Bob Levey/Getty Images

Rockets’ Marquese Chriss, 76ers’ Furkan Korkmaz, Nuggets’ Tyler Lydon, Thunder’s Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also have options declined

Leave a comment

The Rockets tried to sell that their trade with the Suns wasn’t just about financial relief, that they truly believe Marquese Chriss would thrive in their system.

But forced to put their money where their mouth is, the Rockets buckled.

Houston declined Chriss’ $4,078,236 team option for next season.

That was the right call. Chriss is too far from being a productive NBA player to guarantee him that much. He’s just 21 and still possesses the raw tools that got him drafted No. 8 just two years ago, but NBA play is too complex for him right now. This is just more evidence the Rockets’ offseason was primarily driven by limiting costs.

We already knew of four other declined rookie-scale team options – Suns’ Dragan Bender, Timberwolves’ Justin Patton, Pistons’ Henry Ellenson and Raptors’ Malachi Richardson. (How rookie-scale contracts work.) But in addition to Chriss, three other players had their declined options revealed shortly before last night’s deadline. Those three with option salaries:

76ers’ Furkan Korkmaz ($2,033,160)

The 76ers badly want another star, and next summer might be their last good chance to sign one in free agency. It’ll be the last offseason Ben Simmons is still on his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract before he joins Joel Embiid on a max deal. So, I can see why Philadelphia maximized its flexibility by declining Korkmaz’s option.

But I would have exercised it. Korkmaz is athletic and skilled, and though he must get stronger, that isn’t disqualifying for a 21-year-old. Though Korkmaz was drafted No. 26 in 2016, this is actually his third-year option, because he waited a year to sign. So, exercising this option would have come with the chance to keep Korkmaz yet another year at a potentially cheap price if he develops.

The clearer failure probably was not trading Korkmaz to a team that would have exercised his option. Maybe that’s what happens when you go through the offseason without a general manager.

Now, it’ll be tougher to find suitors, because any team that trades for him and ends the season with him will be limited to paying him a starting salary of $2,033,160 in free agency. If he breaks out, that wouldn’t be enough.

Nuggets’ Tyler Lydon ($2,190,720)

The Nuggets have gotten plenty of grief for trading down from the No. 13 pick – which the Jazz used on rising star Donovan Mitchell – in last year’s draft.

This won’t help.

In the deal with Utah, Denver received Trey Lyles (nice) and No. 24 pick Tyler Lydon (not so nice). Lydon just hasn’t looked on track to stick in the NBA, in part due to injury. He was good enough in the NBA’s minor league that I probably would have exercised this third-year option, but the Nuggets could face a luxury-tax crunch next season. It’s a close call.

That said, the Nuggets did this knowing this would make their already-panned draft-day trade look even worse. That says something.

Thunder’s Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot ($2,529,684)

The Thunder love to take fliers on athletic wings – including Luwawu-Cabarrot, who was acquired from the 76ers in the Carmelo AnthonyDennis Schroder trade. But Luwawu-Cabarrot hasn’t developed even a niche, so declining his fourth-year option makes sense. Especially considering Oklahoma City faces repeater-rate tax concerns for next season.

Thunder’s Andre Roberson suffers setback in rehab, will be re-evaluated in two months

Associated Press
2 Comments

Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s defense was 11.2 points per 100 possessions better when Andre Roberson was on the court — he was the fifth man who gave them a killer lineup (with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, and back then Carmelo Anthony). That starting five was +14.2 per 100 possessions, and it was rumored that what Roberson brings to the table for this team was a key reason George thought Oklahoma City could win and re-signed with them.

Which is why this is terrible news for OKC — it’s going to be a while before we see Roberson on the court as he has had a setback in his recovery from a torn patellar-tendon injury that had him out the end of last season and into the playoffs.

That would have him being re-evaluated in early December. Roberson had said he had hoped to be back on the court and his old self by Christmas, now that timeline will be pushed back.

The real problem here for OKC is their lack of depth on the wing — they don’t have a quality replacement for him.  Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines, and Timothe Luwawu are going to get most of Roberson’s minutes, but that is a serious talent drop off. It’s also a real concern in the West, where after Golden State and Houston the margins are incredibly slim. This could impact the Thunder’s playoff seeding.

