What Nikola Vucevic’s Extension Means for the Future of Tobias Harris

As much as anything, Nikola Vucevic’s four-year, $53 million extension from the Orlando Magic is being viewed as a bellwether for how the NBA’s new multibillion dollar TV deal will affect future player salaries.

More pressing for Magic fans, however, is what bearing the Vucevic deal might have on the prospects of fellow 2011 draftee Tobias Harris, who is likewise eligible for a four-year extension (prior to the October 31 deadline).

Just 24 hours before, Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler reported it was unlikely that Orlando would move to lock down its young frontcourt duo for the long term.

Now, with Vucevic officially in the fold, Harris’ future with the Magic only feels more tenuous.

At the very least, Orlando’s considerable frontcourt depth—highlighted by Harris, third-year scorer Maurice Harkless and rookie Aaron Gordon—means the team will likely take its time in weighing the myriad options at its disposal.

Essentially, if the Magic opt not to extend Harris, the combo forward’s $3.6 million qualifying offer would automatically kick in. Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, Orlando would be able to match any offer above and beyond that number once the free-agent market officially opens next July.

As things stand, the Magic have $14.9 million committed for the 2015-16 season. Throw in the surefire team option on second-year guard Victor Oladipo ($5.2 million), and the team’s commitments rise to just north of $20 million.

At that point, Orlando would have seven additional player options at its disposal: Ben Gordon ($4.5 million), Luke Ridnour ($2.8 million), Harkless ($2.9 million), Evan Fournier ($2.3 million), Andrew Nicholson ($2.4 million), Devyn Marble ($850,000) and Dewayne Dedmon ($950,000).

Here’s what we know: Given their cap situation and variable rookie-scale contract obligations, Orlando has about as much flexibility as any one team can have.

With so many financial balls up in the air, the Magic’s decision to extend Vucevic was as much about locking in the former USC standout’s double-double potential as it was securing a stopgap at the team’s shallowest position—center.

Meanwhile, for Harris, Gordon, Harkless and Nicholson, the 2014-15 season is about who can find the best, most sustainable niche on a team that could be just a year or two away from legitimate conference upstart status.

The good news for those who wish to see Harris remain an Amway Center fixture: He’s been a revelation in the preseason, tallying 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds on a stellar 57 percent shooting, including 45 percent from three-point range—the one area (aside from defense) where Harris could stand to author the biggest improvement.

In a recent interview with NBA.com’s John Denton, Harris spoke at length about how working with the sharpshooting Ben Gordon—often in workouts that last late into the night—has helped him rediscover his confidence as a shooter.

“Being able to make that shot sets up my game real well,’’ Harris said. “It keeps the defense on their heels. But at the same time that doesn’t mean that I’m going to settle for those jumpers. I still want to attack.’’

For a player looking to recapture his career trajectory following a somewhat disappointing 2013-14 campaign, Harris’ preseason play is nothing if not encouraging.

Ditto the fourth-year forward’s conditioning:

At the same time, there are some who see Harris as little more than a solid rotation player padding his stats for a perennial loser. Take ESPN’s Amin Elhassan, who included Orlando’s burly big man in his recent list of terrible-team stars (Insider subscription required):

…Harris is on a team that is trying to do better and develop winning habits, and he represents the best scoring option on the roster. Sure, Channing Frye and Ben Gordon have more experience, Victor Oladipo will have the ball in his hands a ton and Nikola Vucevic is going to get more than his fair share of touches out of pick-and-roll action and on offensive rebounds, but in terms of being the go-to offensive option, no one else on the Magic brings Harris’ skill set or efficiency when it comes to scoring.

He’s a big wing with a nice touch around the basket and the versatility to play up a position at power forward. While his 3-point range is still a work in progress, he does a good job of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, where he converted at an 81 percent clip last season.

But while Elhassan’s analysis might come off as one big backhanded compliment, the fact that Harris is even mentioned in the same breath (or on the same page) as Kobe Bryant and DeMarcus Cousins speaks to the onetime Tennessee standout’s latent—but very real—potential.

The question now becomes whether Harris’ fourth-year leap will be enough to convince Orlando to make him a key piece in its talent-rich youth movement, or if his NBA future will unfurl somewhere else entirely.

It’ll likely take another year of swaps and signings before the ramifications of the NBA’s TV megadeal can be fully sussed out. But if Vucevic’s extension is any harbinger, Harris can rest assured that a productive year four will net him quite the payday. Even if it’s not from his first NBA employer.

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NBA Rights Deal Gives Rockets More Fuel, Competition in Future Free-Agency Talks

Not long after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s long fly ball sailed foul this summer, he pledged to keep swinging. Opposite-field singles are not his style. 

Soon, nearly the entire NBA will swing for the fences too. A free-agent frenzy like no other looms on the horizon thanks to the NBA’s new media rights deal and corresponding salary-cap increases. 

Recently, the Rockets haven’t needed salary-cap spikes to seek the best free agents or biggest deals available. Morey scored the free agent of 2013 in franchise center Dwight Howard, before whiffing on a home run swing for Chris Bosh this past offseason.

