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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.

Rockets Build Bench From The Deepest Of Pools

Chandler Parsons has received most of the press, but he's not the only important player the Houston Rockets need to replace, as they also gave away Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for essentially nothing in terms of present assets. Even worse, because the Rockets were already pressed close to the salary cap, they were forced to shop in the free agency bargain bin for Lin and Asik's replacements, signing a few European free agents and second round picks on minimum-salary deals.

The guys they are bringing in - Joey Dorsey, Jeff Adrien, Nick Johnson, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington - have proven nothing at the NBA level. Nevertheless, there's still reason for optimism about their ability to contribute immediately, as no front office in the NBA has done a better job of finding players off the street than the Rockets. Houston jump-started the careers of Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith and Troy Daniels, all players the rest of the league passed over.

A former second round pick of the Miami Heat in 2008, Beverley had refined his game after bouncing around Europe for a few seasons, but few NBA teams noticed a guy who had slipped through the cracks the first time. He was brought in to back up Lin, but he eventually won the starting PG job due to his superior defensive and spot-up shooting ability. He is one of the best bargains in the league, a starter on a 54-win team who makes only $1 million a year until 2016.

Coming out of college, Smith had the size (6’10 250 with  7’3 wingspan) and the athleticism to play in the league, but he didn’t get a lot of publicity on a bad Fresno State team and went undrafted in 2011. In three seasons with the Rockets, he put up per-36 minute averages of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 62% shooting. Still only 23, he signed a guaranteed contract with the Dallas Mavericks this offseason and looks headed for a long NBA career.

Daniels was one of the best shooters in the country at VCU, but his one-dimensional game caused him to go undrafted and he wound up in the D-League. After averaging 21 points a game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers while hoisting 12 3’s a game, the Rockets gave him a shot on the biggest stage of the sport. He responded with a game winner in Game 3 and a 17-point scoring outburst in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers.

With their most recent signings, Houston is gambling they can find the next versions of those players. Dorsey, Adrien, Canaan, Johnson and Covington all have holes in their games, but they also have skill-sets that could allow them to thrive in roles on a second unit. That’s what separates the Rockets from a lot of other NBA franchises - they aren’t afraid to give younger players chances rather than recycling brand name players and established veterans on their last legs.

At 6’9 260 and 6’7 245, respectively, Dorsey and Adrien were caught between positions in their first runs through the league, without the height of a center or the skill to play out on the perimeter. However, either would be an interesting frontcourt partner on the second unit for Donatas Motiejunas, a 7'0 stretch 4. Playing behind Dwight Howard should also minimize their lack of size, since few NBA teams play two traditional centers in their rotation anymore. 

Neither Johnson nor Canaan is a pure playmaking PG, which is why they both slipped into the second round, but they both have the athleticism and scoring ability to create shots against second-unit defenses. Canaan, the Rockets second-round pick in 2013, spent last season in the D-League, where he averaged 22 points a game. Johnson, their second round-pick in 2014, was a second-team All-American and Pac 12 Player of the Year as a junior at Arizona last season.

Covington, like Canaan, spent most of last season in the Rio Grande Valley, where he averaged 23 points and 9 rebounds a game on 44% shooting while taking 8 3’s a game. At 6'9 215, he has the size and shooting ability to be a stretch 4. He was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State because of concerns about his level of competition in college as well as his position at the next level, but he has the athletic ability to at least hold his own defensively on a second unit.

There's no guarantee that any of the five will make it, but you could have said the same thing for Beverley, Smith and Daniels. What all three needed was a chance, which doesn’t always happen for young players on the fringes of the NBA. Far too many teams are blinded by NBA experience, bypassing more talented guys for “proven veterans”. Just as an example, at the same time the Rockets signed Beverley, the Mavs brought in Mike James to be their backup PG.

However, for teams looking to round out their bench, the upside of looking under every nook and cranny for talent is clear. Alan Anderson, Gerald Green, Chris Copeland, Anthony Parker, Pero Antic - the list of NBA rotation players who played in the European leagues grows every year. They don't cost much money and they don't cost anything in terms of assets. That's what a lot of teams don't understand - there's no shortage of professional basketball players out there.

