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Could new Collective Bargaining Agreement break up Warriors?

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The Warrior paranoia seems silly already.

Golden State is certainly excellent, but 7-2 with a pair of 20-point losses is hardly transformational. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have not ruined the NBA’s competitive integrity.

But owners and players negotiated the Collective Bargaining Agreement while the super-team threat was as scary as they could imagine, which is to say far more fearsome than reality. The last CBA took steps to break up or at least limit the LeBron JamesDwyane WadeChris Bosh Heat – and it might have worked.

Could the next CBA unravel the Warriors?

I called it unlikely. I still find it unlikely.

But so much of what we learn about the new labor agreement spells potential trouble for Golden State.

Durant and Curry can become unrestricted free agents next summer. So will Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Zaza Pachulia, but they’re lesser concerns. Durant and Curry are the obvious priorities.

In the likely event he opts out of his 1+1 contract, Durant would be a Non-Bird free agent. The Warriors could exceed the cap to re-sign him for up to $31,848,120. However, based on the latest salary-cap projection, his max salary would project to be about $33.9 million. I doubt he’s leaving a couple million on the table next season, so Golden State will need cap space to re-sign him.

How much cap space will the Warriors have? That’s where the new CBA could cause problems.

Free agents count against the cap until signed or renounced. How much they count against the cap depends on their previous contract, but the amount is defined by the CBA. For example, under the current CBA, Curry – who will be a Bird free agent, made more than the estimated average salary and is not coming off a rookie-scale contract – would count at 150% of his previous salary. Golden State could hold him at that amount ($18,168,539), spend its cap space and then use his Bird Rights to re-sign him to a max salary (projected to be about $29 million based on the current system).

Under the new CBA?

Bobby Marks of Yahoo Sports:

The Vertical has learned that there’s potentially could be a rule placed that is called the Drummond Rule. So basically, all these players who sign with low cap holds, teams use cap space, kind of circle back, use the room and then sign their player – that is going to go away. We’re going to see some of these cap holds take a significant increase, go from 150 percent to possibly 300 percent.

So, how that plays out is going to be a big question. We could see an impact next summer on Golden State. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant: free agents. Does the Curry cap hold double? And that might mean a dramatic effect as far as what you have with Durant, Livingston, Iguodala.

The only question will be how the NBA uses these rules. Do you grandfather them in? Do you have a grace period? There’s still a lot of questions to be hammered, but there could be certainly a domino effect right now.

First of all, it’s silly to name this rule after Andre Drummond, who forwent an extension with the Pistons last year so they could take advantage of his low cap hold this year before re-signing him to a max contract. The Spurs did the same with Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards, though perhaps with less approval from the player, did the same with Bradley Beal. Too much scrutiny has been placed on Detroit and Drummond for a fairly common strategy.

Anyway, back to the Warriors.

The example Marks provides directly applies to Curry. He’ll be the type of free agent who counts 150%. Now he could count 300%? That’d double his cap hold to $36,337,077 – but another rule limits Golden State’s exposure.

A cap hold can’t exceed a player’s maximum salary based on years of service. Based on the current system, the max for a player with nine years of experience, like Curry will have next summer, projects to be about $29 million.

So, holding Curry at $29 million rather than $18,168,539 isn’t ideal for the Warriors. But it beats $36,337,077.

Except…

The CBA might not stick with the same max tiers, which currently split players into three groups:

  • 0-6 years experience: 25% of an adjusted salary-cap figure
  • 7-9 years experience: 30% of an adjusted salary-cap figure
  • 10+ years experience: 35% of an adjusted salary-cap figure

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

You need to be a 10-year veteran to get the 35 percent. Well, they’re going to change the numbers on that. They’re going to change the service years.

I don’t know what the numbers are. I don’t know if it’s going to come down to nine years. I don’t know if it’s going to go down to eight years. I don’t know whether it’s going to be a graduated scale.

Windhorst added that players with less experience will have a chance to earn more. It will not go the other way.

So, Curry would wind up with a higher max – which would increase his cap hold. It sounds as if he’ll be experienced enough to get the 35% max, which would match the $33.9 million projection for Durant’s max.