That led to the stunning decision to let Chandler Parsons flee to Dallas. Morey claims the Rockets’ championship chances are better with Trevor Ariza at just over half the price, giving Houston salary-cap flexibility in lieu of a strong roster virtually locked in place.

While making his case for flexibility, Morey has pledged Houston won’t shy away from the next long-shot superstar acquisition.

“Sometimes you have 11 and you double down and you get two,” he said after the smoke cleared following Bosh’s decision and Parsons’ departure. “It doesn’t mean it was wrong to double down.”

But when the new rights fee deals with Disney (ABC/ESPN) and Turner (TNT, Bleacher Report, NBATV) drop crisp dollar bills into league coffers, the Rockets could face an unprecedented number of competitors ready to spend like, well, the Rockets.

Morey has in past seasons carefully built his roster to have the cap room or flexibility to trade for James Harden in 2012, to sign Howard in 2013 and to chase Bosh and Carmelo Anthony in 2014. When he regrouped from this summer’s near miss—after Bosh took the extra $30 million the Heat added to their offer at the last minute—Morey offered only short-term deals to make sure the Rockets would remain free-agent players in 2015, and especially in 2016.

Now, with the salary cap likely to jump between $25 million and $30 million for the 2016-17 season and maybe sooner if the NBA can convince the Players Association to accept a more gradual phase-in of the increased cap, all kinds of teams that would not have otherwise had the cap room to gain admittance to the free-agent dance will be able to make their moves too.

(In a league memorandum issued last week, NBA executives were barred from commenting on the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations or the impact of the new rights fees.)

Of course, the Rockets’ flexibility could still come in handy, offering a chance for players to team up in a Heat-like axis of power. The Rockets have just four players—Harden, Ariza, Howard and Nick Johnson—with guaranteed money for the 2016-17 season, and Howard could opt out of his deal in the summer of 2016 to take advantage of all that new cap room.

(Howard passed on a Los Angeles Lakers‘ offer $30 million richer than the Rockets could offer him in 2013. He could make up for that by starting his new deal in the rich, new landscape one season earlier.)

By then, the Rockets will have also likely committed years and dollars to point guard Patrick Beverley, a free agent after this season. They could keep forward Terrence Jones or forward Donatas Motiejunas around. For now, they have just $25.5 million, not including Howard’s $23.3 million on the books for 2016-17, when the cap could jump to the pricey neighborhood of $90 million.

But even if they choose to have only enough players under contract for a decent poker game, they would have roster spots and cap room like never before. 

They won’t be alone. Less certain will be whether teams choose to spend their money carefully in 2015 in anticipation of a free-agent class likely to be headlined by LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Howard in 2016. Even then, players might have to weigh taking the windfall that will come with the new TV deal versus waiting another year for the new collective bargaining agreement and whatever forms of riches it could bring the league’s upper crust.

For example, would Rajon Rondo seek only a one-year deal in 2015 so he can be a free agent again in 2016? Would teams offer him maximum money for just one season if they could lose him so quickly? A player like Paul Milsap, who would be a coveted free agent but not necessarily a max-contract player, could have to choose between waiting a year for the salary cap to jump or taking the offers that might be richer because teams may attempt to lock up stars with the current salary-cap structure.

Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried chose long-term contracts now, contracts that might not seem quite as much of a gamble for their teams when the new world order kicks in.

Many of these questions could be answered as the NBA begins working through the new uncertainty, beginning with a board of governors meeting this month.

Morey will continue to gamble on landing big names because that is the strategy he and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander value. That would not change if the new money to spend brings more teams into the market, though the Rockets could use their flexibility and again chase multiple free agents, as they did with Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.

In the era of the short contracts, decisions in 2014, including the Rockets’ willingness to let Parsons bolt for Dallas, are not likely to bring regrets because of changes to come in 2016. More than ever, however, teams will look for guidance about how and when the rights fees will change their lives.

This could give NBA front offices, especially teams that have saved their allowance, two years of waiting to go shopping in a buyer’s market with new money burning holes in general managers’ pockets. Morey has been there before. Now, more than ever, he is certain to be back to try again.


Jonathan Feigen covers the Rockets for the Houston Chronicle, and can be followed on Twitter at @Jonathan_Feigen.

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Photo from 2007 LeBron James Skills Academy Is Flooded with Future NBA Stars

Former Memphis Tigers guard/forward Wesley Witherspoon shared this photo from the 2007 LeBron James Skills Academy as a Throwback Thursday, and it’s flooded with future NBA stars. 

A quick glance at the photo reveals a number of familiar faces. On the far left, we see Charlotte’s Kemba Walker standing next to former North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland. Of course, James is in the center, standing next to…Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson (funny how the two would go on to develop a strange rivalry of sorts).

Behind Stephenson stands Detroit’s Greg Monroe. Sitting on the floor are Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

In case you’re interested, here’s a short write-up of the event from Bob Gibbons of All Star Sports, via ESPN Deportes. One line stands out in particular as rather prophetic.

“Stephenson has outstanding potential, but throughout this event, he wanted to dominate the ball and constantly tried to slash to the hoop,” Gibbons wrote. “He made some spectacular plays—and some that were less than spectacular.”


