Also this week: Bucks' uncertain future in Milwaukee; Why Oklahoma City matched Enes Kanter's offer
POSTED: Jul 13, 2015 10:28 AM ET
UPDATED: Jul 13, 2015 12:15 PM ET
DeAndre Jordan's free agency tug-of-war between the Clippers and Mavericks raises questions about the July moratorium.
When I was 20, I worked at the school paper. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I was the managing editor—number two in charge. I had no designs on number one. The ME was the perfect job for me. Between the unrelenting pressure of classes, the unending education a young man receives from the opposite sex, the unrepentant drinking like a fish, who needed the additional stress of being the Editor-in-Chief?
But with the election for next year's EIC coming up, my two good friends, who did want the stress of being the Editor-in-Chief, and who were both running, came to me, individually, and asked me if I was going to run. I told each, unequivocally: no. I'm not running. Have at it. Vaya con Dios. And I meant it.
And then, just before the election, two other people talked to me. Thirty years later, this is still an uncomfortable subject, so I'm not going to say who they were. But I respected each of them, immensely, unequivocally. And they each said that not only should I run, I had to run. They said I was ready and capable and could do the job, and that I was the best person for the job.
They believed in me, showed me a different possibility, made me believe I could do more, be more, than I was—and, really, for one of the first times in my life, I listened.
I put my name up for election.
I got the job. And it changed my life.
Being the EIC for a year taught me invaluable skills—about leadership, managing time, assertiveness, empathy, decisiveness. You learn that some people really do need a pat on the back to do their best, while others need a kick in the pants. You learn that after working on the paper all day and night, you can write papers at 4 in the morning. You learn that people may agree or disagree with a decision, but they expect you to make one. You learn how badly you want to be a journalist.
My good friends who ran were angry with me, as they should have been. I'd given them my word that I wasn't running. (They forgave me...eventually.) But I hadn't lied. What I told them, when I told them, was the truth. I just changed my mind.
People in Dallas, today, are angry with DeAndre Jordan for changing his mind.
Jordan's decision to walk away from the verbal...understanding, let's call it, with the Mavericks, and what was reported as the parameters of a four-year $80 million deal, in order to return to the Clippers and a four-year, $88 million contract infuriated not only Dallas fans and team officials, but made a lot of people around the league uneasy. People weren't angry with Jordan for changing his mind, but for the cartoonish nature of the last few hours before the free agent signing period officially began at 12:01 am Thursday, with assorted Clippers and Coach Doc Rivers inside of Jordan's house, Blake Griffin Tweeting pictures, breathless accounts of what card games they were playing, while Mavericks owner Mark Cuban couldn't raise Jordan at all.
(Was that imp Rivers sowing seeds of discord between Jordan and his agent Dan Fegan by insisting loudly last Thursday that it should have been the powerful Fegan—who was in contact with Cuban all day Wednesday, I'm told—who should have informed Cuban and the Mavs that Jordan was going back to L.A., instead of Jordan? No doubt, Fegan has made millions over the years as a hard-nosed negotiator; this is the flip side of that coin.)
Jordan apologized as people do these days, on Twitter, to Cuban and the Mavericks. Cuban didn't accept the apology, writing on his CyberDust account, "When is an apology not an apology? When you didn't write it yourself. Next". He declined further comment to NBA.com.
In Jordan's case, changing his mind was one thing. But Dallas made decisions based on what they thought was a commitment going forward from Jordan. Because they thought they had Jordan, they didn't pursue other available centers like Roy Hibbert that they'd lined up to acquire; the Pacers traded Hibbert instead to the Lakers. They didn't push on Robin Lopez, who went to New York.
Aldridge and Thomas on Jordan
David Aldridge and Isiah Thomas join GameTime to talk about DeAndre Jordan returning to the Clippers.
It was all fun and games on Twitter Wednesday, but people get hired and fired because of decisions like this. The Mavericks were a potential top four team at the beginning of the week; by the end, they were scrambling to bring in Zaza Pachulia and Deron Williams just to be able to put a decent product on the floor next season, one of Dirk Nowitzki's last.
"This can't be the norm," one team executive not involved in the Jordan business at all said last week. "We can't have people doing this stuff."
Of course, teams have often, through the course of league history, changed their minds about players, too, snatching back offers that the player thought in good faith was agreed to. They trade players they say they love; they cut players they insist are part of the franchise's future. Very few people care about the player's angst, or his family's, in such situations. But I digress; the next time a team breaks a promise to a player, and the player publicly gripes about it, I'll write about that, too. (I see your hand raised, DeMarcus. We'll get to you soon.)
Five years ago, LeBron James was correctly criticized for not contacting the Cavs when he decided to go to Miami, deciding instead to keep them and everyone else waiting until the last possible minute before The Decision began. There is some difference in Jordan's tale; having begun having second thoughts on Monday, he basically shut off communications not only with Cuban, but had limited contact with his own agent, Fegan.
