How Eric Bledsoe’s Free-Agency Market Can Recover Next Year

Eric Bledsoe is in the throes of a free-agency dilemma he has little control over.  

It’s not of disturbing difficulty, to be sure. Bledsoe has champagne problems at the moment as he tries to figure out how rich he intends to make himself. 

But in the context of NBA restricted free agency, it’s a problem nonetheless—one that can only be resolved by delaying his free-agent exploits until next summer when his market might be more alive. 

 

The Dilemma

This shall forever be known as the Greg Monroe Move. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today has him accepting the Detroit Pistons‘ qualifying offer, playing through 2014-15 and hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. 

As a restricted free agent himself, Bledsoe can—and, per Zillgitt, just might—do the same. The Phoenix Suns extended him a qualifying over worth slightly over $3.7 million. He can agree to take that, remain in Phoenix and go unrestricted-free-agent frolicking in one year’s time without having to worry about the Suns deliberately—and deftly—diminishing his market value.

That’s what the Suns are doing, after all. They haven’t budged from their initial four-year, $48 million offer, which has led to rumors of distrust between them and Bledsoe, who is seeking a max contract worth approximately $80 million, according to CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes

Things are now so bad that Bledsoe is apparently giving Suns brass the silent treatment.

“We haven’t heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn’t tell you. I do know that when he played here, he felt good about the organization, his coaching staff and his teammates at the end of the season,” Suns owner Robert Sarver said, per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. ”We had the same feelings toward him.”

Once-strong bonds have slowly, surely been breaking as Bledsoe‘s free-agent market crumbles. The Suns aren’t giving him what he wants or even close to what he wants, and no one else has come calling with an offer sheet worth signing.

And why? Because there is no one else outside Phoenix with that power. 

Cap space has dried up around the league. Funds have been spent. Other contracts have been signed. Bledsoe cannot follow the money because there is none. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team with enough flexibility to make a legitimate offer and, well, they’re still Sam Hinkie’s Sixers: planning for wins sometime this millennia, but not right now.

Trying to force a sign-and-trade is an option, but not really, as SB Nation’s Jason Patt takes the time to explain:

Bledsoe has some options, but he’s almost certainly not getting the max money he wants. A sign-and-trade seems unlikely because the Suns want to keep him and they’d demand a massive return if they decided to put him on the block. And even in this scenario, there are no guarantees another team would want to pay him the max.

Signing that qualifying offer is the only way Bledose can create a genuine bidding war if he’s not inclined to take the Suns’ $48 million, and neither they nor someone else is prepared to give him the max.

 

Benefits of Waiting

Taking this route comes with obvious risk, like anything else.

Bledsoe—who appeared in just 43 games last season—could injure himself or regress statistically. Both setbacks would gut his market value further and make him wish he accepted Phoenix’s offer. 

At the same time, if this is all about the money, next summer promises Bledsoe more if he remains healthy and productive.

The Suns will still be able to offer him more money and years than any other team, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s money. And if there’s still any doubt as to how valuable Bledsoe is, he holds additional leverage as an unrestricted free agent.

Especially if Goran Dragic is feeling flighty.

Dragic has a player option worth $7.5 million for 2015-16 and could decide to enter the free-agent fray as well. Faced with the prospect of losing both, the Suns could finally dangle what Bledose seeks. 

In the event it becomes an issue of wanting only one—Isaiah Thomas is in town now, remember—who will the Suns choose: A then 25-year-old, presumably healthy Bledsoe, or The Dragon, who, while talented, will be less than one year from turning 30?

Ideally, and probably, the Suns would elect to keep both. But if they’re posed with such a problem it’s because they can’t, and also because the younger Bledsoe performed well enough to make it an issue. 

By waiting and playing another season in Phoenix, Bledsoe has the opportunity to drum up his internal value and snag the money he wants from the team many thought he was fated to stay with. If it doesn’t work out, or the Suns need some more motivation to pony up cash, that’s what outside interest is for.

Point guard is a deep position, and while Bledsoe could be competing against potential free agents, such as Dragic and Rajon Rondo, teams are always in the market for floor generals.

The Dallas Mavericks will still be in need of a long-term solution at point guard and are projected to have ample cap space (Dirk Nowitzki says, “You’re welcome”). The Pistons will have some wiggle room with Monroe not signing a new contract and Brandon Jennings entering the last year of his deal.

The New York Knicks should be able to clear max room, too. As should the Los Angeles Lakers. And possibly the Houston Rockets. And others. 

Waiting will give Bledsoe options—far more options than he ever could have as a restricted free agent. He could leverage potential interest from NBA mother ships like the Knicks and Lakers into a fat contract from the Suns or another team. Or he could sign with one of those NBA flagships. 

It would be his decision. That’s the beauty of having choices.

 

Bledsoe Betting On Bledsoe

Assuming health and production, there is only one downside: having to assume health and production.

Bledsoe cannot guarantee that he emerges from next season unscathed. Or that he rivals last year’s numbers, which left him alongside Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden and LeBron James as the only five players to average at least 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45-plus percent from the floor.

