Category Archives: NBA Columns

In-depth articles about players and events in the NBA

You are here: Home / NBA Columns
Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder and Washington Wizards Otto Porter

Early Favorites For The NBA Most Improved Player Race

Like every other award handed out to NBA players after the season is over, the Most Improved Player isn’t going to be a completely fair race. To even be an early favorite, several things pretty much have to be in the players favor right from the start.

First off an MIP has to be on a team that garners some attention. If you’re not in the playoffs or at least in contention for the postseason, it’s going to be pretty hard to win … anything.

Also, it would really help if the player could average over 20 points per game and that average is up from the prior season by over 5 points per game – the bigger the increase the better. Sure the other stats matter, but nothing captures attention in the NBA more than scoring.

Over the last five years, the MIP race ended like this:

Last year the next four top vote getters were Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Otto Potter and Isaiah Thomas and three of them should be early favorites this year.

It’s worth noting that Antetokounmpo was 3rd in voting in 2016 and top 10 the year before that, so he was a guy everyone should have (did) see coming.

In no particular order, our early favorites for the MIP in 2018 are:

Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets landed Paul Millsap in free agency they solidified their hold on a playoff spot and gave Jokic his chance to turn last year’s second place MIP votes into a spot at the top if he can continue to improve.

He’ll need to average well over 20 points per game, but don’t count him out.

Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic exploded after the trade from Denver to Portland going from 8 points per game playing limited minutes behind Jokic to over 15 points as a starter. The Trail Blazers exploded with him in the lineup as well, winning 14 of the 20 games he appeared in.

On the season Nurkic only averaged 10.2 points per game, so if can improve even a little on his first 20 games with the Blazers and his team gets back to the postseason, he’s going to get a lot of votes.

Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert

After losing Hayward to the Celtics, the Jazz need Gobert to be in contention again for the MIP award if they are to get back to the postseason. After a 4.9 point improvement in scoring last year, there will be opportunities for Gobert to up his offensive production yet again in Hayward’s absence.

Someone has to carry the scoring load on this defensive-minded club and it seems pretty clear Gobert is now their best player.

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter

Porter is developing into an elite two-way player with deadly outside range and the only thing that appears to be holding him back is greater utilization. Porter only got 10 shots per game last season and had his team’s (ugh!) 12th highest utilization rate.

Unless the Wizards coaching staff has been living under a rock this summer, they’ll be working on ways to get their most effective scorer more involved with the offense. Look for a big jump in scoring from Porter next season on a team that should win over 50 games for the first time in four decades.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jae Crowder

The only knock on the Cavaliers in recent years has been the roster was old and wasn’t winning as many regular season games as expected. This was a team that needed what an energetic two-way 27-year-old forward with three-point range could bring to the table.

Twice before Crowder has gotten votes for MIP, but this could be his year.

Crowder fills a need on a Cavs team that wants LeBron James to play fewer minutes and take more time off during the regular season. He will get his opportunity to shine on a team that loves to hoist the three-ball and needs his younger legs to soak up minutes. Don’t be surprised if Crowder has a career year.

Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka

The Toronto Raptors have been looking for a third impact player to support Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and they believe they’ve found him in the three-time All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka.

However, the Raptors will be looking for a lot more than just defense from Ibaka in a lot bigger role than he has been limited to in the past. Ibaka has evolved into a 40 percent three-point stretch-four/five and he’ll get his chance to show off all of his offensive range this season.

If the Raptors can get back to the 56-win pace they ran at for a season and a half up until mid-January last year and Ibaka gets the offensive opportunities his new three-year $65 million contract suggests he will, then he could be a surprise contender in this year’s MIP race.

There are other interesting candidates like the Pacers Miles Turner and the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, but neither of these teams are likely to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the voters.

The last time a player from a non-playoff team won the award was when Kevin Love became an All-Star for the first time in 2011. So, it’s not impossible, it’s just a very high bar.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder

Is Jae Crowder The Jewel Of the Cavs – Celtics Trade?

Jae Crowder had to be included in the Celtics trade for Cavs star Kyrie Irving. Isaiah Thomas is on a bargain contract and they needed Crowder’s salary to make the trade math work, but before next season is over, he could be seen as the jewel of deal.

Crowder produced for the Celtics last year. Second in points scored during the regular season with 999, ahead of Al Horford’s 952 points and the best three-point shooter on the team averaging 39.8 percent on 5.5 attempts. Crowder was a two-way player who could hit the three and in today’s NBA that’s one valuable guy.

He was seen as a throw in when Boston got him in a trade with Dallas in 2014, but he became so much more than that as described by Basketball Insiders Jesse Blancarte. 

At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

Crowder has been seen by some as a throw in again this time around, but he could be the difference-maker the Cavaliers need to challenge the best in the West in the Finals.

With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.

The Cavs new forward isn’t a one season wonder either. He got his opportunity to play starter’s minutes in Boston and he produced across the board over the past two seasons. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens let him play and Crowder rewarded his confidence with offensive production and a rapidly improving jump shot.

Crowder should find his offensive opportunities improved in Cleveland playing with a superstar who likes to set up his teammates in LeBron James and other shooters opposing defenders can’t leave in Smith, Love, Korver and Frye. The high powered offense of the Cavs should give Crowder even more opportunities to show off his complete game.

Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

While he may become a jewel on the court, he’s an even more valuable addition to the money-losing Cavs in the front office.

Now on the team with the highest payroll in the NBA and an estimated luxury tax bill approaching $60 million for the upcoming season, Crowder will likely be the only player in Cleveland averaging double-digit scoring that doesn’t have an eight figure salary. He earns a bargain $6.8 million this year and $7.3 million and $7.8 million in the following two seasons. He may be the best bargain not on a rookie contract in the entire league.

With Thomas looking for $30+ million a season next year and Irving demanding a $200+ million max extension the year after that, it’s players like Crowder who make those kinds of deals work under a punitive luxury tax system.  A real jewel of an acquisition.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.

Conclusion

If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about now?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Al Horford and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward 2017

Danny Ainge Plays Fantasy Basketball With Celtics Players

Most teams would tell you chemistry matters. That building around a core of players creates an identity and long term success. So when the Boston Celtics finally got back to the Eastern Conference Finals after four years of not getting past the first round of the playoffs, it was a surprise when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge blew the team up in order to play a real life version of fantasy basketball.

