The NBA season is over, which means diehard basketball fans must go without the game they love for quite some time. For a long time, summer league was the only option for a basketball fan craving some action featuring professionals. Now, there’s another alternative.
The Basketball Tournament is back for the second straight year, and it features a ton of former NBA players, old college teams reuniting, a $1 million prize and nationally televised games on ESPN and ESPN U. The opening round of TBT starts on July 10, and games will be played in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Games will be on ESPN, ESPN U and live-streamed online, and tickets are available as well.
For complete details about The Basketball Tournament, check out my in-depth article on the competition from April. The short explanation is that anyone can put a team together and the winning squad splits the $1 million prize however they decide. This is the first year that TBT will be televised and feature a seven-figure prize, which has attracted a ton of talented players. Contract restrictions prevent current NBA players from playing in TBT, but former NBA players and free agents are free to participate. The following players will be competing in TBT this year:
Nate Robinson, Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Brian Scalabrine, Dominique Jones, Josh Selby, Jamario Moon, Hakim Warrick, Donte Green, Michael Sweetney, Royce White, Smush Parker, Fab Melo, Jermaine Taylor, Von Wafer, Sam Young, Terrence Williams, Pooh Jeter, Damien Wilkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ike Diogu, Josh Boone, Marcus Banks, Luke Harangody, DerMarr Johnson, Willie Reed, Xavier Silas, Ryan Gomes, Renaldo Balkman, Chris Wright, Tyshawn Taylor, Bobby Brown, Earl Barron, Sundiata Gaines, Dijon Thompson, Stephen Graham, Derrick Caracter, Alex Kirk, Rob Kurz, Mardy Collins, Scotty Hopson and Hamady N’Diaye among others. Other players may still be added too (rumor has it Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal are being pursued).
While current NBA players cannot take the floor, they can serve as a team’s general manager, coach or booster and Ty Lawson, Jamal Crawford, C.J. McCollum, Nick Young, Frank Kaminsky and Matt Bonner have decided to do just that.
With The Basketball Tournament right around the corner, we caught up with some of the participants to get their thoughts on the tourney, their respective team and their strategy entering the competition. Each of the individuals we talked to has played in the NBA. Check out our roundtable Q&A:
How did you hear about The Basketball Tournament?
Jamario Moon, Player, “Team Trained To Go”: “I got an email asking if I wanted to play and then I was put in contact with [my general manager]. At first, I had never heard of the tournament. I thought it was just another small basketball tournament that organizers put together in a city and they try to get some guys to play so they can generate some money. I thought it was just another one of those. But then once I heard the details –the $1 million prize money, games being on ESPN – I thought, ‘This could be pretty big right here, and a nice opportunity to make some money.’ You can’t beat that. Go out there and play basketball for a month, have some fun and possibly make some money? You can’t beat that! I’m looking forward to it. It definitely won’t be my last time playing in TBT.”
Dominique Jones, Player, “Team BDB”: “The first time I heard about the tournament was when Josh Selby, who is on the team and also our general manager, hit me up about it. He told me about it and it seemed like a great opportunity to play some high-level basketball and potentially earn some money doing it. That’s what I love doing, so I was in.”
Smush Parker, Player, “Team Big Apple Basketball”: “I played last year and I actually first heard about TBT through my coach, Jason Curry, from Big Apple Basketball. I was working out in New York and had just gotten back from playing overseas. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to run with them in the tournament and I did. It was an incredible experience last year. It was really organized, it was well run, the teams were competitive (for the most part) and the games were exciting. I enjoyed myself and I felt like I was 16 years old again playing AAU basketball.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I actually heard about it from a really good friend of mine, Joe Connelly, who used to be a player development coach for the Washington Wizards the year before last. He’s a good friend of mine and we’ve been working out together for a while and he said, ‘Why not put a team together with guys from this area and try to win this tournament?’ So that’s how I found out about it. This whole tournament is just such a great idea. And not even just the money part of it, just the way that it allows guys to come together and form a team to play together, it’s great.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, “Team The Wrecking Crew”: “I think I initially saw something about it on social media. I clicked on some links and found out more information about it.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I heard about the tournament through some friends and even had some guys I didn’t know who were reaching out to me trying to get me on their team.”
Alex Kirk, Player, “Team Armored Athlete”: “When I was up at the D-League Showcase, I heard from a couple buddies that they were participating. I’m not doing much around that time of the summer, so why not play? It’s the closest thing to an AAU tournament I’ve been able to compete in since high school.”
Willie Reed, Player, “Team BDB”: “Well, I heard about it last year, but I wasn’t sure if it was something that was real or legit. Then, when I did confirm that it was for real, I found out a little bit too late so I wasn’t able to play. This year, I wanted to give it a go and Josh Selby asked me to play for Team BDB (also known as Brothers Dat Ball).”