But the very issue of players having such power over teams is also at the heart of this league-wide unease. Again, James has led the way on this: in 2010, the Cavaliers were deep into negotiations with Michigan State's Tom Izzo to take their vacant head coaching job. But Izzo, understandably, wanted to make sure James was going to be around to coach before he put pen to paper. And no one from the Cavs could locate James to ask him.
Teams don't like that.
Jordan's actions also raised the question of whether maintaining the July moratorium—beginning July 1, during which time teams and players can discuss in general terms whether they're a match, though they aren't supposed to talk about specific contract terms (insert your favorite euphemism for guffaw/chuckle here)—is worth maintaining.
Is junking the moratorium because one guy didn't do things the normal way the right way to go? It's not a cut and dried question.
"Before you change it, you have to find something better," a longtime team executive said Sunday.
At minimum, Monday's Competition Committee meeting in Las Vegas—at which committee members Doc Rivers and Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle should be in attendance—should be lively.
Mavericks Moving Forward
Matt Winer and Brevin Knight discuss how the Mavericks will pick up the pieces after losing out on DeAndre Jordan.
The moratorium was put in place to try and slow the obvious pre-negotiations that were going on while players were still under contract before July 1 in years past. The 12:01 a.m. "deals" teams were reaching with free agents stunk to high heaven. And the final cap number for the following season requires the completion of the audit by the league and union to determine how much revenue from the previous season came in. (This is why you can't allow signings before the cap number is finalized; a lot of teams were operating on a projected $67 million cap based on league projections. That then rose to $69 million, and finally ended at $70 million. Can you imagine the chaos that would result if teams signed players before the final, final number came in? A team that thinks it had x million in room actually had z+ million—the plus being the difference between signing and not signing a marquee guy? And how ticked off would a free agent and/or his agent be who finds out there was another $2 or $3 million on the table?)
Different sports have different signing periods, of course. In the NFL, the 2015 free agent signing period didn't begin until March 10, more than a month after the conclusion of the Super Bowl. Players with three seasons of service whose contracts expired last season were restricted free agents; those with four or more years were unrestricted free agents. Restricted free agents could negotiate with any club from March 10 to April 24, but just as with NBA restricted free agency, NFL teams had the right to match any offer received by their restricted free agents from other clubs and retain their services.
In Major League Baseball, players on a team's 40-man roster at the end of the season with six or more years of MLB Service Time become free agents at 9 a.m. the day after the last game of the World Series. The incumbent team has five days of exclusive negotiating rights with such players, after which the player is free to sign with any team, including his current one. (This does not cover arbitration-eligible baseball players, those who have at least three but not yet six seasons of Service Time. There are a whole lot of other qualifiers and statuses for other players that would take way too long to type.)
One possible solution? End the moratorium, allow teams a one-week breather after the Draft (which is always held during that 10-day window in late June between the end of the Finals and July 1), push up the announcement of the following year's cap/tax numbers up a few days and start free agency after the July 4 holiday—depending on the year, say, July 5-7. On that day, teams can simply start signing guys.
There would still be pre-negotiation, of course, but you're never going to eliminate that. At least this way, you can put pen to paper quicker, and let teams go about their business one way or the other. There would be more options—and more competition, which is what drives the drama of free agency—for a team that knows immediately that Player X is or is not coming to them.
And that's the quiet secret in all of this. The league will never admit it on the record, but if you think the NBA doesn't love garnering the lion's share of the national sports media attention for damn near a month (Finals to the Draft to free agency) in June and July, for good and for bad, you didn't catch the ratings for the Finals. Believe me, the league did.
DeAndre Jordan may have rattled some nerves last week, but his real-time drama obliterated NFL players blowing up parts of themselves, baseball's All-Star selection controversies and every other sports story of note. The only bad publicity, the carnival barker noted sagely, is no publicity.
Fear the Deer
NBA.com's John Schuhmann joins GameTime to discuss the Bucks potential starting lineup and the length they will bring onto the court.
What if the Milwaukee Renaissance is as short-lived as AfterMASH?
The Bucks have had some splendid weeks of late—making the playoffs, gaining more corporate sponsors, signing a big-time free agent in Greg Monroe. The future of the team itself has never been brighter. And yet, as soon as Wednesday, the team's fate in the city and state it's known since 1968 may turn in a final, irreversible direction out of the city.
The Wisconsin State Senate is expected to consider as early as this week a vote on whether to approve the latest funding proposal for a new arena for the team, which the league, as ever, is saying is a must if the Bucks are to remain in Milwaukee. This proposal differs from the one set forth by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker earlier this year, that called for $220 million in public funds to be used toward construction of the new building.
The state legislature removed the arena bill from the state's budget process last week, which was especially contentious with Walker seeking to cut funds for the University of Wisconsin and dramatically curtail the state's open records law, along with repealing so-called "prevailing wage" minimums for municipalities throughout the state. The budget was finally passed last Tuesday, but the arena debate is far from settled.
