Isaiah Thomas says he’s the best point guard in the NBA (VIDEO)

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Isaiah Thomas is a little guy with big confidence. It’s mostly deserved, as Thomas was one of the most electric players of the 2016-17 NBA season with the Boston Celtics.

Of course, since then Thomas has bounced around a little bit following a hip injury and a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers that didn’t quite work out. Thomas has played for the Los Angeles Lakers since then, and now he’ll try to resurrect his chances at a larger contract with the Denver Nuggets this upcoming year.

Still, I’m not sure that how Thomas apparently feels about himself is reasonable. While the NBA guard was talking to comedian Kevin Hart during an interview this past week, Thomas revealed his top five point guards playing in the NBA today. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) Thomas listed himself as the best PG in the league.

According to Thomas, the list includes Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.

Some players need to be that Irrational Confidence Guy, but Thomas is so far removed from his peak that it’s a little disheartening to see him have a lack of humility — or perhaps humor — about his current situation. Thomas has gone from a top VORP guy to a negative VORP guy in the course of two seasons. Nobody is backing up the Brinks truck for him soon, and at age 29 it’s more likely than not he will have a hard time recovering from his previous injury concerns.

Criticism of Thomas’s opinion about himself aside, he really is the victim of poor timing and NBA GMs letting their prejudice against short dudes get the better of them. Advanced statistics suggest that Thomas was not deserving of the kind of money he wanted when he made the Brinks truck comment, but he was worth more than what teams were willing to offer him. His injury simply came at an inopportune time.

Hopefully he can be a spark plug for a team in Denver who will be fun to watch and will likely be a playoff team if health allows.

Kyrie Irving is going to business school classes at Harvard

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Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving doesn’t believe that the Earth is round but that hasn’t stopped him from seeking out knowledge from one of the nation’s top universities.

Part of Irving’s offseason plans have apparently been to enroll in a business program at none other than Harvard. The program, aptly titled “Crossover Into Business” reportedly helps athletes prepare themselves to enter the business world after they end their active sporting careers.

According to Boston.com, the program also pairs athletes with mentors to, “develop their business acumen and empower them to make better business decisions.”

Other attending athletes are John Holland, Martellus Bennett, Spencer Dinwiddie, Zaza Pachulia, and Paul Millsap.

This is a prudent move given how Irving has risen in cultural standing within the NBA, not only as a star player but as the title character in the soda-ad-turned-Hollywood-movie “Uncle Drew”. Many of us have seen stories of NBA players going broke, and there have even been entire documentaries produced about the likelihood of professional athletes losing millions of dollars after their playing days have ended.

Nuggets sidestep backtrack with two big re-signings, two savvy additions

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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 Nuggets could pick two of three this offseason:

1. Secure their franchise player, Nikola Jokic, long-term

2. Maintain their complementary depth and assets

3. Dodge the luxury tax

Denver chose Nos. 1 and 3, which is both unsurprising and somewhat disappointing. Locking up Jokic is nice, but the Nuggets are on the edge of breaking a five-year postseason drought, and they have potential to make noise if they get in. A young team, Denver could build on this season for years to come. It would have been a good time to pay a small amount of luxury tax to preserve the full array of players and picks.

Instead, the Nuggets traded draft picks to dump at least potentially helpful players. It’s a knowing step back to save money.

Yet, in that context, Denver got everything it wanted and made a couple nice moves that mitigate the damage.

Start with the big moves that went by design: The Nuggets re-signed Jokic and Will Barton to big contracts.

Denver declined Jokic’s cheap team option to make him a restricted free agent, ensuring no risk of losing him and getting concessions in exchange for paying him sooner. Jokic’s five-year contract contains no player option, and his base salary is juuust sub-max (though incentives could push it higher). Some teams would have lavished their top player with max money and every contract term in his favor. The Nuggets did well to get – albeit, small – team-friendly aspects into Jokic’s deal.

On the other hand, Denver didn’t get a break with Barton, an unrestricted free agent. He’s a good player, and the Nuggets should be happy to keep the 27-year-old. But $53 million over four years certainly isn’t cheap.

That’s why the Nuggets traded a first-rounder, two second-rounders and second-round swap rights to dump Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur (on the Nets) and Wilson Chandler (on the 76ers).

Chandler was Denver’s starting small forward last year, though he appears to be slipping and Barton is capable of replacing him in the starting lineup. Faried and Arthur were mostly out of the rotation, but there would have been a chance Faried could still help.

The surrendered first-rounder is particularly painful, as it’s only top-12 protected. That means the Nuggets could narrowly miss the playoffs – as they did last season – and still convey the pick. That’d be a worst-case scenario, but it’s also near the middle of potential outcomes.