The Celtics will start the 2017-18 season with just one returning player from last season’s starting lineup plus three young guys they hope are ready for bigger roles, but ditching 11 guys hasn’t meant the Celtics are intending to tank.

Ainge added talent he believes will make his team better than last year and the direction came from the top as Chris Villani indicated in the Boston Herald after the Celtics traded away another two starters in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to acquire the Cavs Kyrie Irving.

“We are really excited about the trade, although it’s bittersweet to let somebody go like IT, let somebody go like Jae,” (Celtics co-owner Wyc) Grousbeck said. “Kyrie is a transcendent talent, and we are excited to put him together with Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, we want this team to go for banner 18 and we need to get the best possible players to do that, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

(The four returning players from 2016-17 in bold)

Those trying to sell the Celtics based on the team’s culture and history should realize the best player returning from last year, Al Horford, has only been with the team for one season and the new “big 3” in Boston that now includes Irving and Hayward have never played together before. This triumvirate will need to work some things out.

In terms of chemistry, this new starting lineup will likely also have to figure out how to incorporate newcomer Marcus Morris and one of second year wing Jaylen Brown or fourth year guard Marcus Smart into a starting role at shooting guard.

Other additions, Shane Larkin and Aron Baynes, aren’t an improvement over anyone the Celtics had last season and only further complicate things, plus there’s five rookies on guaranteed contracts and other than this year’s third overall pick Jayson Tatum, they’re all big question marks.

Guerschon Yabusele 16th pick in 2016, Semi Ojeleye 37th pick, Abdel Nader 58th pick, undrafted Daniel Theis, plus a couple of camp invitees fighting for the 15th roster spot.

Head coach Brad Stevens is going to have has hands full at the start of this season just deciding on who’s in his rotation and how best to incorporate everybody.

While there’s hope things come together quickly in Boston or at least before the end of the regular season, the real objective of all these fantasy basketball moves was long term success.

“We got bounced pretty hard last year in the playoffs, and then those guys got bounced pretty hard after that,” Grousbeck, referencing the Cavs and Irving losing to the Warriors in the finals, told reporters this morning at the topping off ceremony for the Celtics’ new training facility, the Auerbach Center at New Balance World Headquarters in Brighton. “So we didn’t feel we were at the top, we didn’t feel we were where we wanted to be, so that’s what you do when you run a team, you do what you have to do to try to get better.”

No one should doubt the start of the season would go a lot easier with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Crowder still in the starting lineup and at least of couple of last year’s veteran big men in the mix to provide some stability. Even the Celtics owner isn’t so blind with pride as to predict an easy transition to the new roster.

“I am not going to make any predictions about that, I think we are in a good positions to present Celtic pride well,” (Grousbeck) said. “We have a good, up-and-coming team, a strong team, a young team, with more youth on the way. So we want to be good for a sustained period of time and it starts now.”

All of these moves represent a risk. Will Hayward make the Celtics better than keeping Bradley? Does flipping Thomas and Crowder for Irving improve the team this year and beyond? How many teams have enjoyed playoff success with five or (gasp) six rookies on the roster?

If Boston gets off to a slow start no one should be surprised. Grousbeck said, “I am not going to make any predictions” with good reason. This team, this group of players has never played together before. It is going to take time to recreate the chemistry of last season. This is about being better long term, so don’t hold your breath or read too much into what happens straight out of the gate.

The Celtics have allowed Ainge to make bold moves with their roster just like a fan in a fantasy basketball draft at the start of the season and there will be fans of other teams wishing their owner(s) and management was brave enough do the same.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Cavs Fleece Celtics In Trade For Kyrie Irving

Sometimes you just have to tip your hat as the Cleveland Cavaliers new general manager Koby Altman pulls off a blockbuster trade for his disgruntled All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving by fleecing the Boston Celtics for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, 3-and-D forward Jae Crowder and the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick as reported on NBA.com.

The Celtics are happy with the trade. Thomas was demanding a max contract next summer and to put things bluntly, he was a defensive hole in Boston’s defense that division rival Toronto walked thru with ease last season. However, in Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge own words, he gave up a lot in Jae Crowder that will immediately help the Cavaliers this season and going forward in part because of his very team friendly contract.

“Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered,” said Ainge.

Crowder was one of the Celtics better defenders and at 39.8 percent, one of their best three-point shooters. He’ll fit in perfectly on the Cavaliers and with LeBron James finding him opportunities to score this season, he’ll undoubtedly produce more than last year’s 13.9 points per game.

The Celtics wanted Irving because he is an elite offensive player with two full years (plus a player option) left on his deal at about $20 million per season.

“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years,” said Ainge. “He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”

Irving is all of what Aigne gushed over and at 6’3, he is harder to abuse defensively than the diminutive 5’9 Thomas. However, Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game last year compared to 25.2 points from Irving, so James shouldn’t feel like he’s lost anything in terms of scoring with his new guard.

The other players Aigne give up in this deal were surplus to the Celtics. Crowder was standing in the way of this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum and last year’s third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown. His departure opens up minutes for two players the Celtics are justifiably very high on.

However, the Celtics fixing their overstaffed roster to make room for rookies and sophomores doesn’t preclude the Cavs from walking away as the big winners in this deal.

They get a year with Thomas before he can enter free agency at the same time as the tight-lipped James, so if James isn’t re-signing next summer, they can start the rebuild phase with three additional desirable and controllable young pieces in Crowder, Zizic and the Nets draft pick.

In the meantime, the Cavs head into the upcoming season without an unhappy Irving and a replacement at guard in Thomas that shouldn’t diminish their chances at returning to the NBA Finals plus a hard working 3-and-D forward that should improve their slim chance at getting past the Warriors in the West.

“This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does,” said Altman. “We look forward to Isaiah, Jae and Ante joining us and also felt that the unprotected first round pick in the deal was very important for us and our future as well.”

The Celtics can only be described as heading into the season as a big question mark. A roster that was first in the East with 53 wins will start the year without four of their top six scorers from last season and only four returning players in Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

While the additions of Gordon Hayward and Irving are impressive, any team with this many changes to key rotation players can’t be expected to get off to a fast start. It’s going to take time for this group to learn to play together and gel as a unit.

A rough start to the 2017-18 season should be anticipated in Boston with the Cavs looking like they completely fleeced the Celtics on this trade.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Is The NBA About To Get Serious About Tampering?

