Josh McRoberts

Associated Press

Three questions the Dallas Mavericks must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 33-49, did not make playoffs

I know what you did last summer: The biggest move was drafting Dennis Smith Jr. at No. 9, a point guard who the Mavs are very high on (and who stood out at Summer League). They also re-signed the legend Dirk Nowitzki for two-years, $5 million per year, a discounted deal (with a player option for the second year). They also signed veterans Josh McRoberts and Jeff Withey,

THREE QUESTIONS THE MAVERICKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Just how good is Derrick Smith Jr.? Franchise cornerstone good? Dallas is rebuilding, they make no bones about it. There is going to be a season (or two) of goodbyes to the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, but this is really like the Lakers the final season of Kobe Bryant — they were selling the farewell, but for the franchise player development was what mattered. (Dirk will likely get in the way of that less than Kobe.)

How fast that rebuilding goes will start with just how good Smith is. He fell to No. 9 in part because he was coming off surgery and he was not quite himself in college, and Dallas was thrilled they had him higher on their board. By Summer League Smith felt right and was one of the most explosive rookies out there. A lot of fan bases were wondering how he slipped past them and down to ninth. Some owners were asking that, too. Is this another elite point guard who slid down the board?

Rick Carlisle will start Smith from Day 1 and has used the word cornerstone with him. Smith should be able to score, but can he do it efficiently at the next level? Can he be a playmaker? How will he handle being coached by Rick Carlisle, one of the best Xs and Os guys in the league but because of that a guy who can be hard on point guards? There are a lot of questions and it’s going to be a process, but we will start to get a sense of just how good Smith can be, and with that just how quickly the turnaround in Dallas might go.

2) Nerlens Noel bet on himself, that might be good for Dallas but is it good for Noel? Noel was one of the many players who misread the market this summer. The previous summer big men were overpaid — Bismack Biyambo got four years, $72 million; Timofey Mozgov four years, $64 million — and the athletic, shot-blocking big man thought it was his turn. When free agency opened Noel was offered four years, around $70 million — I heard that from sources and there have been multiple such reports — but when Noel asked for the max the deal went away. He ended up switching agents and singing the qualifying offer for a fraction of that money, but he will be a free agent next summer.

Noel can be a defensive force and shot blocker in the paint, but he has a limited offensive game — he can set the pick, roll, and finish an alley-oop. Think poor man’s DeAndre Jordan. However, Jordan worked because he had Chris Paul feeding him passes and knowing how to use his picks — can Noel start to develop that kind of chemistry with Smith? If so, he may have more value to the Mavs next summer. However, to start the season Noel is expected to come off the bench.

One quick aside, I doubt Noel will find a deal as good as four-years. $70 million next summer either, unless he has a breakout season. The reality is that the market is going to be tight next summer (only about eight teams will have max contract money, not all needing bigs) and on the market will be DeMarcus Cousins, maybe DeAndre Jordan (he is talking extension with the Clippers), Brook Lopez and others. By the time teams turn to Noel, there may not be much money left. It’s not 2016 anymore.

3) Can Harrison Barnes take the next step and be a good playmaker? Heading into last season, the question was if Barnes was worth the big contract — he was good as a role player in Golden State where he got good looks because of the gravity of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but was he ready to be the No. 1 option? The answer was yes — Dallas ran a lot of the old Nowitzki plays for Barnes and it worked. Barnes averaged 19.2 points per game, had a solid true shooting percentage of 54.1%, he was fantastic shooting late in the shot clock, and he was one of the league’s better isolation scorers — nearly a quarter of his shots came in isolation and he average 0.93 points per possession that way according to Synergy Sports (a good number). He was also strong in the post.

The question for him now is can he be a distributor, too? Barnes told NBC Sports early last season he knew that was what he needed to do, but that this was something that would take game time to learn (you can’t simulate that the same way with drills). If he and Smith can develop chemistry and get guys like Seth Curry and Wesley Matthews (when healthy) good shots, this offense can start to click. The Mavericks are not going to be a playoff team, but if Smith and Barnes have some real chemistry they get there a lot sooner.

With no other good options, Heat keep competitive core intact

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Midnight nears for the Heat.

Tyler Johnson‘s salary will more triple (to $19,245,370) next summer. Miami owes the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

Unable to roll over cap space and rebuild, the Heat at least locked in a respectable roster before turning into a pumpkin.

James Johnson (four years, $60 million), Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million) and Kelly Olynyk (four years, $51 million) were expensive. Even keeping Wayne Ellington ($6.27 million) required paying the Mavericks $5.1 million to take Josh McRoberts.

Those long-term deals all come with significant risk.

It just might not be wise to get a couple contract-year players into the best shape of their careers then reward them with multi-year deals. Waiters’ attitude concerns didn’t disappear overnight, and remaining motivated might not be enough for Johnson, who’s already on the wrong side of 30.

Will Olynyk Olynyk thrive at power forward? He creates the most matchup problems at center, but Miami has Hassan Whiteside and No. 14 pick Bam Adebayo there.

Adebayo provides nice upside, and Justise Winslow returning from injury will keep the Heat from becoming too stale. They also hope their 31-10 finish (after a 10-31 start) last year forebodes a stronger full season.

Miami doesn’t look like an Eastern Conference power – not now, not later. LeBron James‘ Cavaliers are still favored, with Boston trying to prove a thorn in their sides. The Wizards are the potential bridge team with the Celtics, 76ers and even Bucks on the come up.

The Heat’s window to crack through is narrow, their chances higher of falling out of the playoffs completely the next few years. But even if they peak as a mid-tier playoff team, that’s OK.

It was understated how perilous their position was entering the summer, the picks owed to Phoenix and Johnson’s raise posing major complications. Miami didn’t land a whale like Gordon Hayward, but considering the circumstances, this outcome isn’t half bad.

Offseason grade: C+

Report: Heat paid Mavericks $5.1 million (!) in trade

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Warriors set a record by paying $3.5 million for a draft pick, the rights to No. 38 pick Jordan Bell this year.

The Heat just topped that payout in a trade.

Miami paid the Mavericks $5.1 million – the maximum amount allowed this season by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement – in the Josh McRoberts trade, according to Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops.

Not only did the Heat cover most of McRoberts’ $6,021,175 salary this season, they also took on A.J. Hammons (a fringe prospect who’s guaranteed $1,312,611 and $1,544,951 the next two years) and sent Dallas a second-rounder. Dumping the injury-plagued McRoberts cleared the way for Miami to sign Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk and keep Wayne Ellington.

Remember, the Heat also paying a portion of Chris Bosh‘s salary not covered by insurance, even though he no longer counts toward the cap. Miami is essentially double-dipping on the cost of that roster spot.

There have been questions about Micky Arison’s willingness to spend, but the Heat owner stepped up here.

For Dallas, this is partially a cash grab, partially an asset acquisition. The second-rounder could come in handy down the road, though the Mavericks likely could have gotten a better pick if they were willing to help a team clear cap or dodge tax without also accepting so much cash. Unless McRoberts, who has missed 165 games the last three years suddenly gets much healthier, he’s just dead salary. The Mavericks might not have signed a contributor with their remaining cap space at this point, but taking McRoberts is an opportunity cost.

Report: Kelly Olynyk headed to Miami on four-year, $50 million deal.

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With Hassan Whiteside in the paint, Miami has needed a change-of-pace big man who can spread the floor on offense, hit threes, and play more of the pace-and-space modern offense that coach Eric Spoelstra wants to see.

Enter Kelly Olynyk.

A free agent thanks to Boston’s need to clear out cap space to sign Gordon Hayward, the Heat have landed the 7-foot three-point shooter, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

To make room to sign Olynyk, the Heat are working out a trade to send Josh McRoberts to Dallas for a second round pick. Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has the details.

I like the Olynyk signing for Miami, it fits a need offensively (whether or not they bring back restricted free agent James Johnson). Olynyk is a 7-footer who shot 35.7 percent from three last season, and a decent defender when dragged out on the perimeter. He struggles physically with strong players down on the block, but that’s where Whiteside comes in. However, neither of those bigs are particularly fast, something that other teams may try to exploit.

Olynyk is a big who fits the direction the NBA game is evolving and Eric Spoelstra will know how to put that to use.

Miami Heat extend win streak to 12, beat Bucks 106-88; Jabari Parker injured

Associated Press
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Miami Heat keep winning despite having to weather an injury to another key player.

The Milwaukee Bucks just can’t keep their young core together on the floor at the same time.

Miami extended its winning streak to 12 games with a 106-88 win on Wednesday night over the hard-luck Milwaukee Bucks, who lost young forward Jabari Parker in the third quarter to a sprained left knee.

“When we see anybody go down, we cringe,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We hope he’s OK. It definitely took away” from the Bucks’ ability to come back.

Parker will have an MRI on Thursday, general manager John Hammond said. Center John Henson said Parker was yelling to teammates that he had hyperextended the knee.

“We’ll know more tomorrow after we have the MRI,” Hammond said.

Hassan Whiteside had 23 points and 16 rebounds, while James Johnson added 20 points off the bench for the Heat. Guard Dion Waiters didn’t play with an ankle injury.

But Miami was in control from the start, building a 15-2 lead and holding the Bucks to 33 percent shooting in the first quarter. Whiteside amassed 17 points and 11 rebounds alone in a dominating first half, which ended with a 55-44 lead for Miami.

Goran Dragic had 13 of his 16 points in the first half, easily getting into the lane against Milwaukee’s soft interior defense.

“We had to get out to a great start,” Whiteside said. “They’ve got guys that are really long … so we had to come out here with a great start.”

All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ 6-foot-11 forward, had 22 points and eight rebounds, while the 6-8 Parker finished with 14 points.

A lackluster night for the Bucks got worse when Parker went down with 6:34 left in the third quarter. Parker hurt the same knee two seasons ago.

The injury appeared to deflate the rest of the Bucks and their fans. Leading by 11 at the time of Parker’s injury, Miami maintained a comfortable, double-digit lead the rest of the way.

THE STREAK

Spoelstra didn’t go there.

“I’m not going to talk about the streak,” Spoelstra said. “It’s more about a group of players coming together to form an identity as a team and embrace each other, embrace a culture, embrace defending with a purpose.”

BUCKS POSTGAME

Coach Jason Kidd did not address reporters after the game. Following a wait of roughly 45 minutes, Hammond spoke to the media.

“We were discussing a basketball decision. It had nothing to do with the injury,” Hammond said. “We were just talking basketball at that time. I know, it’s ironic timing but really, we were just having a basketball discussion.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Waiters missed the game after spraining his left ankle on Monday at Minnesota. Spoelstra said Waiters was improving, and that he was walking again without a boot to protect the foot. … Waiters joined Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts on the Miami injury report. The team plans to sign Marcus Georges-Hunt, a 6-foot-6 forward playing with Maine in the NBA Developmental League. “I think it’s necessary right now,” Spoelstra said. “We need some insurance, just in case.” A rookie out of Georgia Tech, Georges-Hunt averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists with Maine.

Bucks: Parker got hurt on the same night that G Khris Middleton returned after missing the first 50 games this season with a torn hamstring. Middleton looked spry in limited action, scoring five points in 15 minutes as Kidd eases his top guard back into the rotation. Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Parker form the team’s young core. … Parker hurt his left knee initially in December 2014, an injury that ended his rookie season after 25 games. He was averaging a career-high 20.2 points this season.

 

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