To assume such dominance is to bet on himself.

If he performs up to snuff, he’ll have suitors galore, and he’ll be entering free agency at a time when bigger markets are flush with cap space, unfazed by then-nonexistent restricted free agency nuances that have left Bledsoe in contractual limbo now.

“We value Eric as a player,” Sarver said, via Coro.

Phoenix, along with vast arrays of additional suitors, could value him even more one year down the line.

For Bledsoe, waiting may compel the Suns and so many others to show him the money.

For Bledsoe, next summer could hold the victory this one clearly doesn’t.

 

*Salary and contract information courtesy of ShamSports


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Hidden Gems on 2014 NBA Free Agency Market

There’s much more to NBA free agency beyond the whereabouts and future plans of the biggest stars in basketball. In the end, the league only has one LeBron James, one Carmelo Anthony and one Dirk Nowitzki to split between 30 teams. And those marquee names, along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, might not be changing teams anyway.

The true intrigue of the Association’s “silly season,” at least as far as actual roster building is concerned, stems from the pursuit of the game’s lesser quantities.

This summer, in particular, should see money trickle down to role players and the rest of those below the top tiers of available players. Jodie Meeks, a solid shooting guard who put together a nice season with the sad Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14, will sign with the Detroit Pistons for $19.5 million over three years once the league’s moratorium is lifted later this month, per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

Trevor Ariza, a streaky shooter by trade, figures to draw an offer that would blow Meeks’ out of the water. Shaun Livingston’s already found himself a much richer man, now as Stephen Curry‘s backup in Golden State.

The key for any GM is to acquire pieces comparable to these and others who will bring home the bacon this offseason, but at a fraction of the price. After all, it’s the midlevel free agents—not the max-contract types—who pose the greatest threat to a franchise’s cap sheet over the long haul.

These 10 guys could all fit the “undervalued” bill, depending on how the market breaks in the days and weeks to come.

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2014 NBA Free Agents: Bargain Players with Potential to Be Steals on Open Market

Without Boris Diaw, without Danny Green and without Patty Mills, there is no fifth San Antonio Spurs championship. The NBA is a star-driven league and will be henceforth, but no team has ever hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy without receiving major contributions from someone eighth or ninth down the media call sheet.

Oftentimes—in most cases, actually—these shining June moments are birthed months earlier via quiet press releases. Diaw, Green and Mills all came to San Antonio via free agency, each at a time when their NBA careers were on life support.

Diaw was an overweight malcontent when waived by Charlotte in 2012. Green couldn’t make the post-Decision Cavaliers. Mills spent time playing in Australia and China before resurfacing as a Spur.

There are bargains every offseason—and sometimes midway through the season. Finding these players and being able to highlight their skill sets separates the likes of the Spurs and Miami Heat from, well, almost every other team in the NBA. There is a reason that bargains are scarce on the market—and that’s largely because desperate teams will mark up mid-tier players in desperate attempts to compete.

The Spurs themselves may see Diaw and/or Mills depart this offseason because an opposing team pays the so-called championship premium.

Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported Diaw is looking for a two-year deal worth between $18 million to $20 million this summer. Marc Berman of the New York Post, per a source, has the Knicks interested in Mills. Given the fat checks being handed out by the truckload at the Garden already this offseason, Mills probably won’t be cheap, either.

All of this begs the question: If the old cheap guys—in San Antonio and elsewhere—are no longer going to be cheap, where are the underrated players bound to replace them? Why, that’s an excellent question. I will now answer it.

 

DeJuan Blair (PF/C, Dallas Mavericks)

Had DeJuan Blair not lost his cool for a split second in Game 4 of Dallas’ first-round series with San Antonio, the Spurs may never have won their title.

Blair’s ground-bound superkick of Tiago Splitter sent him to the showers early in a game in which he’d scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 16 minutes. That decision cost Dallas momentum in a series it could have led 3-1, cost Blair Game 5 (and possibly the Mavs as well) and altered the course of the entire series.

But I want to focus on those 12 points and 11 rebounds. Blair’s career has been defined by underappreciation. His size (6’7″) and physical limitations (he lacks an ACL in both knees) caused a nightly double-double machine to drop into the second round in 2009 and has greatly limited his NBA exposure.

Blair will forever go down on a very limited list of players Popovich couldn’t quite crack. He’d be in the starting lineup an entire regular season and then disappear come playoff time. His limitations defensively were seemingly fine for the 82-game slog but not when the calendar struck May and June. The reality is that Blair is going to come in and out of rotations situationally for the rest of his career.

That may be frustrating for him. For these purposes, Blair is a perfect fit. Because of his knee issues, teams aren’t going to award him a long-term deal; they’ll even be hesitant to go much above the minimum. Blair made $884,293 in 2013-14—a bargain-basement price for a role player who averages 14.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career.

