Tag: tim duncan

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?

Lay Up Line: 11/2 Basketball Review

 

Music to listen to:  Louis Vuitton mix by Daft Punk

Here are the headlines that you need to know from last night in the world of basketball:

Vintage Tim Duncan, elite Tony Parker down Thunder:  Before last night’s game against Oklahoma City, the thought was that the Spurs’ age would be unable to overcome the Thunder’s youthful aggression.  Duncan looked like it 2002 all over again for San Antonio, stuffing Kevin Durant’s dunk attempt in the first half.  Then, Timmy abusing poor Serge Ibaka in the third quarter when he posterized the Thunder defender with a vintage dunk that would make Michael Jordan proud.

The true story of the night was the battle of the point guards and the approach to the game each individual has.  Russell Westbrook had an inconsistent game with 18 points but he led the Thunder in shot attempts (21) and had six turnovers.  There were numerous Oklahoma City possessions when Kevin Durant, arguably the best scorer in the NBA, wouldn’t even touch the ball because Westbrook dribbled the ball too long.   In the Thunder’s final possession of the contest before Parker’s game winner, Westbrook let the clock go down to less than eight seconds left in the contest before throwing a lazy pass to Durant that was stolen by the Spurs.  First, why wasn’t the ball in Durant’s hands from the start of the possession?  Second, while Durant could have been more aggressive in getting the pass, the lack of speed on the throw hurt the play the most.

Speaking of Parker, his first major play of the contest was a game-tying three-pointer in the corner off of a scramble play with 28 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 84.  Westbrook lost him on defense again on Parker’s game winner from 21 feet as time expired to give the Spurs the win.  While Westbook had more points than Parker, who finished the game with 14, the Spurs’ guard controlled the flow of the game throughout the contest.  Furthermore, Parker had 11 assists with only one turnover.

 

Backdoor Cut: 2012-2013 Western Conference Season Preview

 

Music to listen to:  Roulette Dares (live) by The Mars Volta

Time to preview the Western Conference for this upcoming NBA season

Northwest division:

Best team:  Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder finally reached the NBA Finals last season and will continue to show supremacy in the division behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  The trade of James Harden does make OKC weaker in the short-term until Kevin Martin can implement himself into the rotation.

Weakest team:  Portland Trailblazers.  Most prognosticators are picking Minnesota to finish in last place but I have greater concerns about Portland.  LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star player and very talented but the rest of the roster is lacking greatly.  Damian Lillard will have a strong rookie campaign but that won’t be enough to help Portland avoid last place in the division.

Wildcard team:  Denver Nuggets.  I really, really wanted to pick Utah in this spot because I love the depth at forward/center with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and even Marvin Williams.  I think Gordon Haywood has star potential and looking forward to seeing Enes Kanter improve.  However, the guards the squad are weak and your weakest spots on a team can’t be guards, especially in the West.

I’ve seen predictions for the Nuggets to win between 45-60 games this season which makes them the true wildcard of the entire conference.  The depth of the frontcourt is outstanding with Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph and JaVale McGee who I think will show strong maturity and make his first All-Star team this year.  If the guard play stays solid with Andre Miller, Ty Lawson, and the addition of versatile Corey Brewer, Denver could actually make a run for the division title against the Thunder.

Best Player:  Durant.  In most divisions, Kevin Love would be a major contender for this crown.  Westbrook has made a case for being the best point guard in the NBA.  However, he’s not even the best player on his own team.  Durant will lead the league in scoring again this season, continue to become respectable on defense and if he ever committed to rebounding, he could average a double-double an entire year.

Most Important:  Love.  When Love and Ricky Rubio were in the lineup together last season, the Timberwolves were a playoff-contending team.  When Rubio went out for the season with a knee injury, the postseason hopes were dashed.  Through this logic, it would seem that Rubio is the more valuable player to the team but the engine is driven by Love.  Currently, Love is going to miss the first month of the season with a hand injury, meaning that his return to top form is critical for the overall development of the team.

Top newcomer:  Andre Iguodala, Denver.  I’m bullish on the Nuggets and its because they have an elite defensive perimeter player in Iguodala.  The Nuggets have a versatile player that can match up with any guard or small forward in the league and provide offensive skills as well.

