Ricky Rubio

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Timberwolves ace Jimmy Butler trade… then made some other moves

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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.

From the moment former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves, Minnesota was involved in Jimmy Butler trade rumors. But, as of last year, Chicago reportedly wouldn’t budge without receiving Andrew Wiggins, and I didn’t think that was enough for the Bulls. Since, Butler has only improved and Wiggins moved closer to a max salary that will diminish his value. A deal seemed unlikely.

Then, suddenly the Timberwolves traded for Butler – without surrendering Wiggins. A team bound to improve around Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins is now set to clobber a 13-year playoff drought.

Butler is a star in his prime who’s locked up for two more seasons at an affordable salary. The price to land him – Zach LaVine (injured and up for a contract extension), Kris Dunn (ineffective as a relatively old rookie) and moving down from the No. 7 to No. 16 pick – was absurdly low. By dropping only nine spots rather than give up the No. 7 pick entirely, Thibodeau just stunted on his old bosses.

That fantastic trade started a busy offseason in Minnesota, but the rest of it wasn’t nearly as inspiring. (To be fair, how could it be?)

Going from Ricky Rubio (two years, $29.25 million remaining) to Jeff Teague (three years, $57 million with a player option) at point guard wasn’t ideal in a vacuum. But Teague’s shooting was important considering Butler and Wiggins form a sketchy wing pairing on 3-pointers and Thibodeau insists on playing two traditional bigs. Plus, the Timberwolves got a first-rounder a first-rounder from the Jazz for Rubio.

Another former Bull, Taj Gibson, will bolster Thibodeau’s two-big rotation. But Minnesota already had Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich (who’s overpaid and has disappointed, but can still eat up minutes) to limit the defensive burden on Towns, and No. 16 pick Justin Patton is in the pipeline. Does a 32-year-old Gibson have enough left in the tank to justify a two-year $28 million contract?

Likewise, will a 37-year-old Crawford provide value at the full room exception (two years, $8,872,400 with a player option)? The Timberwolves didn’t need another ball-handler. Butler, Wiggins and Teague can be staggered enough to handle that. Towns should be tasked with a greater offensive role, too. At least Crawford is a solid spot-up shooter, but his defense is a big minus.

Shabazz Muhammad won’t fill Minnesota’s 3-and-D void, either. But on a minimum contract, he was too talented to pass up. Dante Cunningham could help, though he’s better at power forward than on the wing, where the Timberwolves need more depth.

Thibodeau hasn’t exactly instilled faith in his ability to take this franchise into the future. But he hit a home run with the Butler trade, and that buys him leeway.

Offseason grade: A+

Jazz second-rounder Nigel Williams-Goss signs in Serbia

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Five of the six players drafted 51-56 will be on a two-way contract this year.

The exception? No. 55 pick Nigel Williams-Goss.

The Jazz draftee signed a two-year contract with KK Partizan Belgrade.

David Pick:

Williams-Goss , via Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

“Even if I were to make the [Jazz] this year, there weren’t going to be a lot of minutes,” Williams-Goss said. ”At this point in my career, I want to be getting a lot of minutes and staying fresh. If I can do that at a high level with Partizan, I think that will be good for me.”

I’m surprised Williams-Goss didn’t ink a two-way contract. The Salt Lake City Stars would have provided plenty of playing time. If Goss spent at least 14 days, of a maximum 45, in the NBA, he would have earned more than his reported salary in Serbia. This is the type of deal his peers got. Not only could he have remained in the United States, the former Gonzaga guard could have stayed in his home region.

Williams-Goss also could have taken the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain exclusive negotiating rights on second-rounders. If he had, he likely would have gotten cut in the preseason.

Utah already has 16 players with standard contracts (one more than the regular-season limit), including 15 with guaranteed salaries. Raul Neto, despite an unguaranteed salary, is likely good enough to make the roster. Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Neto don’t leave much room at point guard.

But if waived, Williams-Goss would have become an NBA free agent. The deal with Partizan might not have been available at that point, but Goss could have still earned a salary overseas – or signed a two-way deal with Utah then.

As is, the Jazz can use a two-way spot on someone else. If Williams-Goss develops as hoped in Serbia, he negotiate an NBA contract next season only with Utah. (And the Jazz might be reluctant to pay his buyout unless he’s clearly deserving.)

It’s a sweet deal for Utah. I’m not sure why Williams-Goss went along with it.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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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.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

DeMarcus Cousins’ agency’s basketball division now led by Joe Dumars, friend of Pelicans vice president

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Clarification: :

It is not clear how many players left with Fegan, but two of ISE’s biggest NBA star clients, DeMarcus Cousins and Ricky Rubio, were signed to Fegan for on-the-court representation. However, those players and others may still be represented by ISE for marketing work, sources said.

 

The Pelicans, long linked to Joe Dumars, have stuck with Dell Demps as general manager.

But New Orleans will maintain a connection to Dumars.

The former Pistons general manager has been named president of the basketball division of Independent Sports & Entertainment, the agency that fired Dan Fegan (and hired Kevin Johnson). ISE represents Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

This could be good news for the Pelicans. Their executive vice president of basketball operations – Mickey Loomis – is a friend of Dumars, a Louisiana native. Dumars, who was quite fond of Cousins while running the Pistons, could help link the two.

The Pelicans went all-in on Cousins when trading for him last season. If he leaves in free agency, they’ll have little left to build a successful team around Anthony Davis.

It’s nice to see Dumars back in basketball, after the disastrous end to his previously strong tenure in Detroit. He has built many relationships that could serve him well in the agent business, though he’ll now be negotiating against general managers who might not be as generous on contracts as he was. In addition to Cousins, ISE’s clients include Chandler Parsons, Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood. So, this is a fairly powerful position for Dumars.