D'Angelo Russell

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Nets have it all – stars, youth, picks and a chance at a title… in 2021

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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.

The Nets had nothing.

Now, they have everything.

At least on paper.

Not long ago, Brooklyn was lousy, old, deep into the luxury tax and without its own first-round pick for years to come. Several lost seasons obviously loomed.

But the Nets made the most of those losing years. They drafted well with their limited picks, acquired more where they could and identified players off the scrap heap. Importantly, they instilled a culture of hard work and development.

The rise was slow, but given the circumstances, quicker than expected. Brooklyn made the playoffs last season.

The Nets parlayed that moderate success into a monumental offseason, luring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Those stars vault Brooklyn onto a whole new level. It’ll probably take until 2020-21 when Durant recovers from his torn Achilles, but the Nets are primed to enter the thick of the championship chase.

Most teams must strip their roster to spare parts to open the cap space for two max players. Remarkably, Brooklyn didn’t.

The Nets still have a huge chunk of the young players who helped establish the culture that attracted Durant and Irving. Caris LeVert (No. 35 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years), Jarrett Allen (No. 44 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years), Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa all return.

Yes, Brooklyn had to part with D'Angelo Russell (No. 28 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years). The Nets also had to surrender two first-rounders in their salary dump of Allen Crabbe.

But that trade with the Hawks also netted Taurean Prince, a solid young forward. Brooklyn got a protected first-rounder from the Warriors, too. With a draft-night trade of the No. 27 pick to the Clippers for an less-protected first-rounder, the Nets are +1(ish) in future first-round picks.

Those young players and picks could be helpful in building a championship-level supporting cast around Durant and Irving. That could be through the players and picks developing or via trade.

In the meantime, Brooklyn enters a limbo year with Durant sidelined. Irving is the clear top player with young teammates around him. That didn’t go so well in Boston. There is a chance the Nets fare worst next season than they did last season, and chemistry would become a huge question amid a backslide.

There are so many new faces down the roster:

Jordan (four years, nearly $40 million) is one of the summer’s worst contracts, though it’s completely justifiable as a cost of getting Durant and Irving. Chandler is already suspended.

Durant is also on the wrong side of 30 and seriously injured. There are legitimate reasons for concern.

But the Nets will gladly take these problems over the ones they were facing just a few years ago. Waiting another year for everything to come together is no problem, either. Brooklyn is still way ahead of schedule.

Offseason grade: A

Warriors’ owner: Not re-signing Klay Thompson “didn’t even remotely cross my mind”

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There was an eerie hush that fell over Oracle Arena during Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June when Klay Thompson went down grabbing his knee after landing following a dunk. It was a combination of “Are you kidding, not another injury?” and “Let this not be serious.”

It was serious — Thompson had torn his ACL. He will be out for much of this coming season rehabbing, until some time after the All-Star break (and likely into March). It will take longer than that for Thompson to return to his old self.

The injury happened just weeks before Thomspon would be a free agent. The injury did not change the Warriors plans, they still offered him a five-year, $190 million max contract. The idea of not re-signing Thompson never crossed the Warriors’ mind, team co-owner Joe Lacob said to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole on “The Warriors Insider Podcast.” (Transcription via NBC Sports Bay Area.)

“There was no doubt in my mind, whatsoever (they would resign Thompson). I, and we, want Klay to be here for a long time. He’s one of my favorite players in the world…

“ACLs … not good, ok we know that. But stuff happens and that’s an injury that now people know how to manage. Plenty of people have come back from ACLs and done pretty well. Honestly, it didn’t even remotely cross my mind.”

The Warriors have bet on Thompson’s return to form keeping Golden State as contenders going forward for years. They re-signed Thompson, extended Draymond Green, and still have Stephen Curry under contract. While Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn (and will play for them in a year following his recovery from his Achilles tear), the Warriors added All-Star D'Angelo Russell, who will either work out in a three-guard lineup for the team or be traded for a player who is a better fit (the Warriors are going to give this every chance to work before thinking trade).

