POSTED: Jun 30, 2014 11:55 AM ET
Yes, there are other standout free agents to be had on the market besides Miami's Big Three.
I don't second-guess. I first guess.
-- John Madden, on how he analyzed NFL games during his storied broadcasting career.
Madden meant he anticipated what coaches would do before the play, rather than criticize what they did after. It was a refreshing change in the color commentator's role because it put him on the line as much as the coaches.
In that tradition, with the latest league-shifting bout of NBA free agency beginning at midnight, we want to offer signing suggestions now, rather than after-the-fact griping. You will no doubt disagree with many of these ideas, but they're not off the wall. They factor in fit, cap space, player temperament and a half-dozen other factors.
Of course, all of these plans can't work at the same time. Carmelo Anthony can't go to four teams. Each suggestion should be viewed through the prism of that team's needs, and what would be best for it next season.
Thank me later.
1. The Heat should sign Trevor Ariza, and take a look at signing Jordan Hill
The Starters: Heated Situation
The no-longer-world-champs are the free-agent sun around which all the NBA planets will form. Until Miami's SuperFriends decide, individually and/or collectively, what they'll do after opting out, everyone else is on hold. There are too many teams that have to take their shot at LeBron James, futile though it may be. And James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won't re-sign on the dotted line until Heat president Pat Riley fortifies the team's sagging rotation with some capable players.
For all the talk about Miami going after Toronto's Kyle Lowry (some of which, unfortunately, appears to have been made of whole cloth), the Heat's problem in The Finals was not Mario Chalmers' slump, or Norris Cole's inconsistency. (Point guard, honestly, is the least important position on the Heat as currently constructed.)
The problem was that the Heat couldn't stay in front of San Antonio, and couldn't get a stop or rebound when they needed one. The Spurs scorched Miami's defense, again and again. Which is why Ariza's name has been mentioned as a possible Heat target for weeks, and with good reason.
The 28-year-old had a career season for the Wizards, showing that he could, indeed, shoot the 3-pointer consistently (a career-best 40.7 percent behind the arc) while playing outstanding perimeter defense. His PER was the highest it's been in seven years.
So ... contract year push, or a legit raise in his game? The Heat should bet on the latter. Ariza wasn't initially thrilled at coming to Washington. But as the Wizards' young talent matured, Ariza became a leader, connected with his teammates and earned Coach Randy Wittman's trust.
He would certainly be a major player in Miami, finally freeing James from having to guard the opposition's best offensive player every night. With Ariza, Miami could continue playing its aggressive halfcourt defense. Ariza is a shark at hunting down skip passes and getting deflections. And he has a ring of his own, from his Lakers stint in 2009.
But while Ariza has been linked to Miami for a while, Hill hasn't. The Lakers' unrestricted free agent put up OK terrestrial stats last season, and he's not the first name you'd think of. But the 26-year-old should be on the Heat's radar.
First: given the Lakers' horrible season, Hill had an amazingly good PER last season. He ranked 11th among power forwards, ahead of the likes of David Lee, Zach Randolph and David West. He posted career highs in field-goal percentage and rebounds (7.4 per game). And after missing most of the 2012-13 season following hip surgery, Hill was relatively healthy last season, playing in 72 games, playing 20.8 minutes a game for the first time in his career.
Second: Miami doesn't need a starter at power forward (assuming Bosh re-signs). It needs energy off the bench, another big who can help Chris Andersen and someone who can take some of the minutes Udonis Haslem used to play. The Heat went small with Shane Battier in The Finals because he could space the floor with his 3-point shooting. Hill doesn't shoot the three, but his activity would give Miami some of the hustle points it couldn't get against the Spurs.
It is important to know the reality of the Heat's cap situation after James, Wade, Bosh and Haslem all opted out of their respective deals. (Our John Schuhmann breaks it down expertly here going into the week.)
Technically, Miami now has $55 million in cap room, but that's a fictitious number. The Heat are not going to sign $55 million worth of free agents, then re-sign the SuperFriends for what will likely be $50 million more next season. There's no way owner Micky Arison's going to have a $100 million-plus payroll and subject himself to a second straight year of paying the "repeater tax," an even more deadly luxury tax that teams who've paid luxury tax three straight seasons will have to begin paying in 2014-15. Miami already has to pay the repeater tax this season because it's paid luxury tax the last three years, including last season. A nine-figure payroll would trigger enormous additional financial penalties.
As Schuhmann points out, once you factor in what the Heat are likely to spend to re-sign James, Wade and Bosh, Miami really has between $10.5 and $12 million to spend on other free agents besides the Big Three -- and Haslem, who will certainly be taken care of down the road by the Heat, if not in this contract, after his retires. The difference in room has to do with Cole, whom the Heat are reportedly trying to deal. If they are successful in trading Cole and taking no salary back, Miami gets $1.5 million more in cap room.
Miami can't re-sign Mike Miller, now a Grizzlies' free agent, because it used the amnesty provision on Miller last summer. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Heat can't re-sign Miller until the original contract he was under when he was amnestied expires -- in Miller's case, next year.
(I haven't mentioned Carmelo Anthony because it just stretches credulity to think Anthony would opt out of a deal paying him $21 million next year, or $127 million over five years in New York, for a deal that starts at $12 million in Miami.)
Miami could go another way, of course: stay over the cap, but below the tax line, allowing the Heat the full complement of cap exceptions: the mid-level ($5.3 million) and the $2.2 million trade exception it got when it traded Joel Anthony to Boston. But that would be less than the room Miami could create by going under the cap.
Hill, who made $3.4 million last season, would cost a lot less than, say, Wizards center Marcin Gortat -- also a reported Heat target. But signing Ariza and Hill will still be a tight fit, especially if the Heat can't trade Cole.
