Only the strong survive, and as life continues on under the new economic era that the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought forth, it is not the general manager who has the most money that will ultimately prevail.
No, it is the GM who has spent the most time with the barbell. But we, obviously, are not talking brute force strength here, we are talking mental muscle.
So you, Mr. GM, do you know how to survive in this new era? Do you know what you can do to get your team over the hump?
We do! Follow two simple rules.
First, do not allow useful players to flee your farm for free. Odds are, Gregg Popovich is not losing sleep in San Antonio over Gary Neal’s departure this past summer. But Mitch Kupchak and the Los Angeles Lakers? You can rest assured that the departure of Dwight Howard still disturbs.
That is exactly why Pau Gasol immediately emerges as one of our noteworthy names here.
But before delving into the details, observe the second rule: Do not put off for tomorrow what can be accomplished today, especially if your potential trade partners do not like the idea of being hard-capped or otherwise facing economic sanctions, and that is exactly what a sign-and-trade agreement does in this new economic era of the Adam Silver’s NBA.
In short, a team that receives a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement must be no more than $4 million above the luxury tax threshold after the trade is completed. The receiving team is also hard-capped at the apron amount for the duration of the season in which they receive the player. Even worse, the receiving team may not spend more than a taxpayer mid-level exception on summer acquisitions, so in other words, receiving a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement certainly is not all it is cracked up to be and it easily is no longer as viable an option as it was under the previous economic era.
So yes, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, though possibly restricted free agents this summer, should be moved now.
The restrictions placed on receiving teams in sign-and-trade arrangements simply means that potential trade partners diminish significantly once February 20 passes.
So between now and then, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and even Daryl Morey would be wise to learn from the past mistakes of others. Each of those five should do their best to find a team that their respective players would like to go to, but does not want to be subjected to the restrictions born from a sign-and-trade arrangement.
Call them up and make the best effort to execute a trade involving the below players and do it before the February trade deadline. At the end of the day, everyone wins. The team trading the player gets something in return, the player leaving ends up in a situation where he is happy and the receiving team would not have to face any of the restrictions brought forth by executing the sign-and-trade.
It’s a no-brainer, is it not?
Of course it is. With that said, keep an eye on the following players as we draw nearer to the February 20 trade deadline.
Evan Turner (SG, Philadelphia 76ers)
Earlier this season, Evan Turner famously proclaimed that newly installed Sam Hinkie “is not my general manager” after Turner and the Sixers failed to come to an agreement on an extension. Turner has responded by turning in a good all-around season, despite the obvious struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers.
As it stands, the Sixers may make Turner a restricted free agent by extending him the required $8.7 million qualifying offer once they are eligible to, but that is no guarantee. In the summer of 2012, the Memphis Grizzlies opted to not extend O.J. Mayo a qualifying offer and saw him bolt to the Dallas Mavericks. Mayo was not as highly regarded as Turner, but their falling out of favor after being selected with lottery picks is somewhat familiar. The Grizzlies received nothing in return for a player who, despite his struggles, had perceived value around the league. Though they remain a power in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies obviously failed to maximize the value on their asset.
Turner, unlike Mayo, is just 25 years old and has shown, at least in spurts, that he can be a highly productive wing. Although the Sixers have some semblance of a nucleus upon which they can build, allowing Turner to leave on a four-year extension in the $40 million range—the amount he is likely to see on the open market—would be a tragic mistake.
There is no question that the Sixers should do their best to move him, right now, to a team that would not be in a position to meet his salary desires this summer.
Greg Monroe (C, Detroit Pistons)
Partially due to the acquisition of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe has seen his production slip as a member of the Detroit Pistons. Like Turner, Monroe is completing his fourth year and could be made a restricted free agent by the Pistons this summer. Monroe’s qualifying offer is only about $5.5 million, but whether or not the Pistons would be willing to commit the kind of dollars it would take to secure Monroe for another four or five years is doubtful, especially after the club committed almost $80 million combined to Smith and Brandon Jennings last summer.
As far as big men go, Monroe will be among the most coveted this summer. It would not be surprising for him to receive a maximum offer from a team looking for an effective big man who can pass and make plays out of the post—during the 2012-13 season, with a higher utilization, Monroe averaged a mind-boggling 3.5 assists per game.
That, in and of itself, has immense value in the NBA. The presence of Drummond and the struggles of the Pistons, though, make it such that committing the dollars necessary to make Drummond happy may not be the wisest thing to do for the Pistons. All of that is true even before considering that Drummond and Monroe may actually be stunting one another’s development.
Waiting by idly until this summer and allowing Monroe the freedom to sign a maximum extension with another team? That would be ill-advised. He is highly coveted across the league and could probably fetch decent assets in return if the Pistons opted to move him rather than risking losing him for nothing this summer, if the Pistons aren’t prepared to open their wallet.
Clearly, the time to move Monroe is now.
Pau Gasol (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)
Like Amar’e Stoudemire during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol has been the subject of trade rumors for what seems like an eternity. His head-butting with Mike D’Antoni has been well-documented and whether or not Gasol would prefer to remain in Los Angeles once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer is doubtful.
Gasol went on the record as saying he would be interested in returning to the Memphis Grizzlies, where his younger brother has emerged as one of the best all-around centers in the league. A frontline featuring the two would be difficult to contend with, despite the health issues that have plagued the aging Pau over the past few years. If Zach Randolph sticks around, the Grizzlies would have a fearsome triad up front.
