The West’s Top Five Stories
By Bill Ingram
NBA free agency may have gotten off to something of a slow start, but once LeBron James committed to the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of the other dominoes started falling into place. The landscape of the Eastern Conference has changed dramatically, but that doesn’t mean the Western Conference won’t still be the vastly better conference next season. With so much more at stake, here’s look at the West’s biggest free agency stories.
Big Season Ahead For Chicago Bulls
By John Zitzler
The Chicago Bulls will go into the 2014-15 season with championship aspirations yet again. They have seemed on the verge of breaking through for years, but have been tortured by the unfortunate inability of Derrick Rose to stay on the court. Rose electrified the league during the 2010-11 season on his way to the Most Valuable Player award. For the first time since the since Michael Jordan era, the Bulls had a legitimate superstar in Rose. The franchise locked Rose up the following December, signing him to a five-year, $94.8 million dollar extension.
But Rose played in only 39 games during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, battling an assortment of ailments including a bruised toe, back spasms, a strained groin and a sprained ankle. Despite suffering a litany of injuries, Rose remained productive and averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game. The Bulls secured the top seed in the East and appeared poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.
We all know what happens next. Bulls fans, be advised that the next few paragraphs may reopen some painful wounds. Proceed with caution.
Summer League: Studs & Duds, Day 9
By Moke Hamilton
With the field down to eight teams vying for the 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League title, Day 9 featured some spirited competition, but none better than the triple-overtime classic between the Washington Wizards and the San Antonio Spurs.
(We are not, in fact, actually sure if a Summer League game can qualify as being a classic, but if you were on hand for the dramatic 95-94 Wizards victory, you would feel similarly).
Otto Porter stole the show and leads the studs of Day 9, while the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls joined the Spurs as teams who saw their championship hopes dashed.
Brandon Knight Sees Brighter Days for Bucks
By Joel Brigham
It has been a long time since the Milwaukee Bucks were a team that really generated buzz on a competitive level, but the turning of the tide this offseason is palpable with a superstar draft pack in Jabari Parker and a burgeoning head coach in Jason Kidd adding their talents to the organization in the last month.
Of course, they aren’t the only guys that make the Bucks more buzzworthy than usual this year. Even though they posted a league-worst 15 wins last season, there are young players on this roster worth getting excited about, and guard Brandon Knight is one of them.
Knight, attending the Las Vegas Summer League last week, seemed optimistic that Milwaukee won’t be back in the league basement again this season. In fact, he thinks the team can use last year’s frustration as motivation for a better year to come.
Al Jefferson Loves Hornets’ Moves
By Alex Kennedy
Last season, the Charlotte Bobcats took a tremendous step forward as a franchise. After losing 120 of 148 games in the previous two years, expectations were low entering the season, but the team managed to go 43-39 and secure the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. It was just the second postseason appearance in the organization’s history, and the improvement was in large part due to the addition of Al Jefferson, hiring of Steve Clifford and growth of Kemba Walker.
Now, Charlotte is hoping to continue their successful run and take the next step in the 2014-15 season. The team name has changed from the Bobcats to the Hornets, but they’re hoping the culture change that started last season is just getting started.
Zach LaVine Shows Versatility in Summer League
By Jesse Blancarte
The Minnesota Timberwolves have missed the playoffs 10 seasons in a row, which is the longest drought in the NBA. Minnesota has been in the headlines recently as superstar power forward Kevin Love has informed the team that he will opt out of his contract after next season, which will make him an unrestricted free agent.
The Timberwolves are currently negotiating with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers for notable players like shooting guard Klay Thompson and first overall pick Andrew Wiggins. As of now, it is not clear which, if either, team will acquire Love and which players will be sent to Minnesota.
What is clear, however, is that the Timberwolves have some young talent currently on the roster, showing Minnesota fans during the Las Vegas Summer League that there is hope for the future. Among them is the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, guard Zach LaVine from UCLA.
Do You Trade Wiggins For Love?