Even if they can't get Hill, getting Ariza would be a good offseason for the Heat.
2. The Lakers should forget about the LeBron-Carmelo combo and go after Carmelo ... and Chandler Parsons
Inside Stuff: Parsons
With the SuperFriends all opting out of their contracts, the idea that there isn't some sort of agreed-upon machination for restoring the Heat's roster is naïve in the extreme. The Lakers surely know this. So it would be a waste of precious time to entertain James on a visit and/or make him an offer he's surely to turn down to return to Miami.
The better use of the first week of free agency is to make an all-out push for Anthony, while dropping a massive offer sheet on Parsons, the Rockets' small forward who is a restricted free agent.
Los Angeles can offer Anthony a max deal, but it would then be unable to add just about anyone else who could make a difference -- especially after not moving the seventh pick in last week's Draft, which became Kentucky's Julius Randle. The rookie scale for the seventh pick for next season is around $2.497 million. If L.A. also keeps second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, acquired from the Wizards, it would pay him $507,000 next season, for a total rookie outlay of about $3 million.
After that, the Lakers would have a little bit more than $37 million committed for just five players: Kobe Bryant, Robert Sacre, Steve Nash, Randle and Clarkson. Over the weekend, the Lakers opted to give forward Ryan Kelly a qualifying offer. The Los Angeles Times reports it is for a little more than $1 million for next season. The Lakers also gave a $915,000 qualifying offer to guard Kendall Marshall. But those are just offers.
The league requires minimum cap holds for teams that have fewer than 12 players. With five players under contract, the Lakers could have up to seven minimum holds on their books until players are signed. (They also still have cap holds on any number of former players that will all be renounced to maximize their cap room.)
For the sake of argument, let's say L.A. uses just five minimum holds, with the intent of filling the remaining two roster spots with new free agents. The five holds would run about $2.5 million total, bringing the team's salary near $40 million -- enough for one max deal, but not more. The Lakers would almost certainly have to convince 'Melo to take less than the max in order to make a realistic offer to Parsons.
Parsons has been incredible in Houston since being taken 38th overall in the 2011 Draft. Last season, he was 13th in PER among small forwards and his True Shooting Percentage was better than that of All-Stars like Anthony and Paul George. Playing off of Randle (or Pau Gasol, if the Lakers can re-sign him), or Anthony and Kobe Bryant, Parsons would be equally lethal.
The Rockets opted not to pick up Parsons' option for 2014-15, not because they don't want him back, but because they can now sign him to a long-term contract. If they had picked up his option for next season, he would have become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and almost certain to leave. But since he'll be restricted now, the Rockets can match any offers he gets. The Lakers should make it very, very hard for Houston to do so.
Houston plans to clear one big contract off its books by sending center Omer Asik to New Orleans for a 2015 first-round pick, a deal that can't be finalized until after the July moratorium. For our purposes, we'll include the deal on Houston's tab. That would leave the Rockets with approximately $55.7 million in guaranteed money due seven players next season, with team options on Patrick Beverley and Troy Austin for approximately $1.7 million more. Assuming the Rockets want both back, that puts the Rockets' team salary for next season at $57.4 million. With the cap currently projected at $63.2 million for next season, that wouldn't give Houston enough cap room to sign a superstar.
But Houston reportedly has another deal in its back pocket to move guard Jeremy Lin to create enough cap room to sign either James or Anthony if either agrees to come to Houston. Let's say they do. That would reduce the Rockets' cap enough to add a third superstar to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden -- though it still wouldn't be enough to offer Anthony the full max based on his 2013-14 salary of $21.4 million.
Whether the Rockets would then be willing to go over the cap -- or into the luxury tax -- to make sure they kept Parsons is a gamble L.A. should be willing to take.
The Lakers, of course, have enough cap space to go after two superstars. They should still court Anthony and offer the max they can: 25 percent of the team's cap. Obviously, Los Angeles has some edges off the court that might to appeal to Anthony's family -- his actress wife, LaLa, would certainly be amenable to a move West if Anthony doesn't re-sign in New York. (And, the Lakers also can offer something on the court Houston can't: head coach approval.)
Then, they could offer Parsons a near-max sheet in whatever manner -- frontloaded, backloaded -- that will be hardest on the Rockets. With Bryant's two-year deal coming off the books in 2016, L.A. could still, conceivably, have room to offer another max deal to, say, Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant.
If Houston matches the sheet for Parsons, the Lakers always could bring back Gasol for more than he could get anywhere else on a short-term deal.
3. The Wizards should go after Chris Bosh
Bosh Opts Out
I write this knowing the Pipe Dreaminess of the endeavor. Unless Riles spits the bit and doesn't bring in the requisite talent needed to impress the SuperFriends to stick around, the likelihood is that Bosh will stick alongside James and Dwyane Wade.
In addition, the Wizards are locked in on re-signing center Marcin Gortat and forward Trevor Ariza, both key cogs to a Wizards resurgence and playoff berth last season -- and both reportedly coveted by Miami.
But Washington needs to think bigger.
A team's contending window is never open as long as fans think or hope. Every team is an ACL tear away from irrelevance. The Wizards have one of the league's top young backcourts (John Wall and Bradley Beal), but that isn't a guarantee of anything. These days, staying the same is falling behind.
Assuming James returns to Miami, the Heat will, in one form or another, still be contenders. Indiana struggled in the second half of the season, but still made the conference finals. Chicago will be significantly better only if Derrick Rose returns to form, much less if the Bulls add Anthony or another impact player. Atlanta has a lot of cap room to add a player, and the Hawks will get Al Horford back from injury. Cleveland, Boston and Milwaukee should all be improved.