The former Pitt product does two things well: rebound and finish near the rim. He’s hit better than 60 percent of his shots inside the restricted area in four of his five NBA seasons, had a higher rebound rate  than Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge and does this all playing like a miniature center who can’t jump over a stack of phone books. 

You’ll have a tough time signing a more effective per-minute player than Blair at his price. 

 

Mario Chalmers (PG, Miami Heat)

If the entire Heat fan kingdom weren’t totally preoccupied ravaging the Internet for the latest LeBron updates, they’d be sending a barrage of verbal assaults in my direction. How can Mario Chalmers be a bargain at anything?

The prospect of Chalmers returning as Miami’s point guard makes the average Heat fan’s face scrunch up like they just walked into a portable toilet. Chalmers was so bad, so incredibly, incredibly bad in the Finals that an already near-toxic well of criticism is now overflowing.

Of course, this is largely a moot point. Chalmers will be back in Miami. The Heat have his Bird rights, and can go over the cap or into the luxury tax to re-sign him. There are too many needs at other positions for Miami to let him walk and open up a gaping hole at point guard—even if Norris Cole might be better served in the starting lineup at this point.

“I hope we stay together,” Chalmers told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. “I think we have a good thing going.”

For a second, though, let’s imagine that 10 percent scenario in which Chalmers doesn’t return. Say, Erik Spoelstra has gotten tired of his unreliability on a night-to-night basis or his penchant for terrible turnovers. Or maybe Chalmers is tired of being scapegoated and yelled at all the damn time.

What does he then become on the open market? Chalmers has started 346 of his 439 career games. Game 5 of the NBA Finals was the first time he did not start in a game in which he appeared since the 2010-11 season.

Looking at the NBA landscape, Miami is one of maybe two or three teams in which Chalmers would be a regular starter. Point guard is the league’s deepest position; it’s so deep the Sacramento Kings are actually hemming and hawing about whether to keep Isaiah Thomas this summer.

Chalmers has the skill profile and stats of a backup point guard—a very good one at that. He’s a career 37.3 percent three-point shooter, actually tied his career high in assists this past season and is a very good team defender.

Though some of the three-point stroke is attributable to playing three superstars and playing against defenses that readily ignore him, he shot an above-average rate his rookie season and has made legitimate strides.

More interesting: The poisoning-of-the-well-effect criticism has had an impact on Chalmers’ value around the league. A potentially elite backup point guard is being treated like his teammates have to wear hazmat suits when they step on the floor together. Chalmers will be lucky to sign for a deal equaling the $4 million per season he made under his previous contract.

Chalmers might not be an ideal NBA starter, but he’s a potential steal at anything less than that price.

 

Marvin Williams (F, Utah Jazz)

Speaking of players who fit perfectly into the oft-maligned column. Williams will forever go down in Hawks history as “Dude Who Should Have Been Chris Paul,” and as perhaps the least aggressive player with offensive talent in history. Shawn Bradley and Raef Lafrentz have higher career-usage rates than Williams. 

Still, as we’ve been saying for nearly a decade, there are discernible skills here that can help contending teams. Williams improved his three-point number to 35.9 percent in 2013-14, a number juuust good enough that opposing defenses have to respect his shot.

He also took 234 attempts from distance, a career high by nearly 70 attempts. Tyrone Corbin might have been the worst coach in the league last season, but pushing Williams into that stretch 4 role helped open his game a bit.

The Jazz scored seven points more per 100 possessions when Williams was on the floor. On/off splits are noisy by their nature because mitigating factors can sway the results. However, their assist ratio went up, their turnover rate went down and nearly every shooting split went in a positive direction with Williams on the floor. 

One area Williams should work on this summer is getting comfortable shooting corner threes.

He took only 55 from the corners this past season, instead relying on the less efficient above-the-break looks. Many of Williams’ threes came off effective pick-and-pop shots—the famous Channing Frye looks. If he can expand his range to the corners, that will only make him more effective as a (still limited) offensive weapon.

Just 28, Williams can play either forward position and is a fine defender. Bigger power forwards are able to overpower him, but his length and lateral quickness allow him to cover pick-and-rolls well; he might fit in well with a team with an ultra-aggressive strategy on the perimeter. 

Williams made $7.5 million last season in the final year of his deal. He’s probably worth a little more than half of that. Signing him to something like a two-year, $8 million deal and hoping he starts nailing that corner three is far from the worst idea I’ve heard lately. 

 

Others Of Note

C.J. Miles (SG, Cleveland Cavaliers)

Here’s the great thing about role players: They don’t have to do everything. In fact, rare Diaw exceptions aside, it’s almost better if they are a master of one trade rather than a jack-of-all.

Danny Green being an electric off-the-ball scorer and passer would be great—except then he wouldn’t be Danny Green and would cost more than $4 million.

Such is the case with Miles, who scores, plays good enough defense and does almost nothing else. His two seasons in Cleveland have exposed a vastly improved three-point stroke, and he’s good in limited pick-and-roll opportunities. Miles has never averaged more than 1.7 assists per game and has topped three nightly rebounds once. Luckily, he doesn’t have to.