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NBA Rumors: Assessing Future of Ray Allen, Bradley Beal and More

Aside from a few small changes, NBA teams are usually set at this point of the year as they get ready for the start of the season. However, front offices remain busy as they attempt to constantly improve the franchise.

Between looking out for potential trades, adding available free agents or simply locking up the talent on the current roster, there is a lot for general managers to do at all times of the calendar.

As a result, fans should always look out for ways in which their team is set to tweak the roster. Here is a look at the latest potential moves from around the league.


Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards were expecting to be a top team in the NBA this season behind an elite young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Unfortunately, the squad will have to compete with only half of this duo to start the year.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated provided the latest:

Despite this injury, the Wizards want to do whatever it takes to keep Beal in Washington for as long as possible, according to J. Michael of CSNWashington.com:

That the Wizards will pick up the fourth-year option for the 2015-16 season on Bradley Beal‘s rookie contract before this one tips is a foregone conclusion. His latest injury, a left wrist fracture that required surgery, will have no negative impact on his future here or the team’s plans to work out an extension this summer, multiple persons on both sides have confirmed to CSNwashington.com.

This appears to be a smart move after the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft showed last season that he can be a big-time scorer on a good team. He averaged 17.1 points per game while hitting 40.2 percent of his shots from three-point range. As he continues to improve, these numbers can even pick up in his third year.

Beal even improved in the postseason, averaging 19.1 points with five rebounds and 4.5 assists in 11 games.

On the other hand, the team does have to be cautious about the player’s injury history, which is once again becoming an issue. The guard dealt with leg injuries in each of his first two seasons, missing a total of 35 games. With the latest wrist problem, the Wizards have to hope this does not become a trend.

Still, his talent is reason for Washington to find a way to keep him aboard for as long as he will stay.


Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets

While he might not get the respect he deserves, Timofey Mozgov continues to show he can be a dominant force in the low post for some team.

The center is coming off the best year of his career, averaging 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. Unfortunately, he consistently finds himself behind JaVale McGee on the depth chart.

This could change early on with McGee dealing with a leg injury. Head coach Brian Shaw noted he might not be ready for the start of the season, according to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post:

Still, the real question is what will happen when they are both healthy. McGee has the athleticism, and therefore the upside, to force the Nuggets to keep seeing what they have in him. Meanwhile, Mozgov is wanted by numerous teams around the league, according to Dempsey:

During the past calendar year, Mozgov arguably has been the Nuggets’ most-coveted trade asset. Teams called last winter and throughout the summer. That’s not likely to change, because with a $4.6 million salary, Mozgov is one of the best bangs for the buck in the NBA.

According to HoopsHype (h/t Pro Basketball Talk), ESPN’s Brian Windhorst stated that Cleveland appeared willing to trade for the center during the summer, but it seems apparent the Cavs were not alone in their quest to acquire Mozgov.

The question is whether the Nuggets want to keep both centers on the roster when they can instead bring in draft picks to help improve for the future. The squad went just 36-46 last season, so looking to rebuild might not be a terrible decisionespecially if things go poorly in the first few weeks.

On the plus side, it seems teams will be willing to make a deal for the player whenever he becomes available, meaning the Nuggets can take their time with a decision.

As long as he stays healthy, Mozgov should be able to help the organization in some way this season.


Ray Allen, Free Agent

While the saga surrounding LeBron James’ free agency was a bigger deal, the future of Ray Allen has been much more confusing.

The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn suggested in July that Allen was leaning toward following his former teammate to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and at one point, this seemed like a done deal. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein noted his agent thought otherwise:

The fact that he is not yet certain if he will play next year makes things a bit more complicated.

The good news for him is there are plenty of teams interested in bringing in the all-time leader in three-point shooting if he chooses to play.

J. Michael of CSN Washington.com reported the Wizards were interested in signing the guard to replace the injured Beal, but there is a lot of competition for the veteran:

The prospect of being a starter again with Beal‘s absence isn’t likely to make Washington any more enticing for Allen. He’ll soon be 40. Six teams have actually contacted his reps since he became an unrestricted free agent—the Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and…the Milwaukee Bucks.

Meanwhile, Allen also does not have to make a decision immediately. Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge noted that while the guard wants to play for a contender, he can wait and see which ones really pan out over the course of the season, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

He may wait until All-Star break or January. And just see what teams are playing well, which teams are the healthiest and which team that he thinks that he might fit in, just in the style of play. With new coaches at some different places, he may just want to see how it unfolds before he makes a decision.

This seems to be a pretty nice situation for anyone to be in. You do not have to do any of the work over the start of the season and can join an elite squad already in full swing.

As long as teams are willing to wait for him, this might be the smartest and likeliest move for the veteran player.


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Will NBA’s New TV Deal Impact Boston Celtics’ Future Plans with Rajon Rondo?

Long-term team planning in the NBA has always been a challenge, but now you can use another adjective to describe it: ambiguous.

For the Boston Celtics, that uncertainty looms from the potential changes the NBA’s new TV rights deal will have on the salary cap. Any shifts in those numbers could have a major effect on how the team plans on handling Rajon Rondo‘s future, for this season and beyond.  

