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Nic Claxton Is Right Where He’s Supposed to Be

Second-round picks have a mixed history of success on NBA rosters. Despite seeing limited minutes, Nic Claxton could be an exception to the rule. Drew Maresca speaks with the Brooklyn Nets’ rookie big man and Jarrett Allen about his potential.

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Jarrett Allen appears to have the Nets’ center position locked down for the foreseeable future. DeAndre Jordan is a more-than-capable backup.

And yet, the Nets felt compelled to select a center this past June in the NBA Draft.

Nicolas Claxton entered the NBA Draft process with a good amount of fanfare. He shot up draft boards and was regularly cited as a late first-round pick. Some players are ready to contribute immediately, including those taken in the second round (e.g., 2016 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon). Others are bit rawer and need to develop outside of the spotlight. Only one part of the equation is applicable to Claxton’s situation.

Brooklyn is  a borough of New York City – the NBA’s biggest media market – and home to 2.4 million residents, only about 100 thousand less than Chicago (according to the 2010 U.S. Census). Further, the team itself is considered a major draw since the arrival of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They received the 13th most nationally televised games this season, but we can expect that to jump considerably next year when Durant returns from an Achilles injury. So why then did they select Claxton?

Before we answer that, it should be mentioned that it almost didn’t happen. The Nets’ 2019 NBA Draft strategy was fairly straight forward – no new salary. They traded the 27th overall pick in exchange for a future first-rounder, and there was a good deal of chatter about the team shopping the 31st overall pick, too. But second-round picks are viewed differently by management, given that they don’t carry a guaranteed number. So when the Nets learned that a first-round talent was still available at No. 31, they picked Claxton with the intention of signing him after they made their free agency moves.

Now, on to the why – Claxton entered the NBA from the University of Georgia, where he played two seasons under head coach Tom Crean. His freshman season was underwhelming for a future NBA player, but he shined in his sophomore campaign. While he wasn’t consistent enough to be viewed as a first option, he demonstrated offensive versatility and the ability to guard all positions on the floor defensively. And his stat line was pretty impressive, too – 13 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

While rumors persisted about Claxton being seriously considered by a number of teams selecting late in the first round, it was assumed he would be gone before the Nets selected. But Claxton landed in a nearly perfect situation for someone as raw and gifted as is he.

“Yeah, I’m definitely right where I’m supposed to be,” Claxton recently told Basketball Insiders. “God does everything for a reason. I thought I was going to go a little earlier, but that’s not what was meant to be.”

Coming into the league as a rookie and playing for a team with high expectations can be challenging. Claxton himself conceded that he’s found it hard to acclimate.

“It’s definitely a challenge to stay ready every day,” Claxton told Basketball Insiders. “But that’s my job now. I just try to keep learning and building the best I can.”

While acclimating to the demands of the job is one thing, there are a number of benefits to playing for the Nets. Most notably, Claxton can continue learning the game without the expectations associated with a spot in the rotation. After all, most fan bases don’t grade rookies on a curve, and they want everyone on the floor to perform.

But given the team’s depth at the center position, there is no need for Claxton to play a major role until he’s ready. After all, the Nets starting center is Jarrett Allen, who finished tied for ninth overall in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, and their backup center is a former All-Star, First Team All-NBA member and two-time All-Defensive First Teamer in DeAndre Jordan.

Some might see the crowded front court as a hindrance, but Claxton sees the opportunity to learn from two great centers – and he understands exactly how valuable that can be.

“I give him off-the-court advice about how to live as an NBA player. And I obviously advise him on our defensive and offensive schemes,” Allen said. “And DeAndre works with him, too, of course. I had my vets to lean on when I came in the league, and now Nic has his.”

With two incredible resources from whom Claxton can learn, Claxton can focus on ramping up without the regular, day-to-day pressures that most players face.

“I’m happy to be here to learn from guys like J (Jarrett Allen) and DJ (DeAndre Jordan),” Claxton told Basketball Insiders. “Really, it’s mental now. So I’m trying to learn the game more and learn how we play here and learn how the NBA is.”

Expectations are hard to set for rookies, especially when their position is well-staffed. That being said, Claxton’s averages aren’t going to “wow” anyone just yet – he’s posting 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.5. minutes per game.

And though his numbers aren’t great, it’s probably harder to deal with the inconsistent minutes. Claxton has appeared in only 8 of the team’s 17 games so far. But he does appear to be settling into a role, albeit a small one – Claxton’s played at least 11 minutes in 7 of the team’s last 10 games. Plus, his per-36 numbers paint a rosier picture of what Nets fans can look forward to (9.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks), which is essentially a near double-double machine with an above-average motor who can defend guards in the screen-and-roll all the way out to the three-point line.