The latest proposal would use $250 million in various public funding mechanisms to help fund the cost of the arena, on a site north of the team's current arena, BMO Harris Bradley Center. But the fact that the state legislature is the body that will likely decide the team's fate in Wisconsin is at turns encouraging and ominous.
The majority of the Republican-controlled state legislature supports the legislation, which would extend existing hotel, food and beverage and car rental taxes collected by the Wisconsin Center District—the public government body that runs several venues downtown, including the city's convention center. The city of Milwaukee would wind up kicking in $47 million, with Milwaukee County kicking in another $55 million. The bulk of the public contribution would come through a new debt issuance by the Center District, estimated at present to be $93 million.
But the bill will need the support of several Democratic state senators, many from the Milwaukee area, to pass the state senate before it gets to the full legislature. Among their concerns is that new debt that would be assumed by the Center District.
State Senator Tim Carpenter, who is opposed to the current funding, has called for a ticket surcharge and eliminating an existing exemption on sales taxes for luxury boxes in the new arena to help defer the costs of building it. And he's asked for public hearings in Milwaukee to discuss the merits of the current financing plan.
For months, the Bucks had spoken of their negotiations with the city, state and county as progressing toward an inevitable deal. Their public words have taken a more ominous tone in the last couple of weeks.
Bucks President Peter Feigin told the state assembly last week that if there is no agreement on a new deal within the next couple of months, the likelihood of the team ultimately moving to either Las Vegas or Seattle is strong.
The reason is the 2017 deadline the NBA has set for a new arena to be completed in Milwaukee.
As part of the sale agreement in 2013 when former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl sold the Bucks to hedge fund billionaires Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan, the league got a commitment from the new owners that they would work out a deal with the city and state. If such a deal is not in place, the league reserved the right to buy the team back from the Bucks' owners and put the team on the open market—including, presumably, buyers that would move the team out of Milwaukee.
Kohl has pledged $100 million toward construction of the new arena, and Edens, Lasry and Dinan have pledged a combined $150 million. But that only gets the team halfway there. A public financing piece is a necessity.
"We need an arena building by 2017," Feigin said in a phone interview Thursday. "For us to work backwards, we need a shovel in the ground by 2015. If it took less than 24 months to construct or almost fully construct an arena, we could have more time. But right now, we're kind of at the tipping point to get this done."
The Bucks are selling the idea of a multiplier effect that would impact the entire city if the arena is built. Feigin said Thursday that in the short term, 14,000 construction jobs would be created to build the arena and the surrounding mixed use district, which would have housing as well as busineses. Long term, he said, 2,000 permanent jobs would be created with the creation of the business district.
"So this is real—real commerce, real development," he said. "It's in a place of the city that desperately needs real estate values to increase. It's in a place that desperately needs ancillary development other than ours. And I can tell you, even without approval, the interest in surrounding business and commerce and developers is off the charts. This truly is going to be the catalyst that transforms this part of Wisconsin."
The Bucks' new owners have invested "a ton of capital already," Feigin said, "linking to this project, as well as into kind of the improvement of the team, which you've seen in free agency, you'll see in the fan experience in the current arena, and you'll certainly see in the pre-development of this next arena. We're tens of millions of dollars into the project already. All of our cards are showing to get this done."
John Koskinen, the Chief Economist for state of Wisconsin, said on Bill Michaels's statewide sports radio program Friday that the Bucks contribute about $130 million to the state economy, an amount he says will increase in the coming years due in part to the increased "jock taxes" levied on visiting players who come to Milwaukee to play games—taxes that will increase as players make more and more money because of the new national TV rights deals.
"Consider what happens if the Bucks leave," Koskinen said on the program. "There should be no doubt in anybody's mind. The NBA will basically foreclose that franchise, and it will go. And we would never see it back, and there will be no replacement."
The Bucks argue that the arena project is the best—maybe, the last—chance to kickstart the downtown economy.
"This project differentiates a little bit in that it's more than just an arena," Feigin said. "This is an area...in downtown Milwaukee, or west of the Milwaukee River, this is an area that is currently desolate, with no development. Nobody lives, works, and few people play here. It is one of the central arteries of the city that currently does not connect to the other parts. For this, it's much more than just an arena. It's an arena that's the catalyst for commercial, residential and retail development that's all part of this. When you think of Kansas City, when you think of Oklahoma City, when you think of development and you think of L.A. Live, when you think of drawing magnets and creating traffic and creating commerce, and increasing real estate, this is a much different thought than 'hey, we're going to build a new arena next to the old arena.' The Bradley Center was built on an island. It really did not drive traffic, nor keep traffic and volume of people there. This is really transformational. We've got to build a district where people are here regardless of whether there's a Bucks game."
But the Bucks, knowing the team's appeal tends to fade the further one gets from downtown Milwaukee, have also gone to great pains to make this a statewide issue rather than a parochial one.