Richard Sandomir of The New York Times first reported last week about the new TV deal, noting that Turner Sports and ESPN will pay an average of $2.7 billion a year to the NBA for nine seasons (starting in 2016-17) in exchange for retaining exclusive broadcast rights for the league.

The new deal will send league revenues skyrocketing over the second half of the decade. The NBA salary cap rises and declines based on league revenues.

With the NBA expected to more than double its current average yearly intake for TV rights starting in 2016, the league’s salary-cap number could make a dramatic jump from the latest estimate of $66.5 million.

NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon reported the NBA was projecting that cap figure for the 2015-16 season back in April. 

Zach Lowe of Grantland explored just how significant that increase could be in a column last week:

The league right now projects a jump to $66.5 million for 2015-16, a modest rise pegged to the final year of that modest $930 million TV deal. If the new TV deal kicks in for the 2016-17 season just shy of $2 billion, the cap could exceed that same $14 million leap, all the way to around $80-plus million, in a single year.

Lowe also reported that the league is considering the option of smoothing, a process which would tie the new TV deal revenue partially to the 2015-16 season as well.

That scenario would lead to higher revenues—and a higher salary cap from the league’s current $66.5 million projection—during the 2015-16 season, thus creating a more staggered rise to an $80-plus million salary-cap number in 2016.

The path the league elects to take in implementing any changes remains to be seen, but it is clear that many pending NBA free agents will be significantly impacted by this new TV deal when they hit the open market this summer.

Both teams and agents will be attempting to map out the value of each player in the midst of enormous shifts within the salary-cap landscape.

The most intriguing player to watch next summer, with these changes in mind, may very well be Rondo. In preparation for Rondo’s looming free agency, I took a closer look at just how much of an impact, if any, the pending salary-cap changes might alter the Celtics’ plans with their star point guard.

The value Rondo deserves in his next contract has always been a common topic of debate among league observers. The 28-year-old has amassed an impressive resume when healthy during his eight-year career, especially during the postseason when he helped carry the Celtics to deep playoff runs in 2010 to the NBA Finals and to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.

Those performances, combined with elite point guard numbers throughout his career, have made Rondo a four-time All-Star.

The Celtics captain said on the team’s media day last Monday that this kind of production has made him worthy of receiving a max contract in his next deal, a suggestion that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge didn’t exactly dispute:

“I think a four-time All-Star by the time he’s [28] years old would qualify for max based on what we’ve seen in the marketplace,” Ainge said. “If I were Rajon and I were Rajon’s agent, I would definitely say that. But since I’m negotiating against him, I’ll withhold.”

Knowing the effects the NBA’s new TV deal is likely to have on player salaries, Rondo’s camp should be in a better position to secure a max-level contract from the Celtics or another team in the league next summer.

That stance is contingent on the point guard performing at an elite level on the floor upon returning from a broken left hand which will sideline him until November.

Assuming Rondo is able to return to his peak form, the Celtics will likely be more compelled to bring their captain back for the long haul due to a variety of factors influenced by the TV deal.

The first of those is a financial component. As I mentioned earlier, all NBA teams will be dealing with more salary-cap room than anticipated in future seasons, perhaps as early as 2015.

That means a potential max-level contract offered by Boston to Rondo, which would be worth a bit over $107 million over five years (based on next year’s $66.5 million salary-cap projection), won’t put as much of a dent in the team’s salary-cap room for future seasons as had been anticipated.

In fact, that kind of a contract for Rondo may be viewed as somewhat of a bargain later in the decade, when the salary cap jumps to over $80 million per season and max salaries for stars also see considerable jumps.

Crucial from a team-building perspective for the Celtics front office, however, is that the franchise would still have plenty of cap room to spend in free agency, even after potentially handing Rondo a $20-plus million annual salary.

They would have enough cash to try to lure another prominent player or two and have them team up with Rondo and other parts of the team’s young core to take the Celtics to the next level.

That line of thinking leads us to the other main reason the TV deal could increase the chances Boston keeps Rondo. The Celtics won’t be the only team benefiting from additional salary-cap space in future seasons; other teams will also have plenty to spend, and this fact will lead to increased competition for free agents on the open market.

That factor may also limit Boston’s trade market for Rondo if it explores moving him this season. Why would most teams give up assets for a player they can conceivably sign as a free agent with their added cap size?

The extra cap space will create a more aggressive marketplace overall in free agency, increasing the importance of appealing to any prized free agent with the lure of winning and a formidable supporting cast.

As the Celtics enter the next stage of their rebuild, landing top-flight free agents is the team’s best hope of developing into a contender once again. If Rondo is not in the fold for future seasons, the challenge of landing these types of players becomes tougher for Ainge.

The painful truth is that the rest of the Celtics roster doesn‘t exactly inspire the kind of confidence in future success that someone like Rondo, with his strong postseason track record, would.

The other wild card in play here for Boston’s plan with Rondo is the possibility that he will want to explore a short-term contract as a result of the TV deal. LeBron James pursued this strategy last summer, signing a two-year contract with a player option that will guarantee he can become a free agent in 2016-17 when the biggest jump in salary is expected.

If Rondo wants to benefit from the raised max-salary levels (35 percent of the salary cap for players with 10-plus years of experience, according to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement), he could seek a short-term contract that would give him the opportunity to become a free agent in the summer of 2016.

