The Extra Pass: The All-Value Team

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we’ll put together a squad featuring some of the league’s most valuable contracts. 

Signing players to any substantial contract during the offseason free agency period is like tap dancing through a minefield — the chances of overpaying for a player or being stuck with a crippling long-term contract is very, very high. Those brave souls that have tried to build a team with above mid-level but below max players have more often than not put their teams on the treadmill of mediocrity.

Still, those players get signed every year, usually by teams who have false illusions of grandeur. That’s how Drew Gooden goes to the Bucks for $7 million dollars a year, or how Ben Gordon gets $58 million over five seasons with the Pistons.

The best value contracts in the NBA are players on their rookie deals, and super-duper stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant for however much you’re allowed to give them. That’s generally how it works.

But for the sake of this exercise, we’re leaving off those max stars and any player still on a rookie deal to identify some of the real bargains pulled this offseason. Here’s my All-Value Team:

Jason Kidd$3 million a year – 17 PER – 8th in the NBA in true shooting percentage

Everyone laughed when the Knicks signed the 39-year-old aging point guard to a 3-year deal, but Kidd just keeps on adapting and producing. It might be surprising that the Knicks have a 23-12 record, but it’s even more stunning when you consider that Kidd has been their third best player in terms of net plus/minus, PER, and win shares. That’s some incredible bang for the ol’ buck, especially when you consider that Kidd is shooting 44 percent from behind the arc and turning the ball over pretty infrequently (4.2 assists to 1.3 turnovers a game). With pure scorers like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith on the roster, Kidd has turned himself into the perfect sidekick — a mistake-free, spot-up shooting fiend. He’s a whole new player.

Honorable Mentions: Andre Miller and Kyle Lowry

Matt Barnes $854,389 a year – 17.9 PER –  4th in the NBA in effective field goal percentage

Here’s the story. Barnes was playing pickup ball one day at the Clippers training facility, and apparently, he was really tearing it up. Chris Paul was in attendance, and he asked Barnes who he was playing for. Much to Paul’s surprise, he found out Barnes was still available as a free agent. So CP3, being the go-getter that he is, immediately ran upstairs to the front office and told the Clippers brass to go sign Barnes right away. That turned out to be a pretty good move, eh? Barnes was the 15th man added to the roster and was treated like an afterthought with Caron Butler and Grant Hill already on the roster, but he’s quickly become the most integral piece of “A Tribe Called Bench” — the nickname for the Clippers second unit that has been destroying benches (and starters) with no impunity. Barnes ranks 13th in the league in plus/minus, using his brilliant cuts off the ball and instincts in transition to give the Clippers the glue guy they’ve lacked for years.

Honorable Mentions: Ray Allen, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford

Carl Landry $4 million a year – 18.4 PER – Leads Golden State in win shares per48 minutes

How did everyone forget about this guy? How could a player with such a proven history of being an effective scorer — even on horrible teams — fall in the laps of the Warriors for below the mid-level exception? Whatever the reason was, it sure seems silly now. Landry has proven to be a physical, hard-nosed player that hits the offensive glass (17th in offensive rebounding percentage), gets to the foul line a bunch (20th in the NBA), and shoots the ball incredibly well (9th in True Shooting Percentage). Landry and Lee working the high-low game in Golden State’s smallball lineup (Jack-Curry-Thompson-Lee-Landry) has been truly beautiful basketball. If Landry keeps this up and doesn’t get 6th Man of the Year consideration, we should all riot.

Honorable Mentions:  Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Dunleavy

J.J. Hickson $4 million a year – 20 PER – 3rd in the NBA in total rebounding percentage

What a strange journey. After being tagged as the guy Cleveland wouldn’t acquire Amare Stoudemire for, Hickson has had somewhat of a resurgence with Portland. While he’s still an awful, undersized defender at 6-foot-9, Hickson has helped account for his shortcoming elsewhere by becoming one of the best rebounders in basketball. Hickson is 3rd in total rebounding percentage this season, trailing only Anderson Varejao and Reggie Evans. Hickson’s glass eating mentality and decent scoring instincts (9th in field goal percentage) have helped the Blazers fill the gap at center while Meyers Leonard figures the game out. With Hickson next to LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, the Blazers very quietly have one of the best offensive frontcourts in basketball.

