Backdoor Cut: The Sports Inquirer’s 2015 NBA Free Agency Primer

NBA

By E. Marcel Pourtout, Editor

Its time for the 2015 NBA Free Agency Primer.

Music to listen to: Silently Falling by Chris Squire (RIP)

We’re less than 24 hours away from the most frantic period of the NBA offseason, free agency.

Unlike professional leagues such as the National Football League, National Hockey League and to a lesser extent Major League Baseball, its possible to buy yourself into a contender spot in the NBA.

If you look at the most consistent championship contending franchises of the past five years in the NFL (New England, Seattle, Green Bay), NHL (Chicago, Anaheim) and MLB (San Francisco, St. Louis), each of them drafted the top core players of their teams and have used free agency as a supplement.

There’s still value in drafting well in the NBA as evidence of the San Antonio dynasty and the current champions Golden State. However, we’ve also seen Miami get LeBron James and win titles. Houston traded for James Harden and signed Dwight Howard to become a conference finalist. It can be done.

The 2015 NBA free agency period will be interesting because while there isn’t a game changer like James or even Harden available, current and future All-Stars will have a chance to move. Furthermore, two of the biggest markets in the league will be major players which will begin our primer.

-What will the Knicks and Lakers do? Every major free agent will be linked to one of these two teams because they’ve hit their respective bottoms and have the money to rebuild.

For the Lakers, this the first offseason since 1998 where they will have to think about the post-Kobe Bryant era. He has one more year left on his contract and may retire at the end of this upcoming season. Its doubtful he’ll leave money on the table but Bryant’s time as an elite NBA player is over.

Los Angeles showed its hand in the NBA Draft last week when it took point guard D’Angelo Russell over center Jahlil Okafor. If the Lakers didn’t have the belief it was signing a front court player this offseason, it would have taken Okafor because while Russell is an elite guard prospect, Okafor has game-changing potential.

You will see either LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe or Kevin Love in a Lakers’ uniform next season. My money is on Love who we will address later.

New York drafting Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis last week wasn’t as large of an indicator as Los Angeles. It did show that Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ front office has an eye towards the future which won’t involve Carmelo Anthony.

When the Knicks become a title contender in two to three years, Anthony won’t be a part of it. He’s had some strong offensive years and showed he could be a competent defender when Mike Woodson was the head coach of New York but the 2015 version of him doesn’t fit the rebuilding plans the team really needs.

Every unrestricted free agent will be on the watch list for the Knicks from the ones mentioned earlier to DeMarre Carroll, Paul MIllsap, Marc Gasol. This is the reason the Knicks brought Jackson on. We’ll see if New York gets it money’s worth.

-Restricted free agency makes things complicated. The market for guys like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Golden State’s Draymond Green would be more open but their current teams have the ability to match any offer another team gives. Its more complicated than that but that’s the simplest way to put it.

I could see Leonard returning home to play for the Lakers, Thompson getting a major offer from Toronto (because all Canadians should play for a Canadian team, just kidding, or am I? and Detroit replacing Monroe with Thompson but none of those are probably going to happen. Expect each of those guys to stick with their original teams.

The wildcard to me is Leonard. Butler will be the main player in Chicago in two years in status and pay which the Bulls are aware of. Thompson’s agent represents James as well, that’s a package deal. I thought Green would leave the Warriors at the midway point of this season but he proved his value in the championship run. I expect Golden State to clear money with aging players like David Lee and Andrew Bogut to re-sign Green and eventually Stephen Curry in two years.

Everyone, including myself, assumes that Leonard won’t leave the Spurs. He’s a major player in that system, no state tax, winning franchise, etc. We’ve also been conditioned to believe that not only do the Spurs keep free agents, they re-sign their players to franchise-friendly deals. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and hosts of others have done that.

Leonard may be different but San Antonio has the chance to keep him, get Aldridge and re-sign Duncan. Unless the Lakers or a franchise we’re not thinking of (Knicks?) makes a massive offer the Spurs can’t match, Leonard will be a Spur.

-James, Duncan and Dwayne Wade aren’t going anywhere. All three of those guys are the best players in their franchises’ histories and are free agents only in contracts.

Expect James to sign a two-year deal that makes him a free agent once again in the 2017 offseason when the salary cap is expected to expand and the maximum deals will guarantee more money.

Duncan is on a year-by-year basis at this stage of his career. He’s not going to another team. The Spurs will offer him a respectable two-year deal at a fair market value that will probably be his last contract as an NBA player.

I hear the rumblings that Wade may sign with Cleveland to reunite with James but Miami can offer a longer contract with more guaranteed money than the Cavs. Its rare that an athlete leaves money on the table especially when he has injury issues like Wade.