Xavier Silas, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I heard about it from Joe Connelly too, and I was really interested.”
Who is on your team and how did your roster come together?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Actually, I live in Atlanta so I got with a group of guys here and we’ve been playing basketball together for a while. We have [former NBA players] Damien Wilkins, Kevin Murphy and Garret Siler. We have some guys who played overseas too.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’ve known Josh Selby for a long time. We met through my trainer, who used to work with Josh back when he was younger. Once Josh and I met, we just immediately became close and cool. We always kept in touch, even though our careers have taken us in different directions. I joined his team and he just kept adding guys like [Jermaine Taylor, Willie Reed, Aquille Carr, Durand Scott and Ibrahima Thomas].”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m playing with the same team as last year, but there are some new guys added on this year. Last year, we had 10 guys on our roster, but only five players showed up so we have the same nucleus, but we wanted to make sure we filled out the team with other guys who could show up. [Former NBA players] Sam Young and Derrick Caracter are on the team with me.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Joe Connelly pretty much put the whole team together. We have DerMarr Johnson, who is a former NBA player. We have David Hawkins, who plays overseas. We have Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who played in the NBA. We have Xavier Silas, who played in the NBA. We have Hamady N’Diaye, who played in the NBA. We have James Gist, Phil Goss, Omar Strong, Devin Sweetney, Lafonte Johnson. We have a number of guys who played in the NBA or played at a high level overseas. We have a pretty stacked squad. … There are some other really talented teams with former NBA players too though. Dominique Jones is playing, and I know he can go. He should be on someone’s [NBA] roster, but he’s probably just looking for the right chance. For sure, he’s one of the most talented players that I know of in the tournament. Josh Selby too, he can go and he’s very talented. [Team BDB] has some really good guys who can play.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “Holden [Greiner], Jordan [Hamilton], Mackey [McKnight] and some other Lehigh alumni are locked in on our roster, to my knowledge. Lehigh had some solid teams over the years and guys have stayed in contact post-graduation. Holden is one of the guys who’s really involved in orchestrating the team and reaching out to different players.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “Most of the players on our team played in the Midwest and a number of the guys played at Indiana such as Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls. We also have Mark Lyons from Arizona. They found a sponsor in Armored Athletes and then found a good group of guys.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “I knew I wanted to join this year and then when Josh Selby asked me to play, I figured what better way than to team up with the guy who I became friends with during my pre-draft training? Josh and I built that relationship during the pre-draft process, working out together in Las Vegas, and we had chemistry on the court. We always had fun together and played well together. I’m looking forward to reuniting with him. We have a lot of other talented guys as well. I feel like I’m a guy who can fit in on anybody’s team just because of the way I play, and we have a lot of good players who I’ve worked out with or watched over time.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Our team has Pops Mensah-Bonsu, DerMarr Johnson, James Gist, Phil Goss, Hamady N’Diaye and Michael Sweetney, just to name a few. Joe and his team put it all together.”
How is your team preparing? Will you all practice beforehand?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “We work out every day together in Atlanta, so we’re going to practice for the tournament and put some plays in place. Actually, we already have some simple sets that we can call. We just played in a $5,000 tournament a few weeks ago and we won, and we ran some basic stuff. We’ll use that, but we’ll also practice more before the tournament. We’re going to turn some of our daily workouts into practices, but it’s great that we already know each other and have chemistry.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “We don’t have any set plans [to train together] yet, but I’m down here in Tampa just working out individually at USF, doing what I do.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “We are all in the gym, doing individual workouts. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the whole team together to practice plays and defensive schemes and things like that, but we’re all in the gym individually and getting ready and working on our individual skills. I’m working out in New York.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we’re going to set up something so we can start getting together and practicing soon, but we still have a few guys who are finishing up their season overseas. Once those guys are free, we can all get together. But right now, the guys are pretty much working out with Joe and he already has a game plan for what we’re going to do and how we’re to play. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re all excited about it.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think the guys will begin practicing as it gets closer. Obviously, I’m in the gym doing my offseason training so I won’t physically be involved as much as I would like, but I can still keep up and stay in contact with guys, due to the advancements in technology (laughs).”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m not positive if we are getting together for practice, but I think we will try to do something like that. It’s tough because I know some guys are still playing right now.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “This part will be interesting because I know a few of them are trying to meet up during the summer before the games start so that they can practice together. I think that would be great to work out together (and play some golf). But my summer is going to be pretty busy playing summer league with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, training at IMG Academy and hosting a couple of my own camps in New Mexico.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “Josh [Selby] had talked about meeting up in Baltimore for practices or getting together before the tournament, but I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet. I’m sure we’ll go over some things, put some plays in, discuss pick-and-roll situations and figure out our defensive strategy and then go from there.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we will get together beforehand and get some chemistry going, for sure. We’re still figuring it out though.”