That strategy would maximize Rondo’s potential earnings but may be considered somewhat risky for a player with a significant injury history in recent years.

The bottom line is, beyond all of these variables, Rondo’s play on the floor this season still remains the biggest factor in his next contract and if the Celtics will be willing to pay a high price in future seasons.

The new TV deal will provide an opportunity for Rondo to earn a bigger deal, but the truth is, Rondo still has to prove he is worthy of it.

The Celtics still have not seen their longtime starting point guard play minutes while healthy under Brad Stevens. Even though Rondo suited up for 30 games last season, there were plenty of telltale signs that he was not in peak form in his return to the hardwood in January 2013.

Sure, there were glimpses of strong play from Rondo, but reduced minutes, an inability to play both games in a back-to-back and a career-low mark in field-goal percentage (.403 percent) demonstrated that Rondo had still not fully recovered from ACL surgery.

Ainge admitted these realities when discussing Rondo’s preparation for this season:

“[Rondo] was motivated [this summer] because he didn’t play very well last year, to his standards coming off the knee injury,” Ainge said. “He doesn’t like not to be good. He doesn’t like not being considered one of the best point guards in the game. That’s what drove him to hard work this summer.”

Rondo already had plenty to play for over the next six months, but if the point guard can return to his All-Star ways this season, the NBA’s new TV deal made the odds of the 28-year-old landing a lucrative deal with the Celtics just a bit better.


All quotes were obtained firsthand by the author at Celtics media sessions. 

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How Flip Saunders Can Reboot Anthony Bennett’s NBA Future

In a frenzy of NBA offseason excitement, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett has become somewhat of a forgotten man.

It was just 16 short months ago when all eyes were on Bennett, the first overall selection of the 2013 NBA draft.

In that time, Bennett has moved from Las Vegas to Cleveland and then to Minneapolis. He’s had to rehab from shoulder surgery, switch positions, endure a trade and deal with critics who’ve called him the worst pick of the past 20 years.

Following a summer trade from the Cavaliers to the Timberwolves, Bennett wasn’t even the second- or third-best player in the deal. Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young headlined the blockbuster three-team swap, with Bennett’s name casually thrown in.

Clearly, a fresh start was needed.

With the Timberwolves and president of basketball operations/head coach Flip Saunders, that’s precisely what Bennett will get.

Here’s how Saunders can turn around the young forward’s future and get Bennett back on his very promising track.


Rookie Problems

A lot of Bennett’s struggles on the court as a rookie were physical.

Bennett was noticeably out of shape during training camp with the Cavaliers. During the team’s annual Wine and Gold Scrimmage, Bennett often grasped at his sides and remained bent over during breaks, even after just a few times up and down the court.

It was obvious he wasn’t in good playing condition.

Much of this was out of his control, however.

Bennett was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. He suffered from sleep apnea and asthma. Despite playing around 240 pounds while at UNLV, Bennett tipped the scales around 260 pounds during training camp.

While Bennett had to fight to get back in shape, he faced a new battle on the court: playing in a Mike Brown offense.

Brown’s offense was incredibly stagnant last season. Even with players like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Luol Deng, the Cavs finished 22nd in both scoring and offensive rating under Brown.

Brown rarely drew up a play for Bennett or worked to utilize his strengths as an athletic big. Instead, Bennett was often forced to hang out around the three-point line, where he struggled at a 24.5 percent clip.

Bennett’s weight effected his play. His poor play effected his confidence. His low confidence led to passiveness on the court and played a major role in his disappointing season.

“I’m just thinking too much,” Bennett told Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer in Nov. 2013. “That’s what it is right now. I try not to mess up. There’s a lot of plays, a lot of things thrown at me. It’s not the same as college. One mistake is kind of crucial.”

Asked why he’s overthinking, Bennett told Boyer, “I really don’t know. If I had an idea, I’d change it. I just have no idea.”

Nothing, as it seemed, could go right for Bennett.

Even after hitting a stretch of good play in early February, Brown mysteriously benched Bennett for long stretches, killing what progress he had made. A left-knee injury in early March would all but end his miserable rookie year.


Offseason Transformation

Since the end of April, Bennett has been on a mission to silence critics and regain his promise as a No. 1 pick.

He’s had his tonsils and adenoids removed, underwent LASIK eye surgery and dropped 10 pounds thanks to a grueling training regimen.

Bennett spent three weeks training with Frank Matrisciano, known for his work with NBA players as well as Navy SEALS. Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North tells us more:

Thanks to hours spent traversing the Santa Monica Stairs with medicine balls in tow, sprints on the beach with 50-pound weights on his back or pails full of sand in his hands, climbing hills of sand while Matrisciano tried to hold him back with a harness and performing other unconventional workouts, Bennett dropped about 10 pounds and weighs 243, he said.

The work clearly paid off for Bennett, as he showed during the team’s media day.

With many of the ailments he faced a season ago now healed, will Bennett finally find success in the NBA?


Saunders’ Plan for Bennett

While Wiggins may have headlined the trade for Love, it was certainly no accident that Minnesota ended up with Bennett as well.

