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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LeBron gives surprising answer on why he couldn’t recruit players to Cleveland

LeBron says he couldn’t get any players to come to Cleveland during his first stint with the Cavs
It’s anyone’s guess when NBA players started recruiting free agents to play for their team. Some NBA fans and analysts will tell you Michael Jordan recruited Dennis Rodman back in the mid ’90s to play for the Chicago Bulls. Others will tell you the Boston Celtics started it with the trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Whatever the reason, recruitment of players has become the new norm for the Association. And surprisingly, the game’s best player, LeBron James, couldn’t get anyone to play with him during his first stint in Cleveland.
 
LeBron was also quite open on recruiting: “I recruited (before) I left here, but I just didn’t win nothing so nobody wanted to play with me”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 15, 2014

LeBron said during his first stint in CLE, he failed recruiting Michael Redd, Joe Johnson & Chris Bosh. Larry Hughes was the one guy he got
— Dave McMenamin (

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Kobe Bryant gives Stephen Curry respect after a great shot (Video / GIF)

Kobe Bryant showed Stephen Curry some respect after Curry shot a three-pointer over him during the third quarter of Sunday night’s NBA preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in Ontario, Canada.Bryant was defending Curry all the way up the court, but Curry managed to free himself up to drain the long three. Bryant congratulated him by playfully slapping him on the rear end and telling him “Nice shot”.Curry scored 25 points on 8-11 shooting as the Warriors blew out the Lakers 116-75.Video via NBA.
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Vogel contract extension gives Pacers stability

Indiana clearly defined Vogel as the man to guide the team on an unpredictable path.

      
 

 

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TV deal gives players, owners more to fight over

The NBA’s labor deal can be terminated in 2017. Expect both sides to want even more.

      
 

 

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Huge TV deal gives players, owners more to fight over

The NBA’s labor deal can be terminated in 2017. Expect both sides to want even more.

      
 

 

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Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah Gives Tony Snell Funniest Nickname Ever

Since the dawn of modern sports it seems nicknames have been synonymous with its athletes. Often times a player is better known by his or her given moniker than their own birth name.
Inevitably some are far more clever than others with the classic pairing of the first letter of a player’s first name with their last name such as D-Rose, D-Wade, or D-Will taking virtually no thought but being pretty much timeless whereas calling Kevin Durant the Slim Reaper is simply brilliant.
The first key to having a nickname is being given one, not choosing one. When it comes to giving nicknames it seems the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah fancies himself an unofficial master.
Witness a good performance by Taj Gibson and don’t be surprised if you hear Noah shouting Tajy-woo! Apparently Kirk Hinrich has been forced to accept the fact he is known by his teammate as Kirky Werky.
He may not like hearing this, but I like Noah’s nickname giving ability to that of an embarrassing grandmother. However, that somehow makes them al

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Kyrie Irving Gives LeBron James Asset, Challenge That Kobe, Jordan Never Had

INDEPENDENCE, OHIO — There are many ways to assist a basketball team or organization, other than a pinpoint pass. Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ on-court assist leader the past three seasons, did so with a pen stroke.  

LeBron James made that plain again as the Cavs opened training camp, as he acknowledged that, while “95 percent” of his decision to return was rooted in his deep connection to Northeast Ohio, it was at least partly due to his desire to connect regularly on the court with with a 22-year old who had already appeared in two All-Star games and who had already agreed to stay in Cleveland for the long term. 

“I’ve never played with a point guard like Kyrie Irving, a guy that can kind of take over a game for himself, when we need it,” James said. 

That’s an overwhelming understatement.     

No offense to Jeff McInnis, Eric Snow, Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Damon Jones, Mo Williams, Carlos Arroyo, Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole or any of the other point guards with whom James has spent considerable time on the court over the course of his career.    