"The math on this is pretty simple," Feigin said. "The Bucks, in 2013 contributed through payroll $6.5 million in their income tax. That income tax goes directly to the state. And that income tax is based on 2013 (revenues). It's increased approximately 12-14 percent since '13 and as you know with the (new) media deal, that will probably increase to $10 million a year in the near term. Just the incremental income tax that goes directly to the state is the big financial lever that justifies why you would invest in the development. The one that happens when and if this NBA team leaves is that the income tax leaves with it. You are left with a hole of several hundred million dollars in state income tax if the NBA team leaves. You are left with the benefit and the increasing amount of income tax if the team stays."
Unfortunately, there is an eerie similarity to these kinds of showdowns.
First come the predictions. Teams always say the same things when they seek public funding for new buildings: this will create lots of jobs! This will be an economic boon to the city! There will be a trickle down effect! The truth of such claims, is, at best, unproven. Even the question of whether to spend money on stadiums or social services is likely wrong. And the question of giving such huge financial expenditures to billionaire owners always gives pause.
"Stadium construction has become a substitute for urban policy," says my friend Dave Zirin, the sports author and historian. "It's not like they said 'let's build a stadium or let's build schools,' or let's build a stadium or fix the roads.' It's 'let's build a stadium or do nothing.' That's the only time they broach the idea of things like raising taxes on hotel occupancies—things that have a real effect and trickle down."
But many of us—me, too—remain swayed by the idea of a city needing sports teams to be "big league," no matter how arcane the argument. I recall reading James Michener's 1970s tome, "Sports in America," in which he argued that a stadium—like a symphony orchestra, or a fire department—is one of the things that made a city a city.
But there is, of course, no way to prove that that is true. Or close to being true.
"I have a friend of mine, who is black, who says race is just a construct, that it doesn't really exist," he said. "And he says, 'race is like Wednesday. It doesn't need to really exist, but you still have to deal with the fact that there's this thing called Wednesday.' It's the same thing with building a stadium. It doesn't really exist, this idea that you need to have a stadium to have a good local economy, or that you need a stadium to have good urban policy. It's not true. But we've all bought into that."
When Zirin was growing up in Minneapolis, the Twins were threatening to leave town unless they got a new stadium—which they eventually got in the Metrodome. The message was simple: if baseball left town, Minneapolis would cease to be a real town.
"There were radio ads where the announcer would say, 'do you want the Twin Cities to become the next Fargo?,'" Zirin said. "It's like without the Twins, we have no identity. There's this kind of existential fear of who are we without it? There are all kinds of very irrational debates. If we just discussed this on the facts, there would never be a new stadium ever built again."
Second come the ominous threats, which not only scare the incumbent fan base but raise hopes in those cities without teams, cruelly brought into the drama. The good people of Seattle, who did nothing to deserve losing their Sonics in the first place, do not deserve to be show ponies now, only able to dream again if it means another fan base has to go through the nightmare of seeing their team leave for good.
For its part, Seattle went on with its annual pro-am game put together by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, a Seattle native, last Friday, drawing more than 9,000 fans to Key Arena as part of a doubleheader with the WNBA's Seattle Storm.
Hedge fund billionaire Chris Hansen, who led the group in 2013 that nearly bought the Sacramento Kings and moved them to Seattle, is working with other investors looking to bring an NHL team—either an existing one or an expansion team—to Seattle. The idea is if Hansen can get an arena built to house the NHL team, it would help the city ultimately bring the NBA back to town. (The current Memorandum of Understanding Hansen got from the city and from King County in Washington state which called for the construction of an arena only if an NBA team has first been acquired, expires in 2017.)
For his part, Feigin says there's nothing artificial about the deadlines the team is now insisting be met.
"I don't think this is a well kept secret in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "...The NBA, as part of the purchase agreement, put language in to make us build a new arena within a set time frame. That is not new news. We've been up front about that. I think the timing of it, and the reality of it when it's the ninth inning, that people might misconstrue that as leverage or threatening. It's not. It's just the fact that for the Bucks to stay in the state of Wisconsin, we will need to construct a new arena."
Enes Kanter Back to Thunder
Should the Thunder have matched the monstrous offer sheet Kanter signed with the Blazers?
Seriously, though, the Thunder's decision—no surprise to anyone that was paying attention—that it would match the four-year, $70 million max deal the Blazers laid at its feet last Thursday is a gamble. But not the gamble you're probably thinking about.
Most fans look at Kanter—an offensive prodigy, a defensive sieve so far through four NBA seasons—and can't fathom paying him $17.5 million on average the next four years. There is no question that Kanter, for what he's produced so far, is going to be overpaid in the short term. But in the long term, keeping a 23-year-old 7-footer through what should be the most productive years of his career is a decision that a franchise like Oklahoma City has to do.
Here's some reasons it made more sense to match than not to match:
1) Keeping up with the Popoviches. The Thunder's worldview is always—always—defined by what it already has: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Having those two players create opportunities to compete for championships. But it also necessitates a constant roster churn in order to find enough talent to keep their title hopes viable.
