Tag Archives: NBA

IS TRISTAN THOMPSON TRYING TO GET OUT OF CLEVELAND?

By any objective statistical or mathematical measure, Tristan Thompson is being unreasonable. The restricted free agent, entering his fifth year in the Association, is reportedly seeking north of Thompson$90 million to return to Cleveland, the only NBA home he’s known to this point in his career. Thompson’s sky-high salary demands are the reason he remains as perhaps the highest-profile free agent left on the market.

Having already signed starting power forward Kevin Love to a monster deal that extends through the 2019-20 season, it would be understandable if the Cavs decided they did not want to spend that kind of cash on Love’s backup. However, by even entertaining Thompson’s position, the Cavs have shown that they are committed to trying to bring him back. This commitment is undoubtedly motivated by Thompson’s inspired play during the Cavs’ run to the finals, lingering questions about Love’s health and fit with the team, Thompson’s unique skill-set, specifically his status as the game’s foremost offensive rebounder and LeBron’s insistence on the importance of keeping Thompson in the fold.

While the Cavs are committed to Thompson, there may be reason to question whether his Lebronoutlandish salary demands may be motivated by his desire to play somewhere else. The opportunity to play with a transcendent talent like Lebron and compete for a title every year is nothing to walk away from lightly, but when we look at where Thompson currently fits on the Cavs’ roster, and his likely standing in the years to come, we begin to see some method to Thompson’s salary-demand madness.

The Cavs picked Thompson with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After a solid rookie campaign, he came into his own during his sophomore season, starting every game and averaging over 31 minutes per contest. Thompson also started all 82 games in his third year, and slightly increased his playing time. Over his second and third seasons, Thompson averaged nearly 12 points per game and over 9 rebounds, turning himself into a solid, if unspectacular, post player.

Things changed dramatically for the Cavs, and for Thompson personally, last off-season. With the addition of Lebron and, more importantly for Thompson’s fortunes, Kevin Love, Thompson saw a significant fall in his importance to the team. He went from starting all 82 games to only 15, and his Loveminutes fell by five per game. Along with his minutes, Thompson’s scoring and rebounding also fell, as did his shot attempts, dropping from 9.3 per game to a mere 6.0.

Thompson has never complained publicly about his role on the team, but with Kevin Love signing a massive, five-year deal, Thompson would be right to be concerned about the direction his career will take if he remains in Cleveland. Love will be the starting power forward in Cleveland as long as he remains a Cav. Because neither Thompson nor Love can defend elite level centres (or elite-level anythings in Love’s case) for long stretches, Thompson is unlikely to play much alongside Love. This means that Thompson’s reduced minutes and role are likely to persist as long as he remains a Cav – and potentially get worse if Love can stay healthy.

Considering that Thompson is already 24 years of age, a long-term deal in Cleveland would mean that he would be confined to the Cavs’ bench for some of what should be the most productive years of his career. This would be a hard pill to swallow for a player that clearly sees himself as a legitimate NBA starter. It would also mean that, as Thompson hits his late twenties and potentially his best and last chance at a big pay-day, he will be best known as Kevin Love’s backup and not inTristan a position to command anywhere near the kind of money he might have been able to get as a 7 or 8 year starter. For that reason, from an individual standpoint, it’s almost a no-brainer for Thompson to get himself out of Cleveland just as fast as he can.

If Thompson does not sign a long-term deal with the Cavs’ this off-season, he is likely to end up playing on a one year qualifying offer next year before becoming a restricted free agent in the 2016 off-season. While it would cost him some money up front, this may be the best outcome of all for Thompson in the long-term. A one-year deal would keep him in Cleveland for 2015-2016, allowing him to quite possibly be a part of a championship team, which will only increase his value on the free agent market. Then, with the salary cap going through the roof in a year’s time, Thompson would likely command an even bigger deal than the one he’s reportedly seeking from Cleveland, and do so as a key part of a team – perhaps his hometown Raptors, still in need of a starting power forward – where a starting role and all the minutes he can handle are assured.

While Tristan Thompson may ultimately happily commit to Cleveland for the long-term, he should certainly do so with some trepidation regarding the impact of that decision on his career and future financial prospects. If he is going to go that route, and pass on being an unrestricted free agent in 2016, he is right to expect to be well compensated for giving up that opportunity.

