The Inbounds: Why players and their agents should consider a franchise’s spending history in free agency decisions

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Two and a half weeks ago, Business Week released a study on the “smartest spenders in the NBA.” Kurt talked about the top and bottom ten here. It’s nothing shocking. The Lakers spend really well! The Wizards and Kings spend really badly! Turns out there’s a high correlation between “being a really good team” and “spending your money well” as well as between “being a really crappy team” and “wasting your money.” These lists are primarily talked about in the discussion realm of “what franchises are awesome/terrible.”

Setting aside how flawed that is (payroll is such a small and contextual factor in how a team should be considered as a business), the whole outlook of just ranking the teams independently or on some merit scale is adorable headlines for thirty seconds, but the bigger point gets missed completely.

Here’s the list in its entirety:

source:

 

Let’s consider the list primarily not through the lens of judging the franchises. Let’s instead consider the relative value of the franchises on this list and their standing in free agency and as a draw for players. What are the top free agent or traded player destinations and their relative ranks on this list? This is in no particular order and based on my subjective interpretation of events, so this is where arts meets science, or whatever word you want to use for gibberish meets science:

Los Angeles Lakers, Rank: No.1 It’s sunny, you win championships about every four years or so, there are movie stars, etc. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom on the cheap (for his last contract which just expired).

New York Knicks, Rank No.29. Big city, bright lights, television appearances, Fashion Week, Madison Square Garden, pizza. Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby.

Miami Heat, Rank No. 3. Beaches! Nightclubs! LeBron! DWade! Chalme…. LeBron!

Boston Celtics No. 2. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry. The history. The legacy. The complicated racial and class lines that divide the city.  Oh, and the parks are really nice.

Brooklyn Nets No.28: New building! Flashy! New York! Jay-Z! A weird Russian guy who splurges on everything! Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans.

So overall some really good teams on that list. Also, some downright horrible, awful, God-forsaken teams. The Nets you can excuse, though, because so many of their losses came in the franchise’s attempt to bottom out before Brooklyn. With the move, they’re a whole new team under Prokhorov. It’s like a clean slate. Kind of.

But here’s what I find interesting. Teams like the Magic (No.4) , Spurs (No.5), Hawks (No.8), Nuggets (No.9), Jazz (No.12), Rockets (No.15) and Sixers (No.16) can’t get free agents to pick up the phone for them. The Spurs’ summers are so quiet if you told me the entire franchise goes into cryogenic deep freeze and I’d believe you. The Jazz could hold a contest where the first big-name free agent to show up in their office would win a million dollars just for being there, and they’d still have a million dollars to spend trying to figure out whey no one will come to their offices for a million dollars. The Rockets gave $60 million dollars to two guys who were NBA invisible two years ago.

But the Knicks? The Knicks are beating players away with a stick trying to sign up. The Nets are suddenly one of the hottest places for agents to try and set their players up. The Dallas Mavericks had to fill out their top-eight roster using the amnesty wire and players whose teams did not pursue them for a re-sign, for Chrissakes. (Dallas came away great, but they whiffed on Deron Williams and did not connect on whatever effort they put into the Nash chase and instead got Chris Kaman. No matter how good Mark Cuban thinks Chris Kaman is, that’s a drop-off).

What I’m getting at is that agents continue to throw their clients into situations where they are not well-suited to win, which is going to hurt their value on the subsequent contract. No, it doesn’t matter for players like Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, but these patterns are not new. The Clippers have spent $13 million less than the NBA average on payroll, and yet still gave a massive contract to Baron Davis, would have given Elton Brand one, and still managed to be the place Chris Paul decided was cool enough to come to.

I’m not even necessarily blaming the agents, if the client wants to go somewhere, it’s their job to get the deal done. And in cases like Texas and Florida, the tax situations apply. In L.A., the endorsement opportunities and quality of life matter. And it’s not like Chicago would have that hard a time landing free agents if Jerry Reinsdorf decided to release his death grip on his wallet.

But these teams, the Hawks, the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Rockets, they’ve all been smart, quality spenders driven by fiscally responsible yet aggressive management or ownership willing to pay for its talent… but their cities aren’t cool enough. This study is a reflection of a free agency market that talks about how much winning matters, and yet always gravitates towards the cool.

It’s not even about the money! That I could understand. If this were baseball, I’d understand. But in the NBA, the players whose salaries really matter have set rates they can make under the CBA. There’s only so much money to be passed around, and from there, it’s personal preference. But the preference isn’t towards teams with a proven track record of success, it’s toward what feels cool to them? We focus so much on trying to help the teams to reach the level of their competitors in order to level the playing field. Maybe instead we should focus on educating the players to make them realize that the beach is still a nice vacation spot, but that nothing does more for your earning potential in sports like winning.

Because from here, it doesn’t look like that matters much at all.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.