By Steve Kyler
If all that’s standing in the way of the Cleveland Cavaliers obtaining Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is rookie swingman Andrew Wiggins, do you trade one of the most promising players in this year’s draft to get arguably one of the best power forwards in the game?
The short answer – absolutely. The long answer has several caveats.
Let’s start with this one. Love is likely going to be a free agent in July. It makes the most sense monetarily for him to opt-out of his contract and sign a new one in July. Love is now eligible for a new max contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap, which is expected to be north of $66 million. So for the sake of putting a number to the concept, in July, Love can sign a new deal with a first year salary of $19.8 million. If he were to stay in his existing deal, he’d earn $16.744 million. The quick math says Love loses $3.05 million opting into his deal.
The next issue is as much as we think we know about what Love wants, we really don’t and neither do teams. The Timberwolves have not granted anyone permission to talk to Love directly. There are clearly some back channel things happening, but do you really give up a potential star in two or three years without talking to Love and understanding what his goals are? The likely answer is no.
Phil Jackson Leading Knicks in Right Direction
By Cody Taylor
Phil Jackson was introduced as the president of the New York Knicks back in March and vowed to once again make the Knicks one of the NBA’s elite franchises. The state of the team was a complete mess when Jackson took over and it seemed like a job only the Hall of Fame coach would be able to take on and fix.
The Knicks have $87,089,605 committed in guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season and find themselves paying the luxury tax once again. Not only did the Knicks have no cap space to work with this summer, they were also one of a few teams heading into the draft with no picks in a class that’s considered one of the best in recent years. The team also needed to find a new head coach, as Mike Woodson was fired after finishing last season with a 37-45 record and failing to reach the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. And perhaps the biggest issue of all was the uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony and whether he would re-sign with New York.
Free Agents Headed For The Minimum
By Lang Greene
As Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler pointed out in this space on Monday, the money in this year’s free agency market is drying up fast. So while there are still teams remaining with the flexibility to offer lucrative deals, the longer free agency drags on the less incentive those franchises have to dig deep into their wallets.
Basic supply and demand principle at work.
With plenty of talented players still in the hunt for their next deal, franchises are in a strongly leveraged position to wait the process out rather than pay a premium to be the first bidder in the marketplace.
While restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe are the two most talented guys remaining and sure to get decent sized deals soon, there are plenty of other established guys who may be forced to take a minimum deal for next season.
Bennett Breathing Easy, Playing Better Without Tonsils
By Jessica Camerato
Take a deep breath and relax.
Anthony Bennett is able to do that a lot easier now. Not just because the pressures of playing his first NBA season as the number one overall pick are behind him, or because he has rehabbed from injuries. Not just because Andrew Wiggins has taken his place as the all-eyes-on-me rookie, or because LeBron James is back to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In May, Bennett underwent surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids to help improve his sleep apnea. As a result, Bennett, who also has asthma, has found it easier to breathe while playing basketball following the operation.
Lakers Land Lin at Perfect Time
By Yannis Koutroupis
What a lot of NBA prospects don’t realize in the pre-draft process is that all of the workouts and interviews they do don’t just impact where they are going to land on draft night. Teams are often doing research and putting together files on players for when they hit free agency or become available in trades years later as well.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets after the moratorium was lifted is a prime example. The Lakers have had eyes for Lin for years now, trying to sign him before he landed with the Golden State Warriors and also putting in a claim for his rights when he was on waivers afterward, only to see him ultimately land with the New York Knicks where Linsanity was born.
Porter, Rice Ready for Bigger Roles in Washington?
By Jabari Davis
The 2013-14 Washington Wizards were a talented team that showed signs of how good this up-and-coming squad could be in the coming years, but how much of their success was due to the fact that they played in a historically bad Eastern Conference? It’s hard to say, but one thing that cannot be questioned is this team is determined to disprove any of their remaining doubters moving forward.
While Trevor Ariza left as a free agent, the Wizards re-signed key contributors Marcin Gortat and Andre Miller and added additional veteran depth in Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. These moves, coupled with internal development from their young core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. among others has Washington looking a playoff team for the second-straight season.
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