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THE CUBAN FALLACY

With the opening of the Team USA minicamp in Vegas this week, the American basketball world is focused on international hoops for what may be the last time before the Rio games kick off in 2016. In addition to rampant speculation over who will make the final squad, and drooling over potentialdream rosters, this camp will also invariably spark new debate over the participation by NBA players in international play.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has long held the mantle of opposing NBA player involvement in international competition. He does so not on the basis of traditional arguments in favour of the principle of amateurism, but rather based on the specious view that NBA teams are getting screwed because the IOC and FIBA are profiting off of NBA players without compensating their teams or the league. He argues that NBA teams are taking all the risk, without benefitting from the arrangement.

Unfortunately for Cuban, under the current agreement between FIBA and the NBA, there isn’t much he can do about it. At present, it is up to NBA players to decide for themselves whether or not they want to play for their countries. Teams can only prohibit a player from taking part if there is a “reasonable medical concern” motivating the decision (as is the case this year with the Spurs and Manu Ginobili). Absent such a basis, teams can only attempt to subtly influence a player’s decision (as Cuban reportedly did with Chandler Parsons in 2014). Of course, teams cannot be prevented from factoring the likelihood a player will play internationally into decision-making around contract negotiations – though they cannot prohibit a player from pCuban2artaking as a term of a contract.

While Cuban’s concerns are understandable, particularly in light of the recent season-ending injuries to Paul George and Dante Exum, his views are short-sighted and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of his relationship with his team’s players.

To begin with, participation in international competition is good for players and for owners. Players do not get paid to play for their countries, but it does pay dividends by helping them build their brand. Besides winning an NBA championship, MVP or maybe a scoring title, there are few honours available to an NBA player that outrank playing for the USA in the Olympics or World Cup. The exposure and prestige that come with wearing the red, white and blue factor into contract negotiations, endorsement deals and any number of other financial opportunities. NBA players in international competition is also good for the NBA. It raises the profile of the game internationally and makes Olympic and World Cup competition marquee events in the global basketball calendar, putting NBA players on centre stage outside of the traditional North American market.

Most significantly however, Cuban’s remarks reveal a fundamental and troubling misunderstandingCuban 1 of his relationship with the players that play for his team. Cuban needs to understand that he and the other owners employ their players, they do not own them.

NBA players are paid, handsomely, to play in 82 regular-season games, any playoff games their team qualifies for, and to show up for practice and other mandatory team functions. When an NBA team enters into a contract with a player, they are agreeing to pay them for those services, just like any other employment contract. An NBA contract may include certain other terms intended to limit risk – terms like, no sky-diving or hang-gliding or running with the bulls. These terms may well be reasonable and, if both parties agree to them, unobjectionable. If Cuban simply wanted the right to negotiate a no international competition term into player contracts, that would be a fair point.

Cuban wants much more than that, however. What his criticism implies is that he feels that NBA teams should have an exclusive right to profit off of their players. This is a radical departure from the standard employment contract model and would be akin to suggesting that a factory worker can’t bag groceries on the weekend without the factory getting a kickback. It would also be a major departure from the traditional nature of NBA contracts. Players have always used their spare time to earn extra income in a way that does nothing to further the interests of their teams. If Cuban wants USA Basketball to compensate him for engaging his players, he should also demand the Aug 12, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA players stand during the playing of the national anthem after defeating Spain 107-100 during the men's basketball gold medal game in the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sportssame from Nike or Adidas or McDonald’s or any other company that uses his players as spokesmen. While the risk of injury may be lower, it is certainly conceivable that a player could be injured shooting a commercial or attending a promotional event.

What Cuban fails to understand is that NBA players are people, not assets. An NBA contract is a substantial investment, but it is an agreement to provide a service, not a transfer of ownership. Having a player under contract does not give a team or an owner the right to dictate what players do with their free time, and certainly does not grant them an exclusive right to the profits generated by those players. While Cuban’s concerns about potential injury is understandable, he needs to accept that the risk of injury simply comes with the territory of being an employer.

COULD THE DANTE EXUM INJURY BE GOOD FOR THE JAZZ?

Jazz Nation was devastated last week when news broke that sophomore guard Dante Exum had torn his ACL in international competition on this rather innocuous looking play. The injury is, without question, a major setback in Exum’s development, and one he can scant afford given the limited elite level basketball he’s played to this point in his life.

