And-Ones: Smith, Vipers, Skiles, Lottery

April 20 at 10:58pm CDT By Arthur Hill

Josh Smith‘s father complimented the Rockets for welcoming his son, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 (second Twitter link). “I cannot speak too much about how well this organization has accepted us as a family and him as a player,” Pete Smith said. “It’s an awesome thing. Now I know what the NBA is all about.” Houston claimed Smith on waivers in December after he was let go by the Pistons. He will become a free agent this summer.

There’s more from around the world of basketball:

  • The Rockets have cut ties with D-League coach Nevada Smith of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Vipers are coming off a 27-23 record in Smith’s second season running the team.
  • Scott Skiles has tried to campaign a little for the Magic head coaching job, but he wants a measure of personnel control, sources tell Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. He doesn’t want to replace GM Rob Hennigan, but rather seeks approval over player personnel moves, a job that currently rests with Magic CEO Alex Martins, Kyler explains. Meanwhile, Kyler figures that Michael Malone will interview for both the Magic and the Nuggets coaching jobs, but sources tell him that Malone isn’t as high on either team’s list as some other candidates are. Neither Vinny Del Negro nor Billy Donovan is expected to get serious consideration for either job, Kyler also writes.
  • NBA owners refuse to address the problem of tanking, writes Bill Oram of The Orange County Register. He noted that owners passed on a chance to address the issue during a meeting in New York last week. They also nixed proposed reforms to the draft lottery process in October. He speculated that owners might be delaying action until they can study the effects of an upcoming $24 billion television deal and the escalation of the salary cap.

Western Notes: Clippers, Williams, Thunder

April 20 at 10:01pm CDT By Arthur Hill

Whether the Clippers win or lose their first-round series against the Spurs, don’t expect major changes this summer, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. He notes that the team’s stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both have trade kickers in their contracts that would impede any deal. Paul is signed for two more seasons at $44MM total, with a player option for a third. The trade kicker would inflate his salary by 10%. Griffin is under contract for two more years totaling nearly $40MM, also with an option for a third. He has a 15% trade kicker. Deveney says the team has little choice about keeping free agent center DeAndre Jordan, which could involve a five-year commitment topping $100MM, even though the Clippers would be over the luxury tax for the third straight year and would incur a repeater tax if they paid the tax again the next year.

There’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he was joking with comments about the noise at Oracle Arena, according to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN. In a press conference before tonight’s playoff game, Williams downplayed comments he made earlier in the day that he wasn’t sure the arena’s decibel level was “legal.” Because Williams is a member of the NBA’s competition committee, his statement could be construed as more than just an idle threat. “It was more of a compliment more than anything,” Williams explained. The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons were punished in February for using artificial noise in their stadium.
  • The Thunder’s trade for Enes Kanter solved one problem but created another, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City finally got the post-up scoring threat it needed, but weakened its defense in the process. Kanter came to OKC from the Jazz in a three-team deal at the deadline. Tramel estimates that, even with Kanter’s defensive shortcomings, it will cost the Thunder $12MM to $15MM a year to keep him when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

Pistons Rumors: Drummond, Green, Dinwiddie

April 20 at 9:00pm CDT By Arthur Hill

The Pistons’ most important offseason negotiations may not involve free agents Greg Monroe or Reggie Jackson, according to David Mayo of MLive. Andre Drummond is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract, which is open to extension through October 31st. Owner Tom Gores recently expressed his desire to keep Drummond in Detroit long-term, calling him “a maximum player.” The tough part may be convincing the young center that he can win if he remains a Piston. “It was a tough situation for us,” Drummond said of the just-completed 32-50 season that was marked by frequent roster changes. “We lost Brandon [Jennings], our chemistry was a little messed up. I’m just going to come back ready for next year and have a good summer.”

There’s more from the Motor City:

  • The first item on Drummond’s wish list is Golden State’s free-agent-to-be Draymond Green, writes Kirkland Crawford of The Detroit Free Press. Early Sunday morning, Drummond put up a post on his Twitter account saying, “I want @Money23Green on my team …….,” referencing Green’s Twitter handle. Drummond later deleted that tweet. Green, a former star at Michigan State, has expressed interest in playing for the Pistons, but it will likely take a maximum or near-max offer to acquire his services.
  • A knee injury limited him to 34 games, but Spencer Dinwiddie is satisfied with the progress he made in his rookie season, Mayo writes in a separate story. The Pistons used a second-round pick on Dinwiddie, even though he was rehabbing from a major knee injury at Colorado. They signed Dinwiddie to a three-year deal last summer, giving him $700K for the first season and the league minimum for the next two. Coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy said Dinwiddie showed promise as a distributor, but needs to work on his shot. “I don’t think he’s mainly going to be a scorer, but he’s got to make the shots that he gets,” Van Gundy said.

Eastern Notes: Cavs, Riley, Harkless

April 20 at 8:00pm CDT By Chris Crouse

The Cavs improved their win total over last season’s by 20 games and appear to be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference. LeBron James returning to Cleveland was a huge factor in the team’s improvement, but GM David Griffin deserves credit for the moves he made during the last 14 months, as I wrote in his Executive of the Year Candidate piece.

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • President of Basketball Operations Pat Riley may have taken a jab at LeBron James during the Heat’s season ending press conference today, Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes. “No more smiling faces with hidden agendas, so we’ll be going in clean,” Riley said in response to a question about the draft. When ask to clarify if that comment was about James, he said, “that could be anyone across the board. I’ve already got about half a dozen emails from people I don’t even know recommending [a player], and somewhere in that email or text is always a smiley.”  
  • Maurice Harkless regressed during his third season in the league and Ken Hornack of Fox Sports Florida believes he is unlikely to remain in Orlando long-term. The forward is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason.
  • The Cavs have recalled Joe Harris from their D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge, according to the team’s website. To date, the guard has played in 48 games for Cleveland this season while seeing only 9.1 minutes per game.

Atlantic Notes: Mbah a Moute, Smith, Williams

April 20 at 6:56pm CDT By Chris Crouse