That was about it for Denver’s major charted moves. Uncharted moves are where the Nuggets really shined.

Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14 pick) and Isaiah Thomas (minimum contract) were great gambles considering their low costs. The injury and chemistry concerns are real, but so is the upside. Porter might have been the No. 1 pick if not for his back issues, and Thomas is just a year removed from finishing fifth in MVP voting. Neither looks like a great fit with a Jokic-Gary HarrisJamal Murray core, but who cares? Porter and Thomas were too valuable to pass up.

With Barton starting and Thomas’ health unproven, Denver needed another reserve point guard. So, the Nuggets signed two-way player Monte Morris to a three-year minimum contract with two years guaranteed. They also gave their other two-way player from last year, Torrey Craig, $4 million guaranteed over two years. Given the vast amount of power teams hold over their two-way players, those contracts are mighty generous.

Though those are small, indulgences like that – looking at Mason Plumlee – got Denver into this trouble where dumping draft picks and decent players became necessary. Barton’s contract could create complications down the road.

It’s a never-ending race between keeping costs manageable while maximizing talent. In a year it seemed they’d bear the cost of previous spending, they stayed ahead of the curve.

 

Offseason grade: B-

 

Nets come out ahead in busy summer

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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.

Timofey Mozgov, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Isaiah Whitehead and Jared Dudley are real people with real thoughts, real feelings and real basketball abilities. But to Brooklyn this summer, they were mostly just contracts to be shuffled. After all their wheeling and dealing with that group, here’s where the Nets stand:

  • Draft picks (give or take): +1 first rounder, -1 second-rounder
  • 2018-19 salary: +$13,697,024
  • 2019-20 salary: -$16,720,000

That’s right: Brooklyn cleared more 2019-20 salary than it added in 2018-19 salary while still coming out ahead in draft picks. That is incredible – especially because the Nets’ cap space should go further with desirable free agents next summer than it would’ve this year.

But just because stars aren’t ready to consider Brooklyn doesn’t mean Brooklyn is ready to punt the season. The Nets, possessing their own first-rounder for the first time in five years, refuse to tank. They’ve already come too far building a culture to intentionally plummet in the standings now.

To that end, Brooklyn re-signed Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million contract. That might be a little steep for him, but he’s a glowing example of the Nets’ player-development program, and his salary descends. This was a deal worth doing.

Brooklyn also signed Ed Davis (one year, $4,449,000 room exception), Shabazz Napier ($1,942,422 guaranteed this season with the minimum unguaranteed next season) and Treveon Graham (minimum guaranteed this season with minimum unguaranteed next season). I doubt they lift the Nets significantly, but those three are all worthy pickups. Napier and Graham, with those unguaranteed seasons, look especially valuable. Napier is just finding himself as an NBA player, and Graham has potential as a 3-and-D wing in a league starving for players like that.

The Nets also drafted Dzanan Musa No. 29 and Rodions Kurucs No. 40. There are a lot of pieces here.

The next step is evaluating which are keepers.

Brooklyn projects to have more than $61 million in cap space next summer. Some could go toward keeping D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and/or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but that still leaves plenty to add a star or two.

The Nets endured years of pain – losing without reaping the rewards of a high draft pick. The light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight.

Thanks to this summer, it’s brighter.

Offseason grade: B+

Report: Knicks rookie Kevin Knox signs deal with Puma

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New York Knicks rookie Kevin Knox was the darling of the 2018 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. And while Knox and the Knicks didn’t win the championship — that honor went to the Portland Trail Blazers — the performance of the former Kentucky Wildcat perhaps gave some hope to New York fans for a brighter future.

It also appears that some companies have taken note of Knox as well. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Knox is the latest target of Puma brand.

The long-dormant shoe company has made a return to basketball for the upcoming NBA season, notably signing Deandre Ayton, Terry Rozier, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr., and Zhaire Smith. Knox was seen wearing a Puma shirt this week.

Via Twitter:

Puma has seen a bit of a sea change in 2018, with its parent company divesting itself of a large portion of its controlling interest as of this June. The move is supposed to give Puma more direct control, and moving forward with a basketball division seems in line with that strategy.

Under Armour and Adidas have been battling for market share against Nike over the past couple of years, and perhaps Puma sees a chance to grab some of that pie. Betting on some of these young players is a reasonable strategy for Puma, as rookies will no doubt be cheaper for the company than established veterans. At the same time, mid-level rookies will receive more money than they would from Puma than the more recognizable basketball apparel stalwarts.

Now we just need to wait and see how Puma develops lines for their basketball side of business.