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Sacramento Kings 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Sacramento Kings’ 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The Sacramento Kings have under-performed for years, winning just 33 games last season despite higher expectations internally.  Dating back to last offseason, the Kings were in turmoil with former coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins at odds.

The organization tried to push through, hoping fences would be mended along the way, but the team stumbled on the floor and eventually Karl was the casualty.  The team has since hired head coach Dave Joerger, who was with the Memphis Grizzlies until this summer.

Joerger is tasked with getting Cousins to engage fully as the Kings’ best player, building a winner with a franchise that hasn’t made the postseason since 2006.  The team has a talented roster – at least offensively – but it remains to be seen if Joerger can get his squad to produce on both sides of the court.

Basketball Insiders previews the Sacramento Kings’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

We have spent the better part of the past few years laughing at the instability of the Kings, so many of the moves they made this past summer have gone unnoticed. I mean, their rotation is likely to consist of a few tough veterans in Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes and Kosta Koufos, some youngsters in Malachi Richardson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere and some players whom we already know can play in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and the newly acquired Ty Lawson. The Kings aren’t going to supplant either the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Clippers in the division, but, at least on paper, they appear to be a better team this season.

Traditionally, players who bring gold medals home enjoy productive seasons. We’ll see in short order whether Cousins bucks the trend. Either way, I don’t think the Kings are making the playoffs this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they improved upon last season’s 33 wins.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

Generally speaking, the Kings are no less confusing now than they were a year ago, which means we’re probably in for one more year of the disgruntled version of DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a shame, too, because the happy version of Cousins was such a joy to watch this past summer as a member of Team USA. He’ll be trading in the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson, two free agent signings that capped off a pretty baffling offseason for the Kings. Getting Skal Labissiere as late as they did in the draft was a steal, except he’ll never see the floor on a team collecting centers like Pokemon. They’ve got a patchwork roster with plenty of talent, but nobody has any idea how it’s all going to come together. New head coach Dave Joerger should help put the pieces together, but even a good chef can only do so much with odd ingredients.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

It seems like forever since the Kings were annually competing for a trip to the NBA Finals in the early 2000s. But over the past decade, the team has had a rather tumultuous ride. Coaching changes, failed rebuilding projects, relocation threats and constant front-office shuffling led to the Kings seemingly hitting rock bottom on more than a few occasions. The 2016-17 team figures to have its own set of drama to conquer with point guard Darren Collison’s offseason incident looming and the future of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins with the organization a daily discussion. Still, there is enough talent here to make some improvement, but don’t expect a huge leap in the standings.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

In some ways, I’m still processing the Kings’ offseason. I didn’t love any of their moves and I didn’t necessarily hate any of them either. A big part of this is the unstable front office situation, which has led to multiple coach hires and fires over the last few seasons and the lack of direction. Is this team trying to win now, or is it more concerned about acquiring young talent for the future? The Kings are bringing in several young players this season, including Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson and Isaiah Cousins. But they also brought in veteran players like Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Anthony Tolliver. Perhaps trying to become as competitive as possible now is geared toward keeping DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento long-term, but this group of players isn’t likely to make much noise in the Western Conference. Being split between competing now to appease a star player and bringing in young talent to prepare for his possible departure is probably not a recipe for major success, so I’m just not a huge fan of Sacramento’s offseason. Having said all of that, I am a fan of the Dave Joerger hire and am cautiously optimistic that he can establish an identity for this team. If things go well, this team could potentially compete for the third seed in the Pacific Division (but that doesn’t seem likely).

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Garrett Temple talked to Basketball Insiders in July about Sacramento’s offseason moves and explained that the Kings entered the summer badly wanting to change the culture around the organization. That’s why they signed veterans like Temple, Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson and hired head coach Dave Joerger (who had a successful stint with the Memphis Grizzlies). I don’t think Sacramento will make the playoffs this year, but I do expect the team to beat last year’s 33 wins. Joerger and the incoming veterans should do well alongside the team’s returning players to help set the foundation for the future. There are still question marks surrounding the team though, especially when it comes to Rudy Gay’s future with the Kings and whether DeMarcus Cousins is happy with the franchise’s direction.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins is arguably the best scoring center in the NBA.  Last season, he led the Kings with 26.9 points per game.  He is powerful in the post and near the basket, but he also has range that extends all the way out to the three-point line – taking 210 attempts last year and converting 33.3 percent.  Cousins isn’t necessarily the most efficient scorer (shooting 45.1 percent from the field), but he’s a high-volume powerhouse who is very tough for opposing big men to guard.