The Wizards only have commitments to six players next season for around $41 million. But, they have two players, Gortat and Ariza, looking for big raises over the $7.7 million each made last season. The suggestion here: re-sign Gortat, who was well worth the 2014 first-round pick Washington had to give Phoenix for him, and is necessary big man insurance (given Nene's history of injuries).
Inside Stuff: Bradley Beal
One would think Gortat would ask for the $12 million average per year Minnesota's paying Nikola Pekovic. If so, the Wizards could structure the new contract for Gortat to start it at a lower number -- say, $10.5 million next season. That would increase Washington's 2015 commitment to around $51.6 million and give the Wizards roughly $11.6 million to spend under the cap.
The next play would have been to find a taker for forward Martell Webster, due $5.3 million next season. But that has been complicated by Webster's back surgery last Friday, likely to keep him out three to five months. Washington would certainly have to add a future first-rounder down the road to get someone to take Webster. A hard sell. But not impossible.
If the Wizards could pull that off, they'd get down to $46.3 million in commitments, including that new deal for Gortat. And that would give them enough room to offer Bosh the $15 million per season deal he reportedly is seeking. If they can't clear Webster, the Wiz could double back and try to re-sign Ariza.
Bosh would be the perfect four to play next to either Gortat or Nene, and give the Wizards a three-man big man rotation that would rival anyone's. Bosh had to be a floor spacer in Miami, adding 3-pointers to his arsenal, and that would continue to be part of his role in D.C. But Bosh would also be able to once again be the low-post scorer he was in Toronto, with both Nene and Gortat able to step out and make jumpers.
A Wall-Bosh screen and roll would be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Bosh's presence would open up the floor for either Wall or Beal, and he was easily Miami's best post defender the last couple of seasons. Last season, he trailed only James for the team lead in Defensive Win Shares.
If the Wizards were to somehow convince Bosh, it would cost them Ariza, who could certainly wind up with James in Miami. But Washington has to find out if last year's first-round pick, Otto Porter, can play. You don't take someone No. 3 overall to come off the bench. If Porter could hold his own, Washington would have a pretty dynamic starting five with Wall, Beal, Porter, Bosh and either Nene or Gortat, and the Wizards could spend lightly to re-sign Glen Rice, Jr., as Porter's backup.
4. The Rockets should trade for Kevin Love
The Starters: Kevin Love
It's been hard to see how Anthony would fit with Howard and Harden. The Rockets struggled throughout last season getting the ball to Howard inside as coach Kevin McHale lamented his team's inability to make entry passes to Howard all season. Plus, Harden came to Houston to be a scorer as well as a distributor.
If Anthony comes, Harden would go back to the role he had in Oklahoma City, playing off of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He wasn't bad at it, mind you. But that's not what he signed on for with the Rockets; he signed on to be the guy.
Love would be a much better fit. He had a higher PER last season than Anthony, plus he made more 3-pointers and attempted more free throws than him. Though neither is, shall we say, a lockdown defender, Love is clearly the superior rebounder, especially defensively, where he was second in the league last season.
A trio of Harden, Love and Howard would give Houston scoring, rebounding and floor balance. It would take some of the pressure off of Howard as a rebounder and give Harden a safety valve when teams jump him. Love would be virtually unguardable on the weakside off of Harden/Howard screen and rolls. Imagine the dilemma defenses would face deciding whether to stop Howard rolling, or Love spotting up.
If the Rockets indeed have a deal to trade Lin available without taking any salary back, they could easily fit Love's $15.7 million salary for next season under their cap. The question, of course, is what they'd have to offer Minnesota in return.
If the Rockets can keep Parsons, a signed-and-traded Parsons -- along, perhaps, with the 2015 first the Rockets are getting from New Orleans for Asik -- could be a reasonable centerpiece for a Love deal. The Wolves gave Portland's Nicolas Batum an offer sheet last summer ... Parsons would fill the small forward spot for the forseeable future.
Of course, all bets are off if GM Daryl Morey and the Rockets can convince James to come. If that doesn't happen, though, Love is the next best thing.
NBA Action: Stephenson - One-on-One
5. The Bulls should sign Lance Stephenson
Wasn't this the original plan? Chicago would amnesty Carlos Boozer, bring top prospect Nikola Mirotic over from Spain and sign Born Ready as a free agent. Then came word that the Bulls were targeting Anthony, and that Anthony was interested in them as well, and everything changed.
But unless the Bulls unearthed something in their research on the 23-year-old guard that disqualifies him as a target, the Stephenson option is still a good one, would still be less expensive than Anthony, and would give Chicago much more depth next season.
Acquiring Anthony via sign-and-trade with the Knicks would certainly cost the Bulls either the rights to Mirotic (there were reports in the Spanish media over the weekend that the 23-year-old was ready to come over in time for next season, paying $2.4 million of the $3 million buyout from his Spanish team, with the Bulls paying the other $600,000) or rookie Doug McDermott, acquired from Denver in a Draft-night trade. Or, perhaps, Taj Gibson. Or some combination of them, along with future picks.
That would be a lot to give up for 'Melo, not that New York would be wrong for asking (I can't see the Knicks being willing to take Boozer's salary to make the deal happen).
But whatever the combination, a sign-and-trade with New York won't be easy to pull off (cap avatar Mark Deeks explains here how including forward Anthony Randolph in the deal with Denver makes it harder, though not impossible, for the Bulls to make a trade with New York for Anthony).
By contrast, a straight sign of Stephenson (after amnestying Boozer) would allow Chicago to keep everybody important: Mirotic, McBuckets and Gibson, with Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Tony Snell in the mix along with Rose and Joakim Noah. The problem is finding enough room to get Stephenson to leave a still-formidable Indiana team. (To create enough room to also sign Mirotic, after his buyout in Spain is finalized, the Bulls may still have to trade somebody else.)