Tampering with another team’s player is supposed to be serious, but all too often in the NBA there is more than subtle evidence something untoward has been going on. There have been fines in the past and in very rare cases even punishment teams care about, but far too often it’s hard to say the NBA does much of anything to discourage the practice.

In the case of the Lakers and superstar Paul George, the Indiana Pacers frustration was stretched to the breaking point and they laid a complaint that the NBA appears to be taking seriously.

As Bob Kravitz on WTHR reports, “the Pacers strongly believe they have the Lakers dead to rights.”

Pacers owner Herb Simon, general manager Kevin Pritchard and some other Pacers’ officials watched the Magic Johnson yuk-it-up interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in April, and they were incensed.

It’s understood, everybody tampers, at least a little bit. Again, those July 1 free-agent signings do not happen in an information vacuum. Conversations are had. Texts are exchanged. It happens.

This, though, is different. This, if proven, is egregious.

“We can say hi because we know each other,” Johnson replied. “I just can’t say, ‘Hey, we want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’m gonna be wink-winking. You know what that means, right?”

And this was just the public side of the alleged tampering.

For weeks, even months, the Pacers had heard whispers that the Los Angeles Lakers had been making contact with Paul George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, and George’s parents.

The NBA shouldn’t even tolerate the violation of their tampering rules days ahead of a player about to enter free agency on July 1st. The playing field is supposed to be level.

However, George was under contract for another entire season when the Pacers believe the Lakers were trying to tilt the playing field to their advantage when it comes to acquiring George in 2018. The widespread belief that George wanted to go to the Lakers and the Lakers wanted him to be there undoubtedly impacted his trade value.

Suffice to say, the Pacers are angry, having lost their franchise player for dimes on the dollar.

Tampering makes it easy for super teams to be put together. There were unsubstantiated whispers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh couldn’t have put that super team together on their own, although they did a superb job of putting on a show in free agency and this is hardly the only example.

Rumors come out about most high profile NBA players and it’s a time honored tradition in business circles, not just in pro sports, for agents, owners and management to leak information designed to “stir the pot” or move things in a particular direction if not more than this.

a couple of days before the start of free agency, which is not allowed but generally accepted as the coin of the realm. … But the league chooses to accept, or at least turn a blind eye to, that sort of thing.

The NBA shouldn’t turn a blind eye at any time and the tradition of fines for anything but the worst of offenses is not slowing down the problem.

If a level playing field is a real objective of the NBA, the burden of proof can’t be held to a standard that is so high as to be almost impossible to prove as described by Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Unless there is a paper trail, like in the case of the Timberwolves and Joe Smith, a fine is usually the penalty if the team is found to have done something negligent.

The Pacers have a right to be upset and on the surface, the Lakers look guilty. The NBA is doing an appropriate investigation, but if they find evidence of tampering beyond the very inappropriate comments of Magic on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, they need to come down hard. A fine is not enough.

However, the Paul George situation is just a potentially egregious case. The bigger issue is the “wink-winking” behind the scenes interference Magic admits is going on and the outright “stir-the-pot” moves by agents and teams that so often surface as “leaks” after the fact.

If the NBA truly wants a level playing field, tampering needs to be investigated like a civil court case where things are judged on a balance of probability/ who do you believe basis. Severe punishments shouldn’t be restricted to the paper trail or beyond a reasonable doubt criminal standard.

At this point it’s almost hard to believe the NBA investigation into the George case won’t turn up at least some evidence of tampering and if they do, it seems the only appropriate way to deal with it is to bar the Lakers from acquiring George for at least three years. It’s past time to send a strong message to the entire league that this has got to stop.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

NBA L.A. Lakers Luol Deng

Skip Playoff Hopes, Lakers Will Be Sellers This Season

As much as it’s fun to think about the Lakers fighting it out for the privilege of getting swept in the first round of the playoffs next April, it isn’t going to happen. This team has other plans and will be sellers at every opportunity up until the NBA trade deadline according to Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler.

The LA Lakers are going to be sellers. As much as the team wants to talk about a playoff berth this season, there is a bigger picture plan that is going to require the Lakers to dump salary.

they almost have to sell off pieces in season, if they want any shot at the two max salary slots they would need to have to pursue the free agent targets (LeBron James and Paul George) they have been linked to.

The quick math says the Lakers have to dump all but $30.9 million in cap dollars committed.

The good news in Lakerland is Brook Lopez ($22.6 million), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($17.7 million), and Corey Brewer ($7.6 million) are all on expiring deals and the Lakers only have $41.3 million guaranteed for next season.

However, that figure ignores the team options for Brandon Ingram ($5.8 million) and Larry Nance Jr. ($2.8 million) that will be picked up and the inexpensive non-guaranteed deals of Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant that would have to be replaced at about the same cost of about $3.5 million in total. Then there’s the qualifying offers for Julius Randle ($5.6 million), Vander Blue ($1.8 million) and Stephen Zimmerman ($1.7 million).

It’s never as easy to drive down payroll as it seems even with the pretty decent planning executed by the Lakers so far this summer.

As Kyler points out, one or both of Deng and/or Clarkson will need to go and getting any team to take on the three-years and $54 million still owed to Deng is going to take a lot of sweetener.

The 32-year-old Deng averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds last season. It’s hard to imagine even tossing in Randle would be enough to get some adventurous GM to take on that bloated contract without sending back something/someone the Lakers don’t want.

The 24-year-old Clarkson should be easier to move, but it will still be a challenge to do a deal with no money beyond this season coming back and dumping his salary alone won’t get the Lakers two open max salary slots next July.

There will be a lot of NBA teams looking to move salary this season with 10 franchises on the cusp or deep into Luxury Tax territory and maybe only four of those teams with any real or imagined hope of making it to the NBA Finals.

Then there’s the elephants in the room sucking up all the air until something happens with Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving as just about every GM sees those pending possible moves as an opportunity to either take on or dump salary and grab an asset for themselves.

It will take patience to improve on the Lakers salary cap picture for next July, but it’s hard to argue with Kyler’s conclusion. The Lakers are a lot more interested in dumping salary than making the playoffs this year.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Basketball Shoes by Paul Saini

Basketball Shoe Game Rose To New Heights At Summer League

Thank the outspoken and often annoying antics of LaVar Ball for taking the basketball shoe game to new heights this summer. He single-handedly turned the NBA summer League from almost meaningless games between future NBA rookies, hopefuls and never will be pros into a must follow social media event.