What are your team’s strengths and what’s your strategy going in?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I think our biggest strengths our ability to play [unselfishly] together and our experience together. Some guys can really score the basketball, some guys can really shoot it, but then they just want to take all of the shots. If we see an open guy, we’re going to hit the open guy. With the seven-footer Garett, we can just dump the ball to him down low and we get him cooking first. Then, if they start doubling Big G, he kicks it out to our shooters. If they don’t double him, well, guess what? He’s going to eat.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I look at our roster and I just think we’re an all-around good team. We have a lot of talent at every position, all of our bigs and guards can hold their own. We have guys who can score and then play great defense against their opponent on the other end too. We’re going to be a two-way team, that’s going to be what we’re known for and that’s obviously a great strength to have.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “Based on what I know from last year and what I know about the players we’ve added, we have guys who can make plays. We have playmakers who can create for others as well as themselves. We can get into the paint and finish, and we have a lot of outside shooting as well.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, it sounds crazy, but I think our biggest strength is that just about our entire team grew up in the D.C. area and we’ve all known each other 10 to 15 years. From a chemistry standpoint, we all know each other as players and as people and I think that’s huge for us. Also, we have so many guys with experience at different professional levels, whether it’s in the NBA or overseas, so we have guys who know how to play smart basketball.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think our strengths are obviously the fact that these guys have played together in years past and understand each others’ games. They will need to play unselfishly, hustle and shoot well to compete at a high level.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have a well-rounded team of guys who really know how to play and we will just try to play together and play smart.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I’m not 100 percent sure yet, to be quite honest, but I think we will have a nice mix of shooters and athletes. I think it will just be a game-by-game decision on what’s working because you can’t really scout your opponents for this. We’ll see what works each game.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The thing about Team BDB is that we have so many talented players that even if one guy doesn’t play well, we have a ton of really talented guys who can pick him up. We have so many guys who can play at a high level and contribute to the team. We have a lot of athleticism, so we can switch a lot. We have a lot of size, so we should out-rebound most teams. And we have excellent guards in Josh Selby, Dominique Jones, Jermaine Taylor and others who can break down their defender and finish. We also have strong leaders. I think that’s a great combination of players.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Defense and rebounding are our strengths, I think. I look at this team and I see rim protectors and rebounders first. Then, I see people who are dogs and who don’t mind getting gritty on defense. Then, of course, we have offensive weapons. Putting all of that together could make us real scary. Also, we all have been playing at a high level overseas, so we will be able to connect in that way on the court as well.”
Does your team have what it takes to win it all and why?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Of course we have what it takes. We have some guys who can really go. They play overseas, but it’s not like they aren’t good enough to play [in the NBA]. Our guys can play and, most importantly, they know how to play the right way. There’s a difference. They know the game and they know how their teammates play so they get the ball to them in their spots. It’s basically like we’ve put together our own little pro team here in the city.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “Oh yeah, I think we have it takes to win the whole tournament. Psh, if I didn’t think we had what it takes to win, I wouldn’t be playing in it.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I felt like we could’ve won the entire tournament last year with just five guys, but a lot of us were 30+ years old so playing three or four games in three days was hard on our bodies. Last year, we just ran out of steam. This year, I definitely feel like we can make it to the finals and win the whole tournament.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I mean, of course. Going in, we’re definitely confident. But we also know that there are a lot of other teams that are also thinking like us, so we just need to take things one game at a time. I’m sure every team is going in thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this thing.’ But I do think we have a good squad here talent wise and it’s great we all know each other personally. We just need to take it one game at a time though. All it takes is one bad game and you’re going home – that’s the hard thing about a single-elimination tournament like this.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “In order to win it all, I think it’s more about playing together and executing. Every team in the tourney has talent, but not all have cohesion and chemistry.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have an experienced, talented team. I’m sure a lot of other teams feel that they do as well, but [we’re confident]. That’s why we feel we can win.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I think we have a good mix of players, which will make it difficult to beat us.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The only goal is to win it all. With our competitive nature and the team that we’ve built, the only goal we have is to win it all and take home that prize. There’s no feeling good about making it to the final game or ‘getting close.’ We joined this tournament because we want to win it all. That’s the only goal we have in mind.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think there are a lot of fighters and hungry guys on this team with really high talent levels. I think management has done a good job of putting us together and if we can get things right on the court, we can take [the $1 million].”