-Love may pull a Howard. Two offseasons ago, many believed that Howard wouldn’t leave the Lakers. Winning franchise, southern California lifestyle, its the frickin Lakers and nobody turns them down. Furthermore, Los Angeles could offer more money and an additional year on the contract. Howard still signed with Houston.

Explanations ranged from no state tax in Texas (which matters to pro athletes) to playing alongside Harden (basketball purposes) to getting away from Bryant (reality). All of those were factors in Howard’s decision but he wanted to be happy playing basketball.

In covering athletes for the Inquirer the past few years, I’ve learned that they’re motivated by different things. Money, prestige, power, relationship with teammates, interaction with coaches all matter. However, comfort in your environment may be second only behind money/financial security for the pro athletes.

Love didn’t have a good year in Cleveland. Between injuries, struggling playing alongside James in Cleveland’s offensive system and experiencing the highest level of criticism ever experienced in his career, Love had struggles with the Cavs.

He can sign a one-year deal with the Cavs and give it another go with the top team in the East by a wide margin when healthy. Love can sign a long-term deal for financial security which is important because of his injury past and the chance to play alongside James and Kyrie Irving.

Or Love can just sign a two-year with the Lakers, the franchise he’s always wanted to play for in his college and home city (I know he’s from Oregon and went to high school in the state but work with me) similar to what Millsap did with the Hawks in 2013. Once that deal is up, Love is a free agent in 2017. My money is on this happening.

-What else is there to know?

  1. Atlanta has decisions to make. It will be tough to keep both Millsap and Carroll because both of them will get deals north of 10 million a year. Trust me, there’s a franchise we’re not even thinking of that make those offers. Both men want long-term deals due to age (Millsap) or the reality that their personal market will never be higher (Carroll). I believe that Carroll will return to the Hawks while Millsap will be with another franchise. Look for Atlanta to sign either Tyson Chandler or Omer Asik at center, moving Al Horford to the power forward spot.
  2. Marc Gasol will stay with Memphis. He’s been in the city his entire adult life and even went to high school there. The Knicks are too toxic for him and while his brother Pau had good years with the Lakers, I don’t see Marc leaving. The Spurs would be of intrigue though.
  3. Lighting-round predictions for where I think other top players will sign:
  • Khris Middleton: Milwaukee
  • Bismack Biyombo: Portland
  • Brandon Knight: Phoenix
  • Danny Green: San Antonio
  • Goran Dragic: Miami
  • Tyson Chandler: Atlanta
  • Paul Pierce: Clippers
  • David West: Indiana
  • DeAndre Jordan: Clippers (watch out for Dallas)

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

Backdoor Cut: Thoughts on Atlanta Hawks/Cleveland Cavs Game Three 5/24/15

Atlanta Hawks' forward Al HorfordPhoto: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Image
Atlanta Hawks’ forward Al Horford
Photo: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Image

By E. Marcel Pourtout, Editor

Observations from Atlanta Hawks’ 114-111 road overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavs in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals.

-Atlanta shot 41 percent from the field but continued to struggle from the three-point line, making 11 of 30 attempts. The Hawks lost the game not exclusively because of Al Horford’s ejection (we’ll get to that later). Allowing Cleveland to get 19 offensive rebounds was a problem. Getting outrebounded overall by the Cavs 56-42 was an issue.

-Six Atlanta Hawks scored in double-figures led by Jeff Teague’s 30. Paul Millsap had 22 points and team-high nine rebounds in the loss.

-It begins and ends with LeBron James for Cleveland and his line was outstanding. He had game-highs in points (37), rebounds (18) and assists (13). He did this after missing his first 10 shots. JR Smith and Matthew Dellavedova each had 17 points. That’s another reason for the loss. You can deal with James having that stat line as amazing as it was for the Hawks. The secondary players going off offensively can’t happen.

-Atlanta had its strongest start to a playoff game this postseason, taking a 12-4 lead with 7:19 left in the first quarter. Horford was active in the offense, scoring eight points during that time frame. The ball movement looked improved with even Kent Bazemore hitting a cutting DeMarre Carroll for a layup. Bazemore finished with 14 points while Carroll had 10.

-The Hawks took a 24-21 lead after the first quarter. Horford had a game-high eight points. James missed all nine shot attempts in the first quarter and finished with zero points. Cleveland had nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter.

-James finally scored his first point after missing his first 10 shots.

-Offensive rebounding was a major factor in the Cavs’ comeback, grabbing 11 rebounds and taking a 42-40 lead with 2:40 left in the first half.

-Hawks were leading 48-47 with 34.3 seconds left in first half when Horford was ejected with a Flagrant 2 foul after elbowing Dellavedova on the ground. I’ll elaborate more in another post about this but I thought the call was too stern. A Flagrant 1 call with no ejection would have been more appropriate.

-Hawks led 49-48 at halftime. They shot 46 percent from the field and made six out of 12 three pointers. Horford did have a team-high 14 points in the first half while Teague scored 12.