What basketball shoes his son and Lakers number two overall draft pick Lonzo Ball was wearing each night was worth finding out.

Lonzo started out in his own Big Baller Brand ZO2s, tried out some Nike Kobe AD Purple Stardust sneakers. He upped the drama with Adidas Harden Vol. 1 Night Life, some Jordan’s and Stephen Curry sent him a pair of his signature shoes by Under Armor.

The media grabbing attention has created the desired impact for Ball. Whether the other major players in the sports shoe market step up or not, their Ball Baller brand got a major and potentially game-changing boost.

LaVar made quite the stir prior to the draft when he didn’t just take the standard rookie endorsement deal from Nike Shoes for his son. He wanted more and with all the buzz he’s created, he just might get it.

Those with a hardcore basketball shoe game should be paying attention. Before this is all over, those $495 Big Baller Brand shoes just might be a rare collector’s item… or not?

ESPN’s Nick DePaula updates the impact of Big Baller Brand post Summer League. The Ball family has surprised a lot of people with their success and they might not need the “big boys” in the industry after all.

Ball’s path to taking the court in a sneaker from his family’s own brand is unlike anything seen before in the big business of athletic sneakers.

After meeting with representatives from each of the major domestic basketball brands — Nike, Adidas and Under Armour — as far back as December 2016, none of the company reps had an interest in LaVar’s offered “co-branded partnership” structure.

Since launching the $495 pre-order edition of the ZO2 sneaker, along with an autographed $995 “collector’s edition,” … More than 700 pairs have already been ordered.  — it’s a respectable number that beat out the expectations of several rival industry sources.

Big Baller Brand just might become a disruptive force unlike anything the industry has ever seen.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

The Best Trade The Cavs Can Make For Kyrie Irving Is?

So the Cleveland Cavaliers want a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving or so says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and that’s certainly where they should open the bidding, but that may not be the best trade the Cavs can or should make for their All-Star point guard. Long term, it may not even be in the team’s best interests.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Nuggets-Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks.

As long as LeBron James is on the team, the Cavs will be the favorites to come out of the East. The only issues with that are James can be a free agent next summer and isn’t promising anything, plus even with Irving or a “replacement” veteran, no one gives the Cavs a chance against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Dan Gilbert or whomever is making decisions in Cleveland this summer needs to start thinking outside the box they put themselves in or Gilbert will be cutting a check for $75 million to the NBA to cover his luxury tax bill and still end up second best with some people looking at the Cavs as really being the league’s fourth best team.

The right deal probably isn’t something that helps the Cavs tread water and a little something extra for the future. Cleveland needs to be bolder than that.

The Philadelphia 76ers are planning a return trip to the postseason after five years of being terrible and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has added enough veteran pieces to his very young team to give them hope. Adding Irving would put them firmly in the playoff picture and greatly accelerate “the process.”

This is the trade the Cavs should make:

Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving ($18.9 million) and Channing Frye ($7.4 million)

76ers trade Markelle Fultz ($7 million), Jahil Okafor ($5 million), and the draft rights to the 25th pick Anzerjs Pasecniks.

The 76ers have $15.1 million in practical cap space to absorb the extra salary according to Spotrac and the trade will save the Cavaliers $55 million in luxury tax next season.

(Note: Fultz can’t be traded until August 7)

For the Cavs, it’s a gamble to not get a veteran player back, but it’s as good a bet as a GM could make with Derrick Rose available in case it takes Fultz a while to figure out the NBA game.

Trading a young successful former number one overall pick who wants out for this year’s high potential number one overall pick is a great long term move. And Gilbert has already spent a fortune betting on short term moves. It’s time he got some LeBron insurance to protect his franchise just in case.

In Philadelphia, the playoff drought will be over and Irving gets his wish, a team to lead. The 76ers will not just be a team to watch because of all that young talent, they’ll be a team that’s expected to be competitive with playoff teams now and any “process” looks a lot sweeter while you’re winning.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Are Massive Losses Driving The Cavaliers Decisions?

We live in a world where major league sports franchises are often owned by billionaires who seem to have unlimited resources for their big boy toys, but billionaires didn’t get to their lofty financial position by pissing away money. Eventually massive losses, usually long before accumulating into the nine-figure range, will start driving decisions and that’s where the Cleveland Cavaliers are right now.

Wonder why Cavs majority owner had an apparent falling out with the top guy running his team David Griffin? Griffin has built a team that as constructed will have accumulated over $100 million in losses by the end of next season. No parade or ring ceremony is going to make writing that check feel good.

*The 2018-19 numbers only include 11 players and assumes LeBron James picks up his player option.

Crain’s Cleveland Business Kevin Kleps reported in January that the Cavaliers had lost at least $40 million in their championship season and would lose more this year.

After the very public spat, Forbes reported last Friday, Jan. 27, that the Cavs lost $40 million during their championship season.

Well, I was told by an industry source that Forbes’ numbers were indeed off. They were actually “conservative.”

I got the feeling the number was considerably higher.

The Cavs will lose money again this season — though not as much, the source said — and they will continue to do so for “the foreseeable future,” because their payroll is only going to increase.

As Kleps comments, “No one is feeling sorry for Dan Gilbert.” The Cavs majority owner is worth a reported $5 billion dollars and the $375 million price tag on the Cavs when he bought in would be well over a billion now.

However, what often gets overlooked in an environment where an asset is going up in value but losing money hand-over-fist is someone has to keep writing checks to pay the bills and billionaire or not, cutting checks for over $100 million with no end in sight usually ends in prematurely selling your asset.

The last two seasons were estimated to cost Gilbert a conservative $50 million to play basketball team owner and maybe closer to $70-75 million? These next two seasons could easily top $120 million and if Griffin had of been successful in trading for Paul George, the Cavs could easily have blown right past that astronomical sum.

Those are record setting Brooklyn Nets type of loses and their billionaire still hasn’t recovered.

Further complicating the Cavs financial prospects is Cleveland remains a small market team with just over 2 million population in the greater metropolitan area. There is no billion dollar local TV contract coming to cover loses no matter how good the Cavs are and raising ticket prices to New York or L.A. levels would be a foolish gamble.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised that Gilbert wanted new leadership for his team?

Also, its more complicated than Gilbert just sucking it up, paying the bills and buying LeBron James another shot at a championship. Gilbert has partners in the Cavs and when it comes to asking for big money to fund discretionary operating loses, it not uncommon for partners to disagree.