Top Defensive Player: Willie Cauley-Stein

Now a sophomore, Cauley-Stein has tremendous potential as an NBA defender.  A true seven-footer, Cauley-Stein is mobile and athletic and may get the opportunity to start alongside Cousins.  Whether Cauley-Stein does so at center or power forward isn’t necessarily significant.  He’d likely draw the assignment on the opponent’s strongest offensive player night after night.  Cauley-Stein is agile and long enough to bother smaller, quicker players on the perimeter.  The Kings have not been a strong defensive club in recent years, but Cauley-Stein could be an important part of a culture change.

Top Playmaker: Darren Collison

Last season, Collison came off the bench behind one of the NBA’s top assist men in Rajon Rondo.  With Rondo off to the Chicago Bulls, Collison projects to be a high-minute starter this season for the Kings.  Two years ago, Collison started 45 games in Sacramento, averaging 5.6 assists per game.  While he’s not as dynamic a playmaker as Rondo, Collison will have the ball in his hands a lot this season and will look to set up his teammates.  The Kings have invited Ty Lawson to camp.  Should he make the team, Lawson is more of a true point guard than Collison.  Just two seasons ago (2014-15), Lawson averaged 9.6 assists a game for the Denver Nuggets.  Outside of Lawson, it’s unclear if any other players on the roster can play the point behind Collison.

Top Clutch Player: Rudy Gay, perhaps?

The Kings went into last season with higher expectations, but really struggled to close out games.  As a team, Sacramento wasn’t especially clutch.  Defensively, they gave up 109.1 points a game.  They played at a fast pace (scoring 106.6 points nightly), but down the stretch, they rarely seemed to get important stops.  Whatever clutch offense they got seemed overshadowed by their struggles on the other end.  Rudy Gay was often the primary option in the final minutes of games and while he had some success, the team rarely did.  The Kings really need Cousins to emerge as that guy this season, and they need to get the corresponding stops to get the wins.

The Unheralded Player: Omri Casspi

A number of players could fit this bill, from newcomers Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver to under-utilized players like Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore.  However, Casspi has emerged as an ideal small-ball stretch four, a mobile 6’9 forward who shoots the three.  Last year, Casspi hit 40.9 percent of his shots from behind the arc.  His effective field goal percentage was 57.1.

Top New Addition: Arron Afflalo

Afflalo is a solid two-way guard, who can also play some small forward.  The Kings need to play a more mature level of basketball to get wins, and Afflalo fits that well as an experienced veteran. He should be a great locker room presence for the Kings, just as he was during his successful stint with the Orlando Magic.  Last season, Afflalo shot 38.2 percent from behind the arc with the New York Knicks.  He’s also a capable scorer from the post.

– Eric Pincus

WHO WE LIKE

1. DeMarcus Cousins

From a pure talent standpoint, Cousins is among the most talented players in the league – big or small.  He played an important part in Team USA earning a gold medal in Rio this summer.  If he can improve as a leader and contain his emotions on the court, Cousins may climb into the “Most Valuable Player” discussion. However, to date, he hasn’t been able to take the Kings to the playoffs.  Cousins isn’t far from a “Who We Don’t Like” list, to be honest.  His career arc is still very much up in the air.

2. Dave Joerger

Coach Joerger was successful in Memphis when the Grizzlies were healthy.  The team was among the best in the league defensively, advancing to the second round in 2015 before falling to the Golden State Warriors in six games.  Sacramento is desperate for leadership, and Joerger has the opportunity to help re-brand the Kings.  His first and primary job will be reaching Cousins.

3. Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein can’t make Sacramento a defensive-minded team by himself, but he represents the path the Kings need to walk if they want to truly become a force in the Western Conference. Dave Joerger will try to maximize Cauley-Stein’s potential and get the team’s other significant contributors to step up on the defensive end alongside the second-year big man.

4. Omri Casspi

Casspi is scrappy, plays hard and can hit the three.  As is the case with Cauley-Stein, the team is not going to change its culture because of a couple of role players.  It has to start from the top – and that’s Cousins.

– Eric Pincus

SALARY CAP 101

The Kings dropped under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple and Matt Barnes.  The team is over the cap, but still has it’s $2.9 million Room Exception.  The team has 14 guaranteed players, with one spot open for Ty Lawson, Lamar Patterson and Isaiah Cousins to fight over.  Lawson’s $1.3 million is a non-guaranteed summer contract, meaning he doesn’t even have salary protection if injured.

Next summer, Sacramento could have significant spending power under a projected $102 million salary cap.  The second years on Afflalo and Tolliver’s contracts (a combined $20.5 million) are guaranteed for just $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively.   Rudy Gay ($12.3 million) and Barnes ($6.4 million) also have player options.  Without all four, the Kings could reach $55 million under the cap – among the most in the league.  That number assumes Sacramento picks up Willie Cauley-Stein’s rookie-scale option before November.  The team also has until the end of October to give Ben McLemore an extension, otherwise he’ll be a restricted free agent if the Kings extend a qualifying offer in July.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Cousins is a match-up nightmare for most teams.  Gay is a high-volume scoring forward.  Veterans like Barnes, Collison, Tolliver, Koufos, Casspi and Afflalo should help the Kings play a more mature brand of basketball.  Lawson is a wildcard; if he makes the squad, he could end up being the starting point guard or a solid reserve behind Collison.  Cauley-Stein isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s an important defensive component on a team that has struggled on that front.  The new start under Joerger, with the team moving to the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, should help the team put their unimpressive past behind them.  The Kings have an opportunity to make noise in the Western Conference, but they’re going to need to finally deliver on the court after years of underwhelming play.

– Eric Pincus

WEAKNESSES

Sacramento has struggled for leadership.  In previous season, opponents just needed to stay close in games because they knew the Kings would eventually beat themselves.  The biggest issue has been on the defensive side of the ball, but Sacramento can be disjointed offensively as well.  Cousins’ talent is unquestionable, but he still has to prove he can be the best player on a good NBA team.  The team’s roster is not particularly well balanced, loaded with forwards and centers but weak at guard.  McLemore has yet to show he’s a consistent impact player.  Collison is a good, but not necessarily a great point guard.  The team needs Afflalo and possibly Lawson to make an impact in the backcourt.

– Eric Pincus

THE BURNING QUESTION

How long will the Kings’ marriage with Cousins last?

Cousins is under contract through the 2017-18 season.  As things are, given his bumpy history with the club, the odds are reasonably high that the All-Star will leave as a free agent in July of 2018.  If Joerger can help turn the team into a winner, the narrative could change significantly.  If not, the Kings need to at least explore moving Cousins lest they lose him for nothing.  Typically, the closer a star player gets to the end of his contract, the harder he can be to move for value.  Teams are often reluctant to give up a lot for a player who can walk away from them after one rental season.  This upcoming February may be the best time to move Cousins, if the Kings prove to be mediocre once again.  The team has not looked to move Cousins this offseason, preferring to see what happens with Joerger and the team’s new players.  The franchise clearly hopes for enough on-court success to engage Cousins for the long-term, but that’s easier said than done.

– Eric Pincus

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off on in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked with in the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5 year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdon Bogdonovic (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of a NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also the side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the side show that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20, is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft, Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably effect the NBA game beginning on day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented front court and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdon Bogdonovich Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdonovich add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, free agency went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be good value for the reigning sixth man of the year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanovic will be a great get, maybe on the high side money wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assume he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30 year old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did mange to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career high in rebounds (6.7); but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bodganovic slipped through their fingers. Like getting a bogey on the final hole. Or, in the Bucks’ case, a “Bogi”.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted into a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering form an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One move we’d like to see:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. Which is why if Houston wants all the Nets and Wizards cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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