 

Kris Humphries (PF, Boston Celtics) 

If you’re starting to get the vibe I like players other people hate, well, you’re not exactly wrong. Humphries’ dalliance into the national “hellscape” known as “Kardashianism” made him a national joke, but his game is the same as always.

Dude works hard on every possession, grabs a ton of rebounds and knows who he is offensively. If your mileage wears thin on 6’7″ centers and you can tolerate former reality stars, then Humphries gives the same basic skills as Blair with a couple of extra inches and better health.

His per-36-minute averages (13.4 points, 11.0 rebounds) are eerily identical to Blair’s. Plus, he’s made a ridiculous $24 million the last two years. Humphries is going to get underpaid on backlash alone.

 

P.J. Tucker (SF, Phoenix Suns)

How much do you buy Tucker’s improvement shooting from three-point range? The answer is important because that improvement is what separates Tucker from being a legitimate rotation player and a guy hanging on the fringes of an NBA bench.

The former Texas star, who resurfaced in Phoenix after a full five-season absence in 2012-13, has made a name for himself as the Suns’ resident tough guy.

He’ll pick fights, play physical defense and do the type of grunt work that pushes good teams to greatness. Shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range, as he did last season, makes him a valuable piece. Dropping back into that low-30s percentage makes him a 11th or 12th man because of his other offensive limitations. 

 

Greivis Vasquez (PG, Toronto Raptors)

He’s probably overqualified to be here and probably underqualified for the next NBA strata. Vasquez is a weird player—both on the court and from an evaluation sense.

He’s a brilliant passer whose size advantage boosts already excellent court vision. Vasquez would be making most of these passes if he were 6’1″.  After being traded to Toronto, the Venezuelan also showed consistency in his three-point shot for the first time in his career.

If he didn’t have the 40 time and lateral quickness of an NFL offensive linemen, he’d be a no-brainer NBA starter. The quickness limitations make Vasquez enough of a defensive liability that he is much better off in an elite backup role. I’m interested to see what his next contract looks like. 

 

Stats via NBA.com.

 

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NBA Free Agency Rumors: Latest Info on Hot Names Potentially Hitting Open Market

Leading into the offseason, most of the talk has been about the New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony. However, if the Miami Heat’s LeBron James opts out of his contract, the summer—at least the beginning of it—will be all about the King.

The mere thought that James might be available has teams buzzing.

The Houston Rockets are reportedly prepared to come after LeBron with everything they have. Per B/R’s Howard Beck:

“League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.”

If you’ve ever seen basketball in your life, no one needs to tell you how dynamic a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and James could be.

Anything less than a 66-win season and a championship would be considered an epic failure.

That said, there’s seemingly no real connection to Houston for LeBron, aside from the possibilities to win in a major way. We’ll see if that’s enough.

 

Melo is Still a Prize

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Melo is leaning toward opting out of his deal with the Knicks. The Rockets aren’t the only team interested in bringing him to town—unless of course James gives them the time of day.

Per Wojnarowski:

“New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.”

If you’re a Knicks and Melo fan, you’ll hate what CBS New York’s John Schmeelk had to say about the situation.

“Carmelo Anthony is not going to be a Knick next year. I know it’s a hard pill for many Knicks and Melo fans to swallow, but it’s inevitable.”

That might be a bold statement, but it’s beginning to sound prophetic.

The Bulls have long been considered the best fit for Anthony. Chicago badly needs a big-time scorer, and there aren’t many, if any, in the NBA better than Melo.

The question is: How much is Anthony willing to take, and how much can the Bulls afford to offer him? 

Per ESPN New York, Anthony said this earlier in the year:

“As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern.”

That should be music to the ears of the decision makers in Chicago. The Bulls will have to make a few roster moves to sign him, and Melo must be willing to take a little less than a max deal, but it looks like the most logical scenario if he chooses to bolt the Big Apple.

 

Heat and Kyle Lowry Like Each Other

Toronto Raptors free-agent guard Kyle Lowry is said to fancy the Heat, and the feeling is mutual per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst

Lowry averaged 17.4 points and 7.4 assists per game for the surprising Raptors last season. Those are the numbers of a player who will likely carry a price tag too rich for the Heat under normal circumstances.

For this thought to become a reality, the Heat would need James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to opt out and take less money to make a path for Lowry. Stranger things have happened, but for now, let’s call it a long shot.

 

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@BMaziqueFPBR

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Predicting Who Will Actually Hit the Open Market in 2014 Free Agency

The NBA‘s 2014 free-agent class could be one of the most star-studded in recent memory. Or, it could be an epic dud.

How’s that for a prediction?

Both extreme scenarios are still in play because we can’t be sure how the first domino, more commonly known as LeBron James, is going to fall.

He has an early-termination option in his contract—something teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also possess. There’s a good chance he’ll exercise that option in order to lock in as much long-term money as possible. But figuring out whether he’ll stay in Miami (and how much or how little it’ll cost the Heat to keep him) is tough to forecast.