OKC has built and maintained a championship contender for the past several seasons. But the bottom line remains that Durant and Westbrook have yet to break through. While they've entered, and are now firmly ensconced in their primes, they've only made one Finals. By contrast, Tim Duncan was in the Finals on his 36th and 37th birthdays, as was Manu Ginobili at 35 and 36, and Tony Parker at 30 and 31.
But outside of its Big Three, San Antonio has had just as much roster turnover the last few seasons as the Thunder.
In 2010, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Antonio McDyess and Keith Bogans were part- or full-time starters in San Antonio, alongside Duncan and Parker. DeJuan Blair played in 82 games; Roger Mason, 79. By 2012, Blair was starting, while Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were part-time starters. Gary Neal appeared in 56 games; James Anderson, 51. But in the last three seasons, Tiago Splitter, Leonard and Green were the new full-time starters, with Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli getting more run. And, now, that's changed again, with LaMarcus Aldridge coming aboard in place of Splitter, while Baynes and Belinelli (and Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes) lost to free agency.
The Thunder's been no less active since 2010, moving in (and out) Jeff Green, Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler and...James Harden through its rotation the last few years, in search of the right people to play alongside Durant and Westbrook. Kanter is but the latest experiment. But it has never—ever—had a big man as talented offensively as Kanter. And talent acquisition and retention is the name of the game.
Which brings us back to Harden.
People will kill OKC and GM Sam Presti for the rest of time for the Harden deal, even though a) Harden, who supposedly professed never wanting to be The Man before the Draft, wound up being traded to Houston, which lured him with promises he would be, uh, The Man. Has anyone noticed Harden passing up open shots in the last three years, or has he gone buck wild with the rock, as he should, given his...talent? (That word again!) That would have never happened in OKC playing alongside Durant and Westbrook, unless the Thunder traded Westbrook and kept Harden. (That is an argument for another column.)
And, b) if the Thunder had paid Harden in 2012, it surely would not have been able to give Serge Ibaka the very reasonable (for the Thunder) $49 million extension over four years it doled out in 2013.
And, c) the cap in 2012 was $58 million. Three years later, it's going to be $70 million, and heading toward Pluto in the years to come with the new TV money kicking in. The world of NBA finances has been turned on its ear, with the combination of the 2011 CBA and the 2016 infusion of television cash that will make every team bullish.
With the tax threshold at $84.7 million, OKC still believes it could get under the line if it absolutely had to, or at least closer to the line if it wants to. Remember, the luxury tax is based on a team's roster and cap commitments at the end of a season, not the beginning.
The Thunder has been diligently shopping players like Perry Jones and Steve Novak, and has a cap hold of $950,000 on 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis; if those three aren't on the roster at season's end, and the Thunder takes no salary back for them, OKC quickly shaves $6.7 million from its total, cutting a potential luxury tax payment currently projected at $26 million almost in half. It's not likely the Thunder comes to camp with 15 guaranteed contracts (and that doesn't include Huestis).
But even if the Thunder pays tax for 2015-16, which would be a second straight season for OKC as a taxpayer, it can avoid the dreaded repeater taxes by staying out of the tax in 2016-17 and 2017-18. After this season, Novak and guard D.J. Augustin come off the cap and don't have to be re-signed; the Thunder has club options on Dion Waiters and Jones, and Anthony Morrow's $3.4 million for 2016-17 is non-guaranteed. If OKC opted not to bring any of those five back, it would still be well under the threshold even if Durant signed a new deal starting at $30 million.
The current cap projection for '16-'17 is $89 million, with a tax threshold at $108 million; the '17-'18 cap is currently projected at $108 million, with a corresponding projected tax threshold of $127 (!) million. It will be next to impossible, even with Durant taking 30 or 35 percent of the cap (depending on how he and his reps play the next two summers), for OKC to blow through that high a threshold.
And no one knows what a new CBA, coming after what seems like an inevitable lockout in the summer of 2017, will bring. For those reasons alone, going all in for the next two years, even at $70 million for Kanter, makes sense.
It's obvious the Thunder didn't get near enough from Houston for Harden in retrospect. But OKC did wind up getting a first-rounder from the Rockets out of the deal that it used to draft Steven Adams—a young, defensive-first center who should be the ying to Kanter's offensive yang. Having both for at least a couple of years, alongside Ibaka (who played just nine games with Kanter before being lost for the season) will give the Thunder all kinds of big man flexibility.
OKC's argument is that it never would be able to add a player like Kanter in free agency, given its commitments to Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. If not for the trade last February that brought Kanter and Novak from Oklahoma City, and Augustin and Singler from Detroit, the Thunder would have been very limited in its ability to bolster its bench.
2) Today's ceiling is tomorrow's floor.
If Kanter had signed a one-year deal this year and been an unrestricted free agent next summer, when the cap is projected to go up to $90 million, what do you think he would have gotten on the open market? Would another guy averaging 18.7 points and 11 rebounds a night, as Kanter did over 22 games with the Thunder, make more than $70 million over four?
