Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 reasons why Gorgui Dieng will be a future All-Star

It might not happen this year, but there are multiple reasons why it is only a matter of time before Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes an All-Star center. Dieng hails from Senegal, and was drafted 21st overall in the 2013 NBA draft after playing three years of college basketball at the University of Louisville. He has only played one year for the Timberwolves, but  he demonstrated at the end of last season that he has the tools to be a dominant NBA center.
Reason number one: The first reason that Dieng will develop into an All-Star center is that his stats already put him close to the stats of the best NBA centers. Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard  both made their respective All-Star teams last year and their statistics per 36 minutes are very close to Dieng’s. Last year, Hibbert per 36 minutes averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, while Howard stats per 36 were 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. In contrast, Dieng 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes

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Ray Allen reportedly in ‘no rush’ in deciding on future

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Bright Future, Tight Window: LA Clippers Have Zero Margin for Error in West

Whereas in past years there have been more modest goals and hopes of steady improvement and evolution, those days are gone for the Los Angeles Clippers.

With a new owner, head coach Doc Rivers in his second year and the trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan now plenty familiar with one another, winning a title is now the primary focus for everyone in the organization. 

That’s been reflected in the moves the Clippers have made this offseason. The signing of Spencer Hawes to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the trade of a future first-round pick (for better or worse) for flexibility this season and the re-signing of Rivers all point to a singular goal.

When Rivers first arrived in Los Angeles last season, he made it clear to Paul that in the grand scheme of things, he had accomplished nothing. In that sense, even though the Clippers are far better off going forward now than they were before Rivers took over, the Clippers are still missing real validation.

Here’s Paul relaying what Rivers told him upon his arrival, via Marc J. Spears at Yahoo! Sports:

‘As professional athletes, you always want someone to push you and motivate you,’ Paul said. ‘The first meeting I had with Doc, he pretty much told me I wasn’t anything. He told me I hadn’t done anything in this league, and he was right. You don’t always want somebody that’s going to tell you what you want to hear.’

It’s silly to ignore the process and only evaluate the results, but you can be sure that Paul is starting to feel the pressure to reach the NBA Finals. 

While the title window for Paul and the Clippers is undoubtedly open this year, it’s interesting to consider how long that window will stay open. 

Here’s Jim Cavan of Bleacher Report:

Heading into the 2014-15 season, you’d be hard-pressed finding a trio of teams with a better shot at winning the NBA championship than the Los Angeles Clippers.

From star power to depth to two-way tenacity, the Clips have all the necessary ingredients and a coach, Doc Rivers, more than capable of cooking up a banner-worthy meal.

But as with so many things L.A., what’s seen on the gleaming facade often mask the faults in the foundation.

The Clippers’ dirty little secret: After this year, it could be awhile before their title window is open that wide again.

Ludicrous, you say? A team coming off 57 wins, top-10 finishes in both offensive and defensive efficiency and with a pair of under-30 top-tier talents in tow on the downslide? What sport are you watching?

It’s a fair retort, to be sure. What this logic fails to acknowledge, though, is just how tenuous the team’s future continuity really is.

It begins where so many opponent possessions end: in the hands of center DeAndre Jordan.

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed about the NBA, it’s that there are no guarantees. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen the landscape of the league change entirely. A serious injury to Paul George killed the title hopes of the Indiana Pacers and may have slammed their window shut. LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat for the Cleveland Cavaliers may have ended Miami’s dynasty while starting a new one.

Point being, you just never know when something great can come crashing down in one fell swoop. With Jordan slated to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, it’s not impossible that he’d decide to take more money elsewhere if the Clippers balked at a max contract. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

Here’s Zach Harper at CBSSports.com:

He’ll be knocking on the door of 27 years old when he hits the free agent market in 2015 and he’s going to command a bigger salary than when he was trying to be poached and paid based on potential.

Re-signing Jordan on the open market will push the Clippers and new owner Steve Ballmer deep into the luxury tax. They’re slated to be $2.6 million over the tax in 2014-15, but with $71 million already committed for 2015-16, the luxury tax hit to keep Jordan will be significant.

