Jonathon Simmons

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Report: Spurs never offered Jonathon Simmons contract above qualifying offer

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The Spurs extended Jonathon Simmons a $1,671,382 qualifying offer and were reportedly preparing a $9 million-per-year contract offer.

But San Antonio rescinded Simmons’ qualifying offer, and he signed a three-year contract with the Magic. That  Orlando contract is $20 million fully guaranteed according to Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News, $18 million total and $13.3 guaranteed according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Between, how close did the Spurs come to keeping Simmons?

Casey Keirnan of NBC San Antonio:

https://twitter.com/CaseyKeirnan/status/886329885320466432

The Spurs held tremendous leverage, because if Simmons accepted the low-paying qualifying offer, they could have made him a restricted free agent again next offseason. That route would have also allowed San Antonio maximize cap space next summer, which seems to be a priority.

The Spurs still have that flexibility for next summer – just without Simmons. They could have pressured him into signing the qualifying offer or an offer sheet from another team, which might not have come. Instead, they Spurs allowed Simmons, who turns 28 before next season and has spent both his NBA seasons on minimum salaries, to receive his first bigger payday.

Favor? Forceful insistence on maintaining culture by casting out Simmons? Something in between?

Whatever the reason, San Antonio seemingly didn’t try very hard to keep an athletic wing in a league that can’t get enough of them. It’s certainly the type of decision that would draw more scrutiny if not made by a franchise so successful.

Report: Magic signing Jonathon Simmons to three-year contract

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The Spurs essentially told Jonathon Simmons they were done with him – or at least ready to be done with him – by rescinding his qualifying offer and letting him become an unrestricted free agent.

So, Simmons will go to Orlando.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic had about $8 million-$9 million in cap space. I’m guessing Simmons, who turns 28 before the season and has received the minimum his first two NBA seasons, got nearly all of it. A starting salary of $8,406,000 is the demarcation line. Any higher, and Orlando couldn’t have made this offer while Simmons was still restricted.

The Magic are loading up on athleticism – Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross, Bismack Biyombo, Elfrid Payton and now Simmons. There are a lot of tools for Frank Vogel to craft a nasty defense. (Scoring could remain a problem with a lot on the plate of Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic.)

The Spurs will miss Simmons, as they have no mechanism to replace him. But they knew that when they rescinded his qualifying offer, allowing him to get paid elsewhere. While loading up wings like Simmons appears to be the best way to match up with the Warriors, San Antonio is going a different direction.

Report: Spurs, Jonathon Simmons break off contract discussions

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Why would the Spurs renounce Jonathon Simmons (or even rescind his qualifying offer) while still trying to re-sign him, as reported?

Maybe because they’re not actually trying to re-sign him.

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

This makes more sense.

If they didn’t renounce Simmons, the Spurs could have offered him a starting salary of about $7.9 million. If they didn’t pull his qualifying offer, they also could have matched any offer sheet, which could have included a starting salary up to $8,406,000.

With Simmons renounced, San Antonio can likely offer him just the $3,290,000 bi-annual exception.

The Spurs will likely remain above the cap regardless. So renouncing Simmons and removing mechanisms to re-sign him likely means only one thing: San Antonio is moving on from Simmons.

Plenty of teams could use the athletic wing, but cap space has dried up around the league. He’ll a home, but maybe for not as much money as he could have commanded as an unrestricted free agent earlier in the process.

Report: Spurs allow Jonathon Simmons to become unrestricted free agent

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The Spurs held tremendous leverage over Jonathon Simmons.

He was an Arenas Rule-limited restricted free agent, meaning his starting salary in an offer sheet couldn’t exceed $8,406,000 (though the third and fourth years could be balloon payments up to the max). His qualifying offer was a miniscule $1,671,382, and even if he accepted it, he’d be restricted again next summer (though without Arenas limitations).

Yet, San Antonio reportedly prepared an offer of $9 million annually. Somehow, negotiations have gone awry.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This suggests the Spurs didn’t actually renounce Simmons, but just rescinded his qualifying offer. That’d make him an unrestricted free agent whose Early Bird Rights are still held by San Antonio.

The Spurs have operated as an over-the-cap team and will likely continue to do so. They could carve out $7,693,651 in space, which would also grant the $4,328,000 room exception. But they’d still need to re-sign Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol with cap room, the room exception and/or minimum contracts. As an over-the-cap team maintaining Ginobili’s Bird Rights and Gasol’s Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), San Antonio could pay Ginobili up to the max and Gasol up to $18.6 million starting.

In other words, this was probably just a favor to Simmons. It’s hard to see an advantage the Spurs gained by rescinding his qualifying offer.

I’m not even sure why they granted this favor if they still want to sign him themselves. Today is the last day teams can unilaterally withdraw a qualifying offer, but if they’re just trying to help Simmons, it’s not a real deadline. They could always pull the qualifying offer with his consent later.

I strongly doubt San Antonio feared Simmons accepting the qualifying offer – the usual reason for withdrawing it. Simmons returning on a $1,671,382 salary? That’d be great for the Spurs.

Simmons turns 28 before the season, so this could be his only chance at a big payday. He reached the NBA only after paying to participate in an open D-League tryout.

He’s an athletic wing in a league that can’t get enough of them. His defensive awareness is improving, and he can finish above the rim.

I get why the Spurs want to re-sign him. I don’t understand why they pulled his qualifying offer.