Chicago was helped in this endeavor, ironically, by Pacers forward Paul George doing well this season. George was third-team All-NBA, which triggered a bonus provision that allows players on rookie contracts to exceed the 25 percent max if they meet certain statistical criteria (in George's case, this was the second year in a row he'd been named to a third-team all NBA spot). And that cuts into the available room the Pacers have to re-sign Stephenson. (The excellent Pacers Blog 8Points9Seconds breaks down what the Pacers realistically can offer Stephenson this summer.)
The Bulls should take advantage. For all his on-court kookiness, Stephenson had a career season in 2013-14. He would work with Rose in the backcourt, would be a natural fit for Tom Thibodeau's system and defensive philosophy, help out on the boards and provide even more toughness to an already-tough unit. Would he go over the line, especially if the Bulls play Miami again in the playoffs? Most assuredly. But he'd also show up, which too many of his Pacers teammates did not do in their final game of the season.
6. The Thunder should sign Mike Miller
Miller vs. Westbrook
Oklahoma City's need for more shooting was on display during the Western Conference finals, when starting two guard Thabo Sefolosha was benched in favor of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder could go to that lineup again next season, but Jackson is best served coming off the bench, and Russell Westbrook is best served staying on the ball.
OKC could start Jeremy Lamb at the two next season if it doesn't re-sign the free-agent Sefolosha. Or it could re-sign veteran Caron Butler, and try him there. Either way, the Thunder needs more shooting. It nearly signed Miller last summer after he was amnestied by Miami, but at the last moment, the Grizzlies changed his mind. Miller then played all 82 games for Memphis, shooting his usual high percentage (.459) behind the arc.
Given Miller's injury issues in Miami, OKC probably won't have to spend a ton for the 34-year-old. The Thunder is already over the cap for 2014-15 at nearly $68 million, and that doesn't count the $1.16 million it will owe first-round pick Mitch McGary. The Thunder could offer Miller a piece of its $5.3 million non-taxpayer exemption, which it will maintain as long as using it doesn't put it above the tax line.
Butler expanded his game to include corner 3-pointers in the last couple of seasons, and he shot a career-best 39 percent last season behind the arc. Miller has shot better than 39 percent from deep nine times in his career, including last season.
Miller has performed on The Finals stage quite well, as OKC remembers all too well, when he went 7 of 8 on 3-pointers in the Heat's championship clincher against OKC in 2012. But whether he makes or misses, he makes defenses account for him. And that would make things much easier for Durant and Westbrook.
GameTime: Shaun Livingston's Journey
7. The Mavericks should sign Shaun Livingston
Having traded Calderon and Shane Larkin to get Tyson Chandler back last week, the Mavs now have a need at point guard. And they need to shore up the position with someone besides Ray Felton, who came to Dallas in the Chandler deal. Felton has talent, but his off-court troubles in New York last season didn't help his on-court play, and he hasn't been consistent enough over the years to warrant long-term confidence.
Livingston had a wonderful season in Brooklyn, playing longer and better than the Nets ever thought he'd be able to when they signed him to a $1.2 million deal last summer. He showed his knee issues were behind him, and that he could handle bigger minutes and enhanced responsibilities. He displayed an explosiveness that he hadn't shown in years, and as ever, he showed his smarts playing alongside Deron Williams. That would be easily transferable to playing next to Monta Ellis in Dallas.
He would be a natural for coach Rick Carlisle's system, and Carlisle would soon be very comfortable letting Livingston, a la Jason Kidd in 2011, make on-the-spot decisions in the Mavericks' flow offense. Plus, Livingston would give the Mavericks size and length on defense.
He'll be looking for a more lucrative deal this summer, and with the chaos in Brooklyn surrounding Jason Kidd -- a Livingston benefactor last season -- Dallas should take advantage before Kidd takes charge in Milwaukee and tries to get Livingston there.
With Zach Randolph -- a potential Mavericks free agent target -- off the boards after signing an extension with Memphis over the weekend, the Mavericks need to add quality assets for their long-shot bid for Anthony to have any teeth. With only $35 million committed for next season, Dallas has plenty of cap room to give Livingston an ample raise without sacrificing its ambitions for Anthony or other stars.
8. The Pacers should sign Brandon Rush
Rush has fallen off most folks' radar since he was traded to Golden State in 2011. He tore his ACL and MCL early in the 2012-13 season, and played in just two games for that season. Then, he was dealt to Utah in the multi-player trade last summer that helped Golden State clear cap room to sign free agent Andre Iguodala.
He played sporadic minutes in Salt Lake City and didn't have a future in Utah with Alec Burks in place as the team's two guard. He certainly has no place there now that the Jazz took Dante Exum with the fifth pick overall.
So it would make sense for both Rush and the Pacers for a reunion. He's still only 28, and -- unfortunately for him -- he hasn't played much the last couple of seasons, so he hasn't accumulated the wear and tear many of his peers have. But Larry Bird saw something in Rush to get him on Draft night in 2008 (it was the same night the Pacers got Roy Hibbert from Toronto) from Portland, which took Rush with the 13th pick overall.
Rush shot 45 percent on 3-pointers two seasons ago and hasn't lost that skill. And the Pacers, in the bottom half of 3-point shooting last season, need help in that area. Rush shouldn't be thought of as a replacement for Stephenson if Indiana loses him in free agency, but he's capable of playing the position, at least on a part-time basis.
An incentive-based deal for Rush would certainly be cheaper than what it will likely take to re-sign Stephenson, and Rush will likely be welcomed back in the locker room if, for no other reason, for the calm he'd finally bring to what has been a volatile position.
Cavaliers vs. Lakers
9. The Suns should sign Luol Deng
It's not a surprise, as the team leaked to Yahoo! Sports over the weekend, that Phoenix has the wherewithal and the desire to sign two max players -- whether that's James and Anthony, or James and Bosh, or James this summer and Love next summer. But if the Suns' Dream Team doesn't come together, they need a Plan B, and Deng should be part of that plan.
