Dec 09, 2013 3:15 PM EST
For the second time in 2013, Rudy Gay will be joining a new team because of a trade. After being moved to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis, Hamed Haddadi and Jose Calderon (traded for Tayshaun Prince) at the end of January, this time new general manager Masai Ujiri traded Gay along with Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons.
For the Kings
In terms of the Kings, there are a few different angles which merit discussion. First, they effectively get an expensive trial period for Rudy Gay. The frustration so many of us have with Gay stems from the fact that he has athletic talent but it does not affect the game as positively as it should on both ends of the floor. I wrote when he was traded from Memphis that many had fallen in love with the idea of Rudy Gay rather than what he had become as a player and the only things that have changed since are his perception around some parts of the league and the fact that less time remains on his contract. Players with physical talent can always have the lightbulb turn on, so that can be considered a positive even though he is paid like it has been on for years.
Interestingly, I think there is a better chance than some are accounting for that Gay opts out of his $19.3 million for next season for the security of a longer deal at a lower annual value. Given the weakness at the top of the market once LeBron James chooses a destination, he and his agent could feel someone will roll the dice with him in a panic after missing out on the most marketable free agents.
Unfortunately, if the silver lining of a trade without picks or salary benefits is that the primary player you are getting back might leave sooner, you did not do well. Usage Rate attempts to measure how many possessions a player “uses” per 100, using shots, assists, and turnovers. The Kings already had two players in the top 10 for usage this season in Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, both of whom have done pretty well so far.
Gay is actually tied with Thomas right now for seventh in that stat but turns the ball over more, assists less, and scores less effectively than Isaiah. This cannot be construed as an aberration since Gay had similar figures last season while playing 75 games. The usage rates of the top three Kings combine to an eye-popping 89.1 right now, an insanely high number that will obviously go down once they play together because it functionally cannot go any higher. Regardless, having a volume scorer who is not good at it takes away shots and possessions from better building blocks in Cousins and Thomas for no cogent reason. Some see the benefit of the deal as giving more minutes to Isaiah Thomas but that could have been done without trading Vasquez.
Fortunately for Sacramento, none of the pieces they gave up were tremendously valuable. While Grevis Vasquez was the returning piece in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade and Patrick Patterson the best thing that came to the team in the Thomas Robinson trade, both will be restricted free agents this summer. Typically that first round of free agency marks the transition from underpaid to properly paid when dealing with non-max players, even for RFA’s. The narrower time frame to match deals has taken some of the sting out of putting out an offer sheet though the Nikola Pekovic ordeal last summer showed that teams are still reticent.
That said, both Vasquez and Patterson have potential to be rotation players at minimum and Sacramento did not exactly have a ton of them in total on the roster before this trade besides at power forward assuming that is how one classifies Derrick Williams. The RFA process still scares off enough teams that one or both could get undervalued and then retained either to keep or move in a future deal. Losing Salmons and Hayes should not affect the team in any meaningful way, though Hayes having another year on his deal would mean savings if Gay opts out.
The other players Sacramento received may not provide a ton in value but could have some uses this season. Aaron Gray should eat some minutes at center behind Cousins, and Quincy Acy has the potential to help out in a pinch.
The biggest question for Sacramento is whether the trade will provide any long-term value to the team. The worst possible scenario I can think of is that somehow this time leads to another contract with Gay that pays him more than he is worth. If it does not work out and he leaves, they lost a few non-premium assets and some cap flexibility next year. If they think they solved their small forward problems and pass on a quality player in the draft or a trade, it looks even worse.
Grade for Kings: D+
For the Raptors
Similar to the Andrea Bargnani trade this summer, the biggest asset Toronto received in the trade was getting out from under an undesirable contract. While Gay could opt out and leave after this season, the rational fear had to be that the market would not bear out enough for him to decide before the moratorium that the risk was worth taking. Even with Chuck Hayes’ salary for 14-15, Toronto now has tons more financial flexibility in the near term. Having more space in 2014 means the Raptors can either pick up better fits via trade this summer or sign one reasonably priced piece to add another once more contracts come off the books in 2015. Jonas Valanciunas having two more seasons on his rookie deal gives management some time to get pieces together before he gets properly paid.