It’s easy to forget the Cavaliers were purchased by an investor group led by Dan Gilbert in 2005 that included inactive partners Grammy-award winning recording artist Usher Raymond IV, former owner Gordon Gund, movie producer Gary Gilbert and others. Minority owners Jeff Cohen and Nathan Forbes have been active in the business.

In February  Joe Vardon in Cleveland.com reported on a Cavs shake-up at the top.

Jeff Cohen is out as vice chairman and Nathan Forbes, while maintaining his title has lost influence with Gilbert and is spending very little time on Cavs business

The two were “extensions” of Gilbert within the Cavs, according to one source, offering input on major trades and organizational decisions presented to Gilbert by general manager David Griffin.

Based on Griffins release, it appears these two minority partners were more likely acting as advocates for the GM’s rather expensive proposals.

As is usual in large private corporations and partnerships, the books are never open to the public and ownership/partner “discussions” are resolved behind closed doors, so it’s possible we’ll never be sure who made what decision and why. However, it’s very certain that Gilbert is pulling the strings.

The resolution to the Kyrie Irving situation will provide a lot of insight as to how Gilbert really feels about losing over $50 million a year to run his franchise.

This is an opportunity to significantly cut his projected $75 million luxury tax bill and reduce the Cavaliers operating loses this year and going forward. Talent coming back could quickly become a secondary consideration to finding ways to dump salary.  Based on what’s happened so far this year that could easily happen with an eye toward making sure it doesn’t look that way.

There really is nothing like a great off season drama.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Six Offers For Kyrie Irving Not Enough For Delusional Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a pickle. They don’t want to trade All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, but Irving wants to go and the whole league knows it. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski six teams have made offers, but so far nothing has happened. If the Cavs think what’s been put on the table isn’t reasonable, they’re delusional.

The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired …, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals… many simply don’t have the assets to make a deal happen.

What Wojnarowski isn’t saying is some GMs wouldn’t replace their current starting point guard with Irving who isn’t a great playmaker, doesn’t play defense and whose numbers and reputation has almost certainly been juiced by playing along side LeBron James.

No one believes Irving isn’t a worthy All-Star. His handles, shooting and flash is elite. He’s worth all of his $18.9 million salary and he’d get more in today’s market, but let’s not go crazy here. Irving isn’t about to carry any team to the postseason as their top player. He needs to share that load or play with someone better.

The Heat have made a solid offer, one that probably makes the Cavs better than last season, but politics may be getting in the way. This deal should have gotten done.

The Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said. With the Cleveland-Miami history, there’s little chance for a deal unless the Heat offered an overwhelming package.

Aside from taking 4.3 fewer shots per game, Dragic has nearly identical shooting percentages from the field and from three, they had the same number of assists and steals plus, Dragic is half a rebound better. Then there’s Dragic wasn’t playing beside anyone of note to divert attention away from the fact he was his team’s leading scorer. Imagine how much better those numbers could look with James setting him up for open shots and ISO plays driving to the hoop.

Sure Irving is six years younger, that’s why the 21-year-old Lottery Pick Winslow was included in the package.

Dragic will be at least as statistically good as Irving for the two years the Cavs can force Irving to stay in Cleveland and will keep the Cavs as the heavy favorites to come out of the East again this season.

If you’re looking for a REAL REASON the Cavs are balking at this trade, look no further than the luxury tax. This trade would add almost a million dollars to the Cavs payroll with a luxury tax cost approaching $5 million.

Then there’s the five other teams Wojnarowski says have made offers.

San Antonio would be interested with Tony Parker injured, but aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, they don’t have a lot to trade until December 15th. It’s laughable to think the Spurs would trade Kawhi Leonard for anyone on the Cavs including James. Even Aldridge’s departure would leave a hole in the roster that would not be compensated by acquiring Irving.

The Clippers might be interested in building a package around DeAndre Jordan and would be pretty happy if they could knock a million or two off their payroll in the process. Most any other deal would have to wait until December 15th. The Cavs wouldn’t be too excited at the prospect of increasing their already huge tax bill though.

The Suns have assets including a protected first round pick from the Heat and could include Eric Blesoe plus a young player in a deal. The fly in this ointment would probably come from the Irving’s camp. He wouldn’t be too excited about joining a projected Lottery Team that would still be a projected Lottery Team with him on it and he’d almost certainly let the Suns know that.

The Timberwolves are an interesting landing spot. Logically this team doesn’t need Irving as they just signed free agent Jeff Teague to a $19 million per year deal, but there sure is a lot of speculation. Irving would be a big upgrade over Teague, although a trade couldn’t be made until December 15th. What makes this especially intriguing is if the T-wolves and Andrew Wiggins can’t come to terms on a max contract extension. A Teague plus Wiggins for Irving plus Shumpert would be a home run for the Cavs.

The Knicks want to do something around Carmelo Anthony and its a good trade for the Cavs even if they don’t seem all that excited about it. Irving plus Shumpert for Melo knocks almost $3 million off the Cavs payroll and saves almost $15 million in tax. Not sure what the holdup is?

The Cavs can trade Irving before the start of the season for a solid return as long as they don’t get so delusional about Irving’s value that they get in their own way. A deal with either the Heat or the Knicks would leave Cleveland at least as well off on the court after the trade as they were before it next season and likely the season after that. Expecting much more probably means waiting until after December 15th and taking all kinds of needless risks.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA free agent collage

NBA Free Agent Scrap Heap Bargains

Any NBA free agent still on the market at the end of July is at risk of ending up on the scrap heap and with few exceptions, their options for signing anything but a bargain NBA minimum contract for next season are getting thin.

So far NBA teams have handed out over $2 billion in new deals averaging over $12 million per season per Spotrac and only the Bulls, Suns, Mavericks and 76ers can still create over $10 million in salary cap space by renouncing their exceptions to make a significant offer to a free agent.

This off season has been marked by big trades like Paul George and Chris Paul plus big salary dumps like DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe. Aside from Gordon Hayward going to the Celtics, most of the big name free agents have re-upped with their old teams and in the process, the most desirable free agent destinations are out of both salary cap space and room under the luxury tax threshold.

Some NBA free agent bargains to watch are:

Unrestricted Free Agents

Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves, UFA

Muhammad’s agent should have pressed the panic button when the T-wolves rescinded their qualifying offer making him unrestricted.