I'd love to say this was all my idea, but the rumor mill has connected Deng and Phoenix for some time now, and it still makes sense. Deng was completely put off by his time in Cleveland after being traded there by the Bulls in January, and he's looking for a new home in which to put down roots. The up-and-coming Suns would provide him just that.
Phoenix's surprising 48-34 season was based almost solely on its incredible offensive efficiency. The Suns were top 10 in almost all offensive categories, prehistoric and advanced, with Goran Dragic having a career season and Phoenix getting great production out of just about everyone else.
But, sharpshooter Channing Frye is an unrestricted free agent, and looks for all the world like he'll be bolting to the Warriors and longtime advocate Steve Kerr. That would leave a big hole in the Suns' rotation. Deng would go a long way towards filling that gap.
Deng, 29, is not as lethal behind the 3-point arc as Frye, but he does so many other things well he'd be worth a substantial investment. He still ranked in the top half of small forwards last season in John Hollinger's Estimated Wins Added stat, and he's still one of the better on-ball defenders at his position. He could certainly play some four in coach Jeff Hornacek's system, and his would be a veteran, calming presence in the Suns' youthful locker room.
Phoenix enjoyed the innocent climb, as Riles used to put it, of a surprising season. But the Suns will have expectations on them next season, and having someone around like Deng will help Hornacek as well.
Given his history of injuries, the Suns could certainly propose a more modest contract than others will get this summer, with less guaranteed money and more incentives based on playing time or minutes. That would leave more money available to the Suns to re-sign guard Eric Bledsoe or match any offer sheet the restricted free agent to be will receive.
10a. The Nets should go after Emeka Okafor
The 31-year-old Okafor missed all of last season in Phoenix recovering from offseason neck surgery, after being traded to the Suns by Washington for Gortat and the Wizards' 2014 first-rounder. His brand of basketball certainly doesn't work with the high-octane offense in which the Suns now excel, so he should be looking for a new employer.
His playing future is with a halfcourt team like Brooklyn, which needs bangers in the worst way even if Brook Lopez returns from injury next season, and Kevin Garnett just returns. Okafor showed two seasons ago in Washington that he had a lot of tread left on the tires, averaging 9.7 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Until this most recent injury, Okafor has been fairly durable through most of his career.
With Andray Blatche opting out to become a free agent -- and, unless his Instagram account was hacked, he doesn't seem like he is likely to return to Brooklyn (Google it) -- and Andrei Kirilenko unable to remain healthy in recent years, Brooklyn has a need for a big man off the bench. The luxury tax, as owner Mikhail Prokhorov made clear last season, is not yet an issue for the franchise. Okafor's energy, halfcourt defense and rebounding, along with the occasional jump hook, would help.
Kia 6th Man of the Year Nominee: Nick Young
10b. The Hawks should sign Nick Young
Designated sixth man Lou Williams fell out of favor with Atlanta's brass, which agreed to trade him and the rights to Brazilian prospect Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira to Toronto Sunday night for the all-but-unguaranteed contract of swingman John Salmons, who'll be waived to save Atlanta more than $4 million in cap room. That leaves Atlanta in need of a scorer, and there isn't anyone in free agency -- outside of Anthony and James -- who can put the ball in the basket better than Young.
Atlanta has almost $20 million in cap room, and designs of going after an impact free agent. The Hawks had similar hopes last summer, but never got Atlanta native Dwight Howard's attention long enough to be seriously considered. So they got a great deal with Paul Millsap (two years, $18 million), and rolled the rest of their room over to this summer. They again want to be free agent players. But in case it doesn't work out, getting Young would be a good fallback plan.
He's not a great rebounder, or defender, or passer. What he does is score. Period. The longer he plays, the more he scores. And that's a good tool for coach Mike Budenholzer to have at his disposal. Al Horford's return will help Atlanta's offensive rating rise from the No. 18 spot it held last season. But so would having someone who can create for himself and who, when hot, is as hard to slow down as anyone.
Young didn't lead the Lakers to many wins last season, but he managed not to tick Kobe Bryant off while he threw up historically bad shots and entertained with all that "Swaggy P" nonsense. If Kobe didn't throttle him, Young should be able to play for the no-nonsense Coach Bud, and the Hawks shouldn't feel at all inclined to use more than a quarter of their cap space.
How hard is it to stick to one's guns on Draft night? (Or, who the hell is Bruno Caboclo?)
Draft Review: Joel Embiid
Every general manager in the league has a mandate to do what he thinks he has to in order to improve his team's short-term and long-term health. Two general managers in particular -- Philly's Sam Hinkie and Toronto's Masai Ujiri -- were tested during last week's Draft, when the stakes are high.
Think about it: the Draft is the one time of an NBA season when almost every team in the league is involved, at one level or another. It is the night when fans expect -- demand -- that their team be better afterward. And blowing a pick gets GMs fired, much more so than what their teams usually do during the season. Former Cavaliers GM Chris Grant was doomed once Anthony Bennett, the first pick in the 2013 Draft, struggled so mightily out of the gate last season.
Hinkie has carte blance from 76ers owner Josh Harris to take as long as he needs to build a team that will last, and not fall into the mediocrity from which Philly tried to extricate itself, with occasional success here and there, over the last decade. So there will be no quick fixes in the Illadelph on his watch. The team will be in the lottery until it can draft a superstar, or it will accumulate enough assets to be able to trade for one in the next couple of years.
The 76ers put out one of the worst NBA products in recent memory last season, as the team's prized rookie, Nerlens Noel, sat on the sidelines rehabbing his torn ACL. There was no chance the Sixers were going to put him on the court, to a) protect him, and b) not endanger the team's chances of a high pick. Fans stewed, but Hinkie stuck with the plan.