Misadventures stall progress for 76ers

AP Photo
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.

After an extended period of mediocrity then several years of tanking, the 76ers won 52 games and reached the second round, their best season since Allen Iverson led them to the 2001 NBA Finals.

But Philadelphia sure didn’t get the typical stability that follows a breakthrough like that.

The 76ers experienced plenty of disorder this offseason – some welcomed, some not, some between and most of it in service of adding another star.

The Process was always built on the understanding that acquiring multiple stars is both extremely difficult and all but necessary to win a championship. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, a combination many teams would envy, aren’t enough for Philadelphia.

That’s a reason the 76ers ousted Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid and positioned Philadelphia to make the easy call of drafting Simmons. Hinkie executed his vision smartly, but also callously. It’s hard to tank for that long without upsetting people, and the perception he turned the franchise into an embarrassment only grew. So, the 76ers turned to an executive with a more acceptable reputation around the league.

That decision that came home to roost this summer, as Bryan Colangelo’s tenure ended in a scandal far more tawdry than anything under Hinkie.

We still don’t know precisely what happened with those burner Twitter accounts, but the 76ers determined Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, ran the accounts and he mishandled private and sensitive information. The 76ers didn’t find proof he knew about the accounts, and he denied prior knowledge. But it shouldn’t be lost the team’s investigation was impeded by Bottini deleting the contents of her cell phone. Also remember: Two days after news broke of the accounts’ existence, Colangelo was still denying any knowledge of anything about them. In the midst of the biggest scandal of his career, his wife never came clean to him? That is the most unbelievable part of this saga.

So, the 76ers rightfully dumped Colangelo, even though it left them without a general manager for the draft and free agency. With that void in leadership, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere.

Unable to get that additional star via trade or free agency, Philadelphia used most of its cap space on J.J. Redick and Wilson Chandler.

Re-signing Redick (one year, $12.25 million) was especially important given Ersan Ilyasova’s and Marco Belinelli’s departures in free agency. Ilyasova (two years, $14 million guaranteed from the Bucks with an unguaranteed third season) and Belinelli (two years, $12 million from Spurs) were important cogs on last year’s team due their shooting. The 76ers were +42 in the playoffs when Ilyasova and Belinelli shared the court and -3 otherwise – a remarkable split for a pair of reserves.

But Philadelphia clearly didn’t want to limit its long-term star-acquiring flexibility. So, matching multi-year contracts for Ilyasova and Belinelli was a no go.

That’s why trading for Chandler was at least logical. Though overpaid, he’s on an expiring contract can can still pay. The 76ers also got second-round consideration for taking him from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.Still, it seems Philadelphia could have gotten a better free agent for that money, someone good enough to justify passing on the Denver picks.

Keeping a theme, the 76ers lost Nemanja Bjelica when he determined the one-year room exception didn’t provide him enough stability. Why he didn’t figure that out before agreeing to the deal with Philadelphia is on him, but the 76ers paid the price for his defection to the Kings on a multi-year deal.

So, still in need of a stretch big with Ilyasova and Bjelica out of the picture, Philadelphia traded Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, who, naturally, is on an expiring contract. Because Muscala is a four/five (to Bjelica’s four/three), the 76ers dumped reserve center Richaun Holmes for cash. They also re-signed backup center Amir Johnson to a minimum contract for – you guessed it – one year.

Not only are the 76ers preserving 2019 cap space, they’re also stockpiling assets for their star search. On draft night, they traded No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges – who profiles as a solid role player and would have acclimated nicely to Philadelphia, where he grew up and played collegiately at Villanova – to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. That Miami pick has major upside and could be valuable in a trade with a team moving its star and rebuilding.

Philadelphia left the draft with Smith, No. 26 pick Landry Shamet and No. 54 pick Shake Milton. The 76ers also signed last year’s second-rounder Jonah Bolden to a four-year contract. It’s a nice haul of young talent to add to Philadelphia’s stockpile.

But none of those players is the star the 76ers clearly seek. After undercutting themselves, they at least did well to give themselves a chance to try again next year.