If Miami goes on to win a third consecutive title, Wade’s health holds up and the Big 3 agree to re-sign with the Heat at a discount, it could send a few ripples through the rest of the market. If things go awry and they split up, the entire NBA landscape could change in a much more profound way.

We know for certain that a bevy of unrestricted free agents like Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng will be available. But guys like Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Tim Duncan all have player options at the end of the year. Who knows what’ll happen with them?

Now that we’ve gone past the trade deadline, it’s worth looking ahead at the league’s next big flurry of player movement. Hopefully, that’ll help clarify which players will test the market and which ones are most likely to stay put.

Let’s straighten this mess out as best we can.

*All salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com

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NBA Rumors: Latest on Trade Market and Possible Free Agents

Don’t look now, but the NBA trade deadline is less than two weeks away.

With most of the attention turning toward the All-Star break and exciting play on the court, several names remain on the trade market as the Feb. 20 deadline approaches.

Along with those players out on the trading block, a number of players are already beginning to draw attention thanks to the free-agent field that could become available this offseason.

Whether it’s a superstar like Rajon Rondo or a great scorer in Evan Turner being tossed around for trade assets, or the likes of a rising star like Lance Stephenson floating the possibility of being a free agent, there are several rumors that have become intriguing.

Before the trade deadline officially draws to a close, here is a look at the latest rumors around the NBA for both trade bait and likely free agents.

 

Knicks Looking to Land Rajon Rondo

Rondo’s name has been tossed around a lot in trade rumors since his return—and even before his comeback, quite frankly—but it appears the New York Knicks might have serious interest in the Boston Celtics point guard.

Sam Amick of USA Today shed some light on the situation in a must-read article breaking down the league:

Despite the consistent claims from Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that Rondo isn’t available, the Knicks have a strong belief that he can be had ifin a nod to another showthe price is right. They can offer the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire (one season remaining after this one, at $23.4 million) while taking future money back (such as Gerald Wallace and/or Jeff Green) and helping Ainge clear the way for the summer of 2015 that is known to be a priority of his.

That summer is a major priority for the Knicks, too, but it appears the Rondo scenario is one of the few, if not the only, where they’d consider the impact of his addition great enough to justify taking on some money from that point on. The Knicks can include Raymond Felton (a much cheaper point guard option) or Iman Shumpert (rookie contract) and even discuss beloved rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.

While it might seem ridiculous to consider the possibility of trading away Tim Hardaway Jr. after not finishing even one season with the team, getting Rondo in return might be just enticing enough.

It’s clear that the Celtics are moving on after trading away nearly every member of the 2008 championship team. Without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the court with him and Doc Rivers on the sidelines, Rondo can’t be expected to hold this team together.

Despite Ainge being adamant that he’s not going anywhere, getting rid of Rondo might just be the next step in the process.

 

Evan Turner Still On the Market

There’s not a day that goes by that Turner’s name hasn’t been tossed around on the trade market, yet he’s still in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey.

With a few days still remaining for talks to heat up and owners able to use the All-Star break to discuss matters, a deal for Turner could still be in the works.

Amick also provided some information about Turner’s current status with the Sixers:

And in the final episode of Fear Factor, we have the case of Evan Turner (another Falk client). The fourth-year swingman is having a very productive season, averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

But the price for that production in his forthcoming restricted free agency (if he’s extended the qualifying offer) is likely too rich for the 76ers’ blood, meaning they’d rather net a first-round draft pick in return for him and continue their rebuilding efforts with a more salary-cap friendly situation. One rival executive mentioned the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Bobcats as possible destinations via trade, though both teams could also wait until the offseason to see if they could simply sign him then.

Rather than waiting out free agency and hoping they can re-sign Turner, it appears the 76ers might be ready to deal him for a possible draft pick to help rebuild the team in the future.

What’s interesting about this deal is the last part of Amick‘s report. Both the Spurs and Bobcats could simply wait until the offseason and outbid the Sixers for Turner, but if they deem him important for a postseason run, they could pursue the trade further.

 

Pacers Will Possibly Part Ways with Lance Stephenson

How mad is Stephenson about not making the All-Star roster? So infuriated that he went off for a triple-double against the Phoenix Suns and dunked on the referee—no, seriously.

OK, maybe the point production wasn’t out of anger, but he will certainly be a little incensed if he’s not getting paid in the offseason. Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported on the possible price tag and why that could be bad news for the Indiana Pacers:

If the Pacers don’t address the Stephenson problem, there will be wolves with cap space lurking. The Lakers, Bulls and Bobcats will be among the teams who can and would offer an ample payday and increased opportunity for Stephenson this summer.

As things stand, the Pacers are looking at a payroll of $68 million next summer. The luxury tax is projected to kick in at $75.7 million, which obviously leaves the Pacers at a $7.7 million starting point for signing Stephenson. Under NBA rules, the Pacers could sign Stephenson to a deal worth $44 million over five years, or an average of $8.8 million per year.