Which opponents are scarier: The reuniting college teams with chemistry or the teams with veteran NBA players that are very talented on paper?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “If there’s a team in the tournament that has jelled and has played together every day and understands how to play together as a team, I think they have the best shot at winning it all as opposed to the teams that were just thrown together for this tournament. I haven’t looked at all of the rosters, but I think our team has the best shot because I don’t think there are a lot of teams [with our talent] that are playing together like we have been. I mean, we play every day, so that’s really going to help us.”
Dominique Jones, Players, Team BDB: “I think the NBA talent is scarier. Chemistry is obviously really important, but I think that it’s easy to develop chemistry when everyone has the same goal. A team’s chemistry can be bad when people have ulterior motives and stuff like that, but everybody on our team has the same goal and knows what we need to do to win and get this money, so our chemistry will be great.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m going to go with the college teams on this one. I believe in team basketball. It’s a team sport and, in college, they harness that concept that everyone works together as a team – defensively and offensively. I’m more afraid of the college teams reuniting than certain teams that may have a few NBA players on their roster.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “The alumni teams from Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Virginia and other schools are probably our biggest challenge. Those guys played in college together and spent so much time together so you know they’re going to be ready to play and have a system they can run. Chemistry is so important. Not to make a direct comparison, but look at a team like the San Antonio Spurs. Those guys have amazing chemistry and have the system down to the point that they know each other so well and always know where they’re going to be on the floor. It is almost automatic, and it’s amazing to watch as a basketball fan. Those teams that have chemistry and can run plays, they definitely have an advantage – even over a team like us since we have never played together like that. We are getting ready, but some of those teams played together for four-plus years. That experience will really help them, but we’re going to play hard and do our best. Honestly, the other scary rosters are the ones where you don’t know anybody. You know nothing about their team entering the game, so you can’t really prepare. There’s no real game-planning, you’re just going out there and playing. I think that’s one of the hardest things about this. The college teams are scary, but the teams you can’t scout or prepare for are tough too.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I don’t think any of them are scary. There are solid players on all teams, but it’s more about competing and just going out there and hoopin’. At the end of the day, it’s still basketball, regardless of who’s out there.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m really not sure who are on the other teams, to be honest. I haven’t looked at any of that.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “The college teams are scarier by far. This will be very similar to the old high school AAU tournaments where the most talented teams rarely win. The teams that play together and play defense, AKA play San Antonio Spurs basketball, will always win. I think that the NBA players will dominate [individually], but I don’t think they will ultimately win the tournament.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The college teams are always going to have the chemistry advantage. My old college team [from Saint Louis] is actually playing too. We know those teams will have chemistry from playing together for so long. But when you have a lot of NBA-caliber players, we know what it takes to be successful in the league, to play at the highest level and to work together. I think the San Antonio Spurs are a great example. If we can play somewhat close to what they do – playing on both ends with everyone knowing their role and jelling together – then we’ll have a shot to win. We’re just worried about our team and how we will play every night. If we do that, we don’t have to worry about any other teams in the tournament because we’ll go out there and handle our business.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “They are both scary, but I think the reunited college teams with actual veteran NBA players [such as Syracuse with Hakim Warrick and Donte Greene] pose the biggest problem. We’re focused on our own team though, making sure we don’t beat ourselves.”
If you do win, what will you do with your portion of the $1 million prize?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I don’t really spend a lot of money. Oh, I have been collecting remote controlled cars. It’s a little hobby of mine. I like collecting them and getting them all souped up to go fast and then going to race them against other cars. That’s probably what I would do with my money, man. I’d get myself some new motors and gears and RC sets. I’ll go crazy with it.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’m not sure yet. I have a baby coming soon, so maybe I’ll start a college fund or something. I think that’s a good idea.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I haven’t decided yet, but it will definitely go toward something related to my future and what I’ll do after I’m done playing basketball.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, I don’t even know. That’s a good question. When we first all came together and talked about the tournament, we decided how we were going to split the potential prize money up and all of that, but that’s the last time we talked about the money. I haven’t thought about it at all. I have three kids so I would probably put it toward paying for college or something related to them.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet. I’ll probably do some charity work – make donations – and invest some depending on how much is left after the split.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “If we win, the money will just go in the bank.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I would put most of the money in my foundation to help sponsor my camps back in New Mexico. With the rest, I’d just invest it and maybe live off it until the next contract kicks in next season.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “If we win and get that money, I’m just going to continue to take care of my family. I’m getting married this summer, so I’m sure my wife will have a lot [of say] in how the money is spent (laughs).”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m looking to buy a home next year so it will be going toward that, and paying off my law school debt.”
For more information on The Basketball Tournament, check out this article. Only July 1, the tournament’s bracket and official game schedule will be released.
Free Agency Update: Changes In The Bubble
Drew Maresca explores the free agency implications of the first week of play in the bubble as the NBA continues its return to post COVID-19 play.