That said, maybe they already have the additional star they desire. Markelle Fultz suffered through a miserable rookie year due to the yips. Whether injury was the cause or effect barely matters now. If he finds his groove, that could swing the franchise’s fortunes for a decade. His development might be more important to Philadelphia’s offseason than any signing, trade or draft pick.

I believe Fultz has improved over the summer. But I just can’t project he’ll return to the star track that made him the No. 1 pick a year ago. That’s too big a leap of faith. Even major advances could still leave him well short of stardom.

But he is the biggest variable in offseason that saw Philadelphia lose helpful contributors, fail to maximize its ample cap space and move one year closer to Simmons joining Embiid on max contracts that will limit flexibility.

At least they’re still in strong shape for next summer.

Offseason grade: C-

Thunder secured Paul George, surprisingly kept spending

Getty Images
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 Thunder clearly made headway with Paul George throughout last season.

But then signs of disaster struck internally and externally.

The Jazz ran through Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoff, exposing all the Thunder’s liabilities. It also became increasingly apparent LeBron James would choose the Lakers.

The Lakers with George would have been better than the Thunder with him, and he could have fulfilled his longstanding desire to play for his hometown team. Even if his Los Angeles interest was overstated or he wasn’t fond of joining LeBron, George had numerous other options. The 76ers and Jazz were already better than Oklahoma City. George would have vaulted either team even further ahead.

On the other hand, the Thunder looked like they might take a step back even if they re-signed George. Though Andre Roberson getting healthy would help, Oklahoma City’s payroll was getting quite high. Most small-market teams would shed salary, either by trading helpful contributors or attaching draft picks as sweeteners to unload overpaid players.

Yet, just when the walls of Thunder’s yearlong recruitment of George appeared to be caving in, George re-signed – even locking in for three years (with a fourth-year player option on his max contract). Keeping George – who likely never would have even considered Oklahoma City in free agency if he spent last season elsewhere – is a coup.

We might never know why George agreed so quickly to re-sign, not even meeting with the Lakers. Maybe he just became so attached to Russell Westbrook, George wasn’t leaving under any circumstances. But perhaps the Thunder sold him on their ambitiously expensive plan to upgrade the roster.

Oklahoma City is on pace to pay more than $93 million in luxury tax next season, which would be a record. Perhaps, the Thunder will stretch Kyle Singler. That could drop them below the $90 million-plus the Nets paid in luxury tax in 2014. But Oklahoma City is in the same range despite not nearing Brooklyn in market size.

This is the same Thunder franchise still reeling from the perception it traded James Harden over luxury-tax concerns. What a way to change a narrative.

Oklahoma City re-signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27,346,153 deal. That’s an expensive outlay, especially considering the Thunder are just entering the repeater luxury tax and have multiple veterans on expensive long-term deals. They’re facing a big tax bill for years to come.

Smaller moves also prove quite costly in this environment. Oklahoma City picked three players in the second round – Hamidou Diallo (No. 45), Devon Hall (No. 53) and Kevin Hervey (No. 57) – but signed only Diallo. Rostering second-round picks can save teams in luxury tax, as players signed as draft picks for less than the second-year minimum count less toward the tax than minimum free agents. But Hall will play overseas next season, and Hervey remains unsigned. Instead, Oklahoma City signed Raymond Felton and Nerlens Noel for the minimum (Noel’s cost landing even higher because he received a player option). If they signed Hall and Hervey instead of Felton and Noel, the Thunder would have saved nearly $9 million next season.

Even moves described as cost-cutting weren’t. Once the Thunder decided to part with Carmelo Anthony, stretching him became the baseline. That would have cost $9,309,380 (minus potential set-offs) each of the next three seasons. Instead, Oklahoma City traded him for Dennis Schroder, who has a $15.5 million salary for each of the next three seasons. Unlike the cap hit for a waived Anthony, the Thunder could always move Schroder later to save money. But this trade was not a salary dump.

In the Anthony trade, the Thunder also landed Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, a worthwhile wing flier. But Oklahoma City surrendered a lottery-protected 2022 first-rounder that becomes two second-rounders if the Thunder make the playoffs that year. That’s surprisingly high price for Schroder, who many viewed as negative salary.