But, of that group, only Williams was counted upon to consistently provide offense while playing with James. He placed second on the Cavaliers in scoring average in 2008-09 and ’09-10. McInnis was fourth on the Cavaliers in ’04-05 after missing much of the ’03-04 season, and Chalmers was fourth on the Heat in ’11-12 and ’13-14. Others were much further down the team chart.

Typically, James has played with point guards who primarily served as spot-up shooters and secondary ballhandlers, leaving him largely responsible for initiating and finishing possessions. That renders his alignment with Irving among the Cavaliers’ most compelling storylines. Their collaboration could be cataclysmic for the NBA, if they get it right. Otherwise it could serve to suggest that another, more common model, is preferable: one in which there’s a clearer offensive pecking order between transcendent superstar and point guard.

There haven’t been many wing players anywhere near James’ stratosphere in the past quarter-century. And, whether by roster deficiency or offensive design, few from that esteemed group have played even a single season with a point guard trusted to carry a major percentage of the playmaking and scoring burden. 

One advanced statistic, usage rate, is useful—if not definitivein illustrating this trend. As defined by Basketball-Reference.com, usage rate attempts to quantify the percentage of offensive possessions that a player impacts, or “uses.” Its formula includes three standard measures: field goal attempts, free throw attempts and turnovers. While it is imperfect in assessing playmaking responsibilities, because it does not include touches, passes or assists in its tabulation, it does give a snapshot of a player’s overall offensive involvement. 

It also shows that James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have not played with especially involved point guards. (Neither, for that matter, did Allen Iverson, unless you classified him as the point guard.)

Start with Jordan, whose primary point guards in Chicago included Ennis Whatley, Wes Matthews Sr., Kyle Macy, John Paxson, Sam Vincent, B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr and former two-guard Ron Harper, who, at that state of his career, concentrated mostly on defense. Jordan’s usage rate ranged from 29.8 percent to 38.6 percent, while the primary point guard on his team ranged from 12.1 percent to 19.3 percent, with Vincent hitting that mark in 1988-89 (Armstrong got up to 19.0 percent in ’94-95). Paxson started all but three of 243 games between ’89 and ’92, and recorded the lowest usage rate among regulars in each of those three seasons. 

Bryant’s point guard partner history, like his speech pattern and baseline fadeaway, resembles Jordan’s.

The Lakers great became a starter in his third season, ’98-99, recording a usage rate of 25.3 percent. He has not been under 29.1 percent since, rising to as high as 38.7 percent in ’05-06, a season he largely spent scowling at Smush Parker. Since Phil Jackson shaped many of Bryant’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise that many of Bryant’s point guards fit the Paxson/Kerr profile. The closest replica was Derek Fisher, whose usage rate was less than half of Bryant’s in five of the six seasons they started together, and always near the bottom of Lakers rotation players. Only twice has a Lakers point guard topped 20 percent in usage rate during the 13 seasons Bryant has regularly started; one was a Hall of Famer (Gary Payton’s rate was 20.4 percent in his one season as a Laker), and the other (Ramon Sessions, 20.5 percent) was a late-season addition. Everyone else, from Derek Harper to Ron Harper to Lindsey Hunter to Chucky Atkins to Jordan Farmar to Fisher to Parker) topped out in the teens. 

Wade? You’ll find similar data. His lowest usage rate (25.0 percent) came when he played point guard as a rookie, soaring to 34.9 percent and 36.2 percent, before tapering some after James’ arrival in Miami in ’10. Chalmers has been his backcourt sidekick for most of the past six seasons, with a career usage rate of 16.5 percent, and a high of 17.4 percent. Jason Williams was Miami’s most active point guard during Wade’s run, and his numbers (18.5 percent and 18.2 percent) weren’t especially high in his two Heat seasons.

Carmelo Anthony diverges from his peers a bit, in that, while pegged as a gunner, he has been paired with some high usage point guards. Andre Miller was right around 20 percent for three of their seasons together in Denver, and Iverson was at 27 percent while playing a lot at the position for a season-and-a-half with the Nuggets. Chauncey Billups was at 21.8 percent, 24.3 percent and 21.4 percent over a three-season span, and Denver thrived with the Billups-Melo combination. (Jeremy Lin was at 28.1 percent for the Knicks in ’11-12, but some of that magical 35-game run came in Anthony’s absence.) 