Luckily for the Clippers, his financial growth has ended up being their gain. Lob City is more substance now than it ever has been and his improvement is a big part of that. After just one year under Rivers, he’s helped become a devastating force for them on both ends of the floor. Even keeping his game where it currently is would warrant All-Star consideration over the next few seasons when he’ll be entering his prime as a big man.

Without Jordan, the Clippers would be rather gutless defensively. Hawes is a solid big man, but by no means is he a defensive presence in the middle. Without Jordan, the Clippers would lack the substance and defensive play to be a strong contender, even if Blake Griffin and Chris Paul willed them to wins in the postseason.

While it makes sense not to worry about what you can’t control, it’s fair to wonder if injuries will once again weaken the team’s chances after a long 82-game season.

Here’s Stephen Babb of Bleacher Report:

One historically bothersome factor has been health—not catastrophically damning injuries, but the kind of nagging wear and tear that have limited Paul and Griffin. Griffin battled a debilitating ankle injury in 2013 and a knee injury the year before that. Paul dealt with a groin strain in 2012 and hamstring issues last season.

Though it’s difficult to find a direct culprit for that kind of misfortune, it wouldn’t be surprising for Rivers to watch minutes a bit more closely this season.

The reigning champion Spurs remained fresh in 2014 on account of a radically egalitarian distribution of minutes. No one on San Antonio’s roster played 30 or more minutes per game. Point guard Tony Parker led the way averaging just 29.4 minutes.

The fears for the Clippers aren’t all that dissimilar to other teams. Of course they’d be in trouble if they lost Griffin or Paul to a significant injury. That’s to be expected.

The issue is, with the Western Conference being so competitive and with there being at least two other teams who could easily win the title in the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, the margin for error is so incredibly slim.

A bad bench, like the Clippers had last year, can doom you against a team with the depth of San Antonio. The lack of good defenders on the wings, like the Clippers still have, can be a death sentence against the perimeter scoring of OKC

Again, that’s not to imply that the Clippers aren’t a legitimate contender. It’s just that to escape the Western Conference, a lot of things have to go right, and your MVP candidates have to play their best basketball.

With Griffin and Paul both locked up through the 2016-17 season (with player options in 2017-18), and with Rivers on board, the Clippers almost certainly won’t see their window for a title shut completely in at least the next three years.

The danger is that it will get tighter and tighter as the means to improve the roster evaporate. If the Clippers are a luxury-tax team, that comes with some limitations with trading, the size of your exceptions and more. It makes things a little tougher.

More importantly, if Griffin and Jordan are the only rotation players who stand to improve over the next three years instead of decline, you wonder how much better the Clippers can get. Two future first-round picks have already been dealt (2015 and 2017) and we’ve seen very little of Reggie Bullock so far, one of the few prospects on the team.

Aside from future injuries, you aren’t worried about Paul (29) aging poorly and deteriorating, but this may be the perfect intersection of his and Griffin’s careers. Paul has lost a little off his fastball after knee injuries earlier in his career, but he’s still near his peak as a player. After a monster season last year, Griffin may be approaching his prime. Jordan has seemed to finally fill his potential as a defensive anchor. 

Everything is coming together at the same time, and the future appears to be plenty bright, but things change too quickly in the NBA to guarantee anything at all. For the Clippers, the time is finally now.   

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Anthony Bennett or Thad Young: Who Is Timberwolves’ Power Forward of the Future?

With a 30-day moratorium on trading rookie Andrew Wiggins set to expire, Minnesota Timberwolves are on the brink of officially hitting the reset button.

After Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported the contours of a deal that would send disaffected forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, we’re now learning new details about what the trade looks like.

Citing “a person with knowledge of the trade,” the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda reports that, “The Wolves will receive Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, 76ers forward Thaddeus Young and a trade exception believed to be worth at least $4 million.”

In return for Young’s addition to the deal, Zgoda adds that, “Philadelphia will receive Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that the Cavaliers own, as well as the expiring contracts of Wolves players Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.”

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is also reporting the deal, adding that, “The Wolves, sources said, have been operating under the premise for days that they will land Young from the Sixers as Love’s replacement.”

So when the dust settles, Minnesota will have a couple of new power forwards to at least partially ease the blow of Love’s loss.

The big question is whether both of them fit into the Timberwolves’ long-term plans.

Young is by far the more NBA-ready option. The 26-year-old is entering his eighth season after averaging a career-high 17.9 points per game to go along with six rebounds and 2.1 steals per contest.

The surge in productivity was partly a function of Philadelphia’s ugly rebuild.

Young actually shot a career-low 45.4 percent from the field en route to all those points, carrying the Sixers’ load alongside rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams. With more competitive iterations of the 76ers, Young instead averaged roughly between 13 and 15 points—still solid but also more representative of the contributions he’ll make on a good team.

There’s little doubt that the Georgia Tech product will immediately become Minnesota’s most logical candidate to replace Love in the starting lineup.

Young certainly doesn’t rebound or shoot like Love, but he’s an athletic and well-rounded forward who was built to run the floor with a charitable point guard like Ricky Rubio.

He can also defend, which should prove instrumental for a team that gave up 104.3 points per game last season.

Sports Illustrated‘s Rob Mahoney breaks down his defensive pedigree:

Some of his finest work comes on defense. Young’s transition to the power forward spot has given him a more consistent presence in guarding the pick-and-roll, where his feel for maneuvering in space makes him a bother to opponents at every turn. Seven years in the league (including three under Doug Collins) have given Young an education in team defense, though he also instinctively understands how to snuff out and complicate plays.

The Timberwolves will still find themselves amidst a rebuilding process, but someone like Young may ensure that process initially avoids a precipitous fall in the standings.

In any event, he’s a reasonably priced acquisition. The Timberwolves are getting a starting-caliber player in exchange for two reserves and a draft pick that could fall in the 20s.

If there’s a downside to Young, it’s that he might not be around for much longer. After this season, he has a player option worth $9,721,740 to return in 2015-16. That’s a lot of money to turn down, but the summer of 2015 could also be a prime opportunity for Young to cash in with another lucrative, long-term deal.

Should he have another productive season, it could be wise to gauge his worth on the open market. 

Similarly, Young could just decide that Minnesota isn’t for him, that he’s tired of rebuilding efforts and looking to get on board with a playoff team. 

Any number of variables could ultimately translate into a short-lived relationship between Young and the Timberwolves.

That’s where Anthony Bennett comes in.

Though far less proven than Young, the 21-year-old demonstrated enough upside at UNLV for the Cavaliers to select him with the first-overall pick in 2013. 

Like Young, he registers as a hybrid of the two forward positions—albeit without the athleticism and quickness to spend the majority of his time on the wing. In theory, however, Bennett could develop into a versatile front-court asset capable of scoring from all over the floor.

In theory.

At the moment, Bennett is coming off a disappointing rookie season in which he averaged just 4.2 points and three rebounds per contest through 52 games.

“AB’s biggest trouble last year was he never really had the opportunity to play enough because he was either hurt or not in good physical shape,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt told reporters during the Las Vegas Summer League. “As you can see, he worked very hard at that. That’s a good first step. He did some good things.”

Indeed, Bennett has shed some weight and given at least some indications he’s prepared for a more robust role this season.

As CBS Sports‘ Zach Harper observed, “His play in summer league was also much different than we saw at any point last year.”

Despite the encouraging signals coming out of summer league play, Minnesota will have to proceed patiently with Bennett. He may well emerge as the organization’s power forward of the future, but it will take him some time to get there.

In the interim, Young alleviates pressure. Bennett reasons to see plenty of opportunities as the Timberwolves turn their attention to the future, but he needn’t make dramatic progress right away. 

There, of course, remains some chance Minnesota can keep Young beyond the end of his current contract, perhaps providing some insurance in the event Bennett never pans out as hoped. But don’t be surprised if Young merely serves as a placeholder for the next season or two.

The future lies with Bennett. It just might take him a while to prove it.

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Los Angeles Lakers’ Future Still Rests in Kobe Bryant’s Hands

Kobe Bryant‘s present with the Los Angeles Lakers is littered with question marks, and his future with the franchise might be better measured in months instead of years.

But his position within the organization is the same one he’s held the majority of his career. He is the Lakers’ most important player for today and tomorrow.

That fact is somehow equal parts entirely predictable and incredibly astounding.

On one hand, Bryant is a historically prolific player with a resume and competitive edge nearly unrivaled by his NBA brethren past and present. He is a 16-time All-Star, five-time champion and the fourth-highest scorer in league history (31,700 career points and counting).

He isn’t passing the baton to anyone. Someone will have to rip it away from him.

That isn’t news to those who have watched a second of his career, but it’s remarkable nonetheless. He turns 36 on Saturday and has dealt with both a torn Achilles and a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee since April 2013, but he’s unquestionably a franchise leader in a young man’s game.

As someone who once jumped straight from the high school ranks to the big leagues, his basketball clock is ticking even faster than his biological one.

Across his first 18 seasons in the league, he has logged 45,567 minutes across 1,245 games. Those totals don’t even account for the extensive playoff runs that put another 220 games and 8,641 minutes on his odometer.

There is no way to roll back the mileage. Anything taken by Father Time over the years—explosiveness, agility, quickness—is a casualty of the same war legends have been waging and losing for decades.

Bryant is evolving, doing what he can to offset his physical losses with mental and tactical gains. He isn’t the same player he once was, but he says it’s wrong to assume he’ll automatically be worse for the wear.

“When I hear pundits and people talk saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right,” he told Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard. ”I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before.”

Maybe those words are nothing more than arrogance. History has not been kind to players dealing with his type of setbacks, let alone ones attempting the feat so late in their careers.

Then again, if he’s able to prove his critics wrong, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Forget about the disastrous 2012-13 campaign for a moment, when injuries kept him off the floor for all but six games and the Lakers posted their second-lowest winning percentage in franchise history (.329).

Just one season prior he was still cemented among the game’s current greats. In 2012-13, he put up 27.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting along with 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds. Do you know how many players averaged 27 points on 46 percent shooting, six dimes and five boards last season? One: four-time MVP LeBron James.

Can Bryant still be that type of player? Well, it depends who you ask.

Reggie Miller, who spent 18 seasons in the league, says no. He said Bryant has a chance to still be pretty good, but greatness might be out of the question, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak disagrees.

“My window overlooks the court, and he comes in to work out from time to time,” Kupchak said, via Lyle Spencer of Sports on Earth. “You would not know he’s in his mid-30s. You wouldn’t know he hurt his knee and had a torn Achilles. There’s no limp. He’s got a hop in his step.”

That’s the type of thing Lakers fans need to hear.

After firing blanks at top-shelf free-agent targets Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the franchise invested its offseason funds in players who won’t tie up the books moving forward.

The Lakers found some talent this summer—rookie Julius Randle could be a steal, Ed Davis has plenty of upside and veterans Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer bring over some proven production—but that might not equate to much in the fully-loaded Western Conference.

As CBS Sports’ Zach Harper observed, the Lakers will enter next season fighting a steep uphill battle for a playoff spot:

How much would have to go their way, while finding worst-case scenarios for a handful of other teams, to get them into the playoffs in 2015? The Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Suns, and Nuggets are all undeniably better than this Lakers team at its best. The Pelicans are likely better than this Lakers team as well. The Wolves could be decently competitive for a good portion of the season and the Kings might actually have more in their favor than this Lakers team if not everything goes well for Los Angeles.

That might not seem like it matters much. After all, the Lakers are largely plotting their next championship run around their potential success in the 2015 or 2016 free-agent markets.

However, L.A.’s future strides may well be tied to the present. The whiffs of this past offseason suggest that the Lakers may no longer have the same pull with the league’s top talent.

They failed to get Carmelo Anthony or James, proving the Lakers are no longer the free-agent destination they used to be,” wrote Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

The Lakers haven’t lost their built-in market advantages, and L.A.’s climate is as inviting as ever. Those championship banners inside the Staples Center haven’t come down, and the team can still sell players on the opportunity to be the next star for such a proud organization.

But it’s hard to say how much things like market size, weather and history still matter to NBA players when LeBron James can turn the Cleveland Cavaliers into a destination franchise.

Today’s premier players, by and large, need to see some chance at success. And that’s why Bryant, despite having only two years left on his contract, will play such a massive role in the Lakers’ future.

With only $36 million in guaranteed money committed to the 2015-16 payroll, via ShamSports.com, the Lakers have the means to pursue some of the stars of the 2015 free-agent class.

However, they’ll need a healthy, productive Bryant to really bolster their recruiting pitch. His attitude might not always blend well with others (see: Dwight Howard), but championship-caliber numbers are hard to ignore.

If he can be the Bryant of old—as opposed to an old Bryant—he might convince a top player (whether that’s someone like Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge next summer or even a Kevin Durant the following year) he can still play a significant role on a title team.

But if Bryant’s body breaks down and the team’s performance nosedives with it, the Lakers could be stuck with stacks of cash and no impactful way to spend it.

He seems to think his best days aren’t completely behind him, and maybe he’ll be proved right. It’s a gamble the Lakers have no choice but to take, and one that offers either a road back to relevance or a stumble that could set this franchise back for years.

This team is overloaded with questions, and Bryant, once again, is the only man capable of providing any answers.

 

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76ers or Timberwolves: Which Team Is a Better Fit for Anthony Bennett’s Future?

In the impending trade slated to send Kevin Love to join LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Anthony Bennett has become something of a superfluous pawn—no one knows who really wants him or who would just as soon dump him on the more willing taker. 

Early on in the trade talks, Bennett was assumed to be be one of several pieces, along with rookie sensation Andrew Wiggins, on his way to the Twin Cities in what looked to be a straightforward, two-team deal.

However, a recent report from the Philadelphia Daily News’ Bob Cooney detailed how the Philadelphia 76ers, in an effort to shed cap space, were looking to send Thaddeus Young to Minnesota in exchange for the rights to Bennett.

Then on Thursday, more speculation still:

With the three parties still waiting on Wiggins’ trade eligibility to become official on Saturday, expect a lot of movement on the Love front over the next 48 hours.

Lost in all the back-and-forth, though, is a question well worth asking: Which team is actually the better fit for Bennett himself?

The fact that Bennett is fresh off authoring one of the most disappointing statistical seasons of any lottery selection in NBA history—to say nothing of first-overall picks—certainly doesn’t make it any easier to answer.

Bennett remains, in the purest sense of the term, an unknown quantity. Ship set aright, the burly forward has the potential to be a double-double machine for the next decade. Held to his current trajectory, he could be out of the league in half that time.

The good news is that after a nightmarish rookie campaign, the chips are starting to fall a bit more in the forward’s favor:

More encouraging still, Bennett turned high hopes into a solid summer league showing, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in a little under 30 minutes a game (albeit at a shaky 43 percent field-goal clip).

What Bennett needs more than anything else at this point is a franchise capable of nurturing his game minus the impossible pressures of a season ago.

Viewed from that perspective, the Sixers are quite clearly the better landing spot for Bennett. Under the leadership of general manager Sam Hinkie, Philly has spearheaded a rebuilding plan that while still years in the making remains philosophically coherent.

The name of Hinkie’s game: acquiring assets, be they draft picks (the Sixers had seven in this past draft alone) or, in Bennett’s case, young, high-upside players.

Writing at CSNPhilly.com, Andrew Unterberger teased out in tantalizing detail why rolling the dice on Bennett is, from Philly’s perspective, a no-brainer:

Even if Bennett never becomes as good as Young, he’s still a hell of a return for Thad’s expiring contract. With Bennett, the Sixers would have five of the top 24 combined picks from the last two drafts under team control, which makes for a hell of a nucleus to build around. He may or may not fit the team’s long-term plans, but in the meantime, he’s a prospect with great value around the league, one the Sixers could try to rehabilitate and sell in a year or two for twice as much as they paid for him. (And for what it’s worth, the team has long been high on Bennett–reportedly, the 2013 draft-night deal for Nerlens Noel that cost the Sixers Jrue Holiday would still have gone down had AB been the player available for the Pelicans to take at #6, as well.)

And while the on-court product is sure to remain rickety in the short term, head coach Brett Brown—a disciple of Gregg Popovich—has already infused within his charges a palpably plucky energy. Even if the outcome is seldom in their favor, these Sixers come to play, and play hard.

Coupled with the frontcourt vacuum left in the wake of Young’s departure, Bennett steps into a situation imbued with both patience and perspective and conducive to growth.

Then there’s the Timberwolves.

