Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Celtics pay the price to transform themselves

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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.

Boston turned over 11 of 15 players from a team that earned the No. 1 seed and reached the conference finals. The Celtics made three trades each bigger than many teams’ biggest move this summer, and they signed Gordon Hayward.

An offseason so busy, I had to grade it twice.

Boston’s massive overhaul culminated in dealing for Kyrie Irving, a huge trade among the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. The Celtics got the young star, but at a significant cost.

The Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick is an elite asset. Jae Crowder is a versatile 3-and-D wing on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. Isaiah Thomas is a star himself when healthy (obviously a major question). Ante Zizic is a nice developmental prospect. And Boston sent another second-rounder to complete the deal.

It can be hard to conceptualize the value of the Brooklyn pick, as it doesn’t show up when comparing last year’s Celtics roster to this year’s – definitely younger, maybe even better. But that pick was the centerpiece of their offer, and to me, it tilted the trade to unfavorable.

At least Irving will be ready to begin the season, unlike Thomas. That’ll keep the Celtics rolling, especially with Hayward.

Hayward was the lynchpin of a successful offseason. An in-his-prime star acquired with cap space created by renouncing marginal players and trading Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris.

That trade wasn’t great in a vacuum. I didn’t like trading the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and a future first-rounder, either. My reservations about those deals largely stand from my initial grading:

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Bradley for Morris is understandable given the circumstances. Trading down for Tatum is a difference of opinion, and Danny Ainge is rightfully sticking by his.

The Celtics are in awesome shape. They have a young good team plus three extra first-rounders, including the vaunted Lakers/Kings/76ers pick and a sneaky valuable Grizzlies pick.

But it’s important to remember they entered the offseason in awesome shape, and I’m grading how their position has changed. Though I didn’t love their decision-making, luring Hayward with cap space that mostly existed anyway was a massive victory.

Offseason grade: B

LaVar Ball predicts LeBron James comes to Lakers to play with Lonzo

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LeBron James is doing what he always does, keeping his options open. After this coming NBA season, he will be able to do whatever he wants — stay in Cleveland or leave. He will be able to survey the NBA landscape, look at where he will be happiest on and off the court with his family, then make his call.

Still, the buzz that LeBron has his eyes on the Lakers — because of the brand, because his growing entertainment business, and because the young Lakers have potential — will not die.

So is it a surprise to anyone LaVar Ball predicts that LeBron is coming to the Lakers to play with his son Lonzo Ball. From a LaVar interview with ClutchPoints.

“Let me tell you this, it would be a great fit, and LeBron is coming to L.A. What’s in Cleveland? You want to be a superstar, man. Superstar franchise.

“It’s going to be like this, and I’m talking about reality. He’s going to say, ‘You know what? I went to Miami. Won a championship. Brought one back to my hometown. I’m the only one to go to three different places and bring a championship.’

“You do not give Lonzo Ball he best player in the game and don’t think they going to win! He is going to fall in love with Lonzo so much on the way that he play. They both understand the game. Best player in the game and you don’t think he coming? Stop it!”

Did LaVar just admit LeBron was better than Lonzo? I’m sure the master of bombast didn’t mean that.

Expect a lot of LaVar statements in the coming weeks as he works to promote his new reality show with his family on Facebook.

How Lonzo and Brandon Ingram look this season, along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the other young Lakers, will impact LeBron’s decisions next summer. So will how the Warriors play, how the Cavaliers play, how Boston looks now, and a number of other factors. LeBron takes his time and makes patient decisions, that will happen again here.

But not many around the league think LeBron is long for Cleveland.

Rumor: Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope because he shares agent with LeBron James

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The Lakers are gearing up for 2018 free agency – when LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins will be available. The Lakers also don’t have their own 2018 draft pick.

That made their mission this summer clear: Preserve and clear 2018 cap space while upgrading the team for 2017-18 as much as possible.

Brook Lopez, acquired in the Timofey Mozgov salary dump that sent D'Angelo Russell to the Nets, was an ideal fit. Lopez will help the Lakers establish credibility this season, and his contract expires afterward.

