67RIEFNS No. 35: K.J. McDaniels testing the second-round system

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Unlike first-round draft picks, second rounders don’t have a set salary scale. They’re free to negotiate with the team that drafted them for any contract between the NBA minimum and maximum as long as the team has enough room.

Obviously, they typically get much closer to the minimum. High second-round picks often get a couple seasons guaranteed, the first season slightly above the minimum salary with an unguaranteed third year if the team has enough cap space. It can vary quite a bit.

Players have one – rarely used – source of leverage. In order to maintain exclusive negotiating rights with a player, a team must extend him a required tender. A required tender is a one-year contract. That’s the only criterion. So, of course, those required tenders are usually for a minimum salary and fully unguaranteed.

That way, if a team fails to offer a satisfactory multi-year deal, the player can always accept the required tender and become a free agent after only one season (or sooner, if waived). It’s a last resort.

It’s also the route K.J. McDaniels took.

McDaniels left Clemson early, and I considered him a worthy of a late first rounder. Instead, he slipped to No. 32, where the 76ers drafted him.

Philadelphia wanted to sign McDaniels – according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein – to a four-year contract with the first two seasons guaranteed and the second two unguaranteed.

We don’t know exactly how much money the 76ers offered McDaniels in each season of the deal, but they gave another second-round pick – Jerami Grant – a contract that fit that format. Grant will make $377,543 more than the rookie minimum ($507,336) this season and the minimum in the three subsequent seasons. Presumably, McDaniels – picked seven spots higher than Grant – would have gotten at least that much.

Essentially, if Grant is a bust, Philadelphia will have to pay him more than they were required to offer. If he succeeds, the 76ers will have him at a discount on the latter seasons of the deal. It’s a low-risk, high-reward bet by Philadelphia. In exchange, Grant – who has never played professionally – gets more guaranteed money.

Given a similar choice, McDaniels opted for the one-year, unguaranteed tender.

McDaniels is the only 2014 second rounder to sign with an NBA team without receiving any guaranteed salary. His 2014-15 salary is also lower than the players drafted around him.

Here are all 17 second-round picks who’ve signed with their 2014-15 base salary (blue) and total guarantee (red):

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Pick Team Player 2014-15 salary Total guarantee
31 MIL Damien Inglis $820,000 $1,675,000
32 PHI K.J. McDaniels $507,336 $0
33 CLE Joe Harris $884,879 $1,729,938
34 NYK Cleanthony Early $507,336 $1,352,395
35 UTA Jarnell Stokes $725,000 $1,570,059
36 MIL Johnny O’Bryant III $600,000 $1,445,059
38 DET Spencer Dinwiddie $700,000 $1,545,059
39 PHI Jerami Grant $884,879 $1,729,938
40 MIN Glenn Robinson III $507,336 $250,000
42 HOU Nick Johnson $507,336 $2,332,826
44 BRK Markel Brown $507,336 $507,336
45 BOS Dwight Powell $507,336 $507,336
46 LAL Jordan Clarkson $507,336 $507,336
47 NOP Russ Smith $507,336 $507,336
49 CHI Cameron Bairstow $507,336 $932,336
56 ORL Roy Devyn Marble $884,879 $884,879
60 SAS Cory Jefferson $507,336 $75,000

Salary data via Basketball Insiders

McDaniels picked the right team to take this chance.

Players with unguaranteed contracts are usually the first cut when a team need to hit the roster limit, but the 76ers are so far below the salary floor, they can waive players with guaranteed contracts over those with unguaranteed contracts without financial consequence.

The tanking 76ers also have a barren roster, making it easier for McDaniels to earn playing time. He’s going to become a free agent by next summer, and he should have a chance to establish his value on the court.

This is probably a near-perfect storm, and I don’t see many second-round picks accepting the required tender. But it’s interesting to see just McDaniels take this path, and if he succeeds, others could follow.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

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NBC Sports’ 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

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.