Ever since nabbing Love in a 2008 draft-day trade, Minnesota has done a woeful job of building around its frontcourt cornerstone—Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic being the two notable exceptions, of course. After six seasons of ever-higher hopes disappointingly deferred, Love had had enough.

Even with Wiggins absorbing the bulk of the spotlight, Bennett would face the unenviable prospect of being Love’s replacement—if in position more than pull or power—in a city going on 10 years of playoff deprivation.

Rather than learn from a first-time coach steeped in “the Spurs way,” Bennett would instead be put under the yoke of Flip Saunders, a capable but conspicuously uncreative coach not exactly renowned for his ability to nurture young players.

In fact, from Bennett’s perspective—particularly considering Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer probably aren’t long for the Land of 10,000 Lakes, either—Minnesota’s only real draws are Rubio (likely gone once his contract ends, if not before then), Wiggins and the raw but enticing rookie point guard Zach LaVine. Should either or both of the latter two make good on their interstellar promise, Bennett’s star has the chance to rise in tantalizing tandem.

But on a team with no discernable plan in place, Bennett might wind up exactly where he was headed with the pre-LeBron Cavs: toward a purgatory partly of his own making, but one reinforced by other hands altogether.

Of course, if Jerry Zgoda’s prediction holds true, all of this will be moot. Why, after all, would the Wolves deign to gamble on Young sticking around past his 2015-16 player option when they could have a more flexible asset in Bennett?

Still, in the pantheon of strange NBA turns, Bennett going to Philadelphia in a three-team trade wouldn’t even crack the top 100. Whether the impetus is doubts over Bennett’s potential or some long-term guarantee on the part of Young to stay in Minnesota, there’s still a chance that the former’s future lies in the City of Brotherly Love.

At this point, given last year’s false start and the unfair flak he’s gotten ever since, Bennett could use that kind of luck to even out the ledger.

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Kawhi Leonard’s future as an unsuspecting star

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Ron of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. For more NBA news and updates, visit Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues today.Kawhi Leonard is no longer a hidden commodity in San Antonio after winning the 2014 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award. However, Spurs fans know that Leonard has quietly been the driving force that has enabled the team to stave off being labeled the old dogs of the NBA and continue to chase rings with the fury of the San Antonio dynasties of old. There was a time not too long ago where the Spurs looked like they were heading downhill after reaching their peak. After making the Western Conference Finals in 2008, the Spurs were unable to get past the second round during the next three seasons, including being bounced in the first round twice. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were all battling various forms of injuries and were indicating that their best days were behind them. Luckily, they found their fountain of youth in the form of a

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How Eric Bledsoe’s Contract Impacts Goran Dragic’s Future with Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic‘s future with the Phoenix Suns is beyond his control. 

Nearly two months into free agency, the Eric Bledsoe saga soldiers on. He remains unsigned, and while the Suns haven’t waited around twiddling their thumbs—Isaiah Thomas, anyone?—they are in limbo until this sudden soap opera reaches resolution.

The end result, whatever it is, will impact Dragic. Not only will he be either losing or retaining his backcourt partner in crime, but he’s approaching a crossroads of his own.

Dragic can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he so chooses. He holds a player option worth $7.5 million, and if he follows up 2013-14 with an equally strong 2014-15, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he will explore the open market.

And though Dragic‘s decision to hit free agency may not be rooted in Bledsoe‘s actions, the money Phoenix is offering—or not offering—will be.

 

If Bledsoe Leaves…

Few entertained the idea of Bledsoe leaving before the offseason began. He wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Then the offseason actually happened. 

Phoenix hasn’t moved on its initial four-year, $48 million offer, according to Paul Coro of AZCentral.com; Bledsoe, meanwhile, is believed to be seeking five years and $80 million, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard

Marked difference in opinion has created tension. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today says the relationship between player and team has “soured” amid negotiations. Those findings echoed CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes, who suggested the bond may have been broken beyond repair.

Worst-case scenario has Bledsoe leaving by way of trade or another offer sheet. The latter is unrealistic, since the Suns would likely match any contract their point guard receives. It doesn’t help that funds have dried up around the league either, making it so there is no offer sheet for Bledsoe to sign.

A sign-and-trade was thought to be equally unlikely, but Jude LaCava of Fox Sports 910 (via Bright Side Of The Sun) says otherwise:

I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported, I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.