But the true outlier is Kevin Durant, who has had a lower usage rate than Russell Westbrook in each of the past four seasons—30.6 to 31.6, 31.3 to 32.7, 31.8 to 32.8 and 33.0 to 34.4. And while Durant has reached an NBA Finals, he hasn’t done what Jordan, Bryant, Wade or James did while playing with more subdued, somewhat subservient point guards.

He hasn’t hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy.  

“You look historically, over the last 20-plus years, in terms of teams that have won the championship, very few have had point guards who dominated the ball,” said former pass-first point guard Avery Johnson, who now works for ESPN. “You know, Chauncey Billups did (for Detroit). And the team that won with the Mavericks (in ’11), Jason Kidd a little bit, very little. But it was more guys like J.J. Barea and Jason Terry. So it’s a different game. You look at the Spurs, Tony Parker dominates the ball, but he’s had to learn how to play over the years when (Manu) Ginobili has the ball. Finding his spots. Becoming a better shooter.” 

 


 

So, back to James and Irving. 

Will they instantly become a dynamic duo?

Each may need to sacrifice some.

James’ usage rate has ranged from 28.2 percent to 33.8 percent over his 11 seasons, while his primary point guards have ranged from 10.9 percent to 23.4 percent, with Williams recording the highest and second-highest (22.0 percent) numbers. Snow, Jones, Gibson and even West were generally ornamental, rather than essential, to offensive sets—Snow was last among regulars in usage in both of his seasons as a Cavaliers starter. 

In Miami, James played with a point guard in Chalmers whose usage rate was a bit higher than James’ typical Cavaliers point guard, if not as high as McInnis or Williams. And, of course, James played with an off guard whose usage rate was astronomical compared to any of his Cleveland complements. Wade actually had a higher usage rate than James in their first season together (31.6 to 31.5), before taking a small step back (31.3 to 32.0, 29.5 to 30.2, 27.9 to 31.0) over the next three seasons.

You know whose usage rate was roughly the same as Wade’s each of the past three seasons?

Kyrie Irving.

The Australian import recorded rates of 28.7, 30.2 and 28.2 percent, as he led his Cavaliers in several standard statistical categories but failed to take it to the postseason. (Antawn Jamison was second at 26.2 percent in ’11-12, and Dion Waiters was second at 26.1 and 26.9 percent, respectively, the past two seasons). 

So it is James’ experience with Wade that he will draw most upon now, as he and Irving determine how to divvy up the dribbling, distribution and shooting in new coach David Blatt’s European-style offensive sets. Blatt sounds like a bit like James’ former coach, Erik Spoelstra, in his shunning of specific position definitions; he characterizes Irving, James and even slasher Dion Waiters as “ball guards.” He hopes that Irving’s presence in particular will “take some of the load” off James, “in terms of having to initiate offense, having to bear the brunt of the physical load of getting the ball to places, and [of] making plays for himself and for others. We do have some other guys that can do that, and hopefully that will serve him well, as far as making it easy for him to get some easy ones. But also as the game goes along and the season goes along, to keep him from wearing down. Just because there are other people sharing the load.” 

James grew physically and mentally weary of that burden last season, one made heavier by Wade’s frequent absences. So he doesn’t intend to stifle Irving’s activity or creativity.

“For me, I handle the ball when I get the ball off the backboard,” James said Saturday. “I’m a good rebounder, I like to rebound and I kind of push it from that instance. In certain sets I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but it’s Kyrie’s show. He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general and we need him to put us in position to succeed offensively. He has to demand that and command that from us with him handling the ball.”