The Starters: Sixers Plan for the Future
It's just that he's still sticking with it.
The 76ers took Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid with the third pick last week, after failing to get the top pick from Cleveland in order to take Andrew Wiggins. Hinkie's reasoning was simple: Embiid would have been the top overall pick if he hadn't been sidelined by a spinal stress fracture in his back during the season, and he may still have been the top pick if he hadn't suffered a stress fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot.
But, he did. And after undergoing surgery to fix his foot, he'll be out four to six months.
"Timeframe -- I've seen reported some four to six months -- that's not the number that I've heard," Hinkie told local reporters last week. "The number that I've heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months."
All-Access: Embiid's Favorite NBA Player
Hinkie then engineered a trade, taking point guard Elfrid Payton with the 10th overall pick -- the first-rounder Hinkie got from New Orleans as part of the Noel deal for guard Jrue Holiday. But Hinkie didn't take Payton because of any unhappiness with incumbent Michael Carter-Williams, the reigning Rookie of the Year. He took Payton because he knew the Orlando Magic, picking 12th, two spots later, wanted Payton.
So he engineered a deal with the Magic. But it was for yet another player who isn't going to play in Philly this season -- top European prospect Dario Saric, who signed a contract last week to play in Turkey for at least a year, and maybe two. But Hinkie held out, and not only got Saric, but got back a 2017 first-rounder the 76ers had sent to Orlando two years ago as part of the Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers.
This isn't about arguing whether Hinkie's right to take the long view. It's about how hard it is to take the long view when you're getting pounded on talk radio, in newspaper or online columns, trying to sell your product to a populace that wants instant gratification in everything, not just its sports teams. Headache? Take an aspirin. Hungry? Go to Chipotle. Wi-fi not working on the airplane? I'm gonna sue!!
Which brings us to Bruno.
Twentieth Pick: Raptors Select Caboclo
Bruno Caboclo, the 18-year-old, 205-pound Brazilian that Toronto took with the 20th pick overall in the first round. Caboclo has only been playing basketball for a few years, spending the last two playing for Pinheiros, a team in Sao Paolo. To say he was a relative unknown, not just to most of the ESPN team broadcasting the Draft, but to longtime NBA folk, would be an understatement.
"We just didn't have enough information on him," one veteran team executive said over the weekend.
When ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, the former college coach who excels at evaluating international players, got off the line of the night about Caboclo -- "he's two years away from being two years away" -- the derision came soon after, from far and wide.
But go back and read that paragraph above again. Caboclo was a "relative" unknown. Not completely unknown.
There were people, smart people, whose job it is to know where every good basketball player or prospect in the world is, who knew about Bruno Caboclo, knew his background, knew his wingspan was as long as JaVale McGee's, knew how raw he was but how good he could potentially be. The basketball world is small, and getting smaller.
The Starters: Raptors Surprise Pick
Ujiri doesn't know if Caboclo is going to be any good. But he insisted that the Raptors be the team to find out.
"I thought, if I'm going to swing, I'm not going to do it in the lottery, but I can do it in the 20s," he said Friday.
The Raptors entered the Draft determined to get Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who grew up in nearby Brampton, about half an hour for Toronto. He was their priority. Caboclo was their second. He was a lot of people's second choices.
"It's not nuts," said another team executive. "High risk, high return player. And a lot of people were hoping he'd get to the second round. Because then your risk is reduced, and the upside is still there."
Toronto had been onto Caboclo for months, ever since he won Most Valuable Player honors at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Buenos Aires last year. Unfortunately for the Raptors, a lot of other people were at the BWB camp and saw Caboclo, too.
East Draft Review: Toronto Raptors
Kaleb Canales, the Mavericks assistant coach and one of the game's up and coming talents (he was the Blazers' interim coach after Portland fired Nate McMillan), was one of the camp's coaches. Houston's vice president of player personnel, Gersson Rosas, who was about to take a short-lived job in Dallas as the Mavs' GM before returning to the Rockets in December, was camp director. Suns guard Leandro Barbosa played with Caboclo on the Pinheiros team while rehabbing an injury.
Of course, there were Spurs everywhere: assistant coach Ime Udoka, star forward Manu Ginobili and ex-big man Fabricio Oberto. As Caboclo continued to impress, word got out about the kid who was green but worked tirelessly in the gym.
Ujiri wanted a closer look. He went to Brazil to see Caboclo play. He and Jeff Weltman, the Raptors' assistant GM, went back to Brazil, just to watch Caboclo practice. He sent other members of the scouting department, to get other opinions, even if -- especially if -- they differed from his. He wanted to hear 'Masai, he's too skinny. He won't make it.' They examined all the mock drafts that were out there last fall. Caboclo's name wasn't on any of them. Yet. Ujiri went back for a third look.
There was consensus: This was a guy worth taking in the Draft. Maybe, with a lot of work, he could become a wing defender and shooter. Thabo Sefolosha, from Switzerland, went 13th overall in the 2006 Draft and has had a solid career. What could Caboclo become with coaching and weight training?
"My guy said it's going to take a while for him to develop," Ujiri said. "It's going to take a while for his body to develop. He's going to have language issues, cultural issues, all those issues, they all take a while. In terms of his game, what type of competition is he playing against in Brazil, and how many minutes is he playing? He's not playing very much. It's a gamble. It's a big chance. I understand that."
But whatever Caboclo was, he wasn't unknown to the Raptors' organization.
Toronto tried to keep its growing interest quiet. And suddenly, Caboclo wasn't doing any workouts before the Draft. Make of that what you will. Caboclo kept his name in the Draft after the deadline for international players pulling out passed June 17. That was a flashing light to other teams, who started inquiring.