There are two parts to players returning from a torn ACL: Physically getting well enough to play again, and mentally trusting that knee the same way and playing without hesitation again. The mental part takes longer. Thompson should get there, but it will take some time.

Even with that, the Warriors see themselves as part of the mix in a very deep Western Conference. They can be if everything goes their way, but the days of the Warriors having a margin for error and still winning big are gone.

NBCSports.com’s 50 best players in 5 years: Paul George, Kevin Durant, players 30-26

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What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

As a fun summer project, the NBA team at NBCSports.com put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. The team working on this included Dan Feldman, Tom Haberstroh, Rob Dauster, Tommy Beer, Steve Alexander, and Kurt Helin (and thanks to Tess Quinlan and Mia Zanzucchi for the design help).

There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but here it is.

Here is the link to players 50-4645-41, 40-36 and 35-31. These are players 30-26 on our list.

30. Paul George

The fact that we’re even talking about Paul George being on an NBA court — let alone a guy who finished third in the MVP voting last season — is a testament to modern medicine and his work ethic in rehab. His Team USA leg injury five years ago could have ended his career. Now that career has come back home to Southern California where he and Kawhi Leonard have completed the transformation of the once laughing stock Clippers into title contenders (and probably favorites heading into the next season).

George is a complete player on both ends in his prime now, but with a game that should age well so that he is still a significant contributor at age 34 in 2024. Last season he scored 28 points a game for the Thunder, shooting 38.6 percent from three, grabbing 8.2 rebounds a game, dishing out 4.1 assists per night, plus being one of the better and more physical wing defenders in the NBA. If those numbers slip some in the next half-decade, he’s still contributing a lot. It’s his play on that defensive end of the court that, while it likely will drop off some in five years, keeps him high on this list — George is going to be a guy a coach can throw at the other team’s best perimeter player in 2024 and still get results. That skill matters.

The biggest factor in the equation about how good George will be in 2024 is health — George had surgery on both shoulders this offseason, and he has certainly had injuries in his past. Fluky ones, but injuries nonetheless. How well will his body hold up and lets him play his old-school style game will determine his value.

But in five years, George is still going to be good. Maybe very good. And he’s going to help some franchise win a lot of games.
—Kurt Helin

29. Kevin Durant

At times in the last couple of years, Kevin Durant seemed bored. He was a great player who joined a great team and made it even more dominant. There was little perceived suspense in the championship chase. Many just ceded the title to the Warriors. So, Durant worked on expanding his individual game, tinkering with different skills.

That luxury is gone now.

Durant is on the wrong side of 30 and has a torn Achilles. He left Golden State and his multi-star supporting cast for the Nets. Neither individual nor team success will come so easily.

In the next five years, Durant has a chance to reshape his legacy. He’ll never completely shake taking the easier route to a title with the Warriors. But if he plays a leading role in a Brooklyn championship, even with Kyrie Irving also starring, that’d prove he can elevate a team to that level.

By 2024, he’ll almost certainly be well past his prime. If Durant’s history of injuries compound, he could be finished well before this. But even with the torn Achilles likely accelerating his downfall, he’s declining from an extremely high peak. His shooting, handles, size and fluidity give him a chance to age gracefully.
—Dan Feldman

28. D'Angelo Russell

One year ago, would D’Angelo Russell have made this list? Maybe, he would have been in consideration, but if he did, he certainly would not have been this high up on it.

That’s the kind of leap Russell’s game made last season, one large enough that the Golden State Warriors were comfortable offering him the four-year max this summer (the most they could do in the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade). Russell earned his max averaging 21.1 points and dishing out seven assists per game while shooting 36.9 from three last season in Brooklyn. Numbers that made him an All-Star. His game is all about hesitation, starts and stops that throw defenders off, combined with fantastic court vision that lets him find the open big man rolling to the rim or the open shooter in the corner. Last season his assist percentage went up and his turnover percentage dropped.