Likewise, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope emerged as a partner in a mutually beneficial relationship with the Lakers. He unexpectedly became an unrestricted free agent onlu after many teams spent their cap space. Rather than lock into a long-term discount, he sought a one-year deal to get back on the market again next year. He was the best shooting guard the Lakers could have gotten on a one-year contract.

Plus…

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Multiple league sources suggested to ESPN that a major motivating factor in the Lakers’ signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year, $18 million deal this offseason was because Caldwell-Pope is repped by Rich Paul, the same agent as James.

It’s fun to speculate about all things LeBron-Los Angeles, and I think that drives a lot of these rumors.

Show me a plan for the Lakers better than signing Caldwell-Pope, even if he had a different agent. Caldwell-Pope’s transition speed, defense against both guard spots and spot-up 3-point shooting make him a nice fit with rookie point guard Lonzo Ball. (If only Caldwell-Pope could create in the halfcourt, it’d be a perfect pairing.) And the Lakers upgraded at shooting guard without any long-term commitment.

The chance to impress Paul is a bonus, but it’s not as if even that gives the Lakers carte blanche to discuss LeBron with him. After all, the Lakers were just fined for communications with George’s agent, who also represents current Laker Julius Randle and just-traded Russell.

If the Lakers do well by their players – including Caldwell-Pope – that will eventually get back to LeBron, anyway. The lines of communication can just be a little more direct now.

Nerlens Noel signs $4.1 million qualifying offer to stay with Mavericks

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Nerlens Noel is betting big on himself.

The big man the Mavericks traded for last season with the goal of keeping as part of their future has signed a one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer which keeps him with the Mavericks next season and makes him an unrestricted free agent next summer, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

The athletic big man signed the one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer and will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason of 2018, sources told ESPN.

The offer sheet was signed in Los Angeles this week, according to sources.

Noel, 23, recently switched agents, hiring LeBron James‘ agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group after a summer in which he was unable to fashion an acceptable multiyear deal from the Mavericks or garnish an offer sheet elsewhere.

On July 1 the Mavericks offered Noel a four-year, $70 million deal (which is the $17.5 million a year rumor that was out there). Noel’s current agent Rich Paul denies this, but his agent at the time Happy Walters confirmed it.

When Noel said no to the offer and asked to be maxed out, the Mavs said no and pulled the offer. Noel thought another team would max him out as a restricted free agent, but this summer was a much tighter market than a year ago and no offer came.

By the time Noel switched agents, there was no offer on the table from the Mavs, or at least one near the previous numbers.

With Dallas last season, Noel averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game.

The big key for Noel to get paid next summer is to stay healthy — he has a long history of injuries and played in just 51 games last season, which is the thing that makes teams nervous. He has potential as a defensive big who can both protect the rim and switch out on the perimeter. He can score around the basket. Dallas liked what they saw, but didn’t want to max out him due to the injury concerns.

The other reason this is a big gamble for Noel — only nine teams are expected to have max money available next summer, and a lot of those teams are targeting the big name free agents (Paul George, LeBron James, probably Russell Westbrook and others). Noel is not in that class and again could find himself in a tight market. Noel’s agent Rich Paul found that this year with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who expected a max offer from Detroit and ended up with a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million.

Pistons kicked the can down the road – heedlessly

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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.

In their seminal set of transactions this offseason, the Pistons upgraded to a better, cheaper version of their previous shooting guard.

The bill – Marcus Morris already used as down payment – will come due next summer, when Avery Bradley becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Detroit be better equipped to handle his free agency than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s this year?

That’s the bet the Pistons are making.

They had a breakthrough run to the 2016 playoffs, where they were the youngest team to qualify. But their ascension got sidetracked around Reggie Jackson‘s injury-plagued 2016-17 season. There’s a good case the point guard’s injuries contributed to his ineffectiveness, Andre Drummond‘s regression and the chemistry problems that plague losing teams.

The result: The Pistons had to face Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s restricted free agency with the luxury tax breathing down their neck and most of their players’ values in the gutter. Rather than spend its way out of the hole, Detroit kicked the can to next summer.