Free agency is always a fun time for the NBA and its fans, but particularly so in 2020. Most free agents have usually earned their next deal by the 65th game of any given season – but this year is far from typical. Instead, the NBA has returned, sans its eight worst teams, meaning that competition is consistently better. And with limited competition for our attention, every game is a major event that draws more eyes and has a greater effect on the paydays of to-be free agents.
We’re still only three or four games into the official return of the NBA, but there have already been some changes to how we perceive some players. Take T.J. Warren, for example, who’s averaging over 39.7 points per game through three contests. Or Michael Porter Jr., who looks more like the focal point of a team than a player in his first year of professional action.
This article will focus explicitly on the changes in perception of free agents to-be as a result of their play in the bubble in Orlando. We understand that the players listed below can still hurt their standings and that teams rate free agents differently. While the sample size is small, we’ve seen deals made based on an equally small body of work (e.g., Jerome James to the New York Knicks).
One caveat to keep in mind is the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the NBA and its club in 2020. Not only will the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably hurt the 2020-21 salary cap, but there’s also still a conclusion to be had with the preseason China situation.
With all of that in mind, let’s explore the players that have made the loudest cases for a payday come this offseason.
Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Player Option
Conley Jr. has a player option for 2020-21 – but he played poorly enough through March, relative to what we’ve come to expect from him, that it was more than reasonable to assume he would opt-in at $34.5 million.
But wait, there’s a chance that Conley does us all a favor and makes free agency 2020 more interesting. Conley’s averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, way, way up from 13.8 points and 4.3 assists per game prior to the stoppage in March. If Conley keeps this going – and especially if he performs well in the playoffs – he might want to test the market considering the lack of elite talent that’s anticipated to hit it – assuming he’s unhappy in Utah, that is.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – RFA
Ingram’s looked similar to the guy we saw in 2019-20 before the play stoppage – he’s averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game when playing 30 or more minutes. While he was less effective in a loss against the Clippers (14 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes), he’s demonstrated growth in how decisively he makes his move and how seamlessly he then scores on the move.
Ingram was probably going to get max offer as of the All-Star break – especially after reaching his first All-Star team at 22 – but COVID-19 probably altered the ability for teams to dole out lucrative deals. But then play resumed and Ingram picked up right where he left off – and with a confidence to use it liberally. Ingram is nearly a lock for a max deal now.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – UFA
VanVleet started off his time in the bubble with a solid performance (13 points and 11 assists), but he really showed out in his second game against the Miami HEAT. VanVleet led the Raptors to a win against Miami with a career-high 36 points. And then he got right back to being Mr. Consistent for Toronto by posting 21 points and 10 assists in a win against Orlando.
So ultimately, VanVleet has led the Raptors to a 3-0 (re)start, and he’s either scored a career-high or dropped 10-plus assists. James Dolan and Leon Rose are somewhere together – albeit socially distanced, we’re sure – drooling – as are all of the teams in need of a lead guard, like Detroit. VanVleet can only increase his value from here. He’s not assumed to be a max-level player, but if he plays well enough through the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see just how high he can reach.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option
It’s hard to imagine DeRozan’s value increasing much at this point in his career. After all, he’s an 11-year veteran that has been named to the All-Star Game four times and an All-NBA team twice.
But still, there’s always been presumed limitations to his game, namely his inability to shoot three-pointers. Since being traded to San Antonio, he’s fallen out of the national spotlight a bit. As a 31-year-old capable of reaching unrestricted free agency, DeRozan is at a major inflection point in his career. He could attempt to a final big deal or snag a smaller one if the market for his services doesn’t meet expectations. Or he could just opt-in.
But DeRozan has done his part to remind everyone that he has loads of high-quality basketball left in him. He tallied 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting on Tuesday in a close loss to the 76ers and he’s averaged 22.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game since the Spurs resumed play last Friday. While those averaged mostly coincide with what he did this season, it also represents a decent boost in assists. But more importantly, it solidifies that DeRozan should still receive a serious look as a lead star. And he’ll probably get interest from a number of teams.
The Known Commodities
Marcus Morris Sr., Los Angeles Clippers – UFA
While Morris Sr. is a known commodity, teams could use additional poor performances against him in negotiations. He’ll probably still have the option to sign for a veterans minimum or mid-level exception with a contender like the Clippers or Lakers. But if he’s eyeing another payday that pays him an annual salary equal to what he made in 2019-20, it would behoove him to make his mark on the stat book.
Making A Case
Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – UFA
Burke hasn’t been overly consistent since NBA play resumed last week. But he did have a huge breakout game against the Rockets, scoring 31 points on 8-for-10 for three-pointers in only 30 minutes, while also dishing six assists.