Stephenson has been one of the budding stars this season in the NBA, averaging over 14 points, five assists and seven rebounds per game. With those numbers, his price has skyrocketed after averaging just 8.8 points, 2.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds last year.

Though Stephenson has been one of the keys to Indiana’s success this season, Pacers fans might have to see him walk in order to retain the championship team they currently have constructed.

 

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NBA Rumors: Aggressiveness on Trade Market Will Shape Championship Picture

Believe it or not, we’re about to hit the midway point on the NBA schedule. The early-season nadir of being shifted to the side by football is nearly over, and with that, we can finally begin to take stock of where both conferences stand.

Injuries, unfortunately, have riddled the championship picture unrecognizable from the preseason. Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury ended a Bulls title push that never got underway. Conference finalist Memphis will probably miss the playoffs because of Marc Gasol’s knee issues. The Nets’ nearly $200 million payroll didn’t work out the way anyone planned, but injuries to Brook Lopez and Deron Williams have derailed any chance of a late-season push toward the conference finals.

Looking at the playoff picture as a whole, though, it becomes clear that there’s a wide separation between the East and West. 

Say what you will about the Eastern Conference, but there is an unquestioned sense of normalcy. Barring a major injury—and, knock on wood, considering how this season has gone thus far—Indiana will earn the No. 1 seed and Miami the No. 2. The Eastern Conference playoffs will mostly be a shrug-worthy affair that leads to the inevitable Heat-Pacers conference finals. That series will be everything we need and more, but there is an air of inevitability that kind of sucks the life out of every development. 

The West, on the other hand, is a thrilling, deep, talented, complete and utter mess. The Thunder, Blazers and Spurs are all within a stone’s throw of one another in the Western Conference standings. The top-six teams are within 5.5 games of one another. In the East, the Nos. 1 and 8 seeds are separated by 14.5 games. In the West, the Nos. 1 and 14 seeds are separated by 15.

There are some Sharpied lies we can draw, but they’re few and far between. The Mavericks, Suns, Nuggets and Timberwolves are in the relatively same tier—super fun to watch, but destined for a first-round exit if they make the postseason at all. If you want to get frisky and totally ignore injuries, you can add New Orleans to that tier as well. Phoenix is the NBA’s most surprising team; Minnesota is perhaps its most frustrating. 

Either way, that’s the “sheep being led to slaughter” tier.

Finding discernible separation between the six other teams in the conference? Yeah, that’s much more difficult.

The Clippers would probably be the No. 6 team if we’re getting all power-ranky, but that’s only because Chris Paul’s shoulder injury makes them the likeliest to drop in the coming weeks. The Rockets and Blazers have defensive issues that could be crippling over a seven-game series. The Spurs are old. The Warriors are always playing a precarious game with Stephen Curry’s ankles, and Russell Westbrook’s knee issues are enough to make everyone hyperventilate. 

Six teams—all Western Conference championship contenders—each with glaring issues that could get exposed over the long haul. Given the classic gun-to-your-head choice, most would probably choose San Antonio or Oklahoma City as the favorite. But the West is one injury or two away from a seismic shift in a way that cannot be approached in the East.

All of this makes the next month-plus awfully interesting. With all those franchises jostling for position—and league executives knowing those teams are doing so—the transaction sheet may wind up being the deciding factor in the wide-open West.

You’re already beginning to see teams linked to names—or even linked merely to trade speculation.

CBS Sports’ Ken Berger dispatched intel from the D-League Showcase in Reno, noting the Spurs have been “unusually aggressive” trying to add a piece. San Antonio leads the Western Conference in point differential per 100 possessions, but seven of the team’s eight losses have come against current playoff teams. The best wins of the Spurs’ season have come against Golden State, one of which was played without Stephen Curry.

It’s unclear where Gregg Popovich wants to improve, but it seems a personality shift could be in order. NBA head coach turned ESPN analyst George Karl said on ESPN New York 98.7′s Michael Kay Show that embattled Knicks guard J.R. Smith received some internal discussion. 

“I know (the Spurs) have thought about bringing him in,” said Karl, per Kevin Manahan of NJ.com. “San Antonio doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Danny Green’s struggles are a major disappointment, so adding a score-first wing could be in order. Whenever the Spurs struggle, it tends to be when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili can’t bring it on a given night offensively. Smith isn’t a realistic option—the Knicks were never trading him—but could they be a Rodney Stuckey destination? Maybe Gary Neal could return? Those both seem like realistic options that could shore up bench scoring.

The Thunder and Warriors find themselves in similar situations. Little has been made of the three-team deal that landed Courtney Lee in Memphis and Jerryd Bayless in Boston, but Oklahoma City’s shoehorning of Ryan Gomes into that deal could be critical. The Thunder, deathly afraid of being a tax team, now have a roster spot and about $2.3 million available under the threshold.

