Michael Carter-Williams

Sleeper teams for each conference in 2017-18 NBA season

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Eastern Conference

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets finished a disappointing 36-46 last season, but they were never as far off as it appeared. Despite that dismal record, they still outscored opponents, and point difference tends to better predict future success than record.

Charlotte’s big problem last year was center depth. The team went 3-17 without Cody Zeller.

The Hornets corrected – maybe overcorrected – that by trading for Dwight Howard. Howard will start over Zeller for now, and there’s certainly value in having both players provide depth. But Zeller has proven to be the effective fit in the starting lineup. If Howard’s ego allows a move to the bench, Charlotte is definitely better off with that option in its back pocket. If not, this could get tricky for Steve Clifford.

I’m not sure whether Nicolas Batum‘s injury makes the Hornets more or less of a sleeper. They’re obviously worse without him, but a couple-month absence isn’t nearly enough to write them off. The setback might help them fly further under the radar.

Batum’s injury will put more pressure on Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to cobble together effective point-guard minutes offensively and defensively when Kemba Walker sits. That was another, smaller, sore spot last year.

Still, Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not the borderline outfit many have treated them as. After all, they play in the East.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz

The Jazz will feel the loss of their second-best player.

That’s right. Second.

Rudy Gobert was Utah’s best player even before Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics. Gobert is appropriately touted defensively, the best traditional rim protector in the game right now. But he’s quietly an offensive force – a screener, rebounder and finisher.

The Jazz will miss Hayward, to be sure. But much of that is long-term. The 27-year-old will remain in his prime for multiple years and would’ve pushed Utah’s ceiling much higher.

This season, the Jazz rebounded with enough veterans – Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh – to fortify a deep rotation. The newcomers and returning players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson just know how to contribute to winning.

Regression to the mean would make Utah healthier than last season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors can take steps forward, though Favors is a tough fit with Gobert. First-round Donovan Mitchell looks like a steal.

For too many, last year was the baseline, and Hayward is simply being subtracted. Make no mistake, his offensive creativity will be missed. But this team should take steps forward in other facets and remain elite defensively behind Gobert.

The middle of the Western Conference is tough, and the Jazz are by no means a playoff lock. But they have the talent and savvy to at least hold their own in that very competitive environment – even without Hayward.

Have people around Bulls turned Gar Forman’s name into slang for bad GM moves?

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Let’s run through the series of moves that got us here. During the 2014 draft, Bulls GM Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up so they could select Doug McDermott. That didn’t work out. Last February, Forman and the Bulls sent McDermott and Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow. Lauvergne is now with the Spurs, Morrow remains unsigned.

That means Payne is all that is left from those two first-round picks, and he is out at the start of this season due to another foot injury. Beyond that, Payne just hasn’t been good. At all. During the playoffs last season Rajon Rondo got hurt Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg played Isaiah Canaan, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant in front of Payne.

Which led to this comment in the Chicago Sun-Times (hat tip Ball Don’t Lie).

“We knew the second practice [after he was acquired] that he couldn’t play at [an NBA] level,” the source said. “The only reason it took two practices was because we thought maybe it was nerves in the first one…

“Any [Bulls] coach who says differently is lying. … We got ‘Garred’ on that one.”

We got Garred?

Ouch. Although Bulls fans have felt that way for years now.

It’s going to be a rough season for Bulls fans.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.

Report: Grizzlies signing Tyreke Evans to one-year deal

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The Grizzlies let franchise icon Zach Randolph leave for Sacramento.

They’re trying to soften the blow by already announcing they’ll retire Randolph’s number. Adding another local favorite – Tyreke Evans, who starred at University of Memphis – will also help.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I bet Evans is getting the $3,290,000 bi-annual exception. The Grizzlies were already hard-capped by paying Ben McLemore $8,000 (!) more than than the taxpayer-midlevel exception.

Evans has spent the last few years toiling in New Orleans and Sacramento. He went from Rookie of the Year to forgotten nearly as quickly as Michael Carter-Williams. A one-year deal could allow Evans to rehab his value and get back on the market.

The Grizzlies can use Evans’ positional versatility with so many questionable perimeter players – from Chandler Parsons (injury) to Tony Allen (free agent) to Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin (unproven). Evans can plug in anywhere from small forward to point guard.

Reports: Charlotte reaches one-year deal with Michael Carter-Williams for $2.7 million

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Michael Carter-Williams has played with four teams in four different years, and his game has stagnated to the point that he is the first ever Rookie of the Year to not have his fifth year picked up by a team. The Bulls let him walk so they could run out a point guard trio of Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, and Jerian Grant (in whatever order you wish).

Point guards who can’t shoot and have an injury history are not in high demand, but Carter-Williams will get a chance to prove himself coming off the bench in Charlotte next year. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer broke the story.

MCW confirmed this himself.

The deal is for one year at $2.7 million. He will come off the bench behind Kemba Walker, and the Hornets likely will add a veteran third point guard to the mix.

Remember back when Sam Hinkie traded Carter-Williams to the Bucks and got the Sixers’ future Lakers first-round pick? The Sixers traded that pick this year to Boston in the deal that got Philly the No. 1 pick and Markelle Fultz. The Bucks traded him to the Bulls in a deal that got Milwaukee Tony Snell, where he had a breakout season.

Carter-Williams averaged 6.6 points and 2.5 assists per game last season, and his length makes him a decent defender. He’s a below-average NBA point guard, but he can give the Hornets some decent bench minutes, and he comes at a price they can easily afford.