On top of that, moving Gay now allows them to evaluate DeMar DeRozan in a more normal system and potentially showcase his talents should Ujiri want to move him as well. It also should open up minutes for Terrence Ross while taking away a safety blanket that may have been costing minutes for Valanciunas. Losing Acy was not ideal but not crushing in any way either.
Getting lottery tickets in the form of Vasquez and Patterson only makes the trade better. While some worry about restricted free agency, their cases lend themselves to riskless transactions since Toronto can make them fair offers or just put a price in their own heads and then just see where it turns out. If some other team wants to overpay them, so be it. If the market collapses and the Raptors can keep them or use them in trades, all the better. Plus, the timing allows Toronto to use them as trade assets at the deadline should there be interest.
While it would have been nice to condense the shakier assets into fewer better ones (like they lost by trading Ed Davis in the original Rudy Gay deal), I doubt any offers including them were possible with the 2014 NBA Draft being so highly regarded by people around the league. Furthermore, the smaller return indicates a reduction in interest around the league which may also make Gay more likely to pick up his option which was the impetus for the trade in the first place.
Toronto gets a better look at the young talent that actually matters to their future while gaining more flexibility at a time they can actually use it with the possibility of two more interesting players. Well done.
Grade for Raptors: A-
Dec 03, 2013 9:06 PM EST
After a disappointing start to the season, the New York Knicks’ front office has to be figuring out their best path forward. While winning now and winning later are not necessarily mutually exclusive, having a clear priority between the two becomes necessary when evaluating all but easy decisions about constructing the team.
While the Knicks are capped out for 2014-15 regardless of what happens with Carmelo Anthony thanks to the final seasons on current contracts for Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani, New York looks to have plenty of financial flexibility in the summer of 2015. As of now, the only players on the ledger are J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton’s player options, Pablo Prigioni’s partially guaranteed deal, and Tim Hardaway Jr’s first team option on his rookie contract. With all but Hardaway Jr. expiring that season, 2016 has even clearer books as of now. Of course, any deals added between now and then will likely run that far and thus reduce the space they can work with.
New York unquestionably has a few major advantages in the current CBA landscape. While the individual max contract may have been designed for other aims, the functional result has actually been advantageous to major markets since they can offer more off-court money/fame opportunities and the on-court money has to be almost the same. Those factors coupled with the aura of New York City culturally provide the Knicks with plenty of reasons to have high hopes with cap space when they have it. While the assembled group from 2010-2011 has disappointed in terms of results, much of that can be attributed to the horrendous decision to give Amar'e his huge non-insured contract.
The lesson of that Amar'e deal should be that teams with advantageous situations and the flexibility to wait absolutely should do so if necessary in order to maximize their peak. Miami got almost all their pieces in one summer while Houston built brilliantly over the course of years in a process that ended up netting James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, they will not be able to have every piece of information before making decisions that will affect the long-term ceiling of the team. Carmelo Anthony’s upcoming opt-out and free agency forces a part of their hand in 2014 since any contract they sign him to takes up space that cannot be used on other players in 2015 and beyond. That does not mean necessarily that the team should not re-sign Anthony- rather it means they need to assess what signing him to the inevitable max contract he expects makes the most sense for the franchise moving forward.
Carmelo Anthony turns 30 before hitting free agency, so the likely four-year deal (with a potential player option for a fifth if he re-signs) covers his age 30-33 seasons. While we never know exactly how an individual will age, it stands to reason that Anthony will not be better over the course of his next contract than he has been the last few years with the possibility of downside based on aging and/or injury just like for anyone else. At this point, we have a pretty good idea what Carmelo is and thus do not need to spend a ton of time debating it.
Instead, the pivotal question should be simple to state and potentially hard to answer: Can the Knicks do better than a 30-33 year old Carmelo Anthony for their No. 1 or No. 2 player for the next four years and beyond?
Without a definitive answer one way or the other due to the unpredictable nature of free agency and the continually changing landscape of the league, the answer in all likelihood should be yes.
Since elite Restricted Free Agents simply do not change addresses in the current CBA, it makes sense to focus on unrestricted players.
The 2015 free agent class should include Kevin Love, Brook Lopez (player option), Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert (player option), LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay (if he picks up his player option) and Rajon Rondo.
