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Daryl Morey, Major Markets & The Fierce Urgency Of Now

Some time soon, I desperately want to see Daryl Morey run one of the major market teams with an owner who buys into that kind of plan.

Their attitudes align well because one of the hallmarks of Morey’s time with the Rockets has been retooling without stripping the team all the way down al a former Rockets exec and current Philadelpia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie.

While the Rockets have had problems of their own this summer, we have seen the major market teams with cap space deliberately and intentionally hurt their own future to a shocking degree over the last thirteen months.

At the outset, I should note that the reason I focus on the major markets (defined as New York and Los Angeles for this piece) is that salary cap space has more value to them than other franchises. The low individual maximum salary changes the decision-making process for truly elite player and the current CBA has actually made it even more advantageous for the large metropolises because the best free agents will nearly always hit unrestricted free agency after their second contract.

Combine players hitting a truly open market right before their prime and the way the system works and it should be apparent why these franchises should focus on flexibility and asset accumulation. Add in the fact that those markets can also add quality players on short, cheap contracts like Andrei Kirilenko, Nick Young, Darren Collison and Jordan Farmar just in the last year and you have another way to build a deep team without messing up future cap flexibility.

Instead, what we have seen from the Lakers, Knicks and Nets in the last year-plus has flown in the face of that style of management. The prime example of this flawed mentality came when the Lakers extended Kobe Bryant before he returned from injury, keeping him the highest-paid player in the entire NBA until the summer he turns 38. While the sentimentality of the extension is nice, the Lakers have to balance honoring a franchise great with making their next championship team and they ensured that it will not happen in those two seasons.

While some knocked Kobe for taking the contract, that rancor should have been aimed on the people who offered it instead since they made Bryant the one who would actively have to sacrifice in order for his team to have a better chance at adding a star. Signing him to the contract before his return from injury also showed players and other GM’s alike that the Lakers prioritized keeping Kobe happy over winning in the short term, not exactly the right message to send.

The Knicks followed a similar path by offering and then signing Carmelo Anthony a contract close to his full max that no other team could come close to. While I wrote about this decision at length earlier this week, cap space has more value for the Knicks than any other team considering how far away the Lakers are from dominance and how far the Nets and Clippers are from having workable cap space.

Carmelo is a good player not too far past his prime but it will be a hard sell to get an offensive star like Kevin Love in 2015 or Kevin Durant in 2016 to commit to a team with a talented volume scorer who should be the highest-paid player in the NBA from then until his mid-thirties. While the likely increase in the salary cap with the new TV deal will help make Melo’s deal less burdensome, having clean books would have increased the chances of getting two or more of the top-20 players in the league to MSG.

Even though their books were already jammed because of the Joe Johnson trade, Billy King and the Nets sabotaged their future by trading a boatload of useful assets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce has already left the team with only a second-round playoff appearance to show for it and Garnett likely has one year at most remaining in his illustrious career. What’s worse, Brooklyn has to pray that Deron Williams opts out of his insanely lucrative $22.33 million final season if they want to have the space to make a legitimate splash in the 2016 free agent class. We saw from Miami’s success that adding multiple stars at the same time can help lure a player less willing to leave his current team which almost definitely will be Kevin Durant’s attitude at that time.

In same ways most astonishingly, none of the Los Angeles or New York franchises have used the last year to accumulate any long-term assets. The closest any of them got was the Lakers scooping up a late first to take on Jeremy Lin’s final deal. The Nets have given up pieces to win now while the Clippers sold low on Eric Bledsoe to add short-term pieces not worthy of that kind of sacrifice. Each one of the major market teams owes a first round pick in one of the next two seasons with only the Lin pick coming back to any of the four in the same timeframe.

This all brings us back to Morey.

In general, he has done an excellent job avoiding the kinds of contractual pitfalls that have kneecapped the Lakers, Knicks and Nets in recent years. By largely giving out only max deals to worthy players and keeping the rest of the sheet remarkably clean in terms of bad contracts and long-term money, he maintained roster flexibility that made huge moves like trading for James Harden, signing Dwight Howard, and still having the space to add another max-level piece possible.

However, he made an interesting slip-up this summer with Chandler Parsons. Like many others, I assumed that he had a deal or understanding in place when the Rockets declined that super cheap player option, ideally with an understanding that included a discount because of the bargain basement salary Parsons would have had for the 14-15 season.

Instead, we saw the Rockets’ third-best player sign a three year offer sheet for his maximum salary with Dallas that forced their hand. While not identical to Carlos Boozer and the Cavs in 2004, that episode should have provided all the prologue Morey needed to maximize his offseason. If Parsons did not want to commit to the Rockets if they picked up his option, they could have picked it up and used him as a major asset either before or after deploying their cap space this summer. Even with that failure, the overall success of the Rockets can and should be part of the model New York and Los Angeles teams follow until they get their stars.