Yes, Burke is averaging just 5.5 points in 18 minutes in the two games since, but the fact that he scored 31 in an NBA game will be enough to get looks as an off-the-bench scorer. And it’s a narrative that can be supported by his past work, too. Remember, Burke is still just 27-years-old and he has a 42-point career-high. He’s also exploded for 30 four times and eclipsed the 20-point mark on 38 occasions in his 389 career games. So even if it’s just a reminder, it’s good to know that Burke can still get it done offensively – and teams are always looking for ways to manufacture offense.
Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – UFA
Clarkson’s shot only 40 percent from the field since play resumed last Thursday, with an even worse 20 percent from three-point range. Still, scorers are as valuable as ever. It’s what made J.R. Smith so much money in this league, as well as Lou Williams and countless others – and rightfully so. Ultimately, it’s about putting the ball in the hoop. And with that being said, a franchise is going to pay Clarkson and they’ll end up paying more than they would have as of March.
Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers – UFA
Jackson has less to prove than most guys in this part of this list – but given his injury history, he does have to make a statement.
On the whole, Jackson has looked good – but not necessarily great. He averaged 12.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists in his first two contests, but he regressed in the Clippers’ most recent game against the Suns. But on a positive note, Jackson received only 23 minutes on Tuesday versus Phoenix and his 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals accumulated in just 20 minutes.
If Jackson continues to be a contributor to the contending Clippers, someone will overspend on him. After all, good point guards are few and far between.
Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings – UFA
Giles III only played four minutes in the Kings’ first game back against the Spurs and he didn’t fare much better over 12:55 versus the Mavericks on Tuesday. But when you’re a fringe player that had injury concerns throughout your young career, any positive outings are good – especially those that come in a contract year. Giles tallied 23 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes against the Orlando Magic – a significant jump from his 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds averages this season. And that’s probably enough to generate interest amongst a number of teams.
The Kings curiously declined Giles’ fourth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent as of the end of this season. That’s an interesting decision because the option was relatively cheap given that he was only the No. 20 overall pick (2017). Further confusing matters is the idea that by passing on the fourth-year option, they also lost matching rights – so Giles won’t even be restricted.
To make matters worse, the Kings can’t even bid more than $3.9 million to retain his services. So the Kings ultimately wasted a first-round draft pick on Giles for a grand total of 14.5 minutes per game across 99 games – and he’ll walk before they even know what they had in him.
But this all works out nicely for Giles, who will absolutely get an opportunity elsewhere – and he’ll be paid more than he would have received in Sacramento for it. How good is still an unknown, but he’s shown enough for a team to take a flyer on considering his size, skill set and versatility. He was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school according to ESPN just four short years ago.
Free agency is going to be different than ever before and, up until very recently, that was assumed to be a bad thing. But with some of the above players changing the narratives around them, it could become even more exciting than it’s been in the recent past. Add in the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Davis Bertans, Christian Wood – and we’re looking at an under-appreciated free-agent class.
NBA Daily: Breaking Down The Bubble’s Race For 8th
Ben Nadeau analyzes the race for the No. 8 and 9 spots in the Western Conference – who will make the cut?
As the NBA inched toward its inevitable rebirth, the instant drama surrounding the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed became a conversation wildfire.
Was the league rolling out the red carpet in hopes of a Zion Williamson-LeBron James showdown in the first round? Could the healthier Portland Trail Blazers make another historic run toward history? De’Aaron Fox, the Sacramento franchise cornerstone, took umbrage over a lack of Kings-related faith, while the Memphis Grizzlies had more than enough ground to protect their standing in the current hierarchy.
Three or so games in to our bubbled adventure, everything has changed – and fast.
The Pelicans, still worrisome over Williamson’s health and conditioning, played him about 15 minutes in each of their first two contests – coincidently, New Orleans went 0-2. With their backs against the wall and slowly losing traction in a muddied race, the Pelicans played the future superstar for 25 minutes, where he racked up 23 points, seven rebounds and used a personal 6-0 run to clinch a much-needed win. Not only did the victory signify an important swing in momentum for the veteran-laden squad, but it was another crushing defeat for Grizzlies, who fell to 0-3 and further loosened their once-gridlocked hold on the final playoff seed.
Long perceived to be a five-team fight for the right to face Memphis in the play-in game(s), the Grizzlies’ early struggles have now nearly opened both spots up. All the more interesting, the San Antonio Spurs have begun 2-1, alongside the Phoenix Suns’ 2-0 effort. Although invited without much media afterthought, both the Spurs and Suns – who boast two of the most reliable constants of the bunch, Gregg Popovich and Devin Booker, respectively – are within the four-game window needed to force a play-in too.
