Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey chose chance of greatness over safer route to being merely good

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At face value, the Trail Blazers’ and 76ers’ offseasons took completely different approaches to rebuilding this offseason.

The Blazers traded for Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee and Maurice Harkless. They signed Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis. They also signed Enes Kanter to an offer sheet, though the Thunder matched.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, highlighted free agency by… signing Pierre Jackson and Scotty Wilbekin, two players without NBA experience. Sure, the 76ers also traded for Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. But Thompson and Landry were the tax necessary to require positive assets, and Philadelphia already flipped Thompson. Even Stauskas, a nice piece, was an afterthought relative to the draft considerations conveyed by the Kings.

Portland acquired five Stauskases – recent first-round picks still looking to find their place in the NBA.

But, as Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey tells it, his team has a similar philosophy to the 76ers. Portland is just taking a different route.

Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

Once Aldridge decided to leave, the Blazers didn’t waste their time trying to chase Matthews (who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Dallas), Lopez (who took a four-year, $52 million deal with New York) or even reserve Arron Afflalo (who left for a two-year, $16 million deal with New York).

Olshey didn’t feel the need to keep together the same core while simply trying to replace a four-time all-star because, “absent LaMarcus Aldridge, that group was not going to be good enough,” he said. “We judge ourselves by high standards and if we can’t compete at the highest levels, then we had to go in a different direction.”

76ers general manager Sam Hinkie has made clear his lengthy and deep rebuild is designed to culminate in championship contention. There are simpler paths to getting good, and Hinkie clearly isn’t taking those. (Matt Moore of CBSSports.com wrote an excellent article on the difference.)

Being great usually requires a superstar. Getting a superstar usually requires a high first-round pick. A high first-round pick usually requires a terrible record.

There is logic behind Philadelphia’s unprecedented multi-year commitment to tanking.

Olshey definitely indicates he has a similar championship-or-bust attitude, and he concluded retaining Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum after LaMarcus Aldridge joined the Spurs would have taken the Trail Blazers further from a title. They might have been better in the short-term, but those highly paid veterans would have limited Portland’s potential to grow into a great team.

That’s a logical assessment, similar to the one Hinkie made with the Jrue Holiday-led roster he inherited.

At this point, Olshey took a different route than Hinkie.

The Trail Blazers paid a relatively small price for its young veterans, and I like the moves. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of Vonleh, Plumlee, Harkless, Aminu and Davis becomes capable of playing a major role on a title contender. It’s a luxury to bet on so many intriguing players.

But the moves come with a cost. Those players are already decent, and they should make Portland better than Philadelphia this season. That means the Trail Blazers effectively moved down in the draft. Maybe the value of these additions offsets that, but Philadelphia has done little to jeopardize its draft position.

Perhaps, Olshey didn’t have a choice. Damian Lillard might have dictated Portland couldn’t fully tank. Just how bad could a team with Lillard really be? The 76ers don’t have anyone near his caliber, so declining to become good now is an easier choice.

Maybe Olshey and Hinkie would have acted differently if they were in the other’s situation. Circumstances matter.

But bottom line: The Trail Blazers and 76ers have the same mindset. They want to be great. They’re not as concerned with being good before that’s possible.

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

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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’

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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

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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.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.