With the start of the NBA season just over two months away, there are plenty of storylines awaiting exploration after a frenetic-paced summer filled with surprises and risks. There are some no-brainer moves that immediately pass the sniff test, such as LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio, but there were more than a few high-risk plays made by adventurous general managers. On the flip side, there are more than a few low-risk, high-reward moves that strengthen teams but have floated under the radar.
First, let’s take a look at some of the higher risk moves from the summer:
Raptors investing $90 million in DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph
DeMarre Carroll is slated to head into training camp as the Toronto Raptors’ highest-paid player (although next season that title will belong to Jonas Valanciunas, once his recently signed extension kicks in). The Raptors made an early splash in free agency this summer signing Carroll to a four-year, $60 million deal, moving him from a bargain deal with the Atlanta Hawks to an eight-figure player facing increased pressure to perform. Toronto also gave $30 million to guard Cory Joseph, a role player during his days in San Antonio.
There’s no reason to believe Carroll can’t sustain his recent success or that Joseph won’t thrive in a larger role. However, $90 million to a couple of role players is definitely a risky move on paper until those guys actually start producing on the court in a Toronto uniform.
Lakers selecting D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor
With the second overall pick in this year’s draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected guard D’Angelo Russell over big man Jahlil Okafor. In a sport where the mindset has always been to take the talented big man over the equally talented smaller guy, the Lakers’ decision surprised many. But the selection of Russell shows which direction the league is heading and in the Western Conference with an array of explosive guards, the decision makes logical sense. However, if Okafor develops into a dominant pro, this could be a decision Los Angeles ultimately regrets.
Phoenix banking on Tyson Chandler
Chandler, 32, is still a highly effective nightly double-double threat. However, if we’re being objective, the big man does have a long history of injuries and has only played 75 or more games in five of his 15 years in the NBA. In today’s landscape, a four-year, $52 million deal isn’t necessarily a cap killer, but there’s no doubt the Suns are taking some risk on an injury prone big man approaching his mid-30s.
Knicks selecting Kristaps Porzingis
Knicks fans thought they would be able to get Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell in the draft, but the lottery ping pong balls dropped the franchise to the fourth overall pick. Leading up to the draft, there were plenty of reports that the Knicks were looking to deal the pick before ultimately deciding to select Kristaps Porzingis. As expected, the New York crowd booed loudly but no one is safe from that contingent typically. However, team president’s Phil Jackson’s decision to select Porzingis over more NBA-ready players did raise more than a few eyebrows at the time. We’ll see if Porzingis ends up being the right selection.
Sacramento hoping to get an elite Rajon Rondo
The Sacramento Kings will head into training camp with All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and head coach George Karl still in the process of strengthening a rocky relationship. The addition of Rondo, a former All-Star who has been known to have a moody disposition of his own, could either significantly help or hinder Cousins and Karl’s relationship. The last time we witnessed Rondo, he was playing uninspired basketball in the playoffs for the Dallas Mavericks. But with the Kings, on a one-year deal worth $10 million, Rondo gets a chance to eliminate some of the negative stigma surrounding his name. The veteran guard also will have every opportunity to re-establish himself as one of the league’s elite point guards. Some say he is past it, some say he can get back to that level in the right situation. The Kings are hoping for the latter scenario to play out.
The above situations were some of the higher-risk moves of the summer. Now, let’s take a look at some moves that could produce a big return with a relatively small risk:
Houston acquiring Ty Lawson
Sure, talented point guard Ty Lawson has been battling some off-court demons as of late, but when completely engaged the veteran is an above average floor general possessing All-Star potential. The Rockets acquired Lawson from the Denver Nuggets for a batch of role players not in their long-term plan, which is the definition of low risk. While Lawson is owed roughly $26 million over the next two seasons, $13 million of it is non-guaranteed for the 2016-17 campaign, which limits the financial risk (and, at the very least, turns Lawson’s contract into a potentially attractive trade chip). If Lawson flames out, the Rockets still have Patrick Beverley, last year’s starter, who was re-signed to a new deal this summer. The acquisition of Lawson could thrust the Rockets into the upper tier out in the West.
Jeremy Lin heading to Charlotte
Charlotte Hornets starting point guard Kemba Walker has missed 29 games the past two seasons due to injury. The presence of Lin provides a bit of insurance and it only cost Charlotte $4 million over two years to land the reserve point guard. While Lin will never live up to the “Linsanity” hype, the guard has developed into a capable NBA playmaker and he should fit in nicely playing behind the more talented Walker.
Kings adding depth with underrated Kosta Koufos
Koufos has been playing in the shadow of Marc Gasol, but has developed into one of the better bench bigs in the league. Koufos’ role won’t change much in Sacramento playing behind All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and it’s one less headache for the team to deal with as the veteran already knows how to play this type of role.
The Lakers acquiring Roy Hibbert
Make no mistake, Hibbert is a $16 million man so the expectation is that he’ll produce like one. But the presence of Hibbert immediately strengthen the Lakers’ porous rim protection from last season. Hibbert’s presence also takes a bit of the sting away from the squad not being able to lure LaMarcus Aldridge or Greg Monroe to town in free agency (or the team’s decision not to draft big man Jahlil Okafor in the draft). Hibbert is essentially a one-year rental who won’t impact the team’s future cap space, making this a low-risk move.
Lance Stephenson heading to the Western Conference
Stephenson displayed All-Star potential in Indiana before falling flat in Charlotte. But the Los Angeles Clippers are hoping those struggles were an anomaly. Stephenson’s presence enhances the Clippers’ wing depth, which was an obvious weakness last season. The presence of future Hall of Fame forward Paul Pierce could be a blessing to Stephenson on and off the court. This could be a big bounce-back campaign for Stephenson.
Miami snagging Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green
Despite a steady decline in production in recent years, Stoudemire probably still believes he can be an All-Star caliber player. While this isn’t the case, Stoudemire remains a solid scorer on the interior when given the minutes (or touches). However, he has been injury prone and hasn’t sniffed 70 games played in a season since 2011. But for the veteran’s minimum, Stoudemire could be an investment that yields a high return – if he can stay healthy. Green was also added at the minimum, and he’ll provide some wing depth for Miami.
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