Bulls biding their time, except forced into action with Zach LaVine

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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 Bulls have a type.

Young volume scorer with suspect complementary skills who tore an ACL in February 2017.

The Bulls matched the Kings’ four-year, $78 million offer sheet to Zach LaVine and signed Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal with a team option.

Great for those players considering their injury histories. Good for Chicago?

LaVine could be worth $78 million over the next four years. The 23-year-old is a talented outside shooter and at least was an electric dunker. Those tools coupled with his age certainly give him a chance.

But he’s so far from that level, I wouldn’t have matched Sacramento’s offer sheet. That would have been a bitter to swallow after LaVine was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade, but throwing good money after bad is a mistake.

LaVine just too rarely puts his athleticism to good use in NBA games. He settles for too many jumpers, especially off the dribble. He doesn’t add anything as a defender or rebounder. Last year was a lost season for him, and while maybe that shouldn’t count too much against him, it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

The Parker signing looks much better. He showed more of an all-around game offensively before getting hurt, and he displayed his defensive potential in last year’s playoffs. He brings more functional talent to the table.

But he was available for less of a commitment because his ACL tear was his second. That’s a scary injury history, though Parker eased fears by showing his bounce after he returned last season.

I’m hardly convinced Parker will be worth $20 million either of the next two seasons. I would have preferred making the trade the Nets did with the Nuggets, absorbing bad contracts to gain draft picks. But even if it wasn’t their best option, the Bulls still helped themselves by betting on Parker. If it doesn’t work, they can drop him in a year.

Chicago’s most important decisions of the offseason weren’t LaVine and Parker, though. The big moves were drafting Wendell Carter Jr. No. 7 and Chandler Hutchison No. 22. Those are just too difficult to evaluate yet.

I was down on Carter before the draft, but I always liked his fit next to Lauri Markkanen. And Carter meaningfully impressed in summer league, reducing concerns about his defensive mobility.

If Carter and Hutchinson hit, they’d nicely complement Markkanen and send the Bulls in the right direction. Maybe even some of Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine come along.

Chicago is still figuring out what it has, and this season will be another year of evaluation and probably losing. Markkanen is the only clear keeper, which means this rebuild is still in its early stages.

The Bulls can swing big in 2019 free agency or continue their slow progress. I’d just rather move forward without LaVine’s deal, but even that could work out.

Offseason grade: C-

Mike Budenholzer bolsters Bucks

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The Bucks had a superstar. They had another borderline All-Star. They had a solid supporting cast.

And now they have a workable vision.

Milwaukee made the biggest coaching upgrade of the year, going from Jason Kidd/interim Joe Prunty to Mike Budenholzer. Add a couple complementary signings, and the Bucks are coming together.

The Celtics, Raptors and 76ers are in the Eastern Conference’ post-LeBron James first class. Milwaukee fits into the next tier with the Pacers, but an ascension to the top tier appears more likely than a drop lower.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is elite. Khris Middleton is underrated. The rest of the rotation is solid throughout.

The goal must be ending a 17-year playoff-series-victory drought, the NBA’s longest going.

Budenholzer should help. The Bucks got him with the Raptors in hot pursuit, a coup for small-market Milwaukee. (An aside: Would Budenholzer have picked Toronto if he knew Kawhi Leonard would be there?) Budenholzer is not the NBA’s best coach, but he needn’t be.

Whatever innovation Kidd’s switching defense brought, opponents had mostly solved it. His offensive philosophy was dated. And he’d worn out relationships with his players.

Budenholzer had a strong record of player development with the Hawks. His defenses have been sound. And his offense is modern.

To that end, the Bucks signed stretch bigs Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez.

Ilyasova was surprisingly expensive. Milwaukee guaranteed him $7 million each of the next two seasons, and he has an early guarantee date (two days after the 2020 draft) for his $7 million salary the following year. But he just knows how to play. Ilyasova is a good shooter and heady defender who takes advantage of his keen understanding of positioning with a willingness to take charges.

Lopez was a bargain on a one-year, $3,382,000 contract. He might start at center. At minimum, he’s more dependable than Thon Maker. Lopez has quickly become one of the NBA’s better 3-point-shooting centers, and he’s a solid interior defender.

Budenholzer knows how to effectively spread the floor using bigs like Ilyasova and Lopez. And Milwaukee already had good backcourt shooters in Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon. It’s downright scary how much space Antetokounmpo will have, whether it’s attacking one-on-one or in pick-and-rolls with Eric Bledsoe.

