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Tobias Harris, Pistons Seem Like Great Fit

Tobias Harris’ marriage to the Pistons is off to a great start, with Harris posting career-highs and Detroit winning.

Alex Kennedy

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Whenever an NBA player is traded midseason, there is typically a difficult adjustment period. Some players get acclimated quicker than others, but there’s no question that it’s a hectic time for the individual. The player must uproot their life in an instant and then figure how to succeed in a different city and system with new teammates and coaches. It’s often a culture shock – on and off the court.

And Tobias Harris’ adjustment from the Orlando Magic to the Detroit Pistons is arguably even tougher than most. That’s because Detroit acquired the 23-year-old forward with the hope that he would be a big-time contributor and one of the Pistons’ leading offensive weapons going forward.

Upon joining the team, Harris became their highest-paid player (earning $16 million this season), raising the pressure even more. Not to mention, he’s learning from Stan Van Gundy, who is the Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations. Van Gundy is a bona fide basketball genius, but he is known as a perfectionist who can be hard on his players. If the two can stay on the same page and work well together, Van Gundy should get the most out of Harris and be excellent for his development. But make no mistake, there will likely be a lot of screaming along the way.

TB1Now, as the Pistons make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference, Harris is a key piece for his new franchise. He joins a young core that also includes Andre Drummond, 22, Reggie Jackson, 25, Stanley Johnson, 19, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 23, among others. This group has a ton of potential and, if all goes as planned, they should be a threat in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

However, Van Gundy isn’t the type of coach to sit on his hands and wait for results. He’s determined to end the Pistons’ six-year playoff drought this season.

Detroit is currently 34-33, putting them in ninth place in the increasingly competitive East. In the past, being a .500 squad is typically all it took to be a playoff team in the East, but not this year. Right now, the Pistons have the same record as the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, but Detroit doesn’t hold the tiebreaker. Fortunately for the Pistons, the Bulls have been struggling as of late – dealing with injuries to key players and dropping 11 of their last 17 games. The Pistons are on the verge of entering the playoff picture in the conference and a trip to the postseason is a realistic goal at this point.

Interestingly, Detroit is the only East team in the race for eighth that has a positive average point differential (+0.5). The top seven teams in the conference have a positive differential, which makes sense, but the Pistons are the only other squad in the positive. Each of the other teams fighting for one of the final seeds in the East have a negative average point differential: the Bulls (-1.3), Washington Wizards (-1.6), Orlando Magic (-2.0), Milwaukee Bucks (-3.7). In fact, Detroit’s average point differential is greater than four teams currently holding onto a playoff spot in either conference – beating out the Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies (-1.4), Houston Rockets (-.5) and Dallas Mavericks (-.3).

The addition of Harris has certainly helped the Pistons as they battle for a playoff berth. Detroit has won seven of its 11 games since acquiring Harris, and that includes impressive victories over talented teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks among others.

Since joining the Pistons, Harris’ numbers have improved drastically. He’s currently averaging 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. His field goal percentage (50.3 percent) and three-point percentage (39.1 percent) are both career-highs. The advanced stats are impressive too. Thus far in Detroit, he’s posting career-highs in offensive rating (118 points scored per 100 possessions), defensive rating (106 points allowed per 100 possessions), player efficiency rating (18), box plus/minus (1.6), true shooting percentage (.600) and assist percentage (12.1).

Those stats are up from his Orlando numbers. In Harris’ 49 games prior to the trade to Detroit, Harris’ scoring average (13.7 points) with the Magic was his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in the NBA. It was a disappointing regression for Harris, who was expected to elevate his game with the Magic after inking a four-year deal worth $64 million this past offseason.

Detroit actually showed interest in Harris over the summer when he was a restricted free agent, but they didn’t extend an offer sheet since it was no secret that Orlando wasn’t going to let him walk away and lose a key asset without receiving some form of compensation.

But what makes the acquisition of Harris even sweeter for Detroit is that they didn’t have to part with much to add him. The Pistons only shipped out veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings in the deal. The move was widely regarded as a steal for the Pistons since they didn’t have to give up a draft pick in the transaction. (By comparison, the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers had to part with first-round selections to add Markieff Morris and Jeff Green, respectively).

Harris was one of the most talented players to change teams prior to the deadline last month, so it was a bit surprising to see him dealt for so little. Jennings’ deal is expiring after this season, making him an unrestricted free agent. As for Ilyasova, only $400,000 of his $8.4 million salary for next year is guaranteed so he can be waived to create cap space, flipped in another trade, or kept by Orlando since he does provide some much-needed shooting to spread the floor. Still, Harris was a young starter who just signed a long-term deal, yet he was moved for veterans who aren’t even starting for the Magic.

League sources told Basketball Insiders that Orlando had some other intriguing offers on the table for Harris, but general manager Rob Hennigan ultimately opted for the Pistons’ package since Jennings and Ilyasova are veterans who can score the ball and – most importantly – had each spent several years playing under Magic head coach Scott Skiles on the Milwaukee Bucks. The belief was that they could hit the ground running, create some momentum for Orlando and help the team climb in the standings. Orlando, like Detroit, entered this season with playoff aspirations; however, they are currently 29-37 (which is 11th in the East and four-and-a-half games outside of the conference’s final playoff spot).