That number is no coincidence. While it was always unlikely that Sam Presti would use the $6.5 million trade exception he acquired in the Kevin Martin sign-and-trade, the Eric Maynor exception (worth about $2.3 million) is now in play. The Thunder could theoretically acquire an unwanted player at that price without giving up an asset outside a highly protected conditional pick. 

Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson are both vastly improved from a season ago, but Scott Brooks certainly wouldn’t complain about adding an additional wing. Thabo Sefolosha has been a bit of a mess at points, and neither Jackson nor Lamb have that 25-point potential at this point in the same way James Harden and Martin once did. Oklahoma City is still a contender regardless of whether it makes a move; the Gomes deal just made one more likely.

Golden State will make a move before the deadline. It just cannot afford not to. The Toney Douglas signing has been a bust, as Douglas has been injured for much of the season and ineffective when he’s been on the court.

Signing Andre Iguodala and allowing Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack to leave has proven a prudent decision, but there is one trickle-down effect that must be rectified: This team is a dumpster fire when Stephen Curry leaves the floor. Dump-ster. Fire. With Curry on the floor, the Warriors score 109.8 points per 100 possessions, a rate only worse than Portland’s league-best number. When Curry sits, the Warriors’ 86.5 average would be the worst in the league by nearly 10 points.

Curry will play 40-plus minutes in the playoffs every night, but Mark Jackson has been playing him at a Thibodeauian rate of late—a totally irresponsible move considering Curry’s noted ankle issues. Sam Amick of USA Today reported that Golden State has engaged the Bulls in an effort to land Kirk Hinrich, and it would be remiss if Andre Miller wasn’t on the radar as well. Both are veteran guards who, at the very least, could help tread water and allow Iguodala to avoid playing a backup point guard role.

The Blazers and Rockets are interesting, mainly because they’re perfect bedfellows in theory. Houston holds an asset (Omer Asik) who could be the difference between championship contention and being known as this year’s nice story bounced early. Robin Lopez has been better than anyone could have expected, but Asik is one of the best handful of defensive centers in the league.

Asik was the difference between being abhorrent and solid enough last season on the defensive end, and while Lopez is a very solid rim protector, he’s only been worth about two points. Adding Asik and keeping Lopez would be ideal, but Daryl Morey would likely demand the latter in any trade. And, seeing as this isn’t a video game, I have a hard time seeing Morey being willing to deal with a fellow contender. Analytical types aren’t usually beholden to the old-school avoidance of intra-conference trades, but this is a different scenario.

No matter, Houston needs to find an Asik partner, and soon. Teams are already deathly afraid of the $15 million balloon payment Asik is due for next season, and the longer he sits out, the less likely it is opposing general managers will pony up what Morey is looking for. Asik hasn’t played since Dec. 2. 

We’re looking at six teams, each flawed, each with at least one move to make, all with the chance to fundamentally alter the championship hierarchy. If the Thunder were willing to pay the luxury tax and give up the right assets, Arron Afflalo is waiting in Orlando as the perfect piece—one who could probably separate them from the pack. Houston is a perfect Channing Frye or Spencer Hawes destination. The Warriors must add a point guard. There isn’t an obvious target for Portland (beyond Asik) or San Antonio, but R.C. Buford and Neil Olshey are among the league’s most resourceful general managers.

There will be no stone left unturned, no possibility that goes undiscussed and no discussion that goes unreported. On the court and off, the Western Conference reigns supreme. I can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

 

(All stats via NBA.com unless otherwise cited.) 

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What Can Philadelphia 76ers Get for Their Veterans on the Trade Market?

The Philadelphia 76ers are 5-5, fifth in the Eastern Conference with wins over the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets. Needless to state the obvious, but they’re playing way above their preseason expectations.

Normally that’s a good thing, but first year Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie constructed this roster to be inferior on purpose, with the hope that a high draft pick would fall into his lap this summer.

That’s the “bad” news. The good news is that Philadelphia has several talented players, and all of them have tradable contracts.

Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner are the three highest paid players on Philadelphia’s roster. They’re also the only healthy guys (aside from rookie standout Michael Carter-Williams) who possess skills that hold definite value on the NBA’s trade market.

All three are helping Philadelphia win basketball games when Philadelphia is not supposed to win basketball games, and it’s in Hinkie’s best interest to move one, two or all three as soon as he can.

 

Spencer Hawes

Spencer Hawes is 7’1″, can shoot threes and is an extremely good passer for his size. Heading into November 15th’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, his shooting split was a mind blowing 52.3/50.0/71.4.

He was attempting 3.8 threes per game, too, which makes that 50.0 percent average all the more impressive. When he’s off the court, Philadelphia averages 88.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats. When he plays, that number skyrockets to 105.7. So, the Sixers offense goes from making this season’s Utah Jazz look like the 1997 Chicago Bulls, to being more efficient than the Golden State Warriors.