The 14th overall pick in 2013  is still just 24-years-old. His experience on a bad Minnesota team makes him look like a black hole on offense and a questionable defender, but four different coaches in four years isn’t the way to develop any player.

This 6’6 wing with a 6’11 wingspan and a 37″ max vertical jump has averaged 10.8 points on 47.7 percent shooting in just 20.5 minutes over the past three years as a reserve and has shown potential to shoot the three.

Teams are looking at mature undrafted players to fill in the back end of their rosters. Muhammad is a way better option that doing that.

Dante Cunningham, New Orleans Pelicans, UFA

The 30-year-old veteran forward is considered a decent defender with a good three-point shot developed over the past two seasons. At 39.2 percent from three on 2.7 attempts last season, it shouldn’t be a surprise he thought there’d be more demand for his services when he opted out of his $3.1 million player option.

Undoubtedly a victim of unreasonable expectations, this is a player that can help a team right away.

Luke Babbitt, Miami Heat, UFA

The 6’9 combo forward does one thing well, it just happens to be the one thing every NBA team seems to need these days. He chucked up a three-ball every five minutes he was on the court for the Heat and he sunk 41.4 percent of them.

The 28-year-old isn’t a terrible rebounder and no one is looking to him for defense, but he legitimately stretches the floor and he’ll be cheap.

Derrick Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers, UFA

Almost completely off the free agent radar, Derrick Williams earned himself a second sixth chance with the Cavaliers last season when he survived two 10 day contracts and was picked up for the balance of the season.

The 2011 2nd overall draft pick bombed, but the 6’8 240 lb forward has talent and sometimes it takes longer for the school of hard knocks to make an impact than should normally be expected.

Williams shot 50.5 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three in 25 games for the Cavs. At 26-years-old, he is still relatively young, an uber-athlete and he’ll be cheap. Odds are he’d take a non-guaranteed deal in a heartbeat.  No risk/high return, why hasn’t he gotten a camp invite yet?

Restricted Free Agents

This summer wasn’t as good for free agents as last summer (and it’s going to be worse next summer). Players are being screwed over in restricted free agency as teams refuse to bid against themselves,

Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks, RFA

A big traditional center in a market that’s not rewarding big traditional centers, the Mavs can afford to wait out Noel as no team is going to try to steal him with a ludicrous offer sheet.

Noel should be more worried than he appears as well. The Mavs are sitting on salary cap space they could use to acquire one of the seemingly numerous available veteran traditional centers and get paid to do it with future draft picks.

Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets, RFA

Another big traditional center with no leverage in negotiations. He’ll be a backup next season if he stays in Denver and in his position, the qualifying offer should be starting to look good.

JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies, RFA

JaMychal Green started 75 games for the Grizzlies last season and the 6’9 power forward became the ‘3-and-D’ player the previous season suggested he would. It’s actually surprising no other team took a serious run at him despite Memphis’ promise to match any offer sheet.

Green is type of young big man just about every NBA team wants and needs in today’s NBA and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Grizzlies have quietly been offered several sign-and-trade opportunities, but they seem content to wait things out in an attempt to get Green on the contract they want.

 

A few of the other recognizable free agents in need of a place to play include: Monta Ellis, Gerald Henderson, Tyler Zeller, Festus Ezeli and Nikola Mirotic.

There are still a lot of players waiting on the sidelines in free agency, but the money and the roster spots are quickly drying up. It won’t be long before restricted free agents will start thinking their best option may be that qualifying offer and unrestricted free agents are completely stuck between a veteran’s minimum deal or no deal at all.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Will The Cavs Trade Irving For Knicks Carmelo Anthony?

Okay, so the blood is barely in the water, but assuming ESPN has this right and Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, the Cleveland Cavaliers may as well get on the phone with the Knicks and get a deal done for Carmelo Anthony.

It’s very possible per the ESPN trade machine.

There is no way a deal like this would have been on the table before Irving’s agent talked to the Cavaliers management, but the likelihood of getting a better deal done under duress isn’t all that good and the Knicks will be at least as desperate to deal as Cleveland.

Who else can the Cavs trade for that might help smooth over this pending disaster with LeBron James? Let the rampant speculation begin.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image(s) courtesy of Larry Millson and Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Should The NBA Change The Schedule And Playoff Format?

Most of this summer’s off season moves have shifted the balance of power in the NBA further west re-invigorating the argument for a change to the playoff format and, by inference, how the regular season is played out. So, should NBA commissioner Adam Silver consider making changes?

The desire for owners in the West that blew it and have fallen out of playoff contention like the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban or teams hoping to crack a tough top eight in West for the first time in a long time like the Timberwolves or Kings can try to make the case that it would be easier in the East, but the NBA Writer’s Blogtable (on 7-12-2017) didn’t hold back in shooting down any ideas about making changes to how the playoffs are seeded.

Steve Aschburner: we’re supposed to get all bent out of shape and throw tradition overboard because of a couple of seasons of stronger low seeds in the West?

Fran Blinebury: if I were Mark Cuban, I’d still be kicking myself for breaking up the 2011 championship team. … I really don’t want to start hearing their crying in April when they have to go Miami to Portland in the first round.

Scott Howard-Cooper: it’s an interesting idea to debate from a competition standpoint, but flawed and impractical in many ways.

Shaun Powell: you’re only hearing this noise from owners and coaches of teams in the West who are fighting for the last few playoff crumbs.

Ian Thomsen: it would be heresy for the Celtics and Lakers (or Cavaliers and Warriors) to meet anytime other than the championship round.

Lang Whitaker:if you’re going to do away with Conferences, then do away with them altogether in favor of one big table of all thirty teams.But at some point someone will come along and make the East great again.

Whitaker emphasizes the biggest problem with changing the current playoff format. To do it fairly, any change to how the postseason is run needs to be reflected in the regular season and too much travel is already a major issue with the current unbalanced East/West schedule.

The NBA has been making changes every year in an attempt to ease the rigors of the schedule on its players. Back-to-backs are down, a longer break is being provided around the All-Star Weekend, fewer preseason games are being played and more days are being added to the schedule.

Increasing travel for players during the regular season or the playoffs isn’t, and will likely never be, on the table and it shouldn’t be.

If anything, changes to the schedule should be stealing from the other major professional leagues, MLB and NHL. In those leagues, more games are played within divisions to both save money and travel time, but more importantly create rivalries that are not dependent on unpredictable meetings in the postseason.