Five years ago, Golden State committed $80 million over six seasons--$13.3 million per year—to acquire David Lee in a sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks. Lee, like Kanter, was an offense-first, defense-optional big man. And Lee was a key cog in the Warriors' offense for the first three years of his deal, before the Splash Brothers took over and Lee became expendable.
OKC was talking with Kanter about a four-year, $60 million deal--$14.5 million per year. That average is precisely what Lee's per year average would be now, allowing for inflation, if he'd signed his deal this summer. Agents get paid to find as much money for their clients in the system as possible; give Kanter's agent, Max Ergul, credit for sifting through the teams and getting $10 million more for his guy.
And OKC doesn't need Kanter to be one of its main scorers, the way the Warriors needed Lee when they got him. What it does need him to do on offense is exactly what people banged Scott Brooks about for years—provide some diversity to the Thunder's halfcourt attack, so it no longer devolves into Durant and Westbrook one-on-four sorties against loaded-up defenses.
But that proves Kanter is overpaid, you can (and no doubt, many will) argue. His role on this team doesn't warrant that kind of financial outlay.
You may be right. But if the cap indeed is set at $108 million in two years, what looks ridiculous today will be commonplace. Every free agent center of substance the last two summers has gotten no worse than $12 million a year from their respective teams (Marcin Gortat, Nikola Pekovic and Omer Asik). Tyson Chandler got $13 million per from Phoenix; Robin Lopez $13.5 per from the Knicks. At the top of the scale are Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan ($22 million apiece per year from the Grizzlies and Clippers) and Brook Lopez ($20 million annually from Brooklyn). Kanter, younger than all of them, is toward the high end, but isn't the highest.
3) This is the beginning of Kanter's prime, not the end.
Yes, Kanter's defensive numbers are horrific, among the worst ever recorded for a starting big man. Utah's defensive numbers went north with a bullet after the Jazz traded Kanter and gave Rudy Gobert the starting job in the middle; OKC's defensive numbers cratered with Kanter on the floor.
Before the trade, the Thunder's defensive rating was 100.7, 10th-best in the NBA. After the Feb. 19 trade, OKC's defensive rating the rest of the season 107.7, 29th-best in the league. Before the trade, according to NBA.com stats, OKC was first in the league in defending opponent shots at the rim, allowing just 54 percent shooting on such shots. After the trade, opponents shot 60.2 percent at the rim the rest of the season, 21st in the league. Opponents shot 34 percent against the Thunder before the trade on shots 5-9 feet from the basket; 43.8 percent on such shots after the trade. And on and on.
Was Kanter to blame for some—maybe a lot—of the defensive breakdown? Sure. But the Thunder was without its two best interior defenders for a lot of those games—Adams missed eight games with a broken hand, and Ibaka missed most of the last six weeks of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
The hope is that having either Adams or Ibaka on the floor next to Kanter on a full-time basis going forward will help cover up some of his defensive shortcomings. And, for $70 million, Kanter can work a little harder and more effectively at that end going forward. He's got to be accountable now for his play at both ends of the floor.
Which leads us to 4) Who are we kidding with all this Kanter talk? OKC's going to go as far as a healthy Durant and Westbrook take them.
The Thunder's new core group going forward could be formidable, with good health and if new coach Billy Donovan is up to snuff: Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kanter, Adams, Singler, rookie Cameron Payne, second-year big Mitch McGary, Nick "Scoop" Collison and guard Andre Roberson, who is a cost-efficient rotation guy worth keeping. And, despite taking a huge financial plunge Sunday, it will a rotation that doesn't break the bank in the oil-rich 405.
Decisions, decisions. From Sahil Lamba:
After watching this whole DeAndre Jordan drama go down, I've come to believe that DeAndre Jordan was never really undecided about his decision between the Mavericks and the Clippers.
The fact that DJ called Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers to say that he may have a change of heart came 3 days after he made a verbal agreement with the Mavs. If he was still unsure at that point, then why did he make a decision less than 24 hours after his final meeting with the Clippers? It's not like he was in a rush to make a decision. I don't buy the whole "agent pressured him to choose Dallas" or the "other teams needed to know sooner" argument, for as the DeAndre apologists say, "It's his decision." My point here is that if DeAndre was truly undecided, then it would have made no sense for him to make a verbal agreement so soon after his meetings were done.
Following Monday's call began a race to gather as many Clippers players and coaches as possible for a last minute DJ pitch. But what more could they have said? DJ's desire to be the primary option on the court and the tension between him and CP3 were no secret (thanks to sports media), so I don't believe the Clippers for a minute when they say "we had no idea you felt this way!" It's hard to believe that there was no attempt to address those issues in the original pitch meeting. Considering that the meeting was short, it's hard to believe that the Clippers told DJ anything new that would have actually changed his mind in the 11th hour.