So then: Thanks to the Grizzlies’ scuffles, who’ll be the two franchises to reach that play-in showdown?
Let’s start with the Pelicans, a team that’ll be better the more Williamson is allowed on the floor, obviously. While that variable remains up in the air, New Orleans’ remaining schedule is not. They’ll finish with the Kings twice, plus winnable matchups against the Spurs, Wizards and Magic. Although that opening day loss versus Utah stings, there’s no shame in falling to the Clippers, so the opportunity is certainly still there for the Pelicans to reach Nos. 8 or 9 in the coming days.
The Spurs, following a hard-fought effort against Philadelphia on Monday, unfortunately, have a much harder path forward: Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Houston and Utah. No Magic, no Nets, no Kings, even. Just New Orleans and three teams currently fighting for ‘home court’ advantage in the first round. Of course, betting against Gregg Popovich is beyond stupid and that is a lesson some select few must re-learn every spring – but they still seem like the least likely of six to leapfrog into a spot.
Likewise, it isn’t much better for Phoenix. They’ll conclude with the Clippers, Indiana Pacers and T.J. Warren’s supernova act, Miami HEAT, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks. Thankfully, Mikal Bridges’ efforts in Orlando and Ricky Rubio’s trusty playmaking have served as great foils for Deandre Ayton and the aforementioned Booker. Overall, their offensive rating just cracks the top half (15th, 110.4) and their defense remains in the lower half – but stars win games and Booker fits the bill.
Even the Kings, losers to the Spurs and Magic to open their bubble campaign, get the Pelicans twice but also a downright bad Brooklyn Nets squad and a potentially-resting Los Angeles Lakers team in four of their final five games – so don’t count them out either. With their destiny firmly in hand, expect the Kings to make a run of their own. Fox put up 39 points against San Antonio before tallying just 13 versus Orlando – and, in the latter, Sacramento’s only scorer above 15 went to Harry Giles’ 23. Given the context and a very winnable schedule, the next week or so bodes well for the Kings’ hopes.
As for Portland, the squad with the most bankable 1-2 punch of the collection, have an impossibly-tough Rockets-Nuggets-Clippers-76ers run-in before ending with the Mavericks and Nets. Worse, that stretch of difficult opposition will come fast and furious – a classic three games in four days slog. But above all, their defense leaves too much to be desired, even with the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Before the shutdown, Portland’s defense was only better than the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at 113.6 in the ratings department.
In the two games back, well, it’s actually been even worse and their putrid 132.0 defensive rating is a whopping 7 points behind the Kings’ 29th-rated unit. It’s early and the sample size is certainly small – but with only six games left, they’ll need to figure it out in the against some of the league’s best. Still, Damian Lillard is a big-moment killer – he did, after all, break up the Thunder core on his own last April – and he’s capable of hot streaks that few others are.
Lillard and Nurkic put up 30 points apiece against Boston – plus 17 from CJ McCollum and 21 notched by Gary Trent Jr. – and totaled 124 as a team… yet it still wasn’t enough. The heroics of Portland’s stars will be relentless, but if they can’t stop the opposition – they’ll come up short.
In the end, even guessing at Nos. 8 and 9 is a fool’s errand. The Bubble has provided shock after shock already – and the added hurdle of rested players for locked-in seeds are soon to come – but six teams will be whittled down to two before long. Despite the slow start, Memphis remains in the driver’s seat – if they can pick up a win on Wednesday versus a seriously-slumping Jazz side, it’ll go a long way toward clinching their place.
And they’d better hope so: If they don’t, they’ll need to hope for some load management with the Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks to end the mini-campaign. It’s one of the tougher schedules left in the Western Conference, but their cushion, no matter how rapidly it is shrinking, is still reason to believe they’ll limp into the do-or-die scenario.
As for the second spot, it still feels like the Pelicans’ to lose. Between Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram and, duh, Williamson, there’s too much firepower here to completely struggle through an easier-than-most schedule.
But, sure, bet against Gregg Popovich, Damian Lillard, De’Aaron Fox and Devin Booker at your own risk – conventional wisdom suggests that at least one of them will crash the party, no matter how unlikely it seems today.
NBA Daily: The Bubble’s Biggest Dark Horses
With the NBA’s restart underway and the postseason around the corner, Shane Rhodes looks at a few teams that could make some noise and prove the league’s biggest dark horse title contenders.
It’s official: basketball is back.
It may have taken 142 days, but the NBA has returned and seeding games are underway in Orlando. Better yet, and while the heightened intensity of these first few games may make it seem like we’re already there, the postseason is just around the corner.
But what are the playoffs going to look like, exactly? Aside from the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, the field is wide open — even teams that struggled during the regular season have a real chance to make some noise.