The 2016 class should include Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard (player option), Al Horford, Mike Conley, Deron Williams (player option- possible he picks it up), Ryan Anderson, OJ Mayo, Brandon Jennings, Thaddeus Young (player option) and Eric Gordon (if he picks up his player option).
While Carmelo plays offense well (particularly as a scorer though he has been underrated as a passer), he will not become an all-around player overnight after turning 30. On top of that, his role as a ball-dominant scorer makes adding a wide variety of other elite talents a more difficult proposition that parallels the problems the Los Angeles Lakers have had wooing high end guys to play with Kobe Bryant after Shaquille O'Neal's departure since those guys will not have the ball as much as they would like. Considering the wealth of talent that could be available to woo in 2015 and 2016, the Knicks can have a reasonable expectation to have a one-two punch that yields a better team than one with Carmelo Anthony filling one of those two spots.
In some ways the factor that looms even larger over the question of having Anthony as the No. 1 or No. 2 Knick for the next four-plus years is the fact that a team with him as a top-two player cannot be reasonably considered a true championship contender in a league with other top-heavy franchises. There are very few franchise-changing talents that could make this true (I can think of two off-hand) and I doubt having Anthony on the team makes them more likely to become Knicks.
Since Anthony appears wholly unlikely to take a substantial pay cut necessary to become the third-best player on this team, especially when necessary to do before the other pieces are at MSG, the question becomes what to do over the next year.
If the Knicks makes the correct decision that he should not be a key part of their future, there are three potentially relevant time periods to consider:
1. From now until the trade deadline- The Knicks could trade Anthony to another team that likely would expect to retain him on a new contract after the season. Ideally, the Knicks would focus on long-term assets and avoid reducing their cap flexibility for 2015 and 2016 for everything but a special offer.
2. Next summer- The Knicks could either let Anthony walk or try to engineer a sign-and-trade to a team under the apron. Considering the current CBA rules on sign-and-trades, that seems like an unlikely option particularly with New York’s desire to keep money off the books for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
3. After next summer- What I refer to as the “Nene Special” – signing a player without the intention of keeping him for the duration of his contract. Certainly possible but a dangerous game because of factors like injury or poor performance.
If I were the decision-maker for the Knicks, I would be focusing on the first time period because it has the least risk and potentially the greatest return. Under previous CBA’s, a sign-and-trade would have been an interesting option but the limitation to teams under the luxury tax apron and the fact that Anthony cannot get more money that way undercuts the team pool and their leverage. While hard to answer firmly without a clear understanding of his trade value in the immediate, deciding that Carmelo Anthony does not make sense as one of the Knicks’ top two over the next four years makes a more immediate trade the best path to take. Even though that could make the Knicks worse this year yielding a benefit in draft position they cannot reap since Denver has it unprotected, a likely larger return in terms of assets could tip the balance. While making this season worse could be a little hard for Knicks fans to swallow, the vision necessary to make the decision and the intestinal fortitude to make the move would send a clear sign that the Knicks see themselves as a championship organization with the willingness to sacrifice to make it happen.
Nov 17, 2013 1:23 AM EST
On Thursday night, one of the most exciting basketball games of the young season finished with the Golden State Warriors securing their best win of 13-14 by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder by a final score of 116-115. While the energy and excitement of the game inspired plenty of justifiable positive feelings in fans and media alike, the final few minutes provided a window into the biggest flaw of the team: tactical coaching.
This is my fifth season covering the Warriors and the NBA at large, and the last five minutes of Warriors/Thunder was the worst-coached stretch of any game I have ever covered.
Before going through the reasons things went so wrong, I wrote a quick walkthrough of the offensive possessions following Golden State’s timeout with 5:28 remaining.
Possession 1- David Lee shoots from 9 feet off a post up, blocked by Serge Ibaka
Possession 2- David Lee shoots from 5 feet off a post up on Westbrook, blocked by Serge Ibaka as a help defender
Possession 3- Lee misses a layup off a cut and pass from Andrew Bogut, Bogut misses a tip in, Klay Thompson rebounds that. Third chance ends with Steph missing a step back 24-footer. David Lee rebounds that and after another Lee post-up, Ibaka fouls Curry on a drive.
Possession 4- Curry misses a three fading away coming off a double team.