Saunders specifically brought Bennett on board because of his belief in the 21-year-old’s abilities.

“He’s like a canvas that hasn’t been painted yet,” Saunders said, via Ervin. “I like his commitment. He’s a willing learner, and he’s one of those guys that is going to continue to get better and better with us every day. He does do a lot of things some other guys can’t do.”

Saunders is absolutely right.

For all the knocks on Bennett, there were quite a few positives as well.

Bennett may be a tad undersized for a power forward at 6’8″ but has an impressive 7’1″ wingspan. A good athlete when healthy, Bennett is capable of running the floor, spotting up or throwing down dunks like this:

If Saunders truly wants to maximize Bennett’s potential, he’ll have the Wolves get out and run as much as possible.

Ball movement is also key. Under Brown with the Cavs, the offense didn’t flow very well, causing Bennett to settle for a lot of three-pointers or isolation plays.

Playing for David Blatt during the summer league in a system that emphasized ball movement, Bennett thrived. In four games, Bennett put up 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds while helping lead the Cavaliers to a 3-1 record, per NBA.com.

Saunders no doubt studied these games very carefully and has already come up with an offensive guideline for Bennett.

While Bennett has the smooth stroke of a three-point shooter, his range just simply isn’t there yet. Bennett will be at his best in the open court, in transition and off cuts to the basket.

Forcing him to shoot a large quantity of three-pointers right now would be a step back in Bennett’s development.


Role with Team

It was very clear that Bennett’s confidence was quite low all throughout last year.

The pressure was excruciating. Not only was he an unexpected first-overall pick, but Bennett was supposed to be a major piece of the Cavs‘ return to the postseason.

As Bennett’s stats plummeted, so too did his confidence and the Cavaliers’ record.

Now with the Timberwolves, expectations have been tapered.

Minnesota isn’t expected to make the playoffs. Bennett isn’t expected to become a savior in the Twin Cities. Actually, Saunders isn’t even projecting Bennett to earn a starting spot right away.

“He’s an NBA player. He’s a guy that’s going to be a rotation-type player,” Saunders told reporters.

Not only can Bennett have the luxury of coming off the bench, but he’ll have a great role model to study ahead of him in Young. All eyes will be on Wiggins, and plenty of easy baskets should come this season off Ricky Rubio’s pinpoint passes.

For Bennett, few situations could be better for him to build back his confidence.

While it may not have been the career path be originally envisioned, Bennett is in a good place now.

Thanks to a change of scenery, an improved physique and the tutelage of coach Saunders, Bennett can now successfully resume his journey toward become an NBA star.


Greg Swartz has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Could Klay Thompson’s Future with the Warriors Be in Jeopardy?

According to CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole (h/t ProBasketballTalk), the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson are reportedly an annual $2-3 million apart in their negotiations over a new contract for the sharpshooter.

After ownership refused to include the “Splash Brother” in a Kevin Love deal this offseason, how concerned should Dubs fans be about their young guard leaving town?

Larry Krueger joins Adam Lefkoe to break it all down in the video above.

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TV Windfall Makes for a Happy NBA Now, but Sets Stage for Future Labor Showdown

NEW YORK — It’s not hard to identify the winners when the NBA unveils a $24 billion television rights deal. In short: everyone.   

Team owners will collect $70 million apiece, in 2016-17, more than doubling their current take, according to an NBA source.   

General managers will enjoy spectacular payroll flexibility as the salary cap leaps to an estimated $84 million in 2016-17.   

Players, in the aggregate, could enjoy a 33 percent increase in salaries in the next two years.

LeBron James could soon become the NBA’s first $34 million player.

It will be a glorious time for everyone—Owners! Players! Mascots! T-shirt gun operators!until the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2017, and the party comes to a screeching halt. (Cue record-scratch sound effect.)

Who’s ready for another lockout?

“I hope guys are preparing,” Deron Williams, the Brooklyn Nets star and union representative, told reporters on Monday.

He wasn’t the only one making the logical leap from Massive NBA Windfall to Inevitable Labor War.

In Cleveland, James warned that owners could no longer claim hundreds of millions in losses, as they did to justify the 2011 lockout.


“That will not fly with us this time,” James said, ominously.

The current collective bargaining agreement actually runs through 2021, but either side can opt out in 2017, and the players are almost certain to do so, for obvious reasons:

• The union made massive financial concessions in 2011, giving up $300 million a year.

 The new TV deal, as James indicated, removes the NBA’s rationale for those concessions.

“I think it’s a pretty good bet, based on both of those things,” that the players will opt out, Michele Roberts, the union’s new executive director, told Bleacher Report in a recent interview. She added, “It would be silly for anyone to assume” otherwise.

Roberts made that prediction before the new TV deal was completed, but both sides have long known that the huge revenue spike was coming and that it would prompt a reassessment of the labor deal.

Indeed, Roberts said, “The minute I was told I was selected to be the executive director (in July), I started preparing for the opt-out.”

The players had their percentage of basketball revenues slashed in 2011, from a guaranteed 57 percent to a range of 49 to 51 percent. Contracts were shortened. Annual raises were reduced. And the NBA adopted a highly punitive luxury-tax system that acts as a virtual hard cap on most teams.