In fact, the lead up to the postseason has afforded those teams a clean slate, a fresh start and the opportunity to tweak with the formula that failed them in the regular season.
Of course, some rosters are simply too depleted to make any noise. But others, if they can pivot and put their best foot forward, have the chance to emerge as dark horse title threats.
So, which teams have the best chance to come out of nowhere, surprise everyone and, just maybe, punch their ticket to the NBA Finals?
The regular season wasn’t exactly kind to the 76ers. And, staring down a 10-24 road record pre-restart, the move to Orlando may only prove worse for them.
But their talent is undeniable, and there’s too much of it on the roster to just cast the team aside.
Despite that abysmal record, the 76ers proved they could dominate with their collective head in the game — their 29-2 record at home was the best in the NBA. They sport a stingy defense and two of the NBA’s best on that end with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Meanwhile, their size — Raul Neto and Zhaire Smith are the only two on the roster shorter than 6-foot-5 — should give them an advantage in almost any situation.
It may even make them the best potential matchup for the top-dog in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks.
Yes, they are a bit of a clunky fit on offense. But Embiid and Simmons represent two of the brightest young stars — they can make it work, adjusting as needed on a series-to-series basis. Paired with Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson, among others, they shouldn’t lack for help, either.
An early-season favorite to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, Philadelphia no doubt disappointed this season — for some reason, it just didn’t click for them. It may never.
But on paper, the 76ers have enough talent to compete with anyone. If they can fit the pieces together and hit their stride in the first round, don’t be surprised if they go on a lengthy postseason run.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Currently the sixth seed out West, can the Thunder even be considered a dark horse?
But since they never should have been there in the first place – most definitely.
With Paul George gone to Los Angeles and Russell Westbrook to Houston last summer, nobody expected Oklahoma City to be relevant in 2020. With an aging star in Chris Paul — who, at the time, looked like he wanted nothing to do with the team — and a bunch of players that looked more like trade bait than contributors, they looked dead in the water and stocked up on draft picks.
And yet, here they are, giant slayers in position to snag a top-four seed.
Paul, in a bounce-back year, has elevated the entire roster. Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, quality veterans in their own right, have been strong, uber-efficient contributors. Dennis Schroder has emerged as one of the league’s best sixth-men, while Sam Presti’s diamond-in-the-rough, Luguentz Dort, has grown from a raw defensive specialist into a surprise starter and arguably their best defender.
And, most importantly, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems to have leaped toward stardom. The Canadian guard was a stud as a sophomore, averaging 19.3 points, six rebounds and 3.3 assists on strong shooting splits.
They don’t have a legit star to carry them — Paul, despite the resurgence, isn’t the player he once was and Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t quite there yet. But come the postseason, it may not matter. The Thunder are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA; they spread it out on offense — Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul and Schroder averaged at least 17 points for the season — and are a top 10 defensive unit returning one of the league’s best on that end in Andre Roberson.
It’ll be ugly, for sure, but the Thunder don’t care. They’ll scratch and claw their way to wins as they have the whole season. They may not make the Finals, but they are a lock to make life difficult for some other team(s) looking to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland has yet to punch their ticket to the big dance, and they have a long road ahead of them before they can. But should they sneak in, they may prove the most dangerous team in the postseason.
Just a season ago, the Trail Blazers were a top-four seed and, despite the loss of Jusuf Nurkic, a Western Conference Finals participant. Unfortunately, it all seemed to come crashing down in the regular season. Already at a disadvantage without Nurkic at the center spot, the team lost Zach Collins to a major shoulder injury just three games into the season and, later, Rodney Hood to a torn left Achilles.
Had the season gone on as scheduled, no one would have blamed the Trail Blazers for throwing in the towel. An ugly 29-37 before the shutdown, there just wasn’t much the team could do to bolster their postseason odds.
But now they’ve been gifted a second chance. The stoppage in play allowed every team to rest and recuperate, yes, but arguably no team benefited more from that time than Portland — and teams are starting to take notice.
The threat presented by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is obvious. But with the roster back near 100 percent health, the team may pose a legitimate threat to the Western Conference crown. Collins’ presence on defense was sorely missed, to say the least. Nurkic, meanwhile, has played as if he hadn’t missed the last year and change. In two bubble games, the Bosnian Beast has averaged 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and 3.5 blocks.
Both players should significantly alleviate the burden placed on Lillard’s shoulders as well, further enabling him to crush opposing defenses.
At the moment, the Trail Blazers are the Western Conference’s ninth seed, just two games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot. If they remain within four games, Portland could earn themselves a play-in and potentially jump the Grizzlies (or whomever the eighth seed might be) and steal the last spot in the postseason.
And if they force their way in? The NBA better watch out.