Layman, Gary Trent Jr., and Meyers Leonard to a win, it’s more impressive.

After improving his numbers and showing more confidence at the NBA level, it was interesting to see that Simons was much of an afterthought for the Blazers at the bubble. He did have a 13 point, 4 steal performance in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers, but he got most of his time in meaningless minutes. Besides that game, he only had one other game with more than 3 points. The team had elected to use Trent Jr. as their go-to bench guard forcing Simons into a smaller role than his play may have deserved. 

This sudden refusal to play Simons has carried over into this season as through the team’s first 52 games, he has played in 45 while averaging 16.2 minutes per game, a downgrade from last year where he played in 20.7 minutes per game. It’s puzzling that coach Terry Stotts would ease a young player like Simons into the team, build his confidence, and then instead of elevating him further to maybe the Sixth man or a prominent bench role, he goes further down the ladder. According to an article by Sports Illustrated, Simons has been the odd man out with McCollum returning from injury, as well as Gary Trent Jr. outperforming him in the minutes he played. Now, with the trade of Trent Jr. for Norman Powell, Simons continues to be further down the rotation for the Blazers.

The thing that hinders Simons and the Blazers from further progress is the lack of height in their star guards. Neither Damian Lillard nor McCollum is tall enough to play small forward against a natural forward, and new acquisition Norman Powell is only 6-foot-4 as well. The Blazers wanted Trent Jr. to be the guy that could play the 3 consistently and allow them to mess around with their rotation, but in the games where he played minutes at the forward position, he proved he was incapable of guarding opposing forwards. Swapping Trent Jr. for Powell doesn’t make much of a difference for Simons’ ascension to a prominent role, and only keeps him where he is. 

In his more limited role this season, Simons is averaging just .5 points under what he did in almost 21 minutes per game last year. He has taken about 70 percent of his shots from the three-point range, improving his three-point percentage to 41.5 percent on the season. The Blazers are a good three-point shooting team that can take a hold of the game at any moment with their shooting, but it’s confusing as to why they wouldn’t use one of their best shooters more often. 

The question that has slowly started to circulate around the Blazers is are they good enough to win a title with Lillard as the leader? It has yet to be answered, but with his play this year and this past season, he has more than shown that he can be the best player on a good team, but can he take that next step as a superstar? He’ll need a lot of help from his sidekick McCollum, future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony, Jusuf Nurkic, and the newly-acquired Powell if they wish to have any chance at competing for a title. 

The demotion of Simons is very troubling but at this point three years in, it could be likely that the Blazers just aren’t the team for the explosive guard to break out on. What team wouldn’t want to take a chance on a 21-year-old guard full of speed and explosiveness to go along with a sweet shooting stroke that has improved in his time in the NBA? Simons has proved that when thrown into the big role he can perform, and when thrown into the spotlight of the dunk contest, he took over. Still with all of his promise and potential he finds himself warming the bench most nights. According to Spotrac, he’s under contract until 2023 where he then becomes a restricted free agent, so the most likely departure of Simons would have to come by trade. 

It is clear that Simons is going to be an NBA player for years to come, but by the day it seems that it may not be with the team that drafted him. There are plenty of other teams who would love to add him into their rotation and develop him further, so keep an eye on trade offers for the promising young player in the offseason and the future.

 

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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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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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not possess any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams. Having said that, one person’s prediction is as good as anyone’s. The Lakers needed an accurate shooter. Westbrook might not be the missing piece.

Additionally, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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