However, what really changed last season is Russell’s shots started to fall. In particular, he shot a lot better from floater range and from three — now he was a threat to score, not just pass, and it opened everything up.

Russell also matured as a person, setting the stage for him to be a leader in Brooklyn and the kind of player other teams want in their locker room. The Laker version of Russell was not that guy. He’s grown up, he and his game have matured, and Russell should take Kenny Atkinson to dinner because the professionalism and slow-and-steady growth Russell learned in Brooklyn got him that max contract.

Russell will be in his prime in 2024, at age 28, and those shooting and passing skills should be heightened. He could use to become a guy who is grittier on defense (he still gets hung up on picks) and more willing draw contact when he drives, but Russell is an All-Star point guard living up to the promise of being the No. 2 pick. In his prime, he’s going to win some team a lot of games in 2024.
—Kurt Helin

27. Jaylen Brown

What stood out watching Jaylen Brown when USA Basketball training camp came to Los Angles last week was that he was playing freely and aggressively. Like the Jaylen Brown of a couple of seasons ago, the one from the conference finals playoff run, not the cautious guy hesitating and looking to find his space at the start of last season.

Brown was among the numerous young players who struggled in Boston last season when Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returned and changed the dynamic. Rather than take the expected leap forward in his third season, Brown’s start slow — 40 percent shooting overall and 25 percent from three the first 20 games — eventually cost him his starting spot. Brown had to adapt to coming off the bench.

Brown adjusted to that role and by the end of the season and was one of Boston’s few bright spots — after the All-Star break he averaged 13.8 points per game with a 59 True Shooting Percentage.

Brown may have found his groove again, but this is still a team with Marcus Smart starting at the two and Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward on the wing, all ahead of Brown on the depth chart. Brown is going to have to earn his run on this roster.

Was the reason for Brown’s plateau last season the chemistry issues around Irving? If so, will the “put his arm around you and run with you” style of leadership Kemba Walker brings to Boston help Brown make the leap we expected a season ago? Or, were expectations of Brown as an All-Star player too high?

This coming season will start to give us our answer. However, watching him this summer, Brown looks like a guy ready to take that step up. The NBCSports prognosticators believe Brown is going to come close to reaching his ceiling now, not fading away, which is why he is this high on the list.
—Kurt Helin

26. Myles Turner

Myles Turner feels poised for a breakout season. At least in the eyes of fans. While he has gone underappreciated nationally the folks at USA Basketball saw what Turner had become and put him on Team USA this summer.

Here’s what I like best about Turner (and Pacers/USA fans should, too), when I asked him about his game in five years, personal goals and getting a brighter spotlight, he always tied that back to team success.

“With the whole world watching (the FIBA World Cup) it’s a chance for me to go out and show a little bit of what I can do, but it’s not about that,” Turner told NBCSports.com in Los Angeles, while USA Basketball trained there. “It’s about sacrifice at this point. We’re here, you’ve got to sacrifice. You’re not going to be able to play 30 minutes a game, shoot the ball 20 times a game, you have to come out here and play within a role.”

In his role with the Pacers Turner made a leap last season. He led the NBA in blocked shots at 2.7 per game and had more blocks (199) than the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team (195). Plus Turner shot 38.8 percent from three. He evolved into an All-Star level center and a guy who was fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting (that award voting always seems to be about a year behind what is happening on the court).

The Pacers’ big man is just 23 and in the past couple of seasons has found his rhythm in Indiana, in a rotation with Domantas Sabonis. Turner said he sets his goals one season at a time, but he’s set his sights high.

“Defensive Player of the Year is a big goal of mine, I want to obtain that by any means necessary,” Turner said. “All-Stars, obviously, that’s on everybody’s list of things to do. And just getting out of the first round of the playoffs, I’ve been in the league four years now and been to the first round every year.”

Turner’s defense is his calling card, but what gets him into the All-Star games and on All-NBA teams will be continued improvement in his offense — keep knocking down threes, take fewer long twos (although he hit a respectable 41.1 percent of them) and improve his passing to rack up assists as defenses start to adjust to him.