The injury also won’t do much to help the Jazz’s prospects in 2015-2016 – a year in which someExum1 were predicting big things from Utah. In fact, prior to the injury, so many people were picking the Jazz as a playoff dark horse that Zack Lowe declared on his podcast that they no longer qualified as a sleeper. While Exum’s numbers last season were fairly pedestrian, by the end of the year he had moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz were certainly hoping for a bigger contribution in the coming year. While the prospects of the Jazz beating out two of the Thunder, Mavericks and Pelicans for the eight seed may have been overblown, there’s no question they would be better off with Exum than without.

Obviously, the Jazz are not building for the upcoming NBA campaign. Their sights are set 5-10 years into the future, when Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are distant memories and Chris Paul and Marc Gasol are shells of their former selves. The real question for the Jazz then, is what this injury means for their hopes of beating out Wiggins and Co for the Western Conference crown in 2021.

Exum2As difficult as it may be for the Jazz faithful to swallow right now, it may well be that the loss of Exum for this season makes them better when they are realistically hope to be in a position to contend for an NBA title.

First of all, it’s important to put into perspective what an ACL tear means in today’s NBA. Medicine has progressed mightily since this same injury put Bernard King’s career in jeopardy in 1985. In the medical realities of that day, we would have been justified in fearing for Exum’s career at this stage. Today, however, Exum is more than likely to be the latest addition to the list of professional athletes that come back from an ACL tear looking like it never happened. We saw Adrian Peterson do it in 2012, and more recently in hoops, we’ve seen Derrick Rose and Lou Williams return to form following the same injury. Particularly given that Exum only turned 20 in July, it seems much more likely than not that he will bounce back without losing a step.

If Exum ultimately suffers no meaningful loss of athleticism and remains the giant, throbbing ball of talent he is, the injury could actually work to Utah’s advantage in a couple of ways. First of all, it might give Exum an opportunity to sort out his shot. Dante shot 34.9% from the field and 31.4% from deep last season. While many rookies shoot poorly, these numbers need to get better if he’s going to turn into the elite level guard the Jazz drafted him to be. Exum’s workouts will be limited as he recovers, but one thing he will be able to do is shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Admittedly, neither Derrick Rose, nor Sweet Lou showed any meaningful improvement in their shooting percentage following injury, but it’s worthwhile to note that the time off may give Exum a chance to work on something that genuinely needs work.

More importantly, freed of the need to find Exum minutes, the Jazz will have a chance to sort out the burkerest of their lineup – by which I mean, figure out once and for all if Trey Burke (of the non-vitation to the Team USA minicamp)   is any good. Burke, a heavily decorated collegian and highly-touted draft pick in 2013 has been disappointing in his first two years in the league. Soon, the Jazz are going to need to decide whether to pay the man, or cut bait and move forward without him. With Exum out, Burke will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself and, hopefully, how far he’s come in three years in the NBA.

Finally, the biggest benefit the Jazz may get out of Exum injury is not having to pay Exum when his own rookie contract expires. While the injury is unlikely to have a lasting effect on Exum’s athletic ability, it will certainly slow his development. Based on his rookie season, Exum is not a max-deal type of player, but he certainly has max-deal type talent. Coming back from injury in 2016-2017, Exum is likely to struggle because he’s been out of basketball for a year and because he’s just not that good yet. This may mean that, when it comes time to negotiate his second contract, Exum may not have the body of work that would justify a max deal, potentially allowing the Jazz to lock him up at a discount, much the same way as Steph Curry’s glass ankles allowed the Warriors to sign the reigning MVP up at a substantial discount in 2012. Curry presently makes $11 million a season, dramatically less than his draft classmates Blake Griffin, James Harden. This discount on Curry gave the Warriors the flexibility to give a big deal to Klay Thompson, bring in a key free agent like Andre Iguodala, and keep Draymond Green in the fold following this year’s title. A discount on Exum in a couple years’ time could have similar benefits for the Jazz.

While this may all seem like small consolation for disappointed Jazz fans looking forward to a playoff run in 2015-2016, the future in Utah remains bright and only time will tell if it is in any way affected by the injury to Dante Exum.

NEXT MAN UP

After their surprise regular season Eastern Conference title in 2014-2015, the Atlanta Hawks could have been forgiven for blindly doing whatever it took to keep their roster intact. When the TorontoDemarre Raptors threw $14 million per at Demarre Carroll, however, the Hawks sensibly opted to let him go, rather than invest a fifth of their pre-tax cap space in their fifth starter.

While the Hawks clearly made the right business decision, Carroll does leave a significant, junkyard dog-sized hole in the Atlanta starting five. In his two breakout seasons in Atlanta, Carroll averaged over 31 minutes a game which, if nothing else, is a lot of floor time to fill. Last season, Carroll was also productive in those minutes, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 boards and 1.3 steals per game. More importantly, as anyone who watched the Hawks play last year knows, Carroll’s impact is only partially reflected in his numbers. The Junkyard Dog also brought a level of intensity, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, that is difficult to replace.

THJrThe Hawks have made a few offseason moves to help fill the Carroll void. They brought in Tim Hardaway Jr from the Knicks and picked up Justin “Jrue’s Brother” Holiday from Golden State. While both, particularly Hardaway, will be able to provide some valuable minutes at the three spot and may evolve into impact players down the road, neither will be able to step into Demarre’s role right away.

Instead, the person best positioned to pick up Carroll’s slack is the man that backed him up for most of last year – Thabo Sefolosha.

Sefolosha is currently rehabbing from a serious NYPD-inflicted injury that ended his 2014-2015 season (and seriously hurt the Hawks title hopes) and neither Sefolosha nor the Hawks are yet talking return dates. However, if Thabo can make a full recovery from the injury, he may be more ready than anyone thinks to step into the Carroll’s spot in the starting lineup. While Thabo has never produced on the offensive end in the way that Demarre did over the last two years, the Thabo2similarities between the two players suggest that Sefolosha may be on the verge of the same kind of breakout season we saw from Carroll in 2013-2014.

To begin with, they are physically virtually identical. Carroll is 6’8, 212 lbs, while Sefolosha stands 6’7 and weighs in at 222 lbs. Both are known for their athleticism and hustle, moreso than for their skills.

When we look at the numbers in the season before each player joined the Hawks, we can see that Thabo actually seems to have been well ahead of Demarre prior to landing in Atlanta. In 2013-2014 Sefolosha’s final season with the Thunder, he averaged 6.3 points, 1.3 steals, 1.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 26 minutes of action per game. These numbers are all slightly ahead of Carroll’s 6.0 points, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.8 rebounds per game in nearly 17 minutes for the Jazz in 2012-2013. While Sefolosha’s elevated numbers could be viewed as a product of the extra nine minutes per game he played in OKC, the fact that he was entrusted with more minutes playing for a better team is hardly a compelling argument in favour of Carroll.

Sefolosha’s numbers dipped in his first year in Atlanta (except in rebounding, where he jumped to 4.3 per), but this drop off is likely tied to the dip his minutes took when he found himself playing behind Carroll. When we compare the two on a per 36 minutes basis, Sefolosha’s stats are better than Carroll’s in rebounding, steals, assists and blocked shots, with Carroll edging Sefolosha out only in scoring.

Carroll and Sefolosha also seem to be developing along a similar path. Both began their careers as defence and energy guys, with Carroll adding his offensive abilities later on. His big leap in Atlanta Thabo1seemed to come from the three point line. Carroll did not shoot a meaningful sample of threes until his final year in Utah, when he averaged 1.1 attempts per game. It was not until he arrived in Atlanta that he was able to shoot with sufficient proficiency to justify attempting any more, shooting 36% in 2013-2014 and 39% in 2014-2015. Thabo, on the other hand, arrived in Atlanta having already proved that he can be deadly from beyond the arc. Prior to a drop off in his final year in OKC, Thabo shot 43% on 1.7 attempts per game in 2011-2012 and 41% on 3.2 attempts per game in 2012-2013. Whereas Carroll arrived in Atlanta needing to develop a 3-point shot, Thabo showed up fully formed.

It is clear that Sefolosha has all of the skills and natural ability needed to step in and replace Demarre Carroll as soon as he’s healthy enough to return to action. The biggest question mark is whether he will be able to bring the same energy and intensity that Caroll brought every time he stepped on the floor. If so, the best move the Hawks made this offseason may have been letting the Junkyard Dog get away.