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On Paul George, Non-NBA Basketball And Player Safety

When something like Paul George’s horrendous injury happens, some rush to judgement and have a desire for resolution or grandiose statements about what it could mean. I will refrain from all of that.

Paul George suffering a freak injury during a televised scrimmage does not change the likelihood of something like that happening in a similar event or in some other basketball activity moving forward. It just raises awareness of that possibility and potentially could actually lead to some positive changes in terms of on-court player safety.

Those who try to make analogies to the World Cup are trying to make fetch happen. For a large proportion of American players, international basketball and the FIBA World Cup just are not the most important parts of the hoops universe for them. That is their right and it would be fine if some or all players embraced playing for their country like so many other athletes in other sports. In the interim, the solution should be readily apparent even if some are uncomfortable with holding back on their hot takes.

The endgame in terms of international basketball is shockingly simple: celebrate those who choose to participate without vilifying those who choose not to. We have seen the potentially huge benefits of these events and more importantly the practices and everything else that go into them at various points in recent time from the legendary Dream Team practices to the rumored birth of the Heatles to increases in confidence for future MVPs Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. If an individual wants to take advantage of some or all of that, awesome. Put them on a Wheaties box and show how much we appreciate them doing so. All it takes is losing the potshots taken publically and privately against those who make a different choice. While I wish players like Kevin Love made their decisions earlier because of how a late pullout affects a national team, each person has the right to act in their own self-interest.

We will inevitably see some argue that professionals should not play internationally or that teams should be able to hold their players out. Limiting the field to one subset of individuals takes away some players’ ability to grow from the experience unnecessarily. Team USA creating a pool of talent can work beautifully here as they can just create a group of the best players who are interested in representing their country and work with who shows up regardless of where they play at any given moment. The United States has the good fortune of having enough elite talent to succeed without shaming those who turn the opportunity down for whatever reason.

The one concrete change I would like to see coming out of this incident is one many of us in the media have railed on for years: get everyone back off the baselines. As someone who has covered the Warriors with a press credential for five seasons, it has become a sadly common occurrence for there to be some sort of incident that inspires this reaction like a turned ankle or rougher than necessary fall. Sadly, my experience leads me to believe that the reason the stanchion and photographers are as close as they continue to be is not because it helps lead to a better product in any way, shape or form. Rather, those people and devices have to be closer to the action than the fans who sit directly behind them and teams want to maximize their revenue from those lucrative seats. At this point, enough is enough and it is time for a change. Move everything back and design future arenas with this understanding if teams want to maintain their current seat totals. The league has already had enough major wins in CBA negotiations to make profitability a far more likely result and should immediately take this small but useful step to eliminate the most preventable kind of player injury.

Obviously this injury carries major impacts for the Indiana Pacers and most importantly Paul George himself. Once we have a clearer idea of the exact injury and a recovery timetable, those topics can and will receive plenty of attention. For right now, I wish Paul George the absolute best while hoping for a full and complete recovery.

Ben Gordon And Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Earlier this month, the Orlando Magic decided to give Ben Gordon a two-year deal worth $9 million. While there are many surprising things about cashing out a player who got cut by a playoff team that desperately needed production at his position, some of the more interesting ones come from the reportedly non-guaranteed second year of the contract.

One of the currently in vogue CBA tricks that has become more prominent this league year, non-guaranteed contracts carry a few fun benefits teams can use to their advantage. Mark Deeks wrote a great piece on how this can happen if you want to read more in-depth, but the general concept is that non-guaranteed contracts do not necessarily require teams to decide on a player’s next season before June 30 like team options and also can be used as true cap filler to make a trade work under league rules without the receiving team having to actually pay any money to those players should they prefer that.

Think about the Celtics and Keith Bogans- even though he was necessary flotsam in the huge and successful trade with Brooklyn last summer, Boston actually had to pay him millions of dollars during the 2013-14 season.

This summer, the New Orleans Pelicans ran into trouble clearing the necessary cap space to acquire Omer Asik so they ended up picking up enough non-guaranteed contracts to fulfill trade rules. Simply having those contracts in existence creates potential value for the league, at least under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In fact, we could very well see non-guaranteed contracts play a major role in a Kevin Love trade since Minnesota appears to desire unloaded additional contractual baggage in the trade that sends away their best player. Cleveland already acquired three from Utah, giving up Carrick Felix and a second round pick to do so.