-Dellavedova scored a team-high 14 first-half points for Cavs who shot 32 percent from the field and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.

-Atlanta had a rough start to the second half but tied the score at 67-67 after a 7-0 run led by shots from Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack with four minutes left in the third quarter. Scott had a team-high nine rebounds and eight points while Mack scored 13 points.

-Cleveland held a 81-76 heading into the fourth quarter.

-Atlanta went on a 15-2 run to tie the score at 95 with 4:32 left in regulation.

-Bazemore’s three pointer gave the Hawks a 100-97 with 3:40 to go. Smith tied game at 100-100 with 3::35 left. Teague’s layup makes score 104-100 w/ 1:38 left.

-Despite Hawks’ struggles, they still led 104-101 w/ 1:15 left. James hit a layup to cut lead to 104-103 with 18.1 seconds to go. Shumpert hit first free throw, missed second, tying score at 104-104 with 17.1 seconds left. The Hawks had the final possession and decided to have Teague shoot an isolation three-pointer at the buzzer which missed, taking the game to overtime. Why didn’t Atlanta have Teague drive to the basket for a closer shot and potential offensive rebound? Another reason the Hawks lost the game.

-Cleveland led 109-106 w. 2:35 left in overtime. Teague hit two free throws, cutting lead to 109-108. Teague’s three-pointer gave the Hawks the 111-109 lead with one minute to go.

-James took over and scored a three-pointer and layup on Cleveland’s next two possessions for the 114-11 lead. The Hawks had a chance to tie the game in the late seconds of overtime but Mack missed two three-pointers on final possession. Mack had a strong contest but they’re isn’t ONE reason why he should decide the fate of your season in that spot. Teague or Millsap HAVE to take that shot and it didn’t happen. Inexcusable.

Backdoor Cut: Observations from Atlanta Hawks/Cleveland Cavs playoff contest 5/22/15

Atlanta Hawks' guard Dennis Schroder (17)Photo credit: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Atlanta Hawks’ guard Dennis Schroder (17)
Photo credit: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

By E. Marcel Pourtout, Editor

Observations from Atlanta’s 94-82 home loss to the Cleveland Cavs in game two of the Eastern Conference finals on May 22.

LeBron James scored a game-high 30 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed nine rebounds in the win. It’s the eighth double-double of this postseason and the 68th of his playoff career. James also tallied his sixth 30-plus point outing of this postseason and 74th of his playoff career.

-Overall, the Cavs shot 43.4 percent from the field and made 12 three-pointers. Cleveland also outrebounded Atlanta 47-32. Iman Shumpert (16 points), Matthew Dellavedova (11 points) and Timofey Mozgov (10 points) also scored in double-figures. Tristan Thompson grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.

-Atlanta’s offensive struggles continued, shooting only 41.8 percent from the field. The Hawks made only six out of 26 three-pointer attempts. Dennis Schroder had a team-high 13 points off the bench. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Al Horford each had 12 points.

-Hawks started the game 2-10 from the field for 20% and trailed 11-5 midway through the first quarter. The Hawks started defending James straight up with an injured DeMarre Carroll and he proceeded to score seven of the Cavs first 11 points. Atlanta never recovered from James’ strong offensive start.

-Atlanta responded with a 10-4 run to ge thte score tied at 15-15 with 2:55 left in the first quater. Carroll was replaced by Kent Bazemore and the Hawks’ player rotation was normal. Mike Scott checked into his first game since game three of the Washington series.

-Carroll came into the game as the Hawks’ leading scorer in the playoffs and played a team-high 33:47 minutes in the loss but scored only six points.

-Cleveland led 26-21 at the end of the first quarter with James scoring a game-high 13 points. Thompson also grabbed eight rebounds in the first quarter for Cavs. Cleveland also shot 50 percent from the field while Atlanta was at 38 percent.

-Starting lineup checked back in for Atlanta down 35-27 with nine minutes left in first half.

-The teams traded baskets with Cleveland leading 48-40 with 2:07 left in the first half. James repeatedly posted up Carroll on isolations and passed to open shooters on the perimeter.

-Cleveland led Atlanta 54-49 at halftime. James had a game-high 17 first-half points for Cleveland which shot 53 percent from the field and made seven out of 11 three-pointers. The Cavs also outrebounded the Hawks 22-16 in the first half.

-Atlanta shot 49 percent from the field in the first half and were led by Korver’s 12 points while Teague had 10. The Hawks continued their struggles from the three-point line, making only four of 11 attempts.

-Cleveland starts the second half on a 21-7 run and led Atlanta 75-56 with 4:27 left in the third quarter. The Cavs outscored the Hawks 30-17 in the third quarter and took an 84-66 lead into the fourth.

-Atlanta actually outscored Cleveland 16-10 in the fourth quarter.