Landing Ilyasova and Lopez came at a cost, though. The Bucks let Jabari Parker walk, a historically quick exit for the former No. 2 pick.

The failure to get nothing for him can’t be pinned solely on this offseason. Matching the Bulls’ $20 million salary for him wouldn’t have necessarily been wise. Considering Milwaukee’s obvious unwillingness to pay the luxury tax, it was untenable.

But how did the Bucks not see this coming? Why didn’t they move Parker before the trade deadline? And why did they allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in the latter stages of his free agency?

Parker’s two-year deal with Chicago wouldn’t have been possible as an offer sheet, which is required for restricted free agents. The contract contains a team option, and offer sheets must be for at least two years not counting options. If Milwaukee kept Parker restricted – even without an intention to match – the Bulls would have been forced to sign him to a different contract, one not as favorable to them or Parker. Chicago probably would have just made the second year unguaranteed – a small, but noteworthy, difference. But the Bulls never had to make that choice, because the Bucks let Parker become unrestricted.

Chicago isn’t close to challenging the Bucks. But Antetokounmpo is just 23. The Bulls could definitely become competitive during Antetokounmpo’s prime, and Milwaukee – out of kindness to Parker or fealty to his agent, Mark Bartelstein – made it easier for them to build.

The Bucks also drafted Donte DiVincenzo with the No. 17 and signed Pat Connaughton for slightly more than the minimum. I don’t expect either to contribute much this year.

Antetokounmpo gives Milwaukee a wide-open window. Middleton and Bledsoe are headed toward unrestricted free agency next summer, and the 2019 offseason will go a long way in shaping this team long-term.

But the Bucks have a serious chance this year to have their best season in a long time, and that matters.

They were always due to take a step forward next season. Their moves this summer just push them along a little more.

Offseason grade: B-

Best free agent left, Clint Capela, getting pinched without suitors to push Rockets

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Timing is everything.

NBA players are learning that lesson — and, some league officials would suggest learning the cost of not smoothing in the salary cap spike of 2016 — the hard way. Players are looking at the ridiculous contracts of two summers ago (Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, Bismack Biyombo, Luol Deng, etc.), knowing they contribute more than those guys, then looking at the money available today, and frustratedly taking what they can.

Nobody left on the board is getting pinched like Clint Capela, who is now stuck with a choice of two options he does not like.

The Rockets’ center is the best free agent (albeit restricted) still unsigned. He averaged of 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game (with a 24.5 PER), plus 1.9 blocks a night last season, but that sells his contributions short. Capela is central to Houston’s top-10 defense and a perfect offensive complement to James Harden and Chris Paul, he is an ideal fit as a modern NBA center.

With that, Capela wants to be paid like one of the top centers in the league — his max deal would have been five-years, $148 million from Houston.

Problem is the Rockets wanted to save some money, and Capela was a restricted free agent in a tight market. The Rockets made an offer on July 1, but it was well short of what Capela hoped to see.

That offer well below $20 million a season — it’s less than the Bulls will pay either Zach LaVine or Jabari Parker next season, and anyone sane would rather have Capela than either of those two. The Rockets offer is basically Ian Mahinmi money.

One problem for Capela is there were a lot of centers on the market — not ones as good as Capela, but ones that came in for much less money. With a lot of teams not having cap space and some up against the luxury tax, they couldn’t make offers, and the few that could looked elsewhere (figuring the Rockets would just match any offer anyway).

The other problem for Capela now is no team has much cap room left, the Kings have the most at $11 million, which they can get up to $14-15 million or so, but that’s less than the Rockets’ offer. Besides, the Kings are inclined to take on a bad contract with a sweetener pick/player, not spend on another free agent at this point.

That leaves Capela with two choices:

1) Sign the qualifying offer, play one season for $4.7 million, and become an unrestricted free agent next season.

2) Sign the Rockets’ offer, get paid life-changing money (even if it’s less than you think you’re worth) and continue to contend in Houston for years.

He doesn’t like either.

The early buzz was Capela was leaning toward taking the qualifying offer. However, he has made about $6 million in his NBA career so far, making $85 million is hard to walk away from. That is more than life-changing money, that is generational changing money. Will he risk injury and the vagaries of the market to make what he feels he is worth next summer?

Capela does not have to decide now, he can let this drag out through the summer. Maybe that pressures the Rockets to up or alter their offer.

Either way, it’s the biggest free agent decision left on the board, and it’s not an easy one.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kings get Ben McLemore back in trade with Grizzlies

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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.