But here is the biggest red flag... if DeAndre was truly undecided, shouldn't he have at least talked to Mark Cuban or Chandler Parsons? This is a matter of his CAREER after all, so shouldn't he have done due diligence to the process? Shouldn't he have understood the gravity of the situation and at least taken some accountability before he signed the contract by calling the Mavs? Instead, in an immature move, he ignored calls from Cuban and allowed his teammates to preoccupy him with video games and cards. For a guy who was "torn," he seemed awfully content with his last minute decision..
DA: It's impossible to get into someone else's head, Sahil. I don't know how strong DeAndre's commitment to Dallas was in his own mind. In retrospect, the notion that he wanted to do more on offense than he'd been doing with the Clippers clearly was not as big to him as was initially reported. You are definitely right that DeAndre should have contacted the Mavericks. Doc Rivers said Thursday that Jordan's agent should have contacted Dallas, but the timing of Jordan's reversal trumps everything here. Jordan surely knew the bind he was putting Dallas in by reneging so late (and his Twitter apology to Cuban and the Mavericks Friday would seem to confirm this). It didn't have to be a long conversation. A simple call stating, 'I've changed my mind, Mr. Cuban, and while I appreciate the faith you had in me, I've decided to go back to L.A. I'm not changing my mind, and I don't want to waste your time with another meeting' would have ended all the silly Tweeting from inside and outside Jordan's home Wednesday night. Just a common courtesy to a team that put a lot on the line for you, and deserved to hear the truth from you.
An embarrassment of riches? From Andrew Stolowitz:
I've been hearing more and more noise (locally in the Bay Area, at least), that the Warriors are putting themselves in a position to make a big push for Durant next summer. Any thoughts?
DA: That has indeed been league scuttlebutt for months. I will just say that if the Warriors add Durant to Curry, Thompson, Green, etc., I thoroughly expect a 160-point game in Oracle one night. And I thoroughly expect someone to file an antitrust suit against the Warriors for impeding true and fair competition. That would just be insane.
Age Ain't Nothing But a Number. From Joseph Gorelik:
When I read your comparison of the success rates of high school players against those of one and dones I felt like you failed to fully address one of the main reasons why the 19 year age restriction exists: so delusional high school players don't ruin their future by declaring, hiring an agent, and then going undrafted. There isn't too much information on all the high school players that went undrafted, only a handful of smaller articles and a Bleacher Report article on Taj McDavid. I feel that at the very least you should highlight some of those failed prospects in your analysis. While there are one-and-dones that go undrafted (Cliff Alexander) they have a little better grasp on what it means to declare and what they are giving up by forgoing the rest of college.
Beside the main issue with high schoolers losing college eligibility, I would argue that the 19 year old rule is better for the NBA and for the NBA draft. Many players that are highly touted coming out of high school falter once they face stiffer competition in college. I feel like getting a better read on players allows those that are better and stand up to the pressure to really shine and it makes for less busts in the lottery. While I will not argue that the age limit should be 20 instead of 19, I feel that comparing success rates of players (which while fun, is far from scientific since it is difficult to quantify success) is an incomplete way of judging the success of the 19 year old rule.
DA: I guess we just disagree, Joseph. Again: 39 of the 47 high schoolers who declared between 1995 and 2005 were drafted, an 83 percent success rate—if we define "success" as being drafted, and why wouldn't you, since that was their intention? (And, one of the eight who wasn't drafted, Jackie Butler, still played parts of three seasons with the Knicks and Spurs.) Now, some of those who were drafted didn't make it, either, but that happens with college kids every year as well.
But for the sake of argument, let's drill deeper. Of the 39 high schoolers who were drafted between '95 and '05, 32, by any objective criteria, had or are having successful pro careers, ranging from journeyman/decent to Hall of Fame caliber: Kevin Garnett (1995), Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal (1996), Tracy McGrady (1997), Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis (1998), Jonathan Bender (1999), Darius Miles and DeShawn Stevenson (2000), Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop (2001), Amare Stoudemire (2002), LeBron James, Travis Outlaw and Kendrick Perkins (2003), Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith and Dorell Wright (2004), and Martell Webster, Andrew Bynum, Gerald Green, C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams, Andray Blatche and Amir Johnson (2005). I'm not saying they were all stars, or All-Stars, for that matter But let's take Blatche. He played—at least so far—nine NBA seasons, after being drafted late in the second round in 2005. He's made almost $40 million in salary. That puts him, economically, ahead of 99.9 percent of all of the people who have ever lived on this planet. I cannot judge his NBA experience as a failure.
There were seven drafted high schoolers who didn't make it: Korleone Young (1998), Leon Smith (1999), Ousmane Cisse (2001), Ndudi Ebi and James Lang (2003), Robert Swift (2004) and Ricky Sanchez (2005). But that's still an 82 percent success rate among high schoolers who were taken. (And: there's been plenty written about most of the guys that didn't pan out.) The bottom line is this: most of the high school players that declared for the Draft were drafted, and most of that subset had decent to great careers.
