Ben McLemore

AP Photo

Grizzlies doing fairly well for team in self-imposed holding pattern

Leave a comment

NBCSports.com’s 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.

As I’ve written repeatedly: The Grizzlies’ insistence in trying to win immediately with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley is likely to yield unfulfilling results in the present and leave Memphis less prepared for the future. This Western Conference is so unforgiving, the Grizzlies are are longshots just to make the playoffs, let alone advance. But they should also be good enough to miss out on a high drat pick in what appears to be a top-heavy draft. An expensive roster and unwillingness to pay the luxury tax leave little flexibility.

But in that context, Memphis added plenty of short- and long-term talent this offseason.

The Grizzlies used every mechanism available – draft, free agency and trade. The haul: Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, Jevon Carter.

Memphis did well to pick Jackson No. 3 despite his initial reluctance and unclear fit with Gasol. Jackson came around on the Grizzlies, and he was too talented to pass up. Though he’ll probably play center in the long run, he might begin his career at power forward due to strength concerns.

Carter provided solid value high in the second round. Unfortunately, Memphis could sign him to just a two-year deal, limiting upside on the value he’ll provide.

Anderson, signed to a mid-level offer sheet the Spurs didn’t match, is darned productive. His lack of athleticism will limit him in some matchups, but he should provide value on this deal.

Even after a lost year with the Warriors, Casspi is not far removed from productiveness. A minimum contract is worth finding out whether he can return to form.

The second-rounder surrendered to get Temple is not insignificant, but the Grizzlies cleared a roster crunch by dealing Ben McLemore and Deyonta Davis – both of whom seemed to run their course in Memphis – to the Kings. Temple should help the Grizzlies on the wing.

It wasn’t all gains for Memphis. The Grizzlies lost Tyreke Evans (to the Pacers), but that was less about this offseason and more the predictable outcome of last year’s failed trade deadline. Evans was so good in Memphis last season. He’ll be missed if this team is still trying to compete.

The Grizzlies also missed an opportunity to conduct an open coaching search, keeping interim J.B. Bickerstaff. I’m not as down on retaining him as I am the process behind it.

Ultimately, I’m just not sure where all these additions get Memphis. At least Jackson and Anderson will be around for years. They might finally provide a roadmap to a post-Gasol-Conley future while still helping in the interim.

But it’ll still be a while for that vision to come to fruition, if the Grizzlies ever execute a next step.

Offseason grade: B-

Kings make neither friends nor progress

AP Photo
2 Comments

NBCSports.com’s 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.

The good news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no wrong (with one big exception). The bad news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no right (with one big exception).

Yet, even in that stuck position, they still found ways to agitate a lot of people this summer.

Sacramento has been cripplingly impatient during its 12-year playoff drought, repeatedly falling for get-good-quick schemes that fell flat and left the team even less prepared to build up later. Among the worst was a 2015 salary-dump trade with the 76ers that cost the Kings their unprotected 2019 first-rounder (and forced Sacramento to swap the No. 3 pick with Philadelphia’s No. 5 pick last year).

But that mismanagement was also liberating this summer. The Kings will almost certainly be lousy again next year, but they can aim to be as good as possible without negative consequences. Signing hamstringing veterans like they did last offseason would have been far more reasonable this year. So would prioritizing youth despite not receiving the bonus tanking benefit. It’s all whatever.

Sacramento didn’t have a quiet offseason, though – at least not to those crossing paths with the combustible franchise.

The most consequential move was draft Marvin Bagley III No. 2 over Luka Doncic, seemingly the preferred choice among Kings fans. I would have picked Doncic, and I definitely wouldn’t have picked Bagley. Sacramento’s understood rationale – Bagley wanting to be there – is especially discouraging.

Maybe Bagley will turn out better than Doncic. Even picks made for poor reasons sometimes turn out. But I’m not a believer, and I sure don’t envy Kings fans trying to talk themselves into Bagley after getting their hopes up for Doncic.

Sacramento also signed Zach LaVine to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet that – fortunately for the Kings – Chicago matched. The deal will likely be a thorn in the Bulls’ side, but they probably weren’t eager to lose a key piece of their Jimmy Butler-trade return for nothing.

From there, Sacramento moved onto players who already agreed to terms with other teams, poaching Nemanja Bjelica from the 76ers and Yogi Ferrell from the Mavericks. Those defections reflect worse on the players, but this sure wasn’t a way for the Kings to endear themselves around the league.

Guaranteeing a 30-year-old Bjelica $13,325,000 over the next two years with a third season unguaranteed at $7.15 million seems about fair. It’s not certain he’ll hold positive trade value, but he might, and Sacramento didn’t necessarily have a better use for that money.

I like the Ferrell signing more. The Kings had plenty of room to get value while out-bidding the absurdly team-friendly contract he agreed to with Dallas. Sacramento will pay him $3 million next season and got an unguaranteed season tacked on.

