On Marcus Thornton and the messages sent in free agency

Leave a comment

There’s no use in denying it: free agency in the NBA is kind of a blast, and particularly so when the entire period is condensed into a few hyper-active weeks of player movement. But beyond the surface-level intrigue of roster shuffling is a pretty clear demonstration of league-wide values. Free agency gives general managers the opportunity to bid for players in a restricted market, and thus offers a decent indication of what it is that professional basketball franchises value. Every dollar spent sends a message, as the wide variety of available players forces teams to prioritize their spending based on need and skill valuation.

Obviously, there’s some degree of difference in that regard from team to team and from GM to GM. All franchises are certainly willing to pay big for elite production — or even the potential for elite production. Size, too, has historically provided powerful motivation for owners to open their wallets, largely in the hope that an available center might be able to provide post scoring, rebounding, and interior defense. But beyond those two angles, NBA teams diverge rather strongly in the skills they choose to prioritize, with shot creation as a particularly notable point of contention.

The emphasis placed on shot creation in the NBA is understandable; offense decides the fate of teams on the most basic of levels, and every NBA club has use for another player who can help them outscore their opponent. But the oversimplification of shot creation on a conceptual level is where NBA teams get themselves into trouble. Players who can hit a difficult jumper off the dribble aren’t necessarily worthy of a lucrative contract, and neither are players who are able to generate 20 points per game with significant collateral damage.

Due to the nature of the market, all teams pay for shot creation. But good teams, to great benefit, pay for efficient shot creation.

The determination of a shot creator’s value shouldn’t rely on how many points he scores, but how his production relates to his shooting percentages, shot selection, and turnover rate. Players who grade out well in that regard are worthy of a substantial paycheck, just one reason among many why contracts like the four-year, $31 million deal Marcus Thornton received from the Sacramento Kings is perfectly sensible.

Thornton was an elite scorer for Sacramento last season, but moreover, his 21.3 points per game came on just 17.5 field goal attempts with a single-digit turnover rate. His gaudy scoring contributions come at a perfectly reasonable usage cost, and he’s able to thrive while either creating with the ball in his hands or working without it. He’s also a fair bit more versatile than his scoring-focused reputation gives him credit for; while defense remains an, ahem, area for improvement with Thornton, he’s able to initiate offense in a pinch and does a decent job of setting up his teammates. It’s true that the Kings may have paid a bit more for their own restricted free agent than they had to, but an efficient, highly productive, 24-year-old wing scorer is certainly worth a deal in the vicinity* of the one he received.

*Plus, as noted by Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty, the potential savings from a mythical “better deal” would likely be marginal. Even if the Kings had bided their time and waited for Thornton to sign an offer sheet with another team, how much would they really be saving here?

As a rebuilding team below the league’s salary floor, Sacramento was essentially forced to spend money in free agency. They had to invest in someone, and though the Kings may not have the best track record overall (remember that time they traded Beno Udrih for John Salmons and moved down in the draft in one fell swoop?), President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie capitalized on the team’s situation by signing a useful defensive big and bringing back a prolific, efficient scoring threat. Neither move will usher in a new era or revamp the franchise, but both deals subtly speak to Petrie’s — and the Kings’ — appropriately allocated priorities.

Pistons buy out Markieff Morris, who’s reportedly most likely to join Lakers

Potential Lakers target and former Pistons forward Markieff Morris
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pistons are dismantling.

They traded Andre Drummond and bought out Reggie Jackson. Now, they’ve bought out Markieff Morris.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons and Markieff Morris have reached an agreement to buy out the veteran forward’s contract. The Pistons have requested waivers on Morris.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Morris was owed $940,113 beyond the waiver period and had a $3.36 million player option for next season. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declined the option as part of his exit or will receive some of that money.

Morris wouldn’t really move the needle for the Lakers. They already have more big forwards than they know what to do with – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. There’s no obvious fit for Los Angeles’ open roster spot, and Morris is talented. But it’s hard to see him making much of a difference there.

Heat retiring Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 in weekend-long celebration

Dwyane Wade
Mark Brown/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade says that whenever he would hear the national anthem play before Miami home games, he would take a moment and look to the rafters.

“I always imagined my jersey being up there,” Wade said.

He will no longer have to imagine the sight. After this weekend, it’ll be there for good.

Wade will become the fifth Heat player to get his number retired by the team, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Bosh. A three-day celebration of Wade’s time in Miami starts on Friday, a weekend highlighted by his No. 3 formally going to the rafters on Saturday night when the Heat play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade spent 16 seasons in the NBA, 14+ of those with the Heat. He was one of two players to be part of all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem, whose No. 40 will almost certainly be retired by the team one day, is the other.

It was never a question of whether Wade’s jersey was going to be retired by the Heat, only a question of when. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals and is probably going to keep most, if not all, of those records for a very long time. Consider: He scored 21,556 regular-season points with the Heat, and Alonzo Mourning is second with 9.459.

Earlier this season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers – like Wade, a Chicago native who went on to play at Marquette – said he believes Wade doesn’t get enough credit for what he did as a player, especially in the NBA Finals.

“He’s been underrated his whole life,” Rivers said. “He didn’t get recruited very highly. Took Marquette to a Final Four. He still didn’t go as high as he should have in the draft and then he took the Miami Heat to NBA championships. That’s just who he is.”

Wade was the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, was selected to 13 All-Star Games in his 16 seasons, was an All-Star MVP in 2010 and won an Olympic gold medal.

“Every time I look up to the rafters and see your (hash)3 hanging there, I’ll think of the impact you had not only on this organization, this city and this league, but on my life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wrote in an open letter to Wade that will be part of the team’s game-night giveaway program for fans on Saturday.

The weekend also includes a night of tribute speeches on Friday and a showing of a documentary about Wade on Sunday.

Report: NBA executives believe 76ers more likely to trade Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 76ers have spent years building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Supporting players come and go. Embiid and Simmons remain, even amid a sometimes-awkward fit.

But chatter has increased about Philadelphia trading one of its top two stars.

So, would Embiid or Simmons be the one to go?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

There is no consensus, but league execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved — health being the determining factor in building around Simmons.

When a team is looking to trade one of two players, people frequently predict the less-valuable player will get dealt. It’s not logical. Other teams also know about Embiid’s health concerns. That’ll lower Philadelphia’s return.

I wonder whether these executives know something or are just conveying how they’d handle the situation.

The latter doesn’t mean much. The 76ers have their own view and, less than a year ago, owner Josh Harris called Embiid “our most important player. He’s clearly our future.”

Perhaps, Philadelphia’s stance has changed. Trying to line up trade trade proposals, the 76ers might have tipped their hand.

The mere possibility of that scenario makes this worth watching.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.