A question of point guard extensions starring Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, and Jrue Holiday

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October brings with it a rush of NBA news. Training camp starts, teams begin assessing if they need to make a pre-season trade, injuries unfortunately occur, preseason games begin and everyone is in the “best shape of their careers” on teams “ready to compete for a championship.” October is Hopetober for the NBA and outside of the above-mentioned injuries, everything is all rainbows and sunshine. But there’s another element.Extensions on players coming to the end of their rookie deals are due on the 31st, and that means big decisions.

Often times, the extensions will be no-brainers, for the elite of the elite. And some will be no-brainers for those players who have overstayed their welcome. But every year, so many fit into that middle gap. Good enough to not want to lose them, not good enough to want to throw the bank at. It’s a complicated question that involves not only the player’s skill but he situation of the franchise and their future.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports Saturday morning on the status of a few key players that fit into this group.

 

Lawson is probably the clearest cut choice to get done. His only issue has been consistency, and that’s something you can attribute to age and experience. He’s one of the fastest point guards in the league, and showed for the first time last spring in the playoffs that he can take over a big game offensively. His leadership continues to be a question mark for George Karl, but it’s also a work in progress. There’s no skill attribute that would prevent the Nuggets from wanting to give the extension. It will, however, eat up a significant chunk of their cap space. The Nuggets endeavored for two years to produce a roster with cap flexibility while maintaining its talent, but extensions for Danilo Gallinari and new contracts for Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee eat up some of that. The rest will be taken care of by Lawson and Andre Iguoadala with a 2014 player option.

So the Nuggets have to be sure this is the guy they want. He looks the part, but it’s still going to be a gamble, the likely reason he has not been put at the max yet, along with Lawson’s decision to switch agents.

Holiday is an entirely different question. There have been hints in the past that he wants the max. The numbers… they are not good. He’s coming off a year with a TS% of .496 (that sucker needs to be over .500 at the very least). His assist percentage dropped nearly eight points last year. There’s a lot of talk about Evan Turner getting time at point guard or at least point forward. Last year per 36 minutes he produced 14.4. points on 13.7 shots. In a league where offensive efficiency is a must, Holiday was severely lacking in it. He also was the point guard and maestro for one of the worst offenses of a playoff team in the league.

The problem with all that? So was Rajon Rondo. The Celtics were a dreadful offensive team, per 36 minutes Rondo produced 11.6 points on 10.5 shots, had an even worse TS% of .486. Now his assist percentage was one of the best in the league at a startling “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me” 52.3 percent. But if we’re looking at numbers, Holiday was at least as efficient as Rondo. (The Sixers had a 99 offensive rating – points per 100 possessions- with Holiday on the floor, the Celtics were a better 101 with Rondo, but neither is anything to run and tell that about.)

But you can make the argument for a qualitative if not substantively quantitative difference between Holiday and Rondo. His control and impact over the game is much greater, and his skillset is readily apparent as superior. Still, these are the kinds of things you factor when you decide whether and how to retain Holiday. The Sixers like Holiday, they seem invested in him, but the money is likely a sticking point.

Jennings… who knows. He can look like an All-Star, a world beater, a dominant offensive player one minute and a huge question mark the next. It’s an ever-evolving question, and part of a much bigger question. Unlike Denver and Philadelphia, the Bucks could be facing significant upheaval next summer with both John Hammond and Scott Skiles working out with a net, effectively. Do you give big money to a largely inefficient player who at times is dazzling and who constantly says he both wants an extension and thinks it would be great to play in New York, something he’s harped on since he was a draft prospect? The Bucks could be facing one of three scenarios: Jennings thrives, becomes an All-Star and the center of their future success as he embraces the Bucks as his team with his maturity, Jennings continues to vacillate between brilliance and dreadful, forever giving management and analysts headaches only doing it for big money, or Jennings manages to become the star he’s shown flashes of, only to pull a modern-superstar trick of demanding out once he’s gotten his money.

There may not be a way to win that conversation.

So all three teams have decisions to make and not much time to make them. But the choices will have a huge impact on not only the players’ seasons, but the future of the franchises.

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.