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Stricter luxury tax penalties in new CBA could actually help big market teams

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The NBA’s lockout prior to the 2011-12 season was certainly all about money, and how the owners could channel more of the league’s revenue into their pockets instead of those of the players.

But it was also about putting a system in place that would, in theory, make it more difficult for the teams in the largest markets to simply spend their way to a title.

While the new, harsher luxury tax penalties put into place make it severely punitive financially to go out and exceed the tax threshold season after season, there is a loophole that exists which works to the advantage of the large market teams in the long run, while working against their small-market counterparts.

From Larry Coon at HoopsWorld:

The first year of the repeater tax (2015) will only apply to teams that were also taxpayers in the three previous seasons — 2011-12 through 2013-14. So right now, only Boston and the Lakers are candidates. The Celtics will probably stay out of the tax this season, and the Lakers are clearing the books next summer. So I don’t think any team will be a repeater in 2015.

Starting in 2016 a team is a repeater if they were taxpayers in any three of the previous four seasons (for 2016 that’d be 2011-12 through 2014-15). That means any team that was a taxpayer in either 2012 or 2013 would be a repeater if they are a taxpayer in both 2014 and 2015. Most teams will be able to avoid the repeater penalty. A few teams like Brooklyn probably won’t care.

The system is set up — well, “set up” is probably a bad way to put it. I don’t think they did it intentionally — so that two years out of the tax buys you three years IN the tax without being a repeater. I think many teams will adopt this strategy.

That last part is the key.

Take a team like the Celtics, for instance, who had no problem committing to payroll that would put them over the tax threshold when they were trying to contend for a title over the last few seasons. They’re rebuilding this year and next at minimum, but after those two years out of the tax, they could add free agents and load up for another run at a title by spending whatever it costs for the next three seasons, all the while avoiding the dreaded repeater tax.

There are very few teams that won’t try to implement this strategy. This summer, we saw the Heat use the amnesty provision to waive Mike Miller, even after he was a part of winning back-to-back titles, because the move saved them a total of $17 million in salary and luxury tax costs. And we saw the Lakers make a similar move to cut costs when they waived Metta World Peace.

The Nets are one club that doesn’t seem to care about dollars, but they’re certainly in the minority. Most large market teams will use payroll to chase championships when the talent on the roster dictates it. Small market teams, wary of even the more basic tax threshold, still won’t be able to meet that standard.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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