What ended up hurting Morey most in his swing for the fences was the fact that Houston did not check every single box for any of the major free agents. It was a good situation but not perfect enough to justify leaving for Bosh and not enough money for Carmelo. Putting those same signature clean books and ruthless accumulation of assets in a city players look to sign in even when their teams are shaky would provide one franchise the opportunity to line up a future dynasty before the new CBA changes the rules for player acquisition in 2017. Fortunately for the rest of the NBA, it looks like that will not happen in time.

Grading The Deal: Carmelo Decides To Stay With New York

The New York Knicks have agreed to re-sign Carmelo Anthony to a five-year, full max deal worth more than $122 million.

Some people will criticize Carmelo for taking the money, but I will not be one of them. I will never rip a player for taking the largest offer possible as long as they do not complain if things do not go well or claim to be “all about winning.”

While having an opt out that coincides with what should be an increase in his max due to a change in the cap with the new national TV deal could end up being more lucrative, there would be a substantial risk there and the fully guaranteed salary here should do just fine with no downside. By virtue of this deal, Melo will be paid like an elite player until his 35th birthday.

Grade for Carmelo Anthony: A+ 

For the Knicks, this comes down to the concept of opportunity cost. In economics, opportunity costs describe the loss of a gain from an alternative when another option is chosen, typically the best other choice available.

While Carmelo has been and should continue to be a very good basketball player, the Knicks could have done better with their money over the next few seasons. Unfortunately for the players, a soft cap means that spending money on one player directly reduces their ability to get more quality talent. In a major market and a popular city among players, cap space has more value for the Knicks than possibly every other NBA franchise. Even as the Knicks floundered around with often-mocked ownership and failure on the court, they still got meetings with just about every high-level free agent, which says quite a bit.

The next few seasons will have a shockingly large amount of elite talent hit unrestricted free agency for the first time. What’s more, two of the four major market teams look to be out of the unrestricted free agent mix for the next few summers and the third carries a big contract to Kobe Bryant who we cannot expect to be able to play at his previous level of dominance at this point. The Knicks had the catbird seat for a group of players from Kevin Love and Marc Gasol in 2015 to Kevin Durant in 2016 to Stephen Curry, Russell Wesbrook and Joakim Noah in 2017. Each of those players should hit the open market and would at least listen to the Knicks.

My problem with New York maxing Carmelo is that I do not think his presence makes bringing one or more of those young stars onto the Knicks more likely. If we operate under the assumption that players on the wrong side of their prime will be at least a little worse each season, even those high on Melo should agree that most if not all of the above list should eclipse him in the next few seasons. We learned from Miami’s success that an open ledger can be incredibly alluring and the Knicks gave up a combination of that, an even more glamorous city, and Phil Jackson, a luminary young players like Love, Durant and Westbrook grew up watching win championships. Was it a lock that the Knicks would get two or more guys on that list? Of course not. That said, I think they would have had a respectable shot at it.

Maxing out Carmelo now also functionally eliminates the chance of adding a key piece through the draft. While Miami made their big three through free agency, having one young star on a rookie scale contract is the best way to create and maintain a championship level team with ownership willing to go into the luxury tax year after year. After all, think about what the Knicks could have done with Oklahoma City’s young core. Even though the Knicks would have missed out on free agents this summer, clearing the decks for 2015 would have had the ancillary benefit of creating an opportunity to bottom out and add a long-term asset in a draft where the team actually has their own pick unencumbered. Now the road to a title will take even more good fortune.

The best counterargument to this line of thinking would come from an assertion that the Knicks could trade Carmelo down the line if better options show an interest in coming as free agents. That logic carries some weight since many franchises could do a lot worse with their money than Melo- heck, some have already this month.

One way of thinking about this is to imagine what the market could be for Carmelo’s contract each year in the future when he has more than $100 million remaining at 31 next summer, about $80 million at 32 in 2016, just under $60 million in 2017, and that huge contract just under $30 million at the age of 34 in 2018.

While that combination of player and contract may be seen as an asset by some teams, it would not be a clear sale for many others. Moving the most expensive contract in the league takes substantially more doing than smaller contracts like Jeremy Lin and Richard Jefferson the past few summers.

Despite Anthony’s status as a famous and talented player, a franchise in a massive market should have understood the gigantic advantages given to them in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and aimed higher to build a championship foundation.

Grade for the Knicks: D

Grading The Deal: Warriors Sign Shaun Livingston

The Golden State Warriors agreed to sign Shaun Livingston for three years and $16 million (two fully guaranteed, the third partially guaranteed) at the full Mid-Level Exception on Tuesday, the first day of free agency.

One of the key distinctions I like to make is between “Point Guard” and “primary ballhandler.” In my eyes, like every other position point guards should be defined by who someone defends rather than an offensive role.

This distinction matters for the Warriors because while they had other point guards during Stephen Curry’s career, they have only had one reliable primary ballhandler other than Curry: Jarrett Jack for one season. Having a second person who can run the offense effectively should keep the team afloat when Curry sits and allow Steph to play off the ball more regularly when they share the court. Considering Curry may be the best catch and shoot player in the entire league, that combination should work.