Fortunately for the Lakers, as long as Randolph opts into the $17 million he has due to him next season, the Grizzlies would not be able to offer Gasol more than a mid-level exception of $5.3 million in July.
The Lakers, with an eye toward luring free agents in the future, are hesitant to add long-term money to their payroll, but if Gasol is truly amenable to returning to Memphis, a deadline deal with the Grizzlies would both allow him to return to the team that drafted him while maintaining his full Bird rights heading into July.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Suns have registered interest in Gasol, but are reluctant to meet the asking price of the Lakers—a high draft pick in this year’s draft.
Though he may be over the hill and almost 34 years old, Gasol is still a versatile interior force and for the rebuilding Lakers, accepting 50 cents on the dollar for him would be more advisable than losing him for nothing.
For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies make for a more attractive trade partner for the Lakers than the Suns. The Suns, first, will be under the cap this summer and could maintain the flexibility necessary to simply sign Gasol outright. Additionally, the Suns may be reluctant to trade a pick to the Lakers without an assurance that Gasol would re-sign in Phoenix come July. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have already been cited by Gasol as a desired destination and are unlikely to have the ability to sign Gasol to a lucrative offer this summer.
Whether it be to Phoenix or Memphis, though, the Lakers must move the Spaniard.
Kyle Lowry (PG, Toronto Raptors)
After being mentioned as a trade target for the New York Knicks earlier this season, Kyle Lowry has emerged as one of the conference’s hottest topics.
The Raptors and their improbable rise to the top of the Atlantic Division is due in large part to the impressive play of Lowry, whom many believe should have been named as an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Lowry’s 16.6 points and 7.5 assists per game this season both represent career-highs, and at just 27 years old, he still has perceived upside that may be realized if he finds himself in the right situation.
General manager Masai Ujiri was brought to Toronto to help build the team into a contender in his own image, and thus far, he has not done or said anything to quiet the speculation that there is no interest in retaining Lowry past this season. It is a situation that is eerily reminiscent of what Evan Turner is going through in Philadelphia.
At this point, the New York Knicks still make for a sensible destination for Lowry. Across the league, he has developed a reputation for being a player who wears out his welcome, and odds are, if opposing teams were tearing down Ujiri’s door for a chance to acquire the 27-year-old point guard, he probably would have been dealt already.
A three-team trade in which the Knicks send out a coveted piece in return for Lowry could make sense if the Raptors and Knicks could not agree to a one-on-one trade. Such a deal makes sense for both teams, but only if the Knicks decided that they would re-sign Lowry this summer and make him a part of the team’s future.
The team’s interest in both Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving is a poorly kept secret around New York, but with neither player a guarantee to hit the free agent market anytime soon—much less land with the Knicks—Ujiri could take advantage of the Knicks and their desperate attempt to sneak into the playoffs.
It is hard to imagine Lowry remaining a member of the Raptors past this season, and letting a productive point guard whose best days may be ahead of him go for nothing—that’s something only a team like the Knicks would do.
Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)
Although Omer Asik is under contract through the end of next season, his soap opera with the Houston Rockets has gone on long enough and moving him now is the right decision for the franchise.
Asik is a good insurance policy for Dwight Howard, but negative vibrations emanating from players who are not content with their playing situations are things that have the potential to poison an otherwise harmonious locker room. Asik is nearing a return from an extended absence due to a troublesome knee and there is no doubt that the Rockets are a better defensive team with him, but through 31 games without him, they are 20-11.
Without him, they have fared just fine, but the catalyst behind trading him now is simple: tomorrow is not promised. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs know that well.
After being beat up by the Miami HEAT in the 2012 NBA Finals, injuries to Russell Westbrook have diminished the Thunder’s status as a contender. Obviously, in Westbrook’s absence this season, Kevin Durant has become the league’s consensus Most Valuable Player through its first half, but the assumption was that the Thunder would be the conference’s top team for years to come. Westbrook’s injuries have changed that.
That can happen at anytime, to any player—including both James Harden and Dwight Howard.
As for the Spurs, thus far this season, their health has been anything but optimal. Their return to the NBA Finals this year, at this point, seems like a long shot, especially if their troublesome health is a sign of what lies ahead.
With a brilliant half court scorer in Harden and a interior presence like Howard, the Rockets are a team that has the first two pieces toward enjoying sustained playoff success. They are one more piece away from potentially rising to the top of the conference, and they have Asik—a valuable player who is not happy with his role.
Why not deal him now? The fact remains that Asik’s presence on the Rockets’ roster and the continued questions about his status and demeanor will continue to be an unwelcome distraction for a young team still toiling and attempting to find itself amongst the conference’s elite.
There is simply little reason to continue to drag this out.
Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is the responsibility of a good general manager. Bluffing and stalling has value, but with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Turner and Monroe soon to hit restricted free agency, Gasol already thinking about another life in Memphis, Lowry playing himself into the highest trade value he will ever have and the Rockets’ existence as an emerging contender, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and Daryl Morey would all be wise to keep their cellphones charged.
NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench
Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.
When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.
But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.
On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.
“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”
As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.
“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.
This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”
Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.
Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.
“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”
Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.
“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”
And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.
He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.
“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”
NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?
In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.
1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)
The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.
Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category. Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them.
In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season.
2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)
As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.
Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.
Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.
3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)
Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late.
In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.
Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation.
4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)
Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.
Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season.
5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)
Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.
If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)
While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP.
It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.
While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?
The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.
After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.
Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.
But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.
Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.
Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.
It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.
Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.
If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.
The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.