Dan Feldman

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Report: Timberwolves re-signing Shabazz Muhammad

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Tom Thibodeau never seemed that high on Shabazz Muhammad, whom the Timberwolves president/coach inherited in Minnesota. Muhammad surely never wanted to settle for a minimum contract.

Yet, here we are.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Minnesota renounced Muhammad to sign Taj Gibson earlier this summer, but this deal will restore Muhammad’s Bird Rights and allow the Timberwolves to exceed the cap re-sign him when he becomes a free agent – likely next summer. If this is a one-year deal, Muhammad could block any trade.

For now, Muhammad provides much-needed wing depth behind Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. A steady role and the prospect of re-signing could keep him from approving a trade.

Muhammad neither shoots 3-pointers nor defends well – major deficiencies for a wing this era, which explains why he didn’t receive bigger offers. He’s just 24, and he’s strong enough to create efficient shots inside against most defenders. His strength also helps on the glass.

Minnesota especially could have used a 3-and-D wing, but down to minimum contracts, Muhammad provides excess talent. He prioritized a short-term deal in hopes of earning more next summer, and getting his Bird Rights back could only help.

This is a marriage of convenience for both sides.

Bulls blew the Jimmy Butler trade, and they’ll pay the price for years

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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.

Jimmy Butler was a one-man wrecking crew.

Now, the Bulls are just a wreck.

A half decade of frustration since Derrick Rose‘s injuries sent the franchise spiraling off course culminated in a lousy trade of the star wing, an intentional blowup after years of unintentional blowups.

The Three-Alphas idea was poorly conceived and predictably faltered. Fred Hoiberg has looked out of his element in the NBA, and his rosters haven’t fit his preferred style. Five straight first-round picks – Marquis Teague, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine – have produced little value in Chicago and stressed the Bulls closer to their breaking point.

But they still had Butler.

Butler has grown steadily as a player, approaching superstardom. Using win shares and teams’ actual wins, he accounted for more than a third of Chicago’s victories – a higher percentage of his team’s wins than anyone in the NBA, save the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. But unlike Towns, Butler actually led his team to the playoffs. Butler could have again single-handedly carried the Bulls into the playoff race this season, which isn’t nothing.

Perhaps, the prospect of another early postseason exit was no longer appealing. Chicago has gone nine years without a losing record, but has advanced past the second round only once since Michael Jordan’s last championship, reaching the conference finals in Rose’s 2011 MVP season. There would have been nothing wrong with choosing to rebuild in aim of something bigger, and Butler – locked into a team-friendly contract for two more seasons – would have given the Bulls a huge leg up.

Instead, they squandered that elite asset.

Chicago traded Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and moving up from No. 16 to No. 7 in the draft. That last aspect is the cherry on top of an awful trade. The Bulls didn’t even get an additional first-rounder! They gave up their own in a deal that still would have been awful if they hadn’t.

LaVine is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in February, a troubling injury for someone whose upside is tied to the athleticism he displayed while winning the last two dunk contests. Chicago will have him for only one year on his cheap rookie-scale contract before paying him market value (or so), either with an extension this summer or in restricted free agency next summer. Maybe the Bulls can get LaVine on a discount due to his knee, but they would be assuming real risk.

What did they see in him to make him the centerpiece of their Butler return?

LaVine has garnered attention by upping his scoring average in three NBA seasons – 10 to 14 to 19 points per game. Though LaVine’s efficiency is solid thanks to a smooth 3-point stroke, his heavy workload under Tom Thibodeau – 37.2 minutes per game, third in the NBA – contributed to LaVine’s impressive traditional statistic. He ranked 37th in points per game, but just 69th in points per possession, which is not so nice.

For all his athleticism, LaVine hasn’t really applied it to defending, rebounding or drawing fouls. His injury raises questions about whether he’ll maintain the athleticism necessary to make a jump. Just 22, LaVine still has time to blossom. But it’s worth acknowledging how one-dimensional he is.

Dunn, the No. 5 pick just last year, is actually older than LaVine. A rough rookie year was particularly disappointing, considering Dunn’s age. He has a way to go before his production warrants playing time, though he’ll see the court to develop – especially on this team.

Lauri Markkanen was a fine pick at No. 7, but the shooting big will have to majorly exceed expectations to make this a worthwhile package for Butler.

After surrendering with the Butler trade, Chicago looked directionless in free agency. Quickly securing Cristiano Felicio on a four-year, $32 million contract might have been commendable last year. In 2017 – a tighter market, especially for restricted free agents and big men – it’s a misread. Justin Holiday looks like decent value on his two-year, $9 million contract. Nikola Mirotic remains a restricted free agent.

Getting a second-rounder for paying a portion of Quincy Pondexter was a wise use of resources. Committing to rebuilding sooner and convincing Dwyane Wade to opt out of his $23.8 million salary would have created more room for similar salary dumps. We’ll never know whether Wade would have gone for that, but he might have.

The saving grace of this offseason: Chicago should be bad. Really bad. Maybe worst-in-the-league bad. That’ll net a high draft pick, unlike the Pacers, who are trying to win a moderate amount after their own flop of a star trade.