This is becoming less and less workable for the Warriors, and we’re not done.

NBA teams are currently required to carry 13 players (which can also include free agents who are still on the books and unsigned first-round picks, who also count toward the cap). If a team has fewer than 13 players, it’s assessed a roster charge – equal to the rookie minimum, which the current CBA pegs as $562,493 for next offseason – for each open slot.

Golden State has just five players under contract for next season: Green, Thompson, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw. Even with as many held free agents as they can keep, the Warriors will be dealing with roster charges.

Windhorst:

The minimum salaries are going way up. The new minimum is going to be in the 800-to-900-thousand-dollar range. Also, you won’t have a 13-person roster limit anymore. You will have a mandatory 15-man roster. So, your roster charges aren’t just going up to 13. They’re going  up to 15.

So, that’s even less cap space for Golden State. Not only do the Warriors have to absorb more roster charges than under the current CBA, each charge will cost more.

Based on the $103 million cap projection and these reported rule changes, Golden State could be looking at before signing Durant:

  • Stephen Curry: $33,900,000
  • Klay Thompson: $17,826,150
  • Draymond Green: $16,400,000
  • Kevon Looney: $1,233,840
  • Damian Jones: $1,224,240
  • Pat McCaw: $905,249
  • Eight cap holds: $6,800,000
  • Cap space: $23,765,395

Again, Durant’s max projects to be about $33.9 million – $10 million more than the Warriors would have room for in this scenario.

If the offseason appeared headed in this direction, he could always opt in for $27,734,405. That’d allow the Warriors to easily re-sign Curry, Iguodala and Livingston through Bird Rights.

But Durant would still be taking about $6 million less than he could get elsewhere. There’s a reason he signed a short-term contract despite his injury history, and I don’t think it’s to take a $6 million discount.

If Durant opts out in this scenario, carving out the extra $10 million necessary to max him out would be difficult.

Dumping Looney, Jones and/or McCaw wouldn’t do much, because every additional roster vacancy would add a roster charge that’s nearly as costly as their salaries. Curry could take a discount, but how inclined is he to do that after playing so long on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. The CBA prevents Thompson and Green from taking pay cuts.

There is a good source of hope, though.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

One wrinkle in the current proposed deal, according to sources familiar with it: Cap holds attached to free agents coming off rookie contracts could jump to 250 and 300 percent of their prior salaries, up from 200 and 250 percent

As of now, cap holds attached to players with more experience would stay the same, per league sources. That could change, of course.

This contradicts Marks’ description of the cap-hold changes. Because Curry is not coming off a rookie-scale contract, his cap hold would remain 150% of his previous salary. With Curry held at $18,168,539 rather than $33.9 million, the Warriors would easily have enough room to max out Durant. Then, they could use Curry’s Bird Rights to max him out, too. Iguodala might get squeezed out, but Golden State would at least avoid the doomsday scenario of losing Durant or Curry.

As Lowe notes, this is fluid.

We don’t know precisely how the CBA will treat cap holds. Even if veteran holds are raised, the change might not be implemented in 2017 to give teams a chance to prepare.

We don’t know what the salary cap will be. That’s always undetermined until July, and this year brings the additional possibility of the formula changing.

We don’t know what max salaries will be. Not only are they tied to the salary cap in the current framework, the new system could carry significantly different rules.

Other changes to the system could nuke the framework this analysis relies on.

But a picture is starting to emerge, and it should concern the Warriors. They have little roster stability. Twenty-nine other teams want to beat them, and some owners surely resent Golden State’s dominance. Likewise, players around the league might seek provisions that encourage competitiveness.

I find it hard to believe owners and players would be so punitive to any one team. I believe they’ll mostly respect the idea that they wouldn’t want to be targeted if they happened to have the hegemonic team when the CBA expired.

But none of these rules necessarily target the Warriors directly. That just might be the effect in aggregate, and it’s possible they’ll have to live with it.

It’s not nearly time for panic in Golden State, but if I were the Warriors, I’d like to be reassured that the new CBA doesn’t present as many roadblocks as it appears it might.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.