The NBA is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to professional basketball players. By the time guys reach their prime, they are at least 3-4 seasons removed from college. Whether or not they played in the NBA, they have learned how to last as pros and have been forced to mature on and off the court. Even if we assume the top 450 in the world are in the NBA (and they aren’t), players right outside that group can improve dramatically in their mid to late 20’s 

If Canaan, Johnson, Covington, Adrien and Dorsey don't stick in Houston, they'll bring in more guys with NBA measurables and resumes that are just as good until they find some players who do. While their bench is a question mark coming into the season, my guess is they’ll figure out a mix that works by the playoffs. There's so much talent in the world there's no reason for any of the 30 NBA teams to have a bad bench. You just have to be willing to give guys a chance.

How Boozer Fits With Lakers, Julius Randle

On the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Carlos Boozer doesn't make a lot of sense. At 32 and going into his 13th season in the NBA, Boozer is on his last legs. He's going from starter on a good team to starter on a bad team and there’s little chance he makes it back. If he plays on a contender again, it will be as a reserve. The Lakers are signing Boozer to put up empty numbers while blocking the development of Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.

However, as weird as it might seem at first glance, Boozer could be the perfect veteran mentor for a young PF like Randle. His steep decline with the Chicago Bulls, as well as his hefty contract, has masked how good a player he was in his prime. Boozer is a two-time All-Star with a gold medal on his resume who has made over $125 million dollars in the NBA. Not many guys taken at No. 7 end up with that type of career, much less ones who fall all the way to No. 34.

For all his flaws, it's hard to consider Boozer's career anything but a resounding success. Once you get out of the first round, NBA teams are just hoping to find guys who can stick in the league and possibly crack a rotation. Glen Davis, the No. 35 overall pick in 2007, has had an excellent career for a second round pick and he's never been able to hold down a starting job. Boozer was a starter on two teams who made the Conference Finals - the 2007 Jazz and the 2011 Bulls.

Despite averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds a game on 66% shooting as a junior at Duke, Boozer fell in the 2002 draft because of concerns about his tools. At 6’9 260, he had only average size for an NBA PF and he didn’t have the type of exceptional athleticism that would allow him to make up for it. The odds were stacked against him - he entered the league without a guaranteed contract and had to earn his way onto the roster, much less the starting line-up.

After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz in fairly controversial fashion and immediately became one of the building blocks for an up-and-coming team. In his first season with the Jazz, he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds on 52% shooting. From 2006-2010, Utah was one of the best teams in the NBA. They won an average of 51 games a year, got out of the first round three times and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.

The Jazz were one of the main reasons why Tracy McGrady never made it out of the first round, as they knocked a 50+ win Rockets team out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. With Boozer and Mehmet Okur, Utah had two big men who could make it rain 20+ feet from the basket and drag Yao Ming out of the paint. Since they ran so much of their offense through the post, it negated Houston's ability to defend on the perimeter with McGrady, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.

Those Jazz teams aren't remembered that well because they had a stumbling block of their own - the Lakers. As effective as Boozer was when matched up with a slower defender like Yao, there was little he could do against a frontcourt duo as long, skilled and athletic as Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. L.A. beat Utah in the playoffs three years in a row - they gave the Jazz problems upfront with the power game (Bynum and Gasol) and with the speed game (Gasol and Odom).

Against elite competition, Boozer's physical limitations were exposed. The same happened in 2011, when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boozer wasn't quite big or athletic enough to dominate the Heat's undersized front-line. If Derrick Rose had stayed healthy and they had gotten another chance at the Big Three, the Bulls likely would have closed games with Taj Gibson, a much better defender than Boozer.

Boozer never had Randle's physical tools - he was only as successful as he was because he was a fundamentally sound player, at least on the offensive side of the ball. In his prime, Boozer was automatic from mid-range and was very effective with his back to the basket. He didn't make the game any harder on himself than necessary and he knew how to leverage his strength to create good looks at the basket. These are things Randle will need to learn as he tries to navigate the NBA paint.