While Harris has only appeared in 13 games for Detroit (with 11 starts), he has drawn rave reviews from Coach Van Gundy.

“He’s a really smart guy. He’s got a great temperament,” Van Gundy told Pistons.com. “He’s a good team guy. I don’t know what the players would say [but] to me, it feels like he’s been with us all year. You’re not feeling like you’ve got a new guy that’s acclimating. You feel like he’s been here all year, even in terms of the way he relates to his teammates. It’s actually been a pretty seamless transition. He’s unselfish. He’s been efficient. He hasn’t needed an inordinate amount of shots to get his stuff done. He moves the ball pretty well. It’s actually been pretty easy.”

Harris’ new teammates seem to love playing with him as well and believe he’s exactly what the team needed.

“He looks great,” Drummond told reporters when asked about Harris. “He’s doing all of the things that we need him to do. When he first came here, I told him, ‘Don’t hesitate. We’re not here to play slow. We want you to run and we want you to try to score the ball when you touch it. If you don’t have anything, free somebody else.’ He came in and he looks great.”

“I’m still trying to figure out Tobias’ game, but I know he’s a great addition to our team, that’s for sure,” Stanley Johnson told Pistons.com. “What I have figured out this far is he puts the ball in the basket and he’s an invaluable leader to our team. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a great person to hang around, another weapon on our team that we can use in various ways. Especially on the defensive end, we can switch a lot of things.”

The team is hoping that Harris’ versatility and scoring ability can help them improve their offensive efficiency (102.6 points per 100 possessions) and pace (97.6), both of which rank 19th in the NBA.

Harris takes pride in his efficiency, so he could help Detroit in that category. As previously mentioned, his PER of 18 with Detroit thus far is the highest of his career. The forward has been a relatively efficient player throughout his career, especially when put in a proper system that utilizes his strengths and offers structure (which didn’t always happen in Orlando, particularly under former head coach Jacque Vaughn).

“I like to be an efficient player and take efficient shots – shots I know I can make and high percentage shots,” Harris said. “[I] just feed off the other guys. I think that’s one of my best aspects of the game is feeding off everybody else.”

This is Harris’ second time being dealt in a move just prior to the trade deadline. The Bucks shipped Harris (along with Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih) to the Magic in February of 2013 in exchange for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon.

Harris was just 20 years old and a season and a half into his NBA career. It was his introduction to the business side of the NBA, but the move actually ended up being the best thing to happen to Harris’ career. He went from warming the bench in Milwaukee (averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 in 11.6 minutes) to being a focal point in Orlando (averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks in 36.1 minutes that same season). The change of scenery turned Harris into an attractive asset and allowed him to get last summer’s big pay day. He’s hoping this most recent trade works out just as well.

“I’m just looking forward to continue to grow with everybody out here, continue to build chemistry and just continue to do all I can for our team to win,” Harris told reporters. “I’m feeling more comfortable. [I’m] just trying to continue to get a rhythm, continue to learn from the other guys, continue to find my spots out there in the offense and just continue to execute my role out there.

“For me, my whole thing is go out there and play as hard as you can and [you get] rewarded from that. That’s the mindset that I’ve always played with since I got in the NBA and that’s just how I look at the game. I don’t worry about anything else [and] just go out there, play as hard as I can and have fun.”

Harris’ first impression of the Pistons organization has been very positive. Not only does he have a lot of respect for Van Gundy, he’s excited about the group of up-and-coming players that has been assembled.

“Obviously we have a lot of young, athletic players, a lot of length out there,” Harris told reporters. “It helps having Andre in the paint also. He helps clean up a lot of stuff off of the glass. Coach puts us in good positions defensively to make plays and to help each other out. A big thing that we’re trying to do is shrink the court and make it hard for teams to attack the middle.

“I just think as a team we’re playing team basketball and we’re all looking for each other. We’re really playing unselfishly and that’s the name of the game.”

The sample size is small and this is certainly still the honeymoon period for Harris and the Pistons, but the trade sure looks like a great one for both parties thus far. If Van Gundy can continue to develop Harris’ overall game and help him reach his full potential, the Pistons may have added another cornerstone to their already impressive, promising nucleus. It seems like a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off in a big way for Detroit.

And it’s safe to say that Harris is thrilled with his current situation.

“I love our team,” Harris told Pistons.com. “I love our core that we have here and I love everything about the city and the organization. So I’m happy and I’m excited.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

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

Drew Maresca

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

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

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

NBA Draft Winners:

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

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

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

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

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft, Losers:

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

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

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

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

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

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

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

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Winners:

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

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

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

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

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

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

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

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

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency, Losers:

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

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

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

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

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head scratchers in free agency…

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

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One move we’d like to see:

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

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

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

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

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

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

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

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

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go Houston…

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

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

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

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

Basketball Insiders

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

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

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

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

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

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

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

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

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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