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Takeaways From Ignite’s First Weekend In G League Bubble

Drew Maresca identifies three takeaways from Ignite’s first game in the G League bubble.

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The G League bubble kicked off on Wednesday, Feb. 10. It features 18 teams – so all NBA teams do not have an affiliate team participating – playing 15 games each, all of which takes place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida – the same location as the NBA’s bubble from the 2019-20 season. Bubble play culminates in a beginning postseason on Mar. 8, which will include the top eight teams playing in a single-elimination tournament.

In addition to 17 NBA affiliates, the G League bubble also features Ignite, a team comprised of mostly recent high school graduates that chose to forego college in favor of an NBA-centric training program and system.

Ignite received significant buzz relative to other G League teams. Coached by Brian Shaw, the team features some top-tier prospects including Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, both of whom are widely expected to be top-10 picks, at least. There are also some veterans mixed in to keep the ball moving and morale high – and let’s be honest, they too are trying to make it back to the NBA.

Ignite has won its first three games of G League bubble play, defeating the Santa Cruz Warriors, Oklahoma City Blue and Raptors 905.  There were lots of important takeaways that are pertinent to NBA fans, especially those hoping their team nabs a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. With that being said, here are the three biggest takeaways for Ignite’s prospects after the first few games:

Green has played well but has more to show

Jalen Green – probably the highest-profile player on Ignite entering bubble play – underwhelmed in his opening game against Santa Cruz. Fear, not Green fans, it’s just one contest. He looked a little lost in the first half, making a few mental errors. He loosened up in the second half, but he still only scored 11 points on 40 percent shooting — not what you expect from a top-flight prospect.

Green has evened out a bit since then. He struggled again in the first half of the team’s third game on Saturday, but — once again — came alive as time went on. He began attacking the hoop and showed his top-notch speed and athleticism.

Green is a long, dynamic, shooting guard. He definitely needs to get stronger, but that will come. He ended the third game with 21 points on 50 percent shooting from deep, and he’s currently averaging 17.7 points and 4.3 rebounds through three games. The major concerns around Green right now have to be around sloppiness — Green currently possesses a 1:3 assist-to-turnover ratio — and his inability to consistently affect the game.

Fortunately, there are more than enough games left for Green to prove himself.

Kuminga is better than anyone expected (so far)

Kuminga propelled himself into the top-five- pick-conversation entering bubble play, and now we all know why.

Needless to say, the future draftee is clearly a modern two-way player. He showed good footwork, impressive shot-making ability and good defensive instincts — emphasized by a game-sealing blocked shot at the end of the first game — in the first few games of bubble play.

Kuminga ended his first G-League game with 19 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. His three-ball didn’t work — he sunk just 17% of his 7 attempts — but he shot 50 percent from the floor on the whole. Even in sticking just one of seven three-point attempts, his shot looked fluid and he wasn’t hesitant getting them up. Even more encouraging, he’s shot 3-for-6 since in games two and three combined.

The talented prospect also demonstrated the ability to push the pace in transition and use his eyes to trick defenders into falling for pass fakes.

Finally, as if all of the above weren’t enough, Kuminga’s vision has been on display, too. He may only average three assists per game, but they are quality assists that come in the half-court after drawing a double team or threading the needle to hit cutters. His ability to see over the defensive is a major plus for his passing, and it should translate nicely to the NBA.

Kuminga is fifth in scoring through three games, posting 22 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game — and he gets most of his production within the flow of the offense.

Dashien Nix looks the part, too

Nix was ranked 21 overall in the ESPN 100 as of the end of last high school season. He de-committed from UCLA, and that decision looks to be a good one.

As a natural righty, Nix looked very good going to and finishing with his left. He’s showed a strong hesitation dribble and has demonstrated a good ability to draw fouls. More or less, Nix looked extremely comfortable going against former and future NBA players.

Nix has also shown a good speed with which he plays, all predicated on patience. He gets to his spots and waits for things to develop around him while maintaining a live dribble. He hasn’t wowed with athleticism – and his fitness was a concern in a recent Sports Illustrated mock draft – but his skill set and poise have been on full display

Nix had a good game on Wednesday against Santa Cruz (12 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds). He was held scoreless in 21 minutes of action in the team’s second game against the Blue, but he bounced back nicely against the Raptors in Ignite’s third game (25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists). Nix is now averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from three-point land.

Team Ignite represents a serious investment by the NBA in the futures of their young prospects. It was a bit risky in that it could be seen as a conflict of interest in the league’s relationship with the NCAA. But for now, the Ignite look to be accomplishing exactly what it set out to do, which is getting younger guys repetitions in a pro-style system. And that’s before considering the benefits like financial mentorship, training and practicing with NBA vets, all while earning good salaries in lieu of playing for free with a college team.

Ignite plays its fourth game on Monday, Feb. 15 at 11:30 am EST against the Southwest Vipers, which features young prospects like Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr. and Kenny Wooten. But regardless of who they face, each game in the bubble is an opportunity for Ignite players both young and old.

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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 are expected to 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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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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