"Masai was able to keep him off the mock drafts, and that's what happened," the team executive said. "If he doesn't pop up on the mock drafts, people assume he isn't a player. I think Toronto's had him shut down for a long time. What they were trying to figure out was, could they take him at 37, or did they have to take him at 20. He's two or three years away, but he's got major physical tools. He's like [Bucks forward Giannis] Antetokounmpo."
By Draft night, Toronto had it all mapped out: take Ennis in the first round, then double back for Caboclo in the second round, with the 37th pick overall. To be safe, the Raptors probed throughout the first round, looking for potential places to move up. But nothing was available before their pick. So they waited.
And Phoenix took Ennis at 18.
Everyone on the outside figured the Suns took Ennis as part of a pre-arranged deal with Toronto. But there was no pre-arranged deal. Phoenix liked Ennis, and figured if the Raptors really wanted him, they'd pay. But the two sides couldn't work out a deal. Time was short.
Caboclo's agent started getting calls. The information grapevine that flows between agents and teams started trickling in: maybe Oklahoma City, at 21, or Phoenix, which had another first-rounder at 27. Or San Antonio, which had the last pick of the round. If the Raptors waited until the second round, there was a very strong chance he'd be gone. And it was very hard to get additional picks this late in the process; teams have made promises to players they intend to draft if they're still on the board.
And, remember: the Suns knew about Caboclo (Barbosa). The Mavericks knew about him (Canales). The Rockets knew about him (Rosas). The Spurs knew about him (Idoka, Ginobili, Oberto). And the Raptors suspected other teams, including the Pacers and Jazz, which had two of the best international departments in the league with Pete Philo in Indiana and Rich Sheubrooks in Utah, also were on the trail. The Pacers didn't have any picks, but the Jazz had 23 in the first round, 35 in the second.
Toronto could take someone else at 20; there were good players still on the board. But the likelihood of someone playing right away other than Ennis, who filled a need and could have gotten even more playing time if free agent Kyle Lowry leaves, was scant. So, the Raptors figured, why not take the guy you like now, even if he's a long-term project?
Is that a stance that merely justifies taking Caboclo? We'll all find out together in a few years.
Caboclo flew to Toronto Friday morning, with a fresh new visa. He'll go to Los Angeles next month to work with DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross and get in some runs. He'll play for Toronto's summer league team in Vegas. He'll attend Tim Grgurich's camp in August, then spend time working with Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. He won't play in games next year, but he's here for good.
Now, everybody knows.
"I'm trying to build that where we have good young talent," Ujiri said. "At least we're building a program here. Next summer, there's something to look forward to, to see how much better has Bruno become. We want to have a couple of guys like that. I think that's how you get to build a program. We already have good, young players. We'll try to add little pieces that fit for us in free agency ... we have two or three young guys like that who are looking forward to what they can become."
There's no such thing as an embarrassment of riches. From Luke Duffy:
With Miami now left licking their wounds from a Finals loss at the hands of the team orientated San Antonio Spurs, the recent media talk about Carmelo Anthony joining the Heat confuse me. A great player if the big three opt out of their deals and take less money to bring him onboard no question, but if that does happen (and I don't think it will) surely there is little money left for bench players, and isn't that their greatest need?
Obviously we don't have the figures yet, but in your opinion, do you think possibly bringing Carmelo in is the right call? If LeBron, Wade and Bosh opt out of their deals and back in again, wouldn't the rest of the money be better spent picking up bench players and role players of a higher quality? Maybe a Pau Gasol or Kyle Lowry type, or a mid-level guy similar to Jarrett Jack in his Golden State Warriors form, just a flat out worker. Heck, even Arron Afflalo has a lot to like about him!
The depth of this team was exposed in The Finals (sorry Michael Beasley and Greg Oden) and although Dwyane Wade is over the hill and will need replacing sooner rather than later, at this moment the bench has to be the most pressing need as opposed to Carmelo Anthony? Anthony would of course take the offensive burden off LeBron, but he's not coming off the bench to do it!
No, he wouldn't, Luke, but he wouldn't have to (and I don't foresee him going to Miami, anyway). If he did sign with the Heat he could play the four and LeBron could stay at the three, or vice versa, with Bosh playing center. It wouldn't really matter what you called them; they'd be interchangeable. But, again, I don't think that's happening. With James, Wade and Bosh opting out, Miami has the flexibility to add one or two solid players, and as you said, that's likely going to help them more than one superstar, whoever it may be.
West Draft Review: Utah Jazz
The Wasatch Blues. From Colin Johnston:
Despite Dante Exum's initial lack of enthusiasm about playing for the Jazz, I'm really glad we drafted him. Do you have a sense of what players generally think, off the record, about playing in Utah?
I assume, Colin, you're talking about Exum's refusal to work out for the Jazz before the Draft? I'm not sure that was about not wanting to play in Salt Lake City as much as not wanting to play for a team that already has a young point guard, as Utah does with Trey Burke. Exum considers himself a point guard as well. But, it's true, there are still players who are reluctant to play in Utah. There's a concern, still, that there is not much cultural diversity there (though I believe that is a fading stereotype and not based in reality). But I don't think that feeling is as prevalent now as it was a few years ago. FWIW, I have found a lot to do in the SLC when I've been there, and I would think NBA players would find even more to do there.
The Name Game. From John Motroni:
Two comments: So what if it's been used a long time. "Redskins" is a racist term no matter how long it's been part of the Washington/NFL culture. What is it about Washington team names? Remember the Bullets?
One more note about race and sexual orientation. Many conservatives think some citizens are allowed to marry and others are not. But marriage is a right for all citizens. Ted Olson, during an appellate court argument against California's Proposition 8, reminded the court about how far we have come in such a short time:
"President Obama's parents could not have been married in Virginia when he was born," Olson points out. "They would have been committing a felony. These days, we think it's incredible that we could have prevented people from a different racial background from getting married, and that's only 40 years ago."