While these recent examples show the potential utility of a deal like Ben Gordon’s, the particulars of Orlando’s cap situation substantially diminish his usefulness to the team that just overpaid him. While non-guaranteed contracts help make trades happen, cap space works even better if available because it has no strings attached. I liken this to having a $20 gift card or just having $20- while both are nice, having less limitations in terms of how to spend the money makes the cash more desirable. At this point it looks like Orlando will have plenty of cap space next summer. Their astonishing $14.2 million on the cap this season for players not on their team anymore (Glen Davis, Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson and Anthony Randolph) means that it would take major pay raises from the guys currently on the team to change that reality and factoring in the cap holds for Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris who are on the last year of their rookie deals they should still have close to max room. That means the Magic are unlikely to be in the ideal situation to maximize a non-guaranteed contract.

Fortunately for Orlando, the non-guaranteed year will still have value to other teams. We just saw the Jazz (a team with cap space) pick up a player and a pick in a similar situation so the Magic can hope for that kind of a return. Something to consider though is that the most useful spot for non-guaranteed deals is when teams are butting up against the salary cap so their trade partner might need to give up some actual salary to make a trade work. It presumably would be worth the cost but another factor that affects the net value of a potential transaction.

We will have to wait almost a year to see what happens here but it should be fun to track the value of an asset that has far more usefulness to other teams.

On Warriors' Big 3 Possibility In 2016

I was inspired by a piece from Tim Kawakami to do a walkthrough of how I think about a situation like the Golden State Warriors adding a max player in the summer of 2016.

Like Tim, I will use a conservative estimate of a $75 million salary cap for that 2016-17 season, though I will throw in some figures of how it would work with a $80 million cap that could be closer to what we actually see two summers from now.

The Non-Negotiables

When looking that far in the future, I strip the entire salary structure down and start with only the mandatory pieces. If we are talking about Golden State and a max player in 2016, that means just Stephen Curry and the max player. We know Curry’s 16-17 salary, but the other guy’s is a mystery right now. Fortunately, if that other player is Kevin Durant we can work it out.

The most Kevin Durant can be paid for the 16-17 season is the larger of 30% of the salary cap (calculated slightly differently than the actual salary cap) and 105% of his salary from the previous season. Even at a conservative $75 million salary cap, Durant would make more under the 30% calculation.

At a $75 million salary cap, the Warriors would have to carry $40.39 million or less in non-Curry salary to sign Kevin Durant with cap space. At an $80 million cap, this number jumps to about $43.89 million. For reference, LeBron’s max is about $4 million higher than Durant’s due to his greater amount of NBA experience.

The Money on the Books

That remaining $40.39 million or so can come from any source but must include everything if the Warriors are to sign a max player using cap space. That means on the books salaries as well as cap holds to pending free agents and clearing the space would also mean no trade exceptions and the much smaller Room Mid-Level Exception.

At present, the Warriors have about $30 million committed to Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Nemanja Nedovic for that season. It should be noted that Nedovic’s contract is a team option and Livingston’s contract is reportedly about half-guaranteed, so there would be a little wiggle room if either is still in the equation at that point.

The players not counted that the Warriors would presumably want to retain include 2015 restricted free agents Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Their combined price tag is larger than the $10 million remaining (there’s a chance each of them gets that much, though I expect Thompson to get much more and Green less) so that means Bob Myers would need to make some choices. When you add in Harrison Barnes hitting restricted free agency that summer the situation gets even more challenging.

Both Iguodala and Bogut will be expiring contracts that season and we know that teams will be clearing cap space with reckless abandon to acquire a star or two so there could be interest in either or both should they age reasonably. Depending on the salary they get, either Thompson or Green could price himself out of a spot on that 2016 Warriors team as well. If the Warriors want to sign someone to a max deal using cap space, at least one and likely two of Bogut, Iguodala, Thompson and Green will need to go.

The Bigger Swings

As I said before, you can see that $40.39 million for players beyond Curry and Durant in a series of different ways: it could be retaining existing  players either currently on their deals or signing new ones soon, adding new players via free agency or trades, or some combination of the two.