Between all their incitement, the Kings provided comic relief by trading for Ben McLemore – whom they once drafted No. 7, never significantly developed, never traded then let leave in free agency without even a qualifying offer extended. It was actually part of a larger trade that worked well for Sacramento, netting a 2021 Grizzlies second-rounder for Garett Temple, an overpaid but still productive 32-year-old. Temple, McLemore and the other involved player – Deyonta Davis – are all are on expiring contracts. The second-rounder helps the Kings far more than Temple would’ve. McLemore returning to Sacramento is just a humorous side effect.

Even funnier: Vlade Divac declaring the Kings are a “super team, just young.” It’s hard to see a super team – present or future – in Bagley, De'Aaron FoxBogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry GilesSkal Labissiere and Justin Jackson.

But that won’t be judged yet, and Bagley was the only core player added this summer. It’s especially too soon to evaluate him fully. In these grades, I’m reluctant to assign much credit or blame for draft picks who’ve yet to play in the NBA.

They took an adventurous route, but in an offseason where the Kings had the No. 2 pick and little else to change their fortunes, the Kings used essentially only the No. 2 pick to change their fortunes. We don’t yet what that’ll mean, but this grade reflects at least a little bit of my Bagley skepticism.

Offseason grade: C-

Kings’ Ben McLemore clarifies comments on NFL players taking knee during anthem

Getty Images
4 Comments

It’s one of the silly distractions that somehow passes for political discussion in America right now — NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. It has become one “us or them” issues that are used as a wedge and political debate, turning something nuanced and worthy of discussion into a — literally, often — black or white issue.

The Sacramento Kings’ Ben McLemore waded right into it.

Approached by TMZ outside a club and asked about the issue, the shooting guard dove in.

“You should always represent our nation. That’s how I feel. I think you always should.”

Does the message the players want to send get lost in the debate?

“In (the NFL’s case) it’s getting lost, but in our sport, in the NBA, I think it’s not.”

That got picked up by a number of aggregation sites, and the spin (as it was at TMZ) is that McLemore slammed NFL players. He put out a statement to correct that perception.

Good job by McLemore getting out in front of this and clarifying his thoughts. None of us form our best arguments confronted while in a car outside a bar. McLemore stepped up with detailed, respectful thoughts — this is more the kind of debate we need to have around the issue of racial injustice in this nation. The debate about kneeling during the anthem is just used to divide and distract from the bigger question. Plus, protest is part of this nation, part of the rights veterans fought for, and why Colin Kaepernick spoke with veterans about how to do this protest before he started it.

Players taking a knee for the anthem has not been an issue in the NBA (and the league would like to keep it that way). It’s not an issue for a few reasons. One, the NBA’s core demographic is different from the NFL’s — it’s younger, it’s more diverse, and it’s more urban. If an NBA player protested during the anthem it would not get near the same vitriol and pushback from the fanbase. It’s a key reason President Donald Trump taking Twitter shots at the NBA or is players doesn’t have the same impact.

Second, the power dynamic between NBA owners and players is different from the NFL’s, in that the elite players have it and own it. NBA owners would not push back against LeBron James, union president Chris Paul, or any other star players on a social justice issue because those teams would feel a talent backlash quickly. Due to basic supply and demand, elite NBA players have a lot of power and they are learning how to wield it.

Third, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league as a who have encouraged players to speak out on social issues, it does not try to stifle them. The league wants guys to speak out, to engage. That is not the sense from the more conservative management style of the NFL.

 

 

Report: Kings get Ben McLemore back in trade with Grizzlies

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
1 Comment

Since the NBA instituted a four-year rookie scale for first-rounders in 1998, just 22 top-10 picks spent their entire rookie-scale contract with their original team then left that team in free agency.

Many stayed on their first team long-term. Others got traded while teams were still intrigued by the talent that got the player drafted so high in the first place. Some were signed-and-traded, the threat of restricted free agency giving teams one last chance to recoup value from a high pick.

There’s a certain stagnancy with a player’s development and a team’s decision-making when a team drafts someone high, holds him for his entire rookie-scale contract then just watches him leave in his first free agency.

Former No. 2 pick Jabari Parker is an atypical example of that rare situation, as he was picked especially high before the Bucks let his value drain until he signed with the Bulls last week.

Ben McLemore is far more representative.

The Kings drafted him No. 7 in 2013, and his production oscillated between degrees of poor. Sacramento explored trading him numerous times, but never pulled the trigger. The Kings didn’t even extend him a qualifying offer last summer, and he signed with the Grizzlies.

It was a failure of development by McLemore and foresight by Sacramento. The Kings clearly just never figured what to do with McLemore – which makes this trade, oh, so special.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian:

To be fair to the Kings, maybe this isn’t about McLemore at all. He could just be a salary for matching purposes, the player receiving it completely irrelevant.