The arguments about gay marriage are not necessarily germane to the arguments about the Redskins' name. (And, some would no doubt argue, neither are germane to an NBA column.) As far as the Bullets, as a D.C. native, I wish they'd change the name back. But I understand why they made the switch.
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5 -- Number of seniors taken in the first round of last week's Draft. The highest was Creighton's Doug McDermott, selected 11th overall by Denver before being traded to Chicago for the Bulls' two first-rounders. By contrast, nine freshmen went in the first round, including the first four picks overall.
5 -- Players from Louisiana-Lafayette who played in the NBA before point guard Elfrid Payton became the sixth last week. The five former players include the celebrated "Boston Strangler," Andrew Toney. (Guard Bo Lamar, who played most of his career in the ABA for the San Diego Conquistadors, averaging almost 21 points per game in 1974-75, also attended Louisiana-Lafayette.)
$6,008,106 -- Current salary of Utah center Derrick Favors -- the highest-paid player on the team's current roster for next season. The Salt Lake Tribune reported over the weekend that the Jazz would be willing to again take on salary from other teams -- as it did last summer with Golden State -- if it doesn't get the players it wants in free agency.
1) When you cover the NBA and one of your jobs is to write for NBA.com, you can be accused sometimes of puffing up the league. In this case, just call me Puff Daddy. I'm proud to cover a league that offered a young man whose world had just been turned upside down such a touching and heart-felt gesture.
2) Anybody else think in three or four years, people are going to be scratching their heads and saying, "How did Kyle Anderson fall all the way to 30? How do the Spurs do it?" With Kawhi Leonard, Anderson and 2013 first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles (who will play for Tony Parker's ASVEL team in France next season after rehabbing a torn ACL) already aboard, the Spurs are well on their way to constructing a competitive post-Duncan roster, with the 32-year-old Parker providing the bridge to the next generation.
3) Sager Strong! Pray for Craig and his family this week: he's scheduled to undergo the bone marrow transplant with son Craig, Jr., on Thursday. Yes, that's the day before Independence Day. Let's hope the operation frees Sages from the tyranny of the horrible disease he's fighting tooth and nail.
4) I normally don't like endorsing commercials, but the Dante Exum spots for Foot Locker that ran during the Draft were well thought out, understated and quite funny.
5) I don't agree with everything that uber-agent Arn Tellem wrote in this New York Times op-ed, but I do agree, and have said for years, that the NBA should adopt Major League Baseball's policy on the Draft: a player should be able to enter the NBA Draft out of high school if he wishes. But, if he opts to go to college, he can't then enter the Draft until after his junior season (Tellem argues it should be after his sophomore season). This would allow the true prodigies -- the Jameses, Bryants, Garnetts -- to start playing right away, while those who know they need more competition, coaching, physical maturity, or who just want to maximize their college experience before turning pro can get it at the highest amateur level.
1) Didn't the Nets just tell us how Jason Kidd blew them away in his interview for their vacant head coaching position, how he would grow into the job, how his rapport with his former contemporaries would make up for his lack of experience as a coach? And didn't Kidd say how thrilled he was coaching in New York after finishing his career with the Knicks, and how grateful he was that the Nets gave him a shot at coaching so soon after he finished playing? Maybe this works out for the best, if the Nets wind up hiring Lionel Hollins or George Karl, or Mark Jackson, and Kidd coaches younger players in Milwaukee, where the age buffer between them and him is greater, and where he may find a more forgiving community. Maybe. But no one looks good in Brooklyn today, from Mikhail Prokhorov on down.
2) Nor does whoever it was in Milwaukee that thought it was a good idea to start negotiating with the Nets to bring Kidd into a senior management and/or coaching job without informing the team's current senior management and/or current head coach. Bad form.
Draft Review: Doug McDermott
3) I think there are going to be two or three teams that really are going to regret not taking Doug McDermott in the Draft when they had the chance.
4) Can't believe it's been five years since Michael Jackson died. Or that it's been 30 years since "Purple Rain" came out. Both mark my time as rapidly passing into history.
5) RIP, Bobby Womack. The definition of soul singer.
Who wears it better Wiggins or my 83 year old mom?
-- Former NBA head coach and current Sirius/XM NBA Radio host Mike Dunleavy, Sr. (@MikeDunleavySr), Saturday, 3:56 p.m., asking a sartorial question about the jacket Andrew Wiggins wore to the Draft on Thursday. Mrs. Dunleavy is lovely as well, Coach.
"Well, that was a wasted two weeks."
-- Larry Bird, after the Pacers wound up selling their late second-round pick to New York when the player Indiana had targeted was taken a few picks ahead. Bird told local reporters that he would contact Lance Stephenson's agent in the first minutes of free agency Tuesday morning to try and get the free agent to return to Indy.
"These past couple of days have really taught me a lot about myself. They've really shown me no matter what obstacle you're thrown in life, there's always a way around it. There's no reason somebody should hang their head or not have the confidence in themselves in doing something."
-- Baylor center Isaiah Austin, to reporters at the NBA Draft last Thursday, on coping with the loss of his potential pro playing career after being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a condition that often leads to enlarged hearts in athletes. Austin has been offered a job by his alma mater and by the NBA when he finishes with school.
"Dallas doesn't do a good job of developing players. They're in win-now mode. Rick Carlisle doesn't know how to develop young players, and Shane was a rookie. It always was a struggle for him to figure out what was going on.''
-- Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin, to the New York Post, on how he felt his son Shane was treated during his rookie season in Dallas. Shane Larkin was part of the trade last week that also sent guards Jose Calderon and Wayne Ellington to New York for center Tyson Chandler and guard Ray Felton.
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