NBA Draft Combine starts Wednesday in Chicago… but what does that mean?

7 Comments

When the NFL Draft Combine takes place each year in Indianapolis, it is an event. Players’ 40 times are dissected, their performances analyzed, and guys move up or down in the draft based on the results. It’s a big deal.

The NBA holds its own Draft Combine — starting Wednesday in Chicago — where 60 guys hoping to get drafted run sprints, are timed through drills, and…

It’s not that big a deal.

Parts of it matter, but not the parts broadcast on television, not the drills that the players run through. Let’s say, hypothetically, that Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis goes out on Wednesday and surprises people with his vertical leap. It’s not going to impact his draft status much at all — teams have already scouted him in person and on tape, they already know his game.

“It can help, though like a lot of the other information, it’s just another piece of the puzzle,” PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld tells us. “It can also work the other way. Results that can be construed negatively will be gathered and used as well when fully evaluating.But the bump or drop will never be significant.”

Look at it this way: It’s a famous story that Kevin Durant could not bench press 185 pounds even once at the combine. That really has held back his ability to play the game, I mean, what team would want him on their roster? (Yes, that was sarcastic.)

Just like at the NFL combine, the biggest names skip the NBA event — Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, very possibly the top three in the draft this year, are all skipping the combine. Is that a smart move?

“I hate to say it, but yes,” Isaacson said. “Ideally, the top 60 guys would take part and go through the same process. But there really is no incentive for agents to allow players who are certain to be Top 5 guys to take part. One of the agent’s primary jobs is to control the flow of information about their client. Taking part in the combine takes it out of their hands, and they know they are unlikely to be penalized by any team for not taking part. The only way this could change is if it starts to backfire on players, but I don’t see that happening.”

There are two things that can dramatically impact draft status at the combine: The medical evaluation and the interviews with teams.

With the medical, this is the time NBA doctors give a thorough physical to every player, running every conceivable test. Pick up a red flag here and you will fall.

For a recent example, there is Jared Sullinger. The Ohio State power forward had a back issue that raised a red flag and he fell from a potential Top 5 pick in 2012 all the way down to Boston at No. 21. Those doctors were right — Sullinger required back surgery that forced him to miss much of his rookie year. Nobody quite knew if he would bounce all the way back from that, because backs can be tricky. So far, so good, he played in 74 games last season (starting 44) and put up 13.1 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. But there were legitimate questions. Same with DeJuan Blair and the fact he doesn’t have ACLs, which was found out at the Combine.

The other thing that matters is the interviews. This is the first chance teams really get to talk to players and they do that, plus they can throw IQ or personality tests at the players. Plus some odd questions.

“The interviews are probably the most important thing that will happen at the combine,” Isaacson told PBT. “It will be the player’s first chance to make an impression on decision makers away from the court. I know many long-time NBA personnel who have said they know in the first few minutes whether a guy would be right for their organization. The type of interview, as well as the level of impression, will vary from team to team, but making a strong impression can really fast-track the process for guys with certain clubs.”

The interview is where a GM leaves the room and says, “I’m in love with Player X. We have to get him.”

That said, what matters more to teams is the individual workouts — teams invite players they are interested in to come work out at the team’s facilities.

“I’d say the team workouts are more important in the decision process, mainly because the teams can tailor it to see specific things they are looking for from guys,” Isaacson said. “Also, the team workouts at least allow some level of actual playing, even if it is just 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, and team can form the invitee groups in such a way that the player(s) they are interested in have a certain kind of player to work out against. “

NBA TV will be all over the combine, broadcasting live. It’s entertaining. For us basketball junkies it is good theater.

Just understand what you’re seeing on the screen is not going to move a guy up or down the draft board all that much.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

Getty Images
2 Comments

Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
2 Comments

The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

Pete Marovich/Getty Images
1 Comment

In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.