So if the players indeed opt out in 2017a decision that must be made by Dec. 15, 2016their incentives will be obvious.

And yet the decision is so much more complicated than any of that.

Although the players’ share of revenue has gone down, their actual earnings are about to spike dramatically, thanks to the new infusion of TV dollars. The average salary, currently $5.5 million, could leap to about $7.3 million in 2016, according to team executives.

Superstars, whose “max” contracts are tied to the cap, are in for a mind-boggling payday.

Based on one team’s estimates, James could earn $28 million as a free agent in 2016a 36 percent leap from his current salary. Assuming a four-year deal with maximum raises, James would earn an NBA-record $34 million in the final season, the most any player has earned in the max-contract era.

Michael Jordan made a record $33 million in 1997-98, the season before the NBA capped individual salaries.

And the riches could be spread far and wide, as the salary cap surges from $63 million this season to a projected $84.4 million in 2016-17. Every team in the league could be under the cap in two years (even the spend-happy Nets), creating a cash surplus thatunder the NBA’s systemmust be spent on players.

Journeymen making $3 million today might make $6 million in the new, cash-rich environment. The rebounding specialist making $6 million now could soon become an eight-figure playera status once reserved for All-Stars and near-stars.

Welcome to the NBA’s version of inflation.

“The big issue is too much money and not enough good players,” said one Eastern Conference executive.

Conversely, some of the beefier deals signed this summere.g. Carmelo Anthony’s $124 million contract, Eric Bledsoe’s $70 million contractmay soon look like bargains in a cash-flooded system.

Another perk from the new TV deal: Players are now guaranteed to earn their maximum share, 51 percent, starting in 2016 and for the duration of the CBA.

That 51 percent, by the way, could represent more than $3.1 billion—far exceeding the $2.1 billion the players drew in 2010-11, when they were earning 57 percent. (This is the “smaller share of a larger pie” argument that NBA officials invoked during the lockout. The point being, players did not actually take a pay cut when you account for revenue growth.)

The league will receive $2.1 billion in 2016-17, the first year of the new deal with Disney (ESPN/ABC) and Turner (whose holdings include Bleacher Report), according to a league memo sent to teams, and the payments will steadily increase over the nine-year deal, to $3.1 billion in 2024-25.

Player salaries will almost certainly continue to rise as the TV payouts do. So why opt out?

In part, players and agents are driven by a desire to win back some of the rights and dollars they surrendered in 2011. The recent $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers only emboldened players in their belief that they deserve a larger share of the pie.

A more fundamental problem: Not every class of player will benefit from the coming cash surge.

Max contracts rise in proportion to the cap. But rookie salaries are locked in for the duration of the CBA, without regard to cap increases. So are minimum salaries. So is the midlevel exception—the primary tool used by over-the-cap teams to sign quality players.

To be clear, all of those salary levels will rise moderately in the years to come, based on predetermined formulas. But their growth will be miniscule compared to the growth in the cap, meaning they will be devalued on a relative basis.

The midlevel exception, for instance, rises by $150,000 per year, so it will continue to lose value in comparison to the growing pool of dollars. A midlevel slot worth $5.3 million is far more valuable under a $63 million cap than it will be under, say, a $90 million cap.

The NBA’s middle class should benefit, however, from the surge in cap room in 2016 and perhaps 2017, or until teams fill up their payrolls again.

The other complaint of players and agents is that the system adopted in 2011 is simply too restrictive, thanks to a luxury-tax system that penalizes the league’s biggest spenders. The teams that do pay the tax surrender other rights: use of the full midlevel exception and the biannual exception, and the ability to acquire players in sign-and-trade deals.

In a booming business, are those restrictions still justifiable? The players would obviously say no.

Would the union reopen the CBA in pursuit of a richer rookie scale, higher minimum salaries, longer contracts and fewer restrictions on payrolls? Almost certainly.

The owners have less incentive to reopen the deal, given the new TV riches and skyrocketing franchise values. They got nearly everything they wanted in the last CBA. But they could always push further—to reduce the players’ share back to 50 percent, or 49 percent, or 48. They could pursue a hard cap (again) and a higher minimum player age.

“I think we have a very fair deal,” commissioner Adam Silver said Monday, when asked about a potential labor stoppage. “I don’t want to speak for the union, and I’m not prepared to make a judgment yet from our owners’ standpoint. …But it’s my hope that even if we have to do some tinkering or make some adjustments, we can avoid any sort of work stoppage (in 2017).”

Monday was a happy day for NBA officials and owners and their broadcast partners. They packed a hotel ballroom in Midtown Manhattan for the (live, televised) announcement. It was all smiles and mutual back-patting.

But in professional sports, more money just means there’s more to fight over. Another NBA labor battle is coming. The only real question is: How long will this one last?

All financial figures and estimates were obtained firsthand.


Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.


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Ed Davis and Los Angeles Lakers Betting Their Future on Each Other

The Los Angeles Lakers stepped up to the betting window this summer and placed a modest wager on Ed Davis, signing the 25-year-old center/power forward to a two-year $2 million contract.

That’s small potatoes compared to what he gave up a year ago.