The NBA doesn’t have to and probably shouldn’t just copy what MLB and the NHL does with their schedules, rather, they should find the model that protects NBA traditions while maintaining the opportunity to see every other NBA franchise in your building at least once per year.

It shouldn’t be all that hard to accomplish.

Teams within a division would play 22 times. 5 times against each “rival” every year, plus two additions games within the division.

Teams outside a division, but with the same conference would play 30 times on 2 home, 1 away or 1 home, 2 away format.

Games against the other conference would continue on the current 1 home, 1 away schedule totaling 30 games.

Playing teams within your own division 5 or 6 times a season will, over time, make these games more important and should help create more regular season rivalries.

However, the real reasons for modifying the regular season schedule and not touching the current playoff format are the same as in the NHL and MLB. It saves money, travel and some wear and tear on the players.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets Ryan Anderson

Which NBA GM Will Risk Their Career On Ryan Anderson?

The Houston Rockets want to trade for the Knicks Carmelo Anthony in the worst way. The only problem seems to be they want to off load Ryan Anderson and the $61 million remaining on his contract to do it and for perfectly obvious reasons, New York isn’t interested. So, is there another NBA GM willing to risk their career to help facilitate this trade?

Other than the season-ending neck injury in 2013-14 and the typical 10-20 games he’s missed each season since then, Anderson is a reliable stretch-four. Sure he rebounds like a guard and his defense is suspect, but he does stretch the floor.

Last year he averaged 13.6 points per game, right about his career average, but is that enough production for a $20 million per year player? How many first round draft picks should a team with salary cap space be demanding to absorb a contract of this – even by today’s standards – massive proportions that doesn’t go away for three years? It’s hard to imagine just one first round pick would be enough for a third team taking on what would be almost certainly be considered a salary dump.

A big problem is the Rockets traded away their 2018 first round draft pick to the Clippers when they acquired Chris Paul and the Knicks were thinking they deserved a draft pick as part of this trade, not give a pick away to be rid of Melo.

While no one should ever be surprised by an off the wall decision from an NBA GM, taking on a contract like Anderson’s is usually something one would expect the Knicks would do and they’ve already said no. The Nets got a first, a second and dumped a small contract back when they absorbed DeMarre Carroll and his $30 million remaining over two years from Toronto. They are going to want a lot more to fit the bulk of Anderson’s contract into their remaining space.

Trading Anderson to a team over the cap means the Knicks have to want the players another GM was willing to give up. It’s almost certain, that’s just shifting the problem further out and for maybe the first time in a long while, the Knicks aren’t going to be the team that gets fleeced.

When you sign a one-dimensional stretch-four to an $80 million contract, generally speaking, he’s yours, right to the end. If the Rockets really want Melo, unless they can find a (few) GM(s) willing to risk his career to help out, they are going to have to dig a little deeper and sacrifice some players other teams might actually think are on good contracts.

Daryl Morey is really going to earn his salary working this deal.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

 

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

What’s Next After Gordon Hayward Picks The Celtics?

So Gordon Hayward has picked the Celtics according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and will rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens, but that’s not the end of this story. Not by a long shot. As things sit, Boston doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Hayward to a max deal as described by ESPN,

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Now Hayward’s agent has replied to the news saying no deal has been finalized, so maybe the details are still up in the air, but as noted by Rick Kamla during NBA Summer League, if Hayward was rejoining the Jazz, he would have just said that.

(The article on ESPN has since been edited to reflect Hayward’s agent’s comments.)

The Celtics will look very different next season. Gone will be veteran centers Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, stretch four Jonas Jerebko and second year big Jordan Mickey.

Al Horford will be the last big man standing with NBA experience and a team that couldn’t rebound the ball might struggle to ever see another board.

Still on the roster are small forwards Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Hayward is moving to power forward, something has to give and fast. There wasn’t enough minutes to go around at his position before he got there.

And sure Hayward at 6’8 could possibly play a combo forward role in the new small ball NBA, but with Horford averaging 6.6 rebounds and Hayward coming in averaging 6.1 rebounds, the Celtics could well become the worst rebounding team in NBA history. Another move has to be in the cards on this front as well, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t make sense to just DNP-CD Brown or Tatum next season and the Celtics need a veteran big man. So, the obvious fix is to dangle the team friendly contract of Crowder and see just how good the offers are coming back.

A starting caliber big man or rotation ready young center or power forward with a nose for the ball would go a long ways to re-balancing this guard and wing heavy lineup and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the extra pieces already on his roster to land a very good player.

Gaining Hayward’s commitment to sign can only be the first step in putting the Celtics into contention for the NBA Finals next season. If ESPN’s Bobby Marks has his math right, Ainge has to dump $3 million in salary and then, from a practical standpoint, he has to find somebody(s) that can rebound.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony

Phil’s Gone, Knicks Carmelo Anthony Puts Himself In Play

Now that Phil Jackson is gone, Carmelo Anthony took the biggest impediment to trading him off the table putting himself in play. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Melo will waive his no trade clause for Houston or Cleveland, the two teams closest to knocking off the dynasty in Golden State.

The Cavaliers have desperately been searching for another star to play beside LeBron James. What James has got has got him to the NBA Finals for three straight years, but realistically, he can only expect to beat the Dubs with what he’s got if something goes seriously wrong for his rival.

The Rockets went all-in by trading for Chris Paul, but to beat the Warriors, they are going to need a third superstar scorer and Melo could give them a real chance.

The Knicks want to go young and need draft picks, something that both teams should be willing to part with. The big issue is going to be finding enough salary to send back to make the trade math work with Anthony’s $26.2 million salary.

To get young guys and picks, the Knicks are going to have to absorb a big ticket player they probably don’t want as well, but, with a little luck, they’ll be able to flip the player(s) they don’t want elsewhere by the trade deadline.

After all, the Knicks are rebuilding, so what’s the rush. They just need to get some assets that can fit for the long term as the dump an asset that obviously doesn’t fit and is finally willing to leave.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

2017 NBA free agents Raptors Patrick Patterson and Timberwolves Shabazz Mohammad and Warriors Ian Clark and Pacers Jeff Teague collage

Some NBA Free Agents Your Team Can Actually Get

There is no more exciting time for most teams and most fans than NBA free agency, but it can quickly become the most disappointing couple of weeks in the off season when you strike out.