Honorable Mentions: Jermaine O’Neal and Jason Smith

Andray Blatche – $854,389 a year – 23.7 PER – 8th in the league in PER

Just like the Knicks did with J.R. Smith, the Nets got the knucklehead discount on Andray Blatche this offseason. After wearing out his welcome in Washington in a serious way, the Nets were the only team really brave enough to take on a reclamation project, and the talented 26-year-old big man has rewarded them by playing his butt off. Blatche is 8th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, 16th in total rebounding percentage, and 17th (!) in usage percentage. The last stat is particularly interesting — it’s not very often you’ll see an offense sculpted around a player making the league minimum, but Blatche has proven worthy of the touches, averaging nearly 20 points per 36 minutes on career-high percentages across the board. Thanks to the great play of Blatche and Brook Lopez, the Nets can firmly stake claim to having the best center rotation in the NBA. Who could have predicted that?

Report: Sixers, in need of shooting, interested in Kyle Korver trade

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Trading for Jimmy Butler was the right move for Philadelphia, an all-in kind of play that ends the slow-play “process” and pushes championship dreams to the forefront.

It’s also risky — Butler has some Thibodeau-miles on his body, making the need to win sooner rather than later more urgent. It also comes with the problem that while the core three are elite, this team doesn’t have the depth and shooting to compete with Boston or Toronto (or maybe Milwaukee) right now, especially after having to trade Robert Covington and Dario Saric to get Butler.

Everyone around the league expects Philadelphia GM Elton Brand to be aggressive from here on out, looking for trades that bring in veterans who can help right now. One target: Cleveland’s Kyle Korver, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

The desperate-for-shooters Sixers remain highly interested in acquiring Cleveland’s Kyle Korver.
But that will be harder for Philadelphia to make happen without Jerryd Bayless‘ handy $8.6 million expiring contract to help facilitate a trade.

Korver is in the second season of a three-year, $22 million deal he signed with the Cavaliers in 2017. The Sixers instead plugged Bayless into the Butler trade to help make that salary cap math work.

There are options to get this deal done. Korver for Markelle Fultz straight up works, but that likely doesn’t work personnel wise for either side (the Sixers probably will want more for the former No. 1 pick, while the Cavs may want a pick as a sweetener to take on a “broken” player, the trade value of Fultz is an interesting question but it’s not high around the league). Korver for Mike Muscala and Zhaire Smith also works financially. Future picks also can be part of any package, which may interest Cleveland now that they figured out they’re supposed to rebuild after losing the best player of a generation.

However it gets done, what Stein reports follows the buzz around the league — expect the Sixers to be aggressive going after guys who can help them win right now, and Korver is at the top of the list. He’s been available since this summer, the Cavaliers have just been holding out for more than the market will offer.

Korver, at age 37, has not looked as sharp this season, he’s not moved as crisply and his three-point shooting percentage has dropped to 38.7 — which is still better than any of the regular three-point shooters on the Sixers right now (J.J. Redick is a better shooter overall but is hitting 34.9 percent this season so far). Korver has been in and out of the Cavaliers rotation as the franchise tries to figure out what it’s doing.

Warriors suspend Draymond Green for postgame comments in locker room

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The play itself that sparked everything was ugly.

With :06 seconds left in a tie game against the Clippers Monday night, watch Draymond Green grab the rebound and try to go the length of the court for the game-winner himself — only to fumble the ball away without a shot — while Kevin Durant, who should take that shot (or the hot Klay Thompson at that point), claps his hands and calls for the ball.

On the bench after that play got uglier with an argument between Green and Durant where Green allegedly even called KD his “b****” before Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins stepped in as peacemakers. In the locker room later the argument continued and was nasty as there has been in this era of the Warriors. It wasn’t just Durant, a lot of players questioned and called out Green’s decision, while Green defended himself angrily, and questioning KD on his free agency next summer.

All of it crossed a line, and Green has been suspended for a night and will sit against Atlanta, without pay.

From Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports:

Green repeatedly called Durant “a bitch” after he was called out by the two-time NBA Finals MVP in the huddle for not passing him the ball, sources said. The organization is of the belief that Green cut too deep in his disagreement with Durant, sources said.

Klay Thompson, who is typically reserved, spoke up in the locker room to the surprise of his teammates about the altercation and stressed the importance of sticking together, sources said.

Durant is not making his free agency decision — he is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract before July — based on this one incident. But it seems to point to an overall tension around the team as it knows it could be the last year of this specific Warriors team.