As Dave McMenamin wrote for ESPN LA in late July, Davis turned down a reported $20 million contract extension from the Memphis Grizzlies and ultimately became an unrestricted free agent.

The young frontcourt player isn’t voicing any second thoughts, however, saying, “No regrets at all. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not trying to sound cliché, but just looking forward to this opportunity here with this great franchise and just being able to contribute every night.”

Those are admirable words in a business where money routinely trumps altruistic motives. Then again, if another team had arrived at Davis’ doorstep this summer with a wheelbarrow overflowing with $20 million, we would not be having this conversation.

It’s also worth noting that the second year of Davis’ deal is a player’s option. If he has a breakout season, he could opt out and roll the dice again. 

Until then, the 6’10” lefty will take his place in line behind presumed starters Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer, and alongside rookie Julius Randle, utility center Robert Sacre and stretch 4 Ryan Kelly. But he’ll push hard throughout training camp and beyond to prove to Byron Scott that his shot blocking, sheer hustle and solid work ethic should earn him heavy minutes as Hill’s primary backup, as well as an opportunity to chew into Boozer’s minutes at the 4.

Davis won an NCAA title at North Carolina as a freshman. He declared for the draft the following year after a season shortened by a broken wrist. Selected as the 13th overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in 2010, he averaged seven points and seven boards off the bench in his first two seasons at the power forward position, with a per-36 double-double.

The Raptors also switched coaches after his rookie season, from Jay Triano to Dwane Casey.

Ed draws inspiration and influence from his father, Terry Davis, a 6’9” former frontcourt player in the NBA for 10 seasons. They are each left-handed, and both are known for a defensive mindset and work ethic.

On the eve of Davis’ third season with the Raptors, Eric Koreen of the National Post asked what coach so far had the most influence on his career:

I wouldn’t say a coach. I would say my dad. He was just a person that helped me with my work ethic, got me up every morning and was at damn near all of my games. I wouldn’t say one coach changed my basketball career because one coach didn’t.

Some days it was tough, just because it’s coming from your dad. There’s that that father-son relationship [that is tricky]. But he really did help me a lot. Without him, I wouldn’t be in the NBA today. But it was tough some days. We would get in arguments. I’d want to fight him some days. But you know how it is.

Davis was moved from power forward to center during his third season. His touches in the paint increased, as did his points average—9.7 per game. But in January, he was a key component in a three-team trade that sent Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies to Toronto.

The Memphis front office was high on Davis’ potential. But the Grizzlies coach, Lionel Hollins, was anything but happy about a cost-cutting exchange that resulted in the loss of one of his key players in Gay, saying, per John Rohde of The Oklahoman, “When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget.”

The new kid in town saw his minutes decrease with the Grizzlies—during 36 games under Hollins and the following season under replacement Dave Joerger.  

Still, there were impressive highlight moments along the way.

When filling in for an injured Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, Davis showed his potential. There’s only so much you can accomplish though, averaging 15 minutes a night—if in fact you play at all.

And while his per-36 stats remained tantalizingly consistent, Davis never made the big jump. Was it a lack of sideline trust, or did he simply not live up to expectations?

Last March, writing for SB Nation’s Grizzly Bear Blues, Joe Mullinax examined an overall disappointing season for the former Tar Heel national champion. Davis still hadn’t developed his overall offensive game or bulked up beyond his college weight of 225 pounds.

I still see the potential in Ed Davis. Even now, as I look back over the years and think of how we got to this point of “the key piece” of the Rudy Gay deal having multiple Did Not Play-Coaches’ Decision under his belt. You cannot teach length, you cannot coach explosive athleticism. Ed Davis will continue on in the NBA, he will go somewhere where he will get starter’s minutes, where he will get the chance to be the man.

Davis brings those elusive qualities with him, and it’s probably why he was given a two-year contract for a team in a transitional mode. Rim-protectors aren’t in abundance in the NBA, and definitely not on the Lakers squad—Hill and small forward Wesley Johnson are probably the only other players with the athleticism and sufficient lift to get up and swat shots with any kind of regularity.

But does Davis have the heft to consistently man the center position?

The Lakers have a glut of frontcourt players but not a lot of size. Sacre has the team’s biggest body, but while he’s willing, he’s somewhat earthbound. Reedy Kelly won’t ever be the type to gobble up rebounds on a consistent double-digit basis.

Davis will have to add core strength if he’s going to play extended minutes in the paint. He also would benefit from an expanded offensive game beyond putbacks, lob dunks and left-handed baby hook shots.

Scott will be Davis’ fifth head coach in as many seasons. He could also provide the right kind of fresh start, as an old-school fundamentalist who preaches patience, consistency, effort and defense.

The Lakers offer an opportunity to grow, develop and carve out a long-term role—and perhaps a return to the championship stage.

Would Davis like another shot at a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract? Of course he would. He has two years to make his case, or one year if he proves it sooner and decides to opt out.

As for Lakers management, its summer wager carries minimal risk with the potential for a boxcar payoff.

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76ers trio of lottery picks key to future success (Yahoo Sports)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Brett Brown’s best call of the offseason had the Philadelphia 76ers reaching for their passports instead of the playbook.

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