That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.

True, false—it doesn’t matter. If Bledsoe is traded, Dragic has leverage entering next summer.

The free-agent market won’t be awash with talented floor generals. Thomas will also be the lone starting-caliber point man on the roster at that point.

That leaves Dragic to negotiate a lucrative new contract which in theory should pay him way more than the $7.5 million he’s slated to earn for 2015-16. And without Bledsoe or a spectacular contingency plan, the Suns may be forced to pay him the kind of money they won’t give his sidekick.

 

If Bledsoe Bends…

Seeing Bledsoe play for any team other than the Suns remains unlikely. Chances are he stays in Phoenix for at least another year.

Or four.

For all Bledsoe‘s displeasure, he could find himself signing the four-year, $48 million pact the Suns are slinging. That’s a lot of cash, after all—enough financial security to set him up for life.

There’s also the matter of leverage, something Bledsoe isn’t toting.

Restricted free agents are at the mercy of incumbent teams. Their only clout-carrying play is to accept a one-year qualifying offer, play one season at a steep discount and hope they’re valuable and healthy enough to land a bigger contract the following summer.

Most restricted free agents won’t take that risk. Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons is an exception. Though Bledsoe can follow his lead, Tom Ziller of SB Nation colors these types of power plays empty threats:

Think of all the weird, tortured restricted free agency cases we’ve had over the years, like Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Gerald Wallace and others. None of them resulted in the player signing the qualifying offer.

Ben Gordon is the closest example of a high-level case. After failing to reach a deal with the Bulls in 2008, Gordon signed the qualifying offer and received an absurd, painful five-year, $55 million deal with Detroit in 2009. But Gordon is a rare case: since 2003, only 13 first-round picks have ever taken the qualifying offer. Of those 13, only Spencer Hawes agreed to a long-term deal with the same team.

History points toward Bledsoe re-upping with the Suns now, not later. And if history repeats itself, it has a mixed bag of repercussions should Dragic reach free agency next summer.

Locking up Bledsoe on a long-term deal ensures the Suns have at least two talented point guards (Thomas) on the docket, bilking Dragic of some bargaining power. 

At the same time, they’ll also have kept Bledsoe on their own terms without bending to his max-contract demands. Housing him at $48 million is far different than lining his pockets with $80 million over the next half-decade. 

The Suns, then, should have enough cap flexibility to keep their backcourt dyad intact. At the very least, re-signing Bledsoe now puts them in the thick of Dragic‘s free-agent fray later, armed with the ability—and hopefully the means—to keep him in town, too.

 

If Bledsoe Accepts Qualifying Offer…

This is where things get really interesting.

Possibly for the worse. 

Accepting the Suns’ $3.7 million qualifying offer isn’t out of the question for Bledsoe. Zillgitt says the point man is “strongly considering” pulling a Monroe with the hopes of landing a more substantial deal next summer. 

Pushing forward on what is basically a one-year contract changes everything. It’s a risky yet smart play for Bledsoe if he truly believes he’s worth more than the Suns are dangling.

Playing through next season while appearing in more than 43 games and producing at a level that rivals the 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game he averaged last year puts him in the driver’s seat.

Bledsoe will only be 25 come next summer. Investing max money in him over another five years may not seem as egregious to the Suns if exceptional play precedes negotiations. But then there’s the matter of Dragic to consider.

If he opts for free agency in this scenario, the Suns have two marquee free agents on their hands, both of whom may command contracts that average eight figures annually.

We already know that’s what Bledsoe is demanding; Dragic is unlikely to be any different. 

Six players averaged at least 20 points, three rebounds, 5.5 assists and one steal per game last season: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Dragic. All of them, with the exception of Dragic and Irving, will earn $10-plus million in 2014-15. 

Irving, by the way, isn’t really an exception. He’s merely finishing out the “last year” of his rookie contract before his max extension kicks in for 2015-16, at which point he’ll be earning noticeably more than Curry.

What happens if Dragic—who will be 29 in summer 2015—puts himself in that same company next season? What happens if he ranks in the top 15 of win shares again? What happens if he helps the Suns navigate labyrinths of adversity once more, pushing them near or into the playoffs?