The only creative penny-pinching Oklahoma City did was trading for Abdel Nader, who’ll count less toward the luxury tax than a free agent because he signed as a drafted player with the Celtics.

Small picture:

  • I’m not sure Grant is worth his cost. He’s a quality defender in a switching scheme, and using him at center provides a style Oklahoma City lacks otherwise. If nothing else, he’s active offensively. But his subpar shooting lowers his ceiling and becomes especially costly in the playoffs.
  • I’m not sure Felton is worth his cost. He was a bargain as a steadying backup point guard, but downgrading him to third string, maybe Oklahoma City would have been better off with a cheaper developmental piece.
  • I’m not sure Noel is worth his cost. He still has plenty of untapped potential, but there are major questions about his work ethic. How much will he play with Adams, Grant and Patrick Patterson all capable at center?
  • I’m not sure Schroder is worth his cost. Even beyond his potential felony charge, basketball questions emerge. He might hit enough spot-up 3s to thrive with Westbrook. He might not. His ability to attack after Westbrook tilts the defense is intriguing. At minimum, he’ll liven up the offense when Westbrook sits. But the idea that his cost is only the difference between his salary and Anthony’s stretch amount ($6,190,620) is limited. Potential trade partners will value Schroder at his full $15.5 million salary.

Big picture:

  • Who cares?

It’s not my money. If Thunder owner Clay Bennett is willing to spend big, that’s great for the team. Kudos to him.

With Westbrook, Anthony and Adams guaranteed huge salaries, Oklahoma City wasn’t going to clear cap room this summer. Re-signing George long-term ensured the Thunder would be capped out as long they kept their core players. So, additional spending doesn’t hinder flexibility in an significant way. It just helps the on-court product.

My only concern is Oklahoma City fails to meet internal expectations and becomes more reluctant to spend in future seasons. I consider the Thunder more likely to lose in the first round than reach the conference finals, more likely to miss the playoffs than reach the NBA Finals.

But those expectations are higher than they would have been if Oklahoma City dodged the luxury tax. Westbrook is a 29-year-old superstar reliant on his athleticism. There is no tomorrow. Every playoff game is its own reward.

If Bennett is demanding a championship for his massive expenditure, he’ll likely be disappointed. Personally, I’m just impressed with a team that’s much better than it could have been on a tight budget.

Offseason grade: A

Hawks, Carmelo Anthony finalize buyout, clearing the way for Rockets

Getty
12 Comments

We are just 48 hours away from Carmelo Anthony officially becoming a Houston Rocket.

On Monday morning, the Atlanta Hawks officially bought out the former Oklahoma City Thunder star, giving him a part of his $27.9 million salary. Anthony will need to wait those 48 hours in order to clear waivers, and then he will be free to sign with the team of his choice.

The report is that Anthony will quickly sign a one-year, minimum salary deal with the Houston Rockets.

Via the Hawks’ press release:

The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has requested waivers on Carmelo Anthony, it was announced today.

Anthony was acquired by the Hawks on July 25 as part of a three-team transaction, with the Hawks also receiving a protected 2022 first-round draft pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Justin Anderson from the Philadelphia 76ers. As part of the trade, the Hawks traded Mike Muscala to Philadelphia and Dennis Schröder to Oklahoma City, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was traded from Philadelphia to Oklahoma City.

Houston has not been shy in discussing the possibility of adding Carmelo to their team. Star James Harden has said that they are hopeful they can get the best out of of the aging scorer as they try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors and the Western Conference Finals once again.

Adding Anthony to an offensive machine like the Rockets will certainly be an experiment. The hope is that Anthony plays up to his potential — and within the system — while operating for his former New York Knicks coach in Mike D’Antoni.

Now, all that’s left is to see whether Anthony can get his hands on his own Atlanta Hawks jersey.

Do you have burning NBA questions you want answered? Submit your questions to Pro Basketball Talk for our mailbag! E-mail us at pbtmailbag@gmail.com to get your question featured right here on PBT.