Best Coach:  George Karl, Denver.  I know that Scott Brooks led the Thunder to the Finals last year but Karl brings more experience to the table and has shown a stronger ability to blend different levels of talents within a team better.

Coach on the hot seat:  This may be the only division where everyone’s job is safe because of being new (Terry Scotts and Tyrone Corbin), coming off of an outstanding season (Brooks), or well-established within their team (Rick Adelman and Karl).  If I had to choose one, I guess it would be Brooks because of the heightened expectations for the Thunder this season.  Only a return trip to the Finals would be considered a successful season and that’s a steep curve to work under.

Predicted finish (in order):  Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah, Minnesota, Portland

Southwest division:

Best team:  San Antonio Spurs.  Outside of Miami in the Southeast and arguably the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific, this may have been the easiest division winner to predict.  Dallas still has Dirk Nowitzki but the rest of the lineup is questionable.  We’ll get to the rest of the division later.

Weakest team:  New Orleans Hornets.  The addition of Anthony Davis is nice and Eric Gordon has All-Star potential.  However, the rest of the squad is still developing and the growing pains will show strongly this season.

Wildcard team:  Memphis Grizzlies.  The darkhorse Western Conference contenders going into last season have regressed though the questionable health of its top players, mainly Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay staying on the court.  Furthermore, the loss of OJ Mayo is going to hurt Memphis more than people are expecting.  However, any squad that can throw a starting frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Randolph and Gay along with a solid point guard in Mike Conley should be respected as a team that can make a playoff run if healthy.

Best Player:  Tony Parker, San Antonio.  Parker has been overshadowed in the past by other point guards in the NBA and even his own teammates, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, over the years.  However, Parker had a career year last season and helped lead the Spurs to the best record in the Western Conference.

Most Important Player:  Nowitzki.  If Dirk doesn’t come back to full strength and produce a solid season, the Mavs can book themselves a place in the draft lottery for the first time in a long time.

Top Newcomer:  Jeremy Lin and James Harden, Houston.  When outlining my thoughts a few days ago, Lin and Davis were my picks for this section.  While I think Davis will have an impactful rookie campaign, Houston’s trade for Harden changes the dynamic.  The combination of Lin and Harden in the same backcourt makes Houston an interesting view because both men have versatility, handle the ball well and shoot.  There are challenges on the defensive end but the intrigue is there.

Best Coach:  Gregg Popovich, San Antonio.  Best NBA coach of this generation outside of Phil Jackson and maybe Larry Brown.

Coach on the hot seat:  Kevin McHale, Houston.  The addition of Harden has elevated the expectations for Houston and that falls on McHale.

Predicted finish (in order):  San Antonio, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans

Pacific division:

Best team:  Los Angeles Lakers.  When the starting lineup consists of three future Hall of Famers (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard) and one of the best power forwards of the last 15 years (Pau Gasol), you have the best team in the division.

Weakest team:  Phoenix Suns.  The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings aren’t going to make much of an impact this season but the post-Steve Nash era will be the cruelest to the Suns and make them the weakest team in the division.

Best Player:  Kobe Bryant, Lakers.  Yes, he shoots too much at times, ignores teammates and can actually be taken advantage of on the defensive end at times.  However, Bryant is still an elite guard that will benefit greatly from having a post presence like Howard to open up shooting opportunities.  Furthermore, Nash is the best point guard that Bryant has ever played with and will get the ball in the right spot.

Most important player:  Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers.  The fate of the entire Clippers franchise lies with Paul and whether he can get the offense to flow properly with Blake Griffin.  The Clippers have an odd collection of players (Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan) who have versatility but also the potential to be dysfunctional without a good floor leader which is what Paul will have to be for the Clippers to even return to the playoffs.

Top newcomer:  Howard.  If the Lakers are going to win an NBA title, the post defense will have to be better, especially with perimeter defenders who have slowed down over the years.  Howard may have some offensive limitations but there’s little doubt that he’s the best paint defender in the NBA and this will help the Lakers greatly when perimeter players drive past the guards.

Best coach:  For a major division, the coaching in the Pacific does seem to be lacking.  I’ll take Mike Brown of the Lakers by default.

Coach on the hot seat:  Vinnie Del Negro, LA Clippers.  He was almost fired last season numerous times and there was a potential player revolt as well.  I don’t see much changing this season.

Predicted finish (in order):  LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento, Phoenix

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?