In five years, when Turner is at his peak at age 28 in 2024, he could be one of the top few centers in the NBA. An anchor of a very good team — one that makes deep playoff runs. Nothing needs to change, stay on the course he is on and the recognition — and wins — will come.
—Kurt Helin

Andrew Wiggins reportedly has shoes, luggage burglarized in Los Angeles

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Like many NBA players, Andrew Wiggins is in Los Angeles this summer working out, practicing against other elite talent, and generally enjoying the summer in the unofficial off-season destination for NBA players.

Wiggins, however, got burglarized — including having his rented SUV stolen. TMZ had the story.

Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins was burglarized in Los Angeles … and TMZ Sports has learned the thieves made off with the NBA star’s shoes and luggage…

But, we’re told cops described the scene as “amateur hour” … because the burglars left jewelry and other valuables in the heist, and only took about $1,000 worth of the stuff instead.

We’re told the thieves stole a pair of Wiggins’ casual Nikes and his luggage — and also made off with his rental SUV Escalade. But, we’re told authorities were able to locate the vehicle a short time later.

While the car was found, his shoes and luggage have not been, and there have yet to be any arrests. As anyone who has been burglarized can tell you (*raises hand*) the items stolen are rarely recovered and returned, that stuff tends to be in the wind.

With Jimmy Butler gone, Minnesota heads into this season trying to highlight Karl-Anthony Towns and find a second star to go next to him (they went hard after D'Angelo Russell this summer but did not get him). Wiggins has not been that guy as the Timberwolves had hoped, but with his massive max contract that still has four years remaining Wiggins is nearly impossible to trade. That leaves Ryan Saunders with the task of finding out how to get as much as he can out of Wiggins nightly.

Stephen Curry on idea Warriors are not title contenders: ‘I just laugh at it’

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The Golden State Warriors won a title — and had a 73-win regular season — before Kevin Durant walked through that door.

Now that Durant has walked (well, limped) out that door, combined with the facts this is an older and thinner Warriors roster, a lot of people are counting them out of the title chase. Klay Thompson already said do so at your own peril because the dynasty can continue, and the team re-signed Daymond Green to keep the core intact for a few more years.

Stephen Curry‘s reaction to the doubts about this team? Laughter. Via Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I just laugh at it,” Curry said during his second annual Warriors All-Girls basketball camp in Oakland on Monday afternoon. “Anybody can say anything about anything nowadays and it can pick up steam. So we’ve had lots of support. We’ve had a lot of criticism on the way that doesn’t change now. Just what they’re saying is different so doesn’t change how we go about our business.”

It’s not just that Durant is gone, but so are trusted role players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Curry understands they have to build this thing back up.

“It’s just a matter of really trying to get guys comfortable with the system, be able to highlight the different skill sets that we have and different strengths and the chemistry,” Curry said. “It will take a little bit of time and a lot of hard work, but like I said, we have a lot of high IQ guys from our core and a lot of leadership and commitment to what we do, so starting in the training camp and beyond, you have to have a mindset that you will continue to get better as the season goes on.”

The last three seasons the Warriors started off with a massive margin for error and they went on to win two titles (and it took an avalanche of injuries to stop a three-peat). This year that is gone. This season the Warriors are going to be good, but they are just one of five or six teams in the West that enter the season with legitimate reasons to believe they can come out of it all and take a title.

For the Warriors, everything has to go right. Curry and Green have to stay healthy, Thompson has to return and be close to his elite self on both ends (he likely is not back until after the All-Star break), D'Angelo Russell needs to fit in next to Curry (or be traded for a player/players who do), big men Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein need to form a strong front line, and role players such as Alfonzo McKinnie and Alec Burks have to thrive in their roles.

It’s a lot of things that have to go right in Golden State next season.

It also all could happen, and we know how good the Curry/Thompson/Green combo can be when they are clicking.