Like most college big men, Randle will have a big adjustment process at the next level.­­­­ He goes from big fish in a small pond to a medium sized fish in an ocean. For the first time in his life, he will no longer be one of the biggest players on the floor. He might have seen a half-dozen NBA caliber big men at Kentucky - he will see that many in a weekend in the NBA. He needs a more consistent jumper and he needs to learn how to finish with his right hand around the basket.

These aren't things that will happen for him overnight, which isn’t a huge deal. Randle is only 19 - if he had stayed four years in school, he would have been in the 2017 draft. The Lakers don't need to put a ton of pressure on him in the first few months of his career. Playing him behind an established veteran like Boozer will force him to earn his way on the floor and it will give his coach the leeway to bench him if he's not doing the right things or developing good habits. 

Unless the Lakers are contending for a playoff spot in March and April, Randle will eventually get as much floor time as he can handle as a rookie. There's no need to force-feed him minutes on a bad team in November and December. Boozer is 32 and Randle is 19 - Randle was in first grade when Boozer entered the league. There's a lot he could learn from him, both on and off the court.  And if Randle learns a few things, this season won't be a total waste for the Lakers.

Jordan Crawford Finds His Commitment To The Game

Jordan Crawfordís a gifted scorer with the basketball in his hands, but he didnít fully understand the professionalism and dignity needed within an organization. So heís worked on maturing, worked to repackage his image.

Grading The Deal: Lance Stephenson Leaves Pacers For Hornets

Four years after Larry Bird gambled on Lance Stephenson in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is gambling on himself.

On Warriors' Big 3 Possibility In 2016

With Stephen Curry on a below-market contract, the Warriors could comfortably sign a second max contract player in 2016, or even a third if they deal for Kevin Love.

Five College Teams That Will Play Slower In 2014-15

Cuonzo Martin at Cal, Frank Haith at Tulsa, Russ Pennell at Centrak Arkansas, Bob Walsh at Maine and Wayne Tinkle at Oregon State will all play at a slower pace than their predecessor.

Chris Bosh's Return Keeps Heat Relevant

With LeBron leaving the Heat, Chris Bosh could be back in the discussion with guys like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love for best PF in the NBA. He's not the rebounder they are, but he's the most complete player of the bunch, with the ability to score, shoot, pass and defend.

Orlando Summer League, Final Recap

On Casper Ware and the 76ers, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope winning MVP, plus strong performances from rookies Nick Johnson, Jarnell Stokes, Jordan Adams and Elfrid Payton.

LeBron Opens Up His Own Finishing School In Northeast Ohio

The end game for LeBron James is not to bring one title to Cleveland, but to bring a franchise that could compete for titles well into the future. When LeBron watched the Spurs dismantle the Heat in the Finals, he saw what to strive for.

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.

Orlando Summer League, Day 5 Recap

Marcus Smart, two Indiana guards performed well and Casper Ware continued to impress. Hereís the top stories from Wednesday.

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.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Capitalize In Three-Team Deal With Cavs, Nets

Itís hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thorntonís expiring deal brings other options as well.

Orlando Summer League, Day 4 Recap

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's game-winner, impressive performances from Philadelphia's rookies, Jarnell Stokes and more.

Orlando Summer League, Day 3 Recap

On Willie Reed, Elfrid Payton, Jeremy Lamb and all of the action from Day 3 of the Orlando Summer League.

Orlando Summer League, Day 2 Recap

The second day of the Orlando Summer League saw the Grizzlies, Pistons, 76ers, Thunder, Heat and Nets take the floor. A pair of Long Beach State players impressed, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his success and Shabazz Napier rebounded.

Orlando Summer League, Day 1 Recap

Nerlens Noel, Mason Plumlee, Shabazz Napier, Marcus Smart and Pierre Jackson had notable days as Summer League began.

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.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Celtics seem confident Avery Bradley will be healthy and that heís not done developing.

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