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.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.

Watch James Harden, Rockets drop 90 on Suns — in first half

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This game had all the drama of The Last Airbender. Which is to say none. It was essentially over when the Rockets went on a 21-6 first-quarter run — unlike Boston in the earlier Thursday game, Phoenix isn’t built to come back against elite teams.

When the 15-1 Rockets run came at the end of the first quarter, it was clear Houston could do what it wanted on offense, and by half the Rockets put up 90 points. The Rockets were putting on a show (and eventually won 142-116).

James Harden had 33 points on 12 shots in the first half (he finished with 48 points for the night). Ryan Anderson hit four threes on his way to 18 before the break. Eric Gordon had 10. As a team, Houston shot 62.2 percent, and 60 percent from three in the first half. They got to the line 25 times. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If you want more highlights, here is Harden’s 48 for the night. Enjoy.

 

Paul George getting comfortable with new Thunder teammates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George couldn’t find a rhythm on offense his first few weeks with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The four-time All-Star struggled to fit in with fellow All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony after he was traded from the Indiana Pacers. He settled for jumpers too often, shot too quickly at times and didn’t get to the free throw line as often as usual. As he adjusted, the Thunder started the season with a 4-7 record.

Once George broke out, the Thunder turned their fortunes. George erupted for 42 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday, then scored 37 points in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. He scored just 13 points in a win over Chicago on Monday, but his shots were higher quality and flowed with the offense better.

The Thunder take a three-game win streak into Friday’s game with San Antonio.

“I’m just staying in attack mode, playing downhill, being aggressive when I have the ball, being aggressive off the ball,” George said.

George leads the Thunder with 21.9 points per game. It’s quite a feat to be the top scorer on a team with Westbrook, a two-time scoring champion and the reigning league MVP, and Anthony, the No. 24 scorer in NBA history. But George has that kind of talent, and he gets to play off the other two stars.

“It’s hard because they have so many options,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “A lot of times you have the one-two option, but they have the one-two-three option. It’s tough.”

George said during the preseason that he was adjusting to how fast Westbrook moves in transition. Now, he’s in better position to attack because he is prepared. That has led to easy baskets and more free throws. He has shot 26 free throws the past three games after shooting just 27 in the previous 11 games.

“I think just trying to get out ahead of him as much as possible, I think, is key,” George said. “That way, when he’s making plays in full court, I’m already in position ready to receive the ball instead of catching up, getting my feet ready, trying to decide what to do. I’m ready to shoot or attack at that point.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said George is starting to figure out how to use his shot selection to keep defenses guessing.

“I think he’s just been balanced,” Donovan said. “He’s an elite scorer. He can do it a lot of different ways. He’s done it off the dribble, he’s done it off of catch and shoot, he’s done it off the drive. I think it’s just his balance of getting more comfortable with what we’re doing offensively and trying to figure out spots where he can be aggressive.”

Donovan said the best part of George’s performances against the Clippers and Mavericks was his efficiency – he only took 22 shots in each contest.

Even when George doesn’t shoot well, he’s effective as both an on-ball and off-ball defender. He leads the league with 2.4 steals per game.

“Honestly, defense is the part that I lock in at,” George said. “Offensively it is going to come, defensively is where I like to leave a mark and really try to be special on that end. It’s just sticking to the game plan personally in matchups, sticking to the gifts that God has given me.”