Possession 5- Iguodala misses a two driving the lane guarded by Reggie Jackson
Possession 6- Klay makes a big and-one layup in transition, assisted by Curry
Possession 7- Lee misses off a cut, offensive rebound, Lee misses again on a post up guard by Durant
Possession 8- Klay makes a mid-range two over Westbrook
Possession 9- Iguodala hits the game winner
These failures can be attributed to a few different but related decisions:
Changing up the offense: Over the course of the game, Golden State moved the ball beautifully and generated quality looks against a strong defensive opponent. Even including the rough final five minutes, the Warriors shot 47.9 percent from the field, better than Oklahoma City’s season average which includes the stretch of games missed by Russell Westbrook. All of the passing ability was negated during these half-court sets. By my count, exactly one of Golden State’s eleven half-court possessions (higher due to offensive rebounds) in the last five and a half minutes had more than two passes from initiation to shot and that was because of a give and go. That constitutes a comprehensive failure on offense for a team with unselfish, skilled players at every position.
Running five post-ups for David Lee: Skinny David Lee has looked very good this year, improving meaningfully on defense and playing well in transition. His all-around performance has been a pleasant surprise and a significant development for the team. That said, posting up has never been a strong suit of his. Last season, his Points Per Possession (PPP) posting up was 0.95, lower than his overall PPP and meaningfully less successful than his performance as a cutter, offensive rebounder, or in transition. That figure is also worse than the team’s overall PPP this season since the Warriors are No. 2 in the entire league. In fact Golden State is in the bottom 10 in post up effectiveness despite being second overall, No. 1 in spot-up situations, and top-10 in pick and rolls. The statistical evidence has anecdotal support as well, as Lee just does other things better offensively. No shame in that of course, just a factor to consider.
Part of the goal had to be attempting to give Kevin Durant his sixth foul but Durant had not had a particularly strong game and actually defends post-ups pretty well. In fact, his 0.75 PPP last season was better than his average defensive while KD forced more turnovers more times than he committed shooting fouls in those situations. Furthermore, Durant’s fouls on Thursday had come from less stagnant plays where ball movement and his instincts put him in tough spots. When Jackson said after the game that you have to be satisfied with “quality possessions” it shows he thinks of these as quality possessions when they are not. Those kinds of misconceptions can be incredibly dangerous when they impact choices in key moments.
Overhelping on defense: While seemingly part of Golden State’s defensive philosophy, the Thunder (and any team that moves the ball well) exploited that to get wide open looks for Thabo and Durant in half-court sets. Using help defense is not a problem, helping off Kevin Durant is since you cannot recover on a guy with such a high and quick release. Attributing OKC’s success to Durant and Westbrook (as Jackson appeared to do by saying the defense was “very good” and the offense was better) undersells the mistakes that helped lead to those looks. While justified on certain spots like Westbrook’s almost game-winning three, other positions were solid offense exploiting defensive mistakes.
Amazingly enough, when asked about these frustrating and debilitating decisions after the game, Mark Jackson did not back off and in fact embraced the tactics that nearly cost his team the game. When asked about the offense in the final few minutes (specifically the post-ups), he responded that he “couldn’t be happier” with the offense during that stretch without any apparent sarcasm. While I am a firm believer in process over results, the process was the problem here.
As frustrated as I was by the decision-making and execution that nearly gave the Thunder a win, the fact remains that the Warriors won the game and racked up enough of a cushion to win despite the poor play calls. The players should take a ton of pride in that, especially Andre Iguodala for how hard he made Durant work and Klay Thompson for doing an excellent job finishing his opportunities and making plays.
There are different ways of thinking about teams and franchises, but one of the ways I like best identifies a team’s ceiling and what they can do to raise that ceiling. This year’s Pacers team has used improvement by Paul George and Lance Stephenson to surpass even lofty expectations while Minnesota has embraced Rick Adelman’s scheme to great success. Coaching can greatly impact a team’s ceiling, either by raising a team up as we saw with George Karl’s Nuggets teams or holding them back like Scott Brooks and the Thunder before and after the Harden trade. At present, the Warriors are a beautifully constructed team and Bob Myers deserves even more praise because he assembled a six man core that makes so much sense playing together in various combinations. Andre Iguodala has been a perfect final piece for that group with quality defense, shockingly great passing, and unselfishness on both ends of the floor that meshes with the rest of the core. Even with a flawed bench, the Warriors have the talent and cohesion to be a championship team, as surprising as that is to say (and this is the first time I have believed it.)