By far my favorite possibilities for Golden State in 2016 come from using that $40.39 million more aggressively. The Warriors have an elite player locked up to a below-market contract and should be close to a new arena and presumably a larger revenue stream from that and their local TV deal which expires at the end of the upcoming season. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt we see a hard cap in the new CBA so playing the free agency game for a soft cap and heavy luxury tax payments makes the most sense. Plus, building a strong core then makes it a near certainty that Stephen Curry would stick around when he hits unrestricted free agency the following year.

If they could clear the money, the Warriors could actually sign two max players even at the higher 35% salary slot and still keep Curry. Doing so would require some major sacrifices at some point since the team has so many other assets. Fortunately, the fact that other teams will be clearing the decks too means that Golden State would not have to be particularly proactive unless someone’s contract looks substantially worse two summers from now. That said, we have no idea how willing other franchises would be to enable a team to have a core of Stephen Curry and two of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and Goran Dragic. That said, each individual piece holds value right now so the sales pitch would be much easier. This approach worked reasonably well for the Rockets with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik even though the end result may not have been to their liking.

This concept of a core with three max players also helps explain why moving Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love makes so much sense if Love is willing to commit to staying long-term. Even if Love takes the most money he can, the Warriors could still open up another max slot in 2016 without too much trouble as long as the league does not play some serious hanky panky with the new TV deal and the cap. We know right now that Thompson will command a massive salary on his next contract and a team with one of the best young players in the sport should be able to command someone better than Thompson to be the No. 2 or even No. 3 player, as good as Thompson could become. While the Warriors have a strong team right now, a foundation of three All-Stars in their mid to late twenties would be legitimately special regardless of what other teams around the league can manage that summer.

Bob Myers and the rest of the Warriors’ front office have some major decisions to make but the combination of Stephen Curry’s below market contract and the expanding salary cap create some genuinely compelling options.

The Human Element

The best players in the sport have transitioned from supermen to businessmen to being a business, man, at the same time the league as a whole transitioned from family owned teams to major enterprises. Like it or not, this NBA should be around for a long, long time.

The Law Of Small Numbers

While taking a quick glance at the market for Kevin Love around draft day could have led to confidence for the Warriors, any concept that letting the string play out would be to their advantage would be deeply misguided.

Why Sign-And-Trades Sometimes Aren't Possible For The Incumbent Team

Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

The Depth Of The 2014 NBA Draft

We could see as many as 15 solid starters from the 2014 NBA Draft with an impressive number of solid rotation players behind them.

The Third Way

While a drastic path like stripping enough cap space to sign two max contract players to join Stephen Curry would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

The Updated Stepien List

While daunting at first, the Stepien Rule boils down to one thing: an NBA team cannot be without a first round pick for two consecutive years looking forward and completed drafts do not matter.

Previewing The Warriors' Offseason Cap Situation

Now that the Warriors’ season is over, we can start to figure out what the offseason could hold in terms of on-court personnel. Having a clear understanding of the starting point for the summer makes a huge difference, especially given the NBA’s soft salary cap system.

On Mark Jackson's Future With The Warriors

Even if Mark Jackson stands as the greatest limiting factor on this Golden State team, Warriors' front office should understand and appreciate both how lucky that makes them and how insanely difficult that can be to improve.

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

A simply excellent week of non-national games with important tilts almost every night. This also could be the last week of feisty spoiler performances for a few teams that could…let’s say “reassess their priorities” as the lottery picture clears up.

The Utter Nightmare Of Minnesota's 2011 Draft

A bad draft can happen in a variety of ways: poor selections, bad trades, or taking options off the table for no reason. All three hit David Kahn and the Wolves at the same time.

Proposing A New Playoff System

The top 16 regardless of division or conference make it into the playoffs and then the top seeds are given the choice of their opponent from the bottom-eight clubs.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 24-Mar. 30)

With a little less than a month left in the regular season, we are looking at a stretch run with intrigue all over the standings. Each conference has two teams at the top and groupings in the middle and bottom of the playoff picture while the ping pong balls hang in the balance.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 17-Mar. 23)

This week features a few games that will go a long way towards figuring out the playoff seeding as well as a few that could swing the ping pong balls. Naturally, there will be other basketball competing for your time as well.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 10-Mar. 16)

In a quality stretch with important games at the top and bottom of the standings, we have something truly unusual in NNGW this week: a team listed four times.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 3-Mar. 9)

It looks like a strange week for non-national games considering Sunday carries by far the best slate of matchups. There are a few potentially fun ones during the weeknights though.

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