What makes Livingston a particularly good fit for the Warriors is that he can defend both guard positions, meaning he can shield Curry when they play together like Klay Thompson did the last few seasons. Even though Livingston cannot shoot a lick, he was a shockingly effective post-up player last year and could work wonders with whatever young Warriors do not make the starting lineup. I harped all of last season about how Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes needed to play more with Curry and those drop-offs without him should improve with another lead guard that can actually run the show.

Finally, Livingston fits beautifully with the team whether or not they move Thompson this summer. A trio of Curry, Thompson and Livingston would be very effective, but Livingston’s ability to play with Curry means that Golden State can downgrade a little from Thompson at shooting guard with less dramatic consequences. In fact, Livingston would pair well with Zach LaVine, Minnesota’s first round pick that I would like to see included in a Kevin Love trade should Klay Thompson head east.

The Warriors fixed their single largest flaw from last season with a player who makes complete sense with their best player. While Livingston works better as a complement to Curry than an injury replacement since they are so different, he works incredibly well with the current roster and even better if they can add a power forward who can stretch the floor.

Grade for Golden State: A-

More than anything, I am so happy for Shaun Livingston. After starting his career as a star prospect and then the point guard of the future for the Clippers, he suffered a horrific knee injury (that I have still never had the heart to watch) and worked his way all the way back to relevance in the NBA. Despite having shown so much promise before his 20th birthday, 2014-15 at the Mid-Level Exception will be the highest salary Livingston has ever had in the NBA. While Shaun will never be what we dreamed he would become, making it back to this level in the best league in the world is absolutely admirable.

Grade for Shaun Livingston: A+

Leroux's 2014 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down which teams had Great, Good, Enh and Bad drafts with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid going in the top-3.

The Tough Trade-Off

Specialists have recently had a bigger role in the NBA. An underlying factor behind these shifts could end up coming to the forefront with the 2014 draft class: the player’s impact has to be high enough to justify coaches and other players working around their flaws.

Why The Warriors Should Trade For Kevin Love This Summer

The Warriors stand out in the Kevin Love derby because they possess the pieces to make a move without sabotaging their present or future, while also fitting his strengths and weaknesses with their remaining roster.

The Kevin Love Q+A

While working through the many twists and turns related to Kevin Love reportedly being on the market for the first time, it made sense to put together an article formatted as a Q+A to address some of the bigger questions and misconceptions surrounding what has and will go on.

Lottery Lowdown (Late-May Edition)

With the lottery out of the way, we can begin to examine which teams represent good and bad fits for the teams in a position to draft them.

Counterpunching: How The Warriors Are Losing The Series

The Clippers are clearly the better team and more often play at their ceiling, but there are several adjustments Mark Jackson could make to gain a serious edge.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

The Third Contract

Most players have very little control over their destination for their first two NBA contracts, but the third contract creates a complete shift in power dynamics.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Trade For Steve Blake

The Warriors may have corrected their single biggest overall roster flaw for the rest of the season by trading for Steve Blake, while the Lakers get closer to avoiding the luxury tax.

Notes Ahead Of A Unique Deadline

This deadline will be both a little less active and maybe a little more interesting due to the strange alignment of teams with assets and teams with desire for them so the traditional pieces may not be the best fit.

An Open Letter To NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Congratulations on the new job- it should continue to be one of the most important and rewarding jobs in the entire sports world for your entire tenure. While your predecessor did some remarkable work expanding the reach of the NBA, he also left some pivotal challenges for the league to address in the near term.

Constructing Better Golden State Rotations

The Warriors have a championship caliber core of players and a deeper rotation than we have seen because of how players have been used. A more cohesive and logical series of substitutions would make the team even more dangerous both now and in the playoffs.

Three Critical Days In December 2011

Considering how much has happened for the Warriors over the past 24 months, December of 2011 seems like an awfully long time ago when they signed DeAndre Jordan to an offer sheet, amnestied Charlie Bell and waived Jeremy Lin.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Upgrade Bench, Heat Save Money, Celtics Sell Low

The Warriors upgraded their bench with the addition of Joe Crawford and MarShon Brooks while not giving up any valued assets, while the Heat save a ton in luxury tax payments. The Celtics, however, may have sold low on both Crawford.

Grading The Deal: Bulls Trade Luol Deng To Cavaliers

The Bulls are effectively writing off a run at the playoffs for financial savings, an improved pick of their own and an additional first rounder, while the Cavaliers continue to go all-in at exactly the wrong time.

Lottery Lowdown (December Edition)

Joel Embiid moved up to No. 2 in the updated rankings, flipping spots with Julius Randle, while Aaron Gordon climbed up from No. 19 to No. 6.

Draymond Green And The Fierce Urgency Of Now

While Draymond Green playing more minutes with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut makes sense in the immediate, it also allows Golden State to use sub rotations that help keep the team afloat when Curry sits once Andre Iguodala returns.

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