With the Nets attempting to acclimate to roster changes and rectify early struggles (which they’ve been doing of late), there are clearly too few minutes for Claxton to learn the ropes in in-game situations. But an alternative exists – the G League.

The Nets’ G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, play at the Nassau Coliseum, which is approximately 30 miles from the Barclays Center. Yes, it’s of paramount importance that Claxton continues learning from Allen and Jordan in practices, but it’s probably equally important that he continues developing in real game action. Claxton could be assigned to the Long Island Nets for select home games while maintaining a consistent presence with the NBA team. And since he has less than three years of NBA experience, he can be assigned and recalled an unlimited number of times.

For what it’s worth, Claxton is open to the idea.

“Wherever I am, I’m just going to hoop. G League, NBA, it don’t matter,” Claxton told Basketball Insiders. “Me going to the G League is definitely going to be good because I’ll be able to get reps up – I got reps up here the other day – either place, I just want to hoop.”

It sounds as if Claxton and Nets management are on the same page as far as their approach. What’s more – Claxton has been seen as a hard worker well before relocating to Brooklyn, which will spur development and lead to a greater role in the future. In the lead-up to the NBA Draft, Crean said that Claxton understands “the work and time it takes to get better.” And Claxton continues to stay vigilant, working on a multitude of areas of his game, but he’s especially focused on one.

“I know I need to continue to improve my jump shot,” Claxton told Basketball Insiders of specific areas of his game he’d like to improve. “Right now I’m just trying to get reps up, and that’s something that I was focused on over the summer, too.”

Claxton’s lack of playing time this season makes it difficult to gauge any progress. He shot 36.4 percent on fewer than one three-point attempt per game in his freshman season, which then dropped to 28.1 percent on two attempts per game in his sophomore year. It’s harder, still, to assess his shooting in the NBA, as Claxton has missed all five three-pointers he’s attempted across eight games, while knocking down on his only shot attempt from 10-16 feet. Still, there is great optimism about Claxton and his skillset.

“I think that the Chris Bosh comparison is spot on,” Allen said about his rookie teammate.

Of course, to live up to a Chris Bosh comparison, a player must possess a reliable and lethal jump shot from mid-range and beyond. That part is still under construction. But Claxton is only 20  years old and has plenty of time to develop that.

However, the comparison speaks volumes. As an NBA starter and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Allen definitely gets everyone’s best efforts, so he knows All-Star talent when he sees it. And having competed against Claxton since the beginning of training camp in September, he sees far more of Claxton’s game than nearly anyone, so the simple fact that it was made by such a reliable source should get the attention of all 2.4 million residents in Brooklyn.

And if he pans out how Allen and the Nets anticipate, Claxton should familiarize himself with the demands of stardom, even if it’s not entirely relevant just yet.

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Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine desires respect for new contract

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According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine wants the respect he deserves for his contract extension. On Monday morning before Team USA’s practice to prepare for Tuesday’s match against Spain, the 26-year-old guard said to reporters, “I just want my respect, that’s the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If that’s now or later, it’s something we’ve got to work out internally.” In the 2020-21 season, in 58 games played, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 50.7 percent from the field and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Regarding the “outplayed my contract” comment, his argument his fair. Last season, with 200 three-point field goals made, he ranked ninth overall in the league. Despite the Bulls finishing 31-41 (.431) last season, he led the team in points and assists. Per ESPN, they are also reporting that Chicago is trying to work out a four-year, $105 million contract extension for their star guard. Though, this deal is expected to fall below his market value. In terms of signing available free agents this offseason, some Bulls fans are speculating the organization will pursue either Knicks’ shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, Lakers’ power forward/center Markieff Morris or Pelicans’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

On July 13, 2018, the 2014 13th pick of the draft signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. LaVine earned $19,500,000 last season, and he is set to earn $19,500,000 in the upcoming season. It is not urgent for Chicago to extend LaVine’s contract this offseason. The organization will have the full rights to re-sign him to a new deal for next season in 2022.

However, the guard will also become an unrestricted free agent next year, so the Bulls should work towards fixing their salary cap issues right now. Referencing Spotrac, center Nikola Vucevic has a cap figure of $24 million. Of this amount, his future guaranteed cash is $22 million. One notable 2021-22 cap hold is Lauri Markkanen. His qualifying offer is $9,026,952, and his cap figure is $20,194,524. On March 2, 2020, Markkanen was recalled from the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Furthermore, on March 25, 2021, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu were traded by the Orlando Magic to the Bulls in exchange for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick. This is quite the gamble for the Bulls organization, considering they traded away two future first-round picks. Vucevic is set to earn $24 million for the 2021-22 season. Chicago has $56,679,846 available in cap space. Their current luxury tax space is $29,405746.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks will 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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