One possible trade that makes sense for both sides would send Hawes to the Houston Rockets for disgruntled Defensive Player of the Year candidate Omer Asik. Why would Houston do this? For starters, Hawes would compliment Dwight Howard in the front court, thriving as a big who can spread the floor and allow various Rockets—such as James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons—to take advantage of open driving and passing lanes. 

If for whatever reason things don’t work out, Hawes’ contract expires after the season, so Houston would then be free to go in another direction.

The Sixers would receive a 27-year-old monster capable of anchoring their defense for the foreseeable future. Would this make them better this season, endangering their “goal” of having the NBA’s worst record? Possibly.

But it also gives the Sixers a stable building block who fills a crucial role. In the end, this trade would accelerate their rebuild, which is ultimately a good thing.

 

Evan Turner

One of the more disappointing No. 2 overall draft picks in recent memory, Evan Turner appears to have finally found his NBA niche. What is it, you ask?

Getting to the basket.

According to SportVU, of all players who’re driving to the basket at least 6.9 times per game, only Tony Parker has a higher field goal percentage than Turner.

He’s averaging 10 more points per game (and twice as many free-throw attempts) than last year, turning the ball over less with a considerably higher usage percentage, and shooting 55.1 percent on two-pointers, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

On top of it, he’s still his normal beastly self on the glass. Turner can’t shoot threes, but that’s fine as long as he’s comfortable doing something well. Other teams interested in his service risk losing him this summer, when he becomes a restricted free agent. 

But if said team is gung-ho about making the playoffs right now, and needs productive talent to do so, acquiring Turner wouldn’t be a bad move. 

One possible partner would be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who could exchange Alonzo Gee, Sergey Karasev and a 2015 top-five protected first round pick from Memphis.

All three pieces coming back from Cleveland would help Philadelphia in the short and long-term. Gee is awful, and improves the team’s likelihood of losing games.

Karasev is a 20-year-old prospect with great size and the potential to become a knockdown shooter from the outside. And a first round pick is a first round pick, exactly what Hinkie covets more than anything else in his search for superstar level talent. 

For Cleveland, the hope here is that Turner continues to play well besides Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. That team has a black hole at small forward, and Turner’s efficient 23 points per game scoring average would help. 

 

Thaddeus Young

In the right context, Thaddeus Young may be worth a first round pick, making him the most valuable asset Hinkie has to work with. He’s the best all-around player on Philadelphia’s current roster (even if his numbers don’t show it right now), and in a more positive situation could thrive as a matchup nightmare on the wing, playing power forward in small-ball lineups.

One team that could use an infusion of pure overall talent right now is the Memphis Grizzlies. A deal sending Young to Memphis for Tayshaun Prince and a top-three protected first round pick in 2014 wouldn’t be shabby for either side. 

The Sixers get their first round pick, along with a hard-working veteran who’s already entered the final stage of his career. There’s nothing attractive about Prince’s contract, but it’s a year shorter in guaranteed money than Young’s. 

A similar partner would be the Dallas Mavericks in a deal that would send Shawn Marion and a 2016 first-round pick to Philadelphia. Through the season’s first few games, Young and Marion are putting up comparable numbers, but this move helps both parties out in the long-term.

For Dallas, they acquire a player who’s a full decade younger to pair beside Dirk Nowitzki. Young is also under their control on a manageable contract, and could be brandished as trade bait down the line.

The Sixers shed future salary, (Marion’s deal is expiring), and grab another draft pick they could either use or package in a deal at some point in the future. 

The Sixers may very well play terrible basketball the rest of the season with the group they already have. But with Turner and Hawes playing in the final years of their respective contracts, it’s likely they’re out of Philadelphia at the end of the season regardless. 

Hinkie would be wise to squeeze as many assets as he can from two guys who are as good as gone. Young’s contract is different, but his ability to efficiently score without drawing high usage makes him attractive to any team out there that’s serious about getting better. 

Philadelphia won’t be shy as the trade deadline approaches, and these three players should be prepared to move on from a situation unworthy of their skill. 

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Kevin Garnett’s Boston-area home on the market (Yahoo Sports)

CONCORD, Mass. (AP) — NBA star Kevin Garnett has put his Boston-area home on the market for nearly $5 million.

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Utah Jazz: Small town to small market for Gordon Hayward

 
Gordon Hayward comes upon his 4th year on the Jazz, how will being the longest tenured player change him? (Photo credit: USA Today)
Gordon Hayward has more in common with Larry Bird than you might think. They’re both fairly pale, are small-town products from Indiana and served as the face of their team. Although growing up an hour away from where Hoosiers is historically based, the 6’8” Jazz man has always had some underdog in him. Hayward, who now serves as the face of the franchise as the longest tenured player is a perfect fit for Salt Lake.
There aren’t many cases where NBA players don’t have basketball as their premier focus during their high school years, but this was the case for Hayward. The Brownsburg native was a talented tennis player, along with his twin sister, who had tennis in mind when looking at universities. Hayward considered going to Purdue, before a huge growth spurt in high school, where he arose in height from 5’11” to 6’4” eventually topping out at 6’8.”
Ha…

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