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.

Doc Rivers says Paul George will be out for the first 10 games

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We are expecting not to see Paul George on the court with Kawhi Leonard in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform until November. But until this week, we didn’t have a good idea about when George could return over the course of the next month.

Speaking to reporters this week, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers let it slip that George could miss up to the first 10 games of the regular season. That would put George at a tentative return date of Nov. 13 against the Houston Rockets.

Via Twitter:

The Clippers are still expected to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and the real question heading into the first several weeks of the season will be how much they allow Leonard to sit out due to load management if George is not on the floor.

The real question in Los Angeles — on both sides of the hall at Staples Center — will be about health, and the Clippers know that it’s not how you start the season but how you finish. It seems likely they will wait until George is fully ready to return to action rather than rushing him back from dual shoulder surgery.

Kyle Kuzma reportedly cancelled plans to announce Chinese sponsorships

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Tensions are still high between the NBA and China, and both sides are hoping that things return to normal soon. Whether that’s possible is another thing altogether, particularly with how raw the response to the NBA has been by domestic fans concerned with the NBA sticking to its stated principles with regard to social justice.

This has affected not just the league, but players too. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were involved in an incident where an official shut down a legitimate question by a CNN reporter. Now it’s being reported that Los Angeles Lakers big man that Kyle Kuzma decided not to announce sponsorship deals with Chinese companies during his team’s visit to the continent this month.

Via Bill Oram:

Kuzma’s plans to announce additional sponsorship deals with Chinese companies were scrapped once the Lakers arrived on Tuesday and found themselves caught in the middle of a stalemate between the NBA and the Chinese government.

The whole story of what it was like to cover the trip in China as an American is worth reading by Oram. It’s an interesting look at the collision of politics, business, and the perception of sports as separate from those spheres.

Meanwhile, players and their management teams will need to think more carefully about the social perception of business deals both at home and abroad.

Facilitator Kawhi Leonard in Clippers opener could be glimpse into season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LOS ANGELES — You could see the impact almost immediately.

In his first minutes in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform last Thursday against Denver, Kawhi Lenoard drained a 14-foot midrange shot, stole a Gary Harris pass and turned that into a step-back three-pointer. Five points and a steal, all in 21 seconds.

More importantly for the Clippers, you could hear the impact almost immediately, too.

Leonard was talking a lot on defense, directing players and making his presence heard. That has been the case in team practices as well, according to people with the Clippers.

“He’s more verbal than you would ever know,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s more demanding in a very positive way. You have to do it right. I love that for our team.”

Questions abound about how Leonard — and Paul George, when he returns at some point likely in November — will fit in with an established Clippers roster and culture this season. The Clippers on paper may be title favorites, but how all those pieces come together remains one of the potential turning points of this NBA season.

The cultural fit seems smooth.

Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell brought an intense, hard-working, tough-to-play-against ethos to Los Angeles — but Leonard and George are lunchpail guys at heart. The Clippers’ new editions may be top five (certainly top eight) NBA talents, but they came into the league seen as “3&D” guys with some potential. They worked their way to the top, and that works for the Clippers.

On the court — at least in the slightly more than 10 minutes he played against Denver — the roster fit also seemed smooth.

Leonard had seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, but what stood out were the six assists. Leonard played a facilitator role. The first bucket of the game was a Leonard drive-and-kick to JaMychal Green in the corner, who hit the three. Leonard’s other assists were mostly to bigs Ivica Zubac and Harrell cutting to the basket.

Doc Rivers’ plan is to let Leonard feel how other teams are going to guard him, them adapt.

“Some teams will try to guard him one-on-one and he’ll probably try to score,” Rivers said. “Some teams, like Denver today, was up doubling him a lot, and he’ll be a facilitator…

“That’s what Kawhi does, it’s not like we’re recreating anything here. He’s a smart player. We’re going to try and keep as much shooting out with him, so teams can’t help. We will try to keep one roller on the floor with him, so that guy’s going down the middle of the paint and he’s creating help. We don’t have to make it that difficult.”

“He found me every time I was open,” Zubac said. “I really like playing with him.”

This was not by direct design so much as Leonard taking what the defense gave him.

“It just happened naturally,” Leonard said. “For the most part I cause a lot of attention, and I’m going to pass it to the open man. They was knocking down the shots tonight.”

We will see more of “facilitator Leonard” this season, and facilitator George as well. That Rivers wants to keep shooters on the court around his stars speaks to what a vital role Green and second-year guard Landry Shamet will play in Los Angeles — they are going to get opportunities and have to make the defense pay. (Shamet had 11 points against Denver and was 2-of-5 from three.)

Then off the bench, Los Angeles rolls out the best pick-and-roll combo in the league right now, Lou Williams and Harrell. Those two drove the Clippers offense last season, which is why both finished in the top three in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but this season there will be less pressure on them. They may not even close games, even though Williams is one of the better end-game bucket getters in the league.

The Clippers are that deep with talent.

Leonard showed already how he just makes the game easier for that talent. Zubac setting picks for Leonard and rolling, with shooters on the floor, is not going to be easy to stop — and that’s without George in the mix yet.

It’s more than the Xs and Os, however, Leonard and his rings just bring a gravitas to the Clippers they needed.

“He has a presence about him when he is on the floor, just feels a little different, how he carries himself, how he plays,” Shamet said.

That presence could carry the Clippers franchise to places it has never been before. It’s the impact the Clippers are ultimately hoping to see.

Cavaliers visit owner Dan Gilbert, recovering from stroke

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers visited team owner Dan Gilbert, who is recovering at home after suffering a stroke in May.

After playing an exhibition game in Detroit on Friday night, the Cavs delayed their trip to Boston so they could spend time Saturday with the 57-year-old Gilbert.

He recently returned to his home in Franklin, Michigan, after staying at a rehabilitation facility in Illinois. Gilbert suffered a stroke on May 26 after being taken to a hospital by a family friend following stroke-like experiencing symptoms.

All of Cleveland’s players, along with first-year coach John Beilein and his staff, held a film session and short walk-through on a replica basketball court Gilbert has at his home before having lunch. Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, spoke with many of the players.

The Cavs play their third preseason game Sunday against the Celtics.

Gilbert has owned Cleveland’s franchise since 2005.=