The Inbounds: Why players and their agents should consider a franchise’s spending history in free agency decisions

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Two and a half weeks ago, Business Week released a study on the “smartest spenders in the NBA.” Kurt talked about the top and bottom ten here. It’s nothing shocking. The Lakers spend really well! The Wizards and Kings spend really badly! Turns out there’s a high correlation between “being a really good team” and “spending your money well” as well as between “being a really crappy team” and “wasting your money.” These lists are primarily talked about in the discussion realm of “what franchises are awesome/terrible.”

Setting aside how flawed that is (payroll is such a small and contextual factor in how a team should be considered as a business), the whole outlook of just ranking the teams independently or on some merit scale is adorable headlines for thirty seconds, but the bigger point gets missed completely.

Here’s the list in its entirety:

source:

 

Let’s consider the list primarily not through the lens of judging the franchises. Let’s instead consider the relative value of the franchises on this list and their standing in free agency and as a draw for players. What are the top free agent or traded player destinations and their relative ranks on this list? This is in no particular order and based on my subjective interpretation of events, so this is where arts meets science, or whatever word you want to use for gibberish meets science:

Los Angeles Lakers, Rank: No.1 It’s sunny, you win championships about every four years or so, there are movie stars, etc. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom on the cheap (for his last contract which just expired).

New York Knicks, Rank No.29. Big city, bright lights, television appearances, Fashion Week, Madison Square Garden, pizza. Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby.

Miami Heat, Rank No. 3. Beaches! Nightclubs! LeBron! DWade! Chalme…. LeBron!

Boston Celtics No. 2. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry. The history. The legacy. The complicated racial and class lines that divide the city.  Oh, and the parks are really nice.

Brooklyn Nets No.28: New building! Flashy! New York! Jay-Z! A weird Russian guy who splurges on everything! Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans.

So overall some really good teams on that list. Also, some downright horrible, awful, God-forsaken teams. The Nets you can excuse, though, because so many of their losses came in the franchise’s attempt to bottom out before Brooklyn. With the move, they’re a whole new team under Prokhorov. It’s like a clean slate. Kind of.

But here’s what I find interesting. Teams like the Magic (No.4) , Spurs (No.5), Hawks (No.8), Nuggets (No.9), Jazz (No.12), Rockets (No.15) and Sixers (No.16) can’t get free agents to pick up the phone for them. The Spurs’ summers are so quiet if you told me the entire franchise goes into cryogenic deep freeze and I’d believe you. The Jazz could hold a contest where the first big-name free agent to show up in their office would win a million dollars just for being there, and they’d still have a million dollars to spend trying to figure out whey no one will come to their offices for a million dollars. The Rockets gave $60 million dollars to two guys who were NBA invisible two years ago.

But the Knicks? The Knicks are beating players away with a stick trying to sign up. The Nets are suddenly one of the hottest places for agents to try and set their players up. The Dallas Mavericks had to fill out their top-eight roster using the amnesty wire and players whose teams did not pursue them for a re-sign, for Chrissakes. (Dallas came away great, but they whiffed on Deron Williams and did not connect on whatever effort they put into the Nash chase and instead got Chris Kaman. No matter how good Mark Cuban thinks Chris Kaman is, that’s a drop-off).

What I’m getting at is that agents continue to throw their clients into situations where they are not well-suited to win, which is going to hurt their value on the subsequent contract. No, it doesn’t matter for players like Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, but these patterns are not new. The Clippers have spent $13 million less than the NBA average on payroll, and yet still gave a massive contract to Baron Davis, would have given Elton Brand one, and still managed to be the place Chris Paul decided was cool enough to come to.

I’m not even necessarily blaming the agents, if the client wants to go somewhere, it’s their job to get the deal done. And in cases like Texas and Florida, the tax situations apply. In L.A., the endorsement opportunities and quality of life matter. And it’s not like Chicago would have that hard a time landing free agents if Jerry Reinsdorf decided to release his death grip on his wallet.

But these teams, the Hawks, the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Rockets, they’ve all been smart, quality spenders driven by fiscally responsible yet aggressive management or ownership willing to pay for its talent… but their cities aren’t cool enough. This study is a reflection of a free agency market that talks about how much winning matters, and yet always gravitates towards the cool.

It’s not even about the money! That I could understand. If this were baseball, I’d understand. But in the NBA, the players whose salaries really matter have set rates they can make under the CBA. There’s only so much money to be passed around, and from there, it’s personal preference. But the preference isn’t towards teams with a proven track record of success, it’s toward what feels cool to them? We focus so much on trying to help the teams to reach the level of their competitors in order to level the playing field. Maybe instead we should focus on educating the players to make them realize that the beach is still a nice vacation spot, but that nothing does more for your earning potential in sports like winning.

Because from here, it doesn’t look like that matters much at all.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.