Keeping those triumphs in mind, the ceiling for this team at the moment comes from decision-making by coaches at both the large and small scale. The Warriors nearly lost two games in the Nuggets series because of strange and preventable late-game disintegration and fell apart in Game 1 against the Spurs in ways that should have been caught and fixed before or during the game.
Mark Jackson has unequivocally and unquestionably proven to be an excellent motivator and leader of men- this team has completely bought in and plays with an intensity on both ends of the court that has continually impressed during his tenure. Unfortunately, the team’s unwillingness to be creative in terms of lineups until David Lee’s injury nearly cost them a playoff series (and untold regular season games) and strange decisions have turned clear wins like Thursday into perilous adventures. While entirely correctable by adding in a quality assistant that Jackson listens to or by him gaining experience over time, right now the strategic deficiencies of the Warriors coaching staff are their ceiling.
Nov 13, 2013
While each class ends up incredibly different, this potential group stands out for one key reason: it has so many interesting commodities that competent management can go the entire way through the lottery by picking the best player available. While BPA generally proves to be the best path anyway, we often see GMs pass on or reach for players because of current fit.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a playerís connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 26, 2013
2K could have easily rested on their laurels and made something closer to a port and devoting their resources next year to making a true next generation game. Instead, they jumped that path and are putting out what feels like an entirely new game that can stand up on its own as a premier launch title and be a remarkable jumping off point for the rest of this console generation.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Sep 23, 2013
Beyond LeBron James and even without Paul George or Larry Sanders, there are a number of other impactful players that will hit free agency.
Sep 10, 2013
While concerns about changing the role of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson in the offense could be well founded, swingman minutes will not be a problem whatsoever for the Warriors with Andre Iguodala and the overall benefits could be hugely significant moving forward.
Sep 08, 2013
Despite all of DeMarcus Cousins' flaws, it still feels better to make a bet on a high-ceiling talent turning it around with a change of scenery (even strangely available for the Kings with new people) because elite players play such a big role in playoff success and championships.
Aug 22, 2013
Smaller market teams need to follow the lead of the Rockets and make sure to build assets leading up to a crest at a time they have space so that they have a strong enough sales pitch to become a legitimate candidate for the "yes" rather than one of the last teams to hear a "no", which was the err by the Mavericks.
Aug 07, 2013
Numerous international tournaments (FIBA U-19, adidas nations, etc) occurring during the summer between the 2012 Olympics and 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup triggered for me the thought of what the next USA Olympic basketball team can and should look like.
Aug 01, 2013
Signing John Wall to this extension now puts a massive amount of risk and pressure on the team for the duration of the deal. In order to earn his contract and role, Wall must both stay on the floor and continue to improve- max players on non-elite teams at any position have these responsibilities.
Jul 06, 2013
The costs of this deal for the Warriors does generate some frustration because the reason they acquired Jefferson in the first place was to get the last pick in the first round in 2012 (now Festus Ezeli) and could have used the amnesty provision on Biedrins had they not squandered it on Charlie Bell in 2011.
Jun 26, 2013
After a few successful drafts and the deft trade for Andrew Bogut, the Warriors find themselves in an incredibly good position, particularly relative to recent almost two decades of futility. With a few proactive moves, they can solidify a more consistent presence in the playoffs and possibly more if they utilize their 2014 cap flexibility to its maximum effect.
Jun 24, 2013
The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.
Jun 23, 2013
The Heat and Spurs weren't exactly eliminated since they took each other to a seven-game series for the NBA championship like the other 28 teams, but this is the culmination of our series of looks at the offseason that awaits.
Jun 05, 2013
The Pacers and Grizzlies exceeded expectations by advancing to the Conference Finals. Between Paul George's extension, David West's free agency and whether the Grizzlies are committed to their current, both franchises face another critical offseason.
Jun 03, 2013
Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.
May 30, 2013
Chandler Parsons is on one of the NBA's best contracts and the Rockets have a fascinating decision to make in 2014 with multiple options available to them.
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