All three traded players are on expiring contracts. All three are overpaid based on their production. Temple is the best and highest-paid player in the deal. Davis and McLemore have better chances of helping Sacramento win meaningfully.

The Kings, generously, have minimal chance of winning a satisfactorily next season. Temple wasn’t going to change that, and at 32, he had little chance of helping once Sacramento was ready.

McLemore is a longshot to ever become an effective rotation player, but he has the requisite size and athleticism for an NBA shooting guard, and he’s not old at age 25. The 21-year-old Davis is far more intriguing as a bouncy center, but he must make major strides in effort and awareness.

Even as low-odds bets, Davis and McLemore offer more to Sacramento than Temple did. The second-rounder and cash only improve the Kings’ return.

Sacramento also opens $995,049 in additional cap space. Could that go toward signing another restricted free agent to an offer sheet after the Bulls matched Zach LaVine‘s? Marcus Smart? Rodney Hood? Clint Capela?

Temple is the biggest winner of the trade. He opted in for $8 million next season, even though that meant committing to the lowly Kings. But now he gets his money and gets to join a better team. He might even start at shooting guard in Memphis. Temple is a fine player and an upgrade for the wing-hungry Grizzlies. But he’s also 32 and showed slippage last year. Memphis hopes a change in scenery will solve that and it wasn’t simply aging.

The Grizzlies were wise to bet on Temple considering the low cost of acquiring him. They’re trying to win now, which isn’t necessarily the wrong move with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley under contract. It’ll still be an uphill battle in the loaded West, but Temple is another helpful addition along with Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi and Jevon Carter this summer.

Report: Anthony Bennett likely would’ve fallen out of lottery if Cavaliers didn’t draft him No. 1

REUTERS/Mike Segar
7 Comments

Sometimes, teams pilloried for drafting a bust were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of the Trail Blazers or SuperSonics were always going to wind up using a top-two pick on Greg Oden, no matter whether Portland picked him or Kevin Durant No. 1 in 2007. Darko Milicic was the consensus No. 2 pick in 2004 before the Pistons even landed that selection in the lottery. Derrick Williams surged to pre-draft ratings that nearly perfectly matched his No. 2 selection by the Timberwolves in 2011.

And then there are the Cavaliers in 2013.

Cleveland took Anthony Bennett No. 1 – a shocker to everyone, but apparently especially the teams drafting next.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on The Woj Pod:

That draft night, it was funny, if you go back and look at – I guess if you went back and looked at Twitter, I’m pretty confident – I’m almost sure of this – there’s a tweet from me around, I want to say, 7 o’clock that night saying, hey, Anthony Bennett has a real chance to drop tonight.

And I was right except for, I was going through teams like two, three. I had gone as far as, I want to say, 14 or 15, who were saying to me, “He’s not really on our board. We’re not taking him. If he got to us, I still like guys better than him.” I spent the afternoon going through really every – I don’t know if I talked to all 15, but I had a very strong feeling from most of them, that if he got to them, they were passing on him.

And I was still not believing that Cleveland was going to take him one. They were talking about it, and I kept believing it was a smokescreen. I kept believing they really didn’t mean it.

And so I was right that he was going to drop, except for the fact he went one.

That’s the thing. If he didn’t go one that year, it wasn’t like he was going to go two or three or four. He probably – and I really believe this. This is not revisionist everyone later saying, “Oh, s— no. I wouldn’t have taken this guy.” It wasn’t that. It was that night leading into it that I really believe he would’ve dropped out of the lottery.

There are no Wojnarowski tweets up about Bennett’s stock before the draft, but he tweeted about Cleveland’s plan:

Obviously, that was wrong. Reading teams’ intentions before the draft is hard. Executives mislead, if not outright lie, frequently when given anonymity.

Maybe other lottery teams were as down on Bennett as they said before the draft. But if any teams were hiding their pro-Bennett stance behind a smokescreen of disliking him, they sure weren’t going to admit it after he turned into a bust. They’d just keep that part of the story private.

To some degree, the Cavs were just stuck in an unfortunate spot – holding the No. 1 pick in a draft thin on talent at the top. The rest of the lottery – in order: Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Shabazz Muhammad – has combined for only one All-Star appearance. And Oladipo didn’t get it until his fifth season and third team. Oladipo could make more All-Star games, and maybe McCollum, Porter and/or Adams sneak in. But this wasn’t a great lottery.

The best players in the draft – No. 15 pick Giannis Antetokounmpo and No. 27 pick Rudy Gobert – just weren’t discussed for the top pick. Criticizing the Cavaliers for passing on those two requires extreme hindsight bias.

But there were far better realistic choices than Bennett, who – judging by league-wide consensus – was an even bigger reach than previously realized.