Yet James did acknowledge that playing together may be more of a work-in-progress for Irving than for himself, “because I just spent four years doing it, playing with D-Wade. We had our adjustment period where we both had to move off the ball. It was something we weren’t comfortable with going into it. My coming here doing it four years in a row where I played off the ball a lot, and I developed my inside game, and I developed my catch-and-shoot jumpshots and things of that nature. So it will be more of an adjustment for him, not for me.”  

Avery Johnson agreed. 

“The biggest adjustment is going to be for Kyrie playing off the ball,” the former Mavericks and Nets coach said. “You look at Kyrie, for the most part here in Cleveland, he’s been on the ball. You look at him this summer with the World Cup team, on the ball. Even playing with some of the other guys like Derrick Rose and Steph Curry, he was on the ball. That’s why he had such a terrific summer.”

Johnson identified Irving’s three-point accuracy as a critical component in Cleveland’s success, after a dip to 36 percent from that distance last season. Cavaliers players, while still acclimating themselves to Blatt’s offensive principles, do expect it to be predicated on ball movement, precision and most of all, spacing.

“So (Irving’s) ability to space the floor and make open shots (is important),” Johnson said. “Because LeBron James is going to draw double teams when he’s posted up, he’s going to get trapped on pick-and-rolls. When he tries to isolate, teams are going to load up or zone. So there are going to be a lot of opportunities with Kyrie on the floor for him to make some plays. I also think that’s why LeBron recruited guys like Mike Miller and James Jones—spacersbecause the game is all about space.” 

Irving will have those players at his disposal, too, when he penetrates. He has sounded positively giddy about all the possibilities, after taking considerable heat for the struggles of limited rosters in his first three seasons. He spoke Friday of being “OK” with “all the things I did kind of terrible” last season, because, as a “young guy figuring it out,” it will help him as he plays with a more veteran group now. He joked about how “weird” it is to be the youngest on the team again, but was serious about his appreciation for the upgraded roster.

“It’s just going to make my job that much easier,” Irving said. “Regardless of what people [are] saying, how my role is going to change, and all the scoring. I mean, I only did the scoring because I was asked to do it. I mean, I had to do it to be in the best possible place to win. And changing my role, it’s not necessarily changing. I’m going to continue to be myself but now that we have other great players, it just creates more space and opportunity for me to make other people better. That’s how I look at it, as an opportunity to grow as a player and as a point guard, and be who I feel I’m destined to be, and that’s a great point guard.”

No doubt he’s a different point guard than James has ever had. Than Bryant has ever had. Than Jordan ever had. But it’s unreasonable to expect James to defer all the time, and especially down the stretch. So how will Irving handle it, when James is handling the ball and triggering the offense? 

“I’ll be ready to shoot every single time,” Irving said, laughing. “If I’m off the ball, I’m ready to shoot. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to win. Obviously he’s the greatest player playing the game right now, so if he’s on the ball, like I said, I’ll be ready to shoot.”

In those scenarios, that would be his best way to assist.

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.

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Julius Randle Gives Lakers An Ability To Handle Ball At Forward

Julius Randle projects in the NBA as a power forward, but the Los Angeles Lakers have been impressed with his ability to defend threes and handle the ball.
“He’s got super quick feet and I think if there’s one thing you didn’t see much at Kentucky, as you do watching him every day, is that he’s got really gifted quickness, first step, [and] he loves contact,” Mitch Kupchak said.
“He can defend small forwards. Do I see him right now as the prototypical small forward? Probably not,” Kupchak said. “But I could see him bringing the ball up the court. I could see him seeing a gap, getting a step on a guy and making a play — whether it’s finishing or finding somebody that’s open. Those are ball-handling skills that you wouldn’t see power forwards have very often.”
Still, Kupchak tried to temper expectations for the rookie.
“Julius is still 19 years old,” Kupchak said. “You wouldn’t know that by looking at him, b…

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John Calipari gives away beds, pillows to Kentucky fans camping out Big Blue Madness

Five students got Tempur-Pedic mattresses because, apparently, their sleeping setup at Tent City really needed an upgrade.

      
 

 

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