If a team is going to put all their focus into hitting a home run, they had better have a really good idea about why that player is going to choose them over all of those other opportunities because as you wait, the next best options are coming off the board.

Here’s our list of getable free agents that if you act fast, you just might just lock up before the competition realizes what happened.

Point Guard

Jeff Teague, Pacers UFA, 29-years-old

2016-17, 15.3 pts, 4.0* rbs, 7.8* asts, 1.2 stls, 35.7% 3FG

* career best

A former one-time All-Star, reliable starting point guard who has only played one year with the Pacers. While other teams are wasting their efforts pursuing Kyle Lowry and George Hill, impress Teague and solve your point guard issues.

Micheal Carter-Williams, Bulls UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 6.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 23.4% 3FG

The 2014 NBA ROY saw his minutes slashed in Chicago and made an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if your team is out of cap space and not planning on a postseason run, giving this big point guard another second chance might not be such a bad idea. He was an 11/5/5 player with 1.5 steals for the Bucks two seasons ago.

Shooting Guard

Dion Waiters, Heat UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 15.8 pts, 3.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.9 stls, 39.5% 3FG

It was a breakout season for Waiters and teams will have their eye on the possibility of stealing him from the Heat as his current team doesn’t hold his Bird Rights. Strike fast with a big offer while Miami is focused on Gordon Hayward and you might just steal him.

Ian Clark, Warriors UFA, 26-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 1.6 rbs, 1.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 37.4% 3FG

The Warriors only hold Clark’s early bird rights, so this is one player you can outbid a luxury tax sensitive team for. He put up those numbers in less than 15 minutes a game. It’s time he got his chance to show everyone what he’s made of.

Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves RFA, 24-years-old

2016-17, 9.9 pts, 2.8 rbs, 0.4 asts, 33.8% 3FG

While the Timberwolves are busy gloating over the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and looking for the next piece of the playoff puzzle, Shabazz is kind of sitting on the outside looking in, but this a solid young defensive wing who could become a real steal if, as the expression goes, “the lights come on” with a change of scenery.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Clippers UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 6.1 pts, 2.1 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 39.1% 3FG

The Clippers are in trouble and only hold Mbah a Monte’s early bird rights, so pile on and pick apart the carcass. This guy went from a defensive forward to a  much more valuable ‘3-and-D’ forward last season and there is a lot of teams that could use him coming off the bench.

Power Forward

James Johnson, Heat UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 12.8 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 1.1 blks, 34% 3FG

A non-bird free agent means the Heat have to use salary cap space to re-sign him, thus making James Johnson a great target for other teams. A breakout season that James should be crediting to the tough love he got in Toronto – the place where he finally figured out how and when to shoot the three-ball without it being embarrassing.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors UFA, 28-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 4.5 rbs, 1.2 asts, 37.2% 3FG

While the Raptors are distracted by Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, Patterson should be an easy target and a reasonable contract.

The ‘3-and-D” Patterson is one of those glue-guys who makes other people around him better even if he isn’t filling the stats sheet while doing it.

Center

Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs UFA, 27-years-old

2016-17, 5.1 pts, 6.5 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.8 blks

Dedmon played 17.5 minutes a game for Pop last season and that alone should put this guy on your radar.  The Spurs don’t hold his bird rights either, so he is very getable.

Zaza Pachulia, Warriors UFA, 33-years-old

2016-17, 6.1, 5.9 rbs, 1.9 asts, 0.8 steals

If your team needs an infusion of toughness, grit, nastiness, Pachulia can still bring it. Culture change in a 6’11 don’t give a crap how it gets done center. The Warriors don’t hold his bird rights.

 

If your team is on the cusp and has a load of salary cap space to burn, sure take a run at Hayward, Blake Griffin, or Paul Millsap. Not sure any of those big name free agents are using your team as anything more than a free lunch and a means to extract a better contract from someone else? Then move down a tier and get a player that can actually help move you closer to your goals before someone else gets them.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Joakim Noah

What Is Phil Jackson Trying To Do To The Knicks?

By Frank McLean

Phil Jackson, the 70-year old hippie who is seems to be intent on wrecking the New York Knicks, is at it again and this time it could be the finishing touch.

In a story that was published in the New York Post, sources confirmed that Jackson was looking to move his first round pick from two seasons ago Kristaps Porzingis because, are you ready for this, he did not attend his exit meeting with Jackson at the end of the season.

The only reason he hasn’t pulled the trigger on a deal is that he has not found something that piques his interest.

An exit interview is professional sports way of doing a performance review like employers do in the real world. You sit down with the coach and general manager and you go over what you did good, what you did bad, and what you need to work on. Sometimes a physical exam is required but otherwise it’s a glorified performance review.

In an interview with MSG network, Jackson let his frustration show.

“We’re getting calls,’’ Jackson said. “You know as much as we value Kristaps and what he’s done for us, but when a guy doesn’t show up to an exit meeting, everyone starts speculating on his duration or movability from a club. We’re listening, but we’re not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what’s good for our club.”

Sure Phil, you have to do what’s good for the club, but really here is the real reason Jackson is crapping all over his only good young up and coming player on his roster. Jackson will not admit that he has done a poor job running this team, I mean he has done a great job running it into the ground, but he needs a scapegoat and Porzingis, and you can count his treatment of Carmelo Anthony as well, fits the bill.

If you are Knicks fan you probably couldn’t help but roll over on the floor in pain on hearing this nugget from Jackson.

“I think we know what we’re doing. That’s all I can say, even though it hasn’t been apparent in our record the last couple of years. We’ve grown from within, gotten young players that are on the move up. It takes time to rebuild with youth and I think they have confidence in the fact that we are going to have good players, a good team and be competitive on the court.’’

Jackson went on to say that in 25-years this has never happened to him,  that a player did not come to an exit interview, but apparently Shaquille O’Neal did it to him when he was with the Lakers.

If the Knicks had responsible ownership, and Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan is not, he would bite the bullet and fire Jackson’s ass ASAP. (Anyone else feel that just maybe this is what Phil wants?)

Playing in the NBA is every young basketball players dream and New York is the mecca of pro basketball, but no one, no draft pick or a potential free agent will want to come to the Knicks when management uses their players as scapegoats for their own shortcomings.

And if players don’t want to come to your team, well you will be like the Los Angeles Clippers when Donald Sterling ran the show.

The Knicks are one of the original flagship franchises in the NBA and they don’t deserve to be Clipperesque.

Jackson has to go.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson