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.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.