Long term, Durant and Green will get over it — they had public arguments before then were hanging out at a baseball game together the next night. They will put it behind them.

But it’s just something to remember come next July.

Report: DeAndre Jordan has bothered Mavericks teammates with selfish play

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DeAndre Jordan bumping teammate Luka Doncic to get an otherwise-uncontested rebound could have been seen as a minor issue, overexuberance by Jordan due to determination to get every loose ball.

But to the Mavericks, it was an example of a troubling pattern with Jordan.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

He has rubbed teammates the wrong way with what they perceive as selfish play

Jordan signed a one-year contract with Dallas last summer, and it’s already hard to see him returning next season.

The Mavericks are just 5-8. They’ve been outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions when he plays and outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions when he sits. He often looks disinterested. His help defense – what Dallas really needs from him – has been especially lazy.

Jordan is still big and mobile, and he can’t help but make some positive contributions as a rebounder and finisher. He just leaves so much to be desired.

Jordan’s mood with the Clippers alternated between despondent and eager. Maybe it will in Dallas, too.

But he’ll apparently have to overcome a poor reputation with his new teammates.

Jimmy Butler joins 76ers defending reputation from Timberwolves exit

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76ers general manager Elton Brand wore a suit. 76ers owner Joshua Harris wore a suit. New 76ers center Justin Patton wore a suit – with a bowtie!

And then there was Jimmy Butler, who sat between them in sweats.

“As you can tell, I’m the only one up here without a suit on because my suit got here late this morning,” Butler pointed out at his introductory press conference today.

Butler begins his new chapter in Philadelphia trying to repair his image.

His trade request from the Timberwolves, his subsequent tactics and reports about his treatment of teammates tarnished his reputation. In a humbler outfit – a genuine consequence of a hasty move or another orchestrated stunt? – Butler addressed those questions.

“I think that I’m an incredible human being, teammate, and I’ll show that to the guys that are here,” Butler said.

So, he won’t convince anyone he’s humble.

But he shouldn’t have to. Butler worked his way up from a modest origin into superstardom. Arrogance can be earned. His ascent should be celebrated – and emulated.

Everyone, including Butler’s new teammates, could learn from his work ethic. That didn’t work well in Minnesota, where Butler sparred with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler would do well to exercise more patience while setting an example.

Not that he’s ready to admit wrongdoing.

“The funny part about it is all you hear is ‘sources say.’ You never hear a player say it,” Butler said. “And I think if a player had a problem or anything, they would. That’s how I feel about the situation. Unless everybody in my past locker room was just that fake, I don’t think I’m that big of a problem at all.”

I don’t think players turned off by Butlers fury would be above criticizing him anonymously. His confrontational style isn’t for everyone.

Besides, Butler used leaks to his advantage, too. It’s all part of the game, which resulted in Butler getting his Bird Rights – and the ability to offer a max contract projected to be worth $190 million over five years – to the 76ers.

Of course, Butler denied money drove his trade request. He insisted he’s still the guy who listens to country music, plays dominos and drives a minivan.

“I’ve already got enough money to have me and my family set for the rest of my life,” Butler said. “It’s not about the money. I’ve got to be able to love where I’m at and have a great chance of winning a championship.

“I love what Josh and Elton are doing. I think they’re doing it the right way. That’s what matters, the people that are around here and how everybody is treated. Because basketball is just one part of it. But to know that you’re wanted and that you’re always going to be taken care of, your people are always going to be taken care of, I think that’s what matters most to me – and a lot of other people in this league.”

Butler wasn’t pressed on what went wrong in Minnesota. He professed his fondness for Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau and said, “it just didn’t work out.”

Will it in Philadelphia? Butler said he dominated the ball in Minnesota only because that was asked of him. He sounds ready to adjust to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, whose social-media postings Butler called a “special work of art.” Talent tends to win out, and this team has awesome defensive ability.

Butler’s reputation never should have been as sullied as it was. The Timberwolves’ mismanagement contributed to the dysfunction as much as, if not more, than Butler’s trade request. He still performed very well for Minnesota in his year-plus there.

But if he comes to Philadelphia with an even larger chip on his shoulder, eager to prove his bona fides as a teammate and leader, that could be good for him and the 76ers. Butler lifted himself to an elite level. He still must show an ability to help others get there.

At least on day one in Philadelphia, Butler came dressed to work.