But the Bulls could also remain bad for years as they try to build back up. Their young core is lacking, and they don’t have a single extra first-rounder.

They never should have been this destitute after starting the summer with Butler.

Offseason grade: D-

Report: Lakers to retire Kobe Bryant’s numbers — 8 and 24 — in December

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The Lakers will obviously retire Kobe Bryant’s number.

When?

TMZ:

the Lakers are planning to retire his jersey before the Warriors game on Dec. 18 … multiple sources tell TMZ Sports.

So 8 or 24? It’s going to be both according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

It might seem strange to retire two numbers for one player, an unprecedented honor. But it’d be even stranger for another Laker to wear No. 8. (If the Lakers retire only one number, it’ll almost certainly be Kobe’s preference of No. 24.)

Also note the timing of the ceremony – before the game. A new rule penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime, and these ceremonies can take longer. Nobody wants to short Kobe or anyone speaking about him.

I’m not sure why teams schedule events like these against premier opponents. Obviously, the Lakers have little trouble selling tickets, but a game against Golden State is sure to be packed regardless. Why not save Kobe’s number retirement for a game that would draw less interest otherwise?

Alas, that’s when the Lakers picked. Now, we await news of which number(s) they’ll pick.

Report: Josh Childress going from Big3 to Nuggets

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The Big3 is becoming an entertaining home for former NBA players.

Maybe also a proving ground for those players to return to the top pro league.

Former Hawks wing Josh Childress, who famously left the NBA in his prime for a lucrative contract in Greece, is joining the Nuggets.

Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:

The Denver Nuggets and Josh Childress have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The 34-year-old Childress hasn’t played in the NBA since 2013, and it’s been even longer since he was effective there.

Denver has 14 players on standard contracts, one shy of the regular-season limit, and they all have guaranteed salaries. Mason Plumlee also has an outstanding qualifying offer.

I’d be surprised if Childress sticks past the preseason, but this is at least an interesting flier.

D’Angelo Russell could transform Nets

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Two years ago, the Nets paid $20 million in luxury tax for an old, losing team that wouldn’t have its own first-round pick for the next four years.

Bleak is an understatement.

Yet, Brooklyn acquired a 21-year-old potential franchise player this summer.

The context isn’t as pretty.

Before D'Angelo Russell became available, he had to alienate his teammates by recording and posting a video of one discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé. He had to disappoint with his maturity and work ethic. He had to demonstrate that he wasn’t ready to carry a team on the court.

To get him, the Nets had to surrender their best player – Brook Lopez, who’s on an expiring contract. They also had to relinquish the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft. And they had to accept Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract, one of the NBA’s worst.

But the Nets still got Russell – a far more valuable player than anyone thought they would have at this point.

Russell needs development, on and off the court. He will test the culture Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are building. But Brooklyn faces little downside in betting on its ability to reach Russell – and immense upside.

Just because Russell didn’t set the NBA on fire by age 20 doesn’t doom him to obscurity. He has flashed enough of the talent that made him the No. 2 pick just two years ago. Point guards tend to develop later. He might still be a star in the making.

Though far from a sure thing, Russell is now the crown jewel of a young core that also includes Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and No. 22 pick Jarret Allen.

Again without their first-round pick this season, the Nets aren’t cleanly incentivized to turn all playing time over to the youngsters – which would usually come with the upside of more losing and a higher draft pick. So, Brooklyn added helpful veterans, leveraging their bad contracts.

Though overpaid (three years, $48 million remaining) and primarily the cost of getting Russell, Mozgov can still play. He should start at center.

DeMarre Carroll (two years, $32.2 million remaining) came with sweeteners (a first-rounder and second-rounder) from the Raptors, who just wanted to dump salary. The Nets need the draft picks, but they could also use Carroll in the wing rotation. Brooklyn even unloaded Justin Hamilton, forcing Toronto to eat his $3 million salary, in a clearly helpful deal.

The Nets also traded for Allen Crabbe (three years, $56,332,500 remaining) without getting a draft pick, a more curious arrangement. Sure, Brooklyn offset costs by sending Andrew Nicholson (three years, $19,911,007 remaining) to the Trail Blazers. But Crabbe’s trade value now is determined by his actual salary. Considering the immense luxury-tax savings for Portland, the Nets probably should have extracted a pick. They apparently just really like Crabbe, though. After all, they signed him to this contract with an offer sheet the Trail Blazers matched last year.

This summer, Brooklyn took its annual foray into high-priced restricted free agency with Otto Porter. Like with Tyler Johnson‘s and Crabbe’s teams before, the Wizards matched.

So, the Nets turned to a smaller, sensible signing. Their big addition in free agency? Tyler Zeller. Though merely a passable player, Zeller is a big upgrade at center, where Brooklyn had just a 31-year-old who looks incapable of playing huge minutes and a raw rookie.

Despite resources flushed away years ago, the Nets are trying to win as much as they can now while setting themselves up to win a meaningful amount later. They’re threading that needle pretty well.

Offseason grade: B+