He’ll get paid. Whether it’s by the Suns or someone else, he’ll get paid. And there could be a strong chance it’s by someone else.

Having two talented point men on the open market could force the Suns into an awkward decision: Do they keep Bledsoe or Dragic? If that becomes an actual question, the answer should be the younger, more athletic Bledsoe

Ideally, the Suns won’t have to choose. They would re-sign both and carry on with the dual-point-guard lineups that quarterbacked a top-eight offense

But there’s no guarantee this will be an ideal situation if the Suns end up here. They would either invest in a loaded backcourt or disperse the funds in a way that ensures only one of Bledsoe and Dragic returns. 

“What we ultimately decided is: This is the strength of our team,” Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek told AZCentral.com’s Bob Young of signing Thomas. “Let’s bolster it instead of going in a different direction.”

Maintain that mindset, and the Suns, no matter how Bledsoe‘s immediate future plays out, are on track to keep him and Dragic together.

Move on that philosophy in any way or put a cap on its value, and Bledsoe‘s decision now could be the beginning of an abrupt, backcourt-breaking, duo-disbanding end.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports. Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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Spike Lee’s Knicks Foamposites Set to Hit Stores in Near Future

Longtime New York Knicks fan Spike Lee had custom-made foamposite shoes made for him two years ago, but it looks like they’ll be available to the public in the near future.

According to SoleCollector.com, the Knicks-themed foamposite will be set to be released as early as this fall. You can see additional pictures of the foamposite below.

[Sole Collector, h/t Black Sports Online]

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How Andrew Wiggins Trade Could Shape Minnesota Timberwolves’ Future

When one door closes, another opens.  The Minnesota Timberwolves may be losing Kevin Love but in return, they receive a promising future.  

If the Timberwolves land Andrew Wiggins, this team could be very dangerous two or three years down the road.  

The Timberwolves already have three potential superstars in Zach LaVine, Glenn Robinson III (also known as GRIII) and Ricky Rubio.  All of these players are under 24 years old, not to mention LaVine and Wiggins are still teens.  

If these young players can develop to their max potential, they could become the next powerhouse in the NBA.  

Many fans are already excited to see the pairing of Wiggins and LaVine because of their elite athleticism (as seen in the pair of Vines below).

LaVine may not be a household name, but many experts have high hopes for the former UCLA point guard. With his athleticism and ability to shoot from beyond the arc, he may have even more potential than Wiggins.

Canis Hoopus of SB Nation shared a similar opinion:

LaVine is a great offensive player but he may be better suited as a shooting guard, because the Timberwolves already have Rubio running the point.  

Rubio has struggled when it comes to scoring (.368 career shooting percentage), but he has proven to be one of the best facilitators in the NBA (as seen in the GIF below).  

According to ESPN, in all three years of Rubio’s career, he has ranked in the top 10 in assists per game (career average of 8.1 assists per game). 

The least talked about piece of the Timberwolves puzzle is Robinson, the 40th overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft.

Like Wiggins and LaVine, Robinson has proven to be an incredible athlete.  He’s a high-flyer known for his ability to finish at the rim.  In his two years at Michigan, Robinson averaged 12 points per game while shooting at 52.5 percent.  

Robinson is even terrific on the boards, averaging 2.5 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes in his freshman season (according to Draft Express).

Many scouts also raved about his defensive ability. Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express wrote about Robinson’s potential:

Mostly defending the power forward position at Michigan, Robinson played with a more consistent motor than he did as a freshman and had some nice moments defending the perimeter thanks to his lateral quickness, but he’ll benefit from gaining experiencing defending the small forward position full time and playing with a greater sense of urgency given how much of an impact he appears capable of making on this end of the floor.

If all four of these young promising players develop, the Timberwolves could become a very dangerous team. Especially with the San Antonio Spurs getting older and Kevin Durant possibly leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, the West in a couple of years could be wide open.

Not to mention the Timberwolves already have proven veterans in Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and (most likely) Thaddeus Young. Young isn’t a superstar, but he’s only 26 years old and he still has time to improve.  

For the last few years, Young was the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging a career high 17.9 points per game last season.   

With time, Robinson, Rubio, LaVine and Wiggins may become a Big Four and more importantly, title contenders.  

 

Follow me on Twitter: @SupermanJZ

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