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5 —Years since the SuperFriends were formed in Miami, with each—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—taking less than the max in order for all three of them to fit under the cap. Miami rode the trio to four straight Finals appearances and two NBA championships before James went back to Cleveland last summer.
5 Teams — Brooklyn ($19,978,360), Cleveland ($6,963,897), New York ($6,945,551), the Clippers ($4,804,646) and Oklahoma City ($2,793,950)—that paid luxury tax last season. Half of the total of $41,486,404 will help fund the revenue sharing program from last season, with the other half distributed equally to each of the non-tax paying teams.
5 New "hustle stats" — will be kept during the Samsung Summer League in Vegas by the NBA, in an attempt to get more guys doing more of the little things that coaches love and players routinely ignore during these kinds of games. The stats are two-pointers contested, three-pointers contested, deflections, loose balls recovered and charges drawn.
1) Not only must Clippers at Mavs be the lead game for us on opening night next season on TNT, we need to do pray that Joey Crawford is the lead ref. Talk about Must See TV.
2) Given every opportunity to fold up the tents and tank, as he intimated his team would in those halcyon days when DeAndre Jordan had committed to Dallas, Mark Cuban instead traded for Zaza Pachulia and will soon sign Deron Williams, thus assuring his team won't be a league bottom feeder next season. Expected no less, given Cubes's relationship with Dirk Nowitzki. There's no way he was going to leave Dirk high and dry in the final years of Nowitzki's career.
3) Of course, in three years, everyone will be slapping themselves upside their heads going 'how do the Spurs get so lucky?' Anybody could have had Boban Marjonovic. How did they get him? How did they, indeed.
4) You can pay it forward in so many small, but meaningful ways.
5) And if it's July, it's time for you to start sending in your submissions on why you should be a Guest Tipper in August, while I'm on vacation. Every year one fan's entry is selected, and that person enters Tipperdom. The criteria, as ever: a) you must love the NBA, and explain how this happened, when, and where. It doesn't matter if you played through college and dreamed of hoopin' in the L, or are 5-4 and accidentally discovered the Association watching on a 12" black and white TV in Minsk. All I care is that you've come to love the league as much as all of us True Believers do; b) how do you stay connected to the game—do you play on weekends, have season tickets or watch your favorite team on League Pass? And any thoughts you may have about the league are welcome as well. Submit them to email@example.com. We'll announce a winner in a few weeks.
1) Brutal news for Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Just brutal.
1A) With Dallas (Deron Williams) and Sacramento (Rajon Rondo) nw spoken for at point guard, the list of potential spots for Denver's Ty Lawson is dwindling. (It's not going to be Brooklyn, either.) One would think that one potential landing place for Lawson would be Philly—which needs some good news after the Embiid disclosure. The Sixers need to put a representative product on the floor next season; a Lawson-Nik Stauskas backcourt (or, if you prefer, Tony Wroten), with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel up front, with Jason Thompson, Thomas Robinson and Robert Covington off the bench, would at least be credible for Philly's long-suffering fans.
2) Hope Williams can find some joy in Dallas, his hometown, playing for the Mavericks. Haven't seen him smile on a basketball court in a long time.
3) My professional career in journalism began in this building, which was where so many momentous stories that affected the nation and the world were written. Sad to see it going.
4) RIP, Kenny Stabler. The Snake was one of my favorite QBs growing up, even though we didn't get to see him as much on the east coast in those pre-NFL League Pass days. Still remember "Ghost to the Post" in '77, from Stabler to Dave Casper, that set up the winning score in Oakland's OT playoff win over Baltimore.
5) Happy to see that ESPN's Tom Jackson is going to get the Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it is still ridiculous and a travesty that the late Howard Cosell, who only was the driving force behind Monday Night Football's popularity for more than a decade, has yet to be given that honor, even posthumously.
--Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons), Wednesday, 9:41 p.m., after DeAndre Jordan's decision to walk away from the commitment he'd made to Parsons' Dallas Mavericks and return to the Clippers on a max deal.
"You know those interviews on TNT? It was kind of like that with more words."
--LaMarcus Aldridge, to local reporters in San Antonio, recalling his interactions with Gregg Popovich during their two meetings before Aldridge picked the Spurs as a free agent and signed a four-year max deal for $84 million.
"Everybody is going to find this hilarious, but here's my theory on how I got it. When the new iPhone came out it was way bigger than the last one, and I think because I got that new phone it was a strain to use it, you have to stretch further to hit the buttons, and I honestly think that's how I ended up developing it."
--Spurs forward Matt Bonner, to the Concord Montor, claiming he developed a case of tennis elbow he said he played with the last two months of last season for the Spurs because of...his new IPhone.
"They wouldn't bring me here if everything was fine."
--Vlade Divac, during an interview on the Jim Rome Show Thursday, on the relationship between DeMarcus Cousins and Coach George Karl. Divac reiterated that he would not trade Cousins or fire Karl, and that he expected both Cousins and Karl to be in Sacramento at the start of next season.
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