In the meantime, the Pistons got Bradley, who will earn about half of Caldwell-Pope’s salary this season. Bradley, two years older, is also better than Caldwell-Pope right now.

But the swap cost Detroit Morris, who was traded to the Celtics for Bradley. It also cost the Pistons Caldwell-Pope – though it didn’t necessarily have to.

They rescinded Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer after getting Bradley, clearing Caldwell-Pope to sign a one-year, $17,745,894 deal with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent. But Detroit could have strengthened itself by keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted – even without actually trying to re-sign him.

If Caldwell-Pope accepted his $4,958,374 qualifying offer, the Pistons would have gotten another quality contributor at a bargain price for this season. They could have easily stayed under the tax with him earning so little. Would he have been somewhat redundant behind Bradley? Yes, but teams need backups, and Caldwell-Pope would have been a heck of a backup and trade chip. He would have held the right to veto trades, but any team dealing for him would’ve likely put him in a better position entering free agency. Barring a trade, Detroit would have entered next summer with both Bradley’s and Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights – doubling (or so) the odds of re-signing a quality shooting guard long-term.

If Caldwell-Pope signed an offer sheet elsewhere, it would have been required to be for at least two years (not including option years). So, that Lakers contract would not have been allowed. Whichever team signed Caldwell-Pope would’ve therefore likely been out of the running for another starting shooting guard next summer, easing the Pistons’ ability to re-sign Bradley.

As is, Detroit doesn’t have Caldwell-Pope this season, will have Bird Rights on only one starting-caliber shooting guard next offseason and will face a deeper pool of teams courting Bradley.

Rescinding Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer, clearing the way for his one-year, bet-on-himself contract with the Lakers was a huge favor to him. He didn’t have to lock into a multi-year deal in a market he found unfavorable. He’s earning more than triple what he would’ve on the qualifying offer while still getting a crack at unrestricted free agency next summer. There’s valuing in doing right by players who don’t quite fit the long-term plan.

I’m just not sure the Pistons are in a strong enough position to do a favor that big rather than exercising their collectively bargained rights. Graciously letting Caldwell-Pope walk just puts more pressure on everyone else.

Without Morris, the Pistons will need Stanley Johnson to step up this season. Tobias Harris can man one forward spot, but Johnson – the No. 8 pick in 2015 – is the ideal choice for the other. Johnson struggled his first two seasons, but he’s just 21, and it’s far too soon to close the book on him. Though I wouldn’t want to rely on him making a jump, Detroit has little choice.

The Pistons won’t be forced to lean on Stan Van Gundy’s other two first-round picks, power forward Henry Ellenson (No. 18 last year) and shooting Luke Kennard (No. 12 this year), quite as much. Detroit hedged with more experience – and expensive – veterans.

Langston Galloway might live up to his three-year, $21 million contract. But he’s just one forgettable season split between New Orleans and Sacramento away from the Knicks pulling his qualifying offer and the Pelicans signing him to just a two-year, $10,634,000 deal with a player option. It seems likely Detroit went well above market rate to sign the combo guard, a disturbing trend.

The Pistons got power forward Anthony Tolliver cheaper, for one year with the $3.29 million bi-annual exception. But that also means they can’t use the bi-annual exception again next year. Using the bi-annual exception this summer is not necessarily flawed. The Pistons knew it’d be useful now, and there’s no guarantee it would be next offseason. But preserving resources for the future seems to barely be a consideration for this franchise.

At least they convinced Aron Baynes to decline his $6.5 million player option, granting them more maneuverability. He was left with the $4,328,000 room exception in Boston.

Winning creates flexibility, as players on winning teams hold more value. Perhaps, Jackson getting healthy creates a ripple effect in Detroit that – with these new additions bolstering the roster – sparks a revival.

But the Pistons are poised to face the same luxury-tax issues they had with paying Caldwell-Pope this summer with paying Bradley next summer. Except Bradley will start free agency unrestricted, meaning Detroit will have even less control of the situation.

The Pistons just hope they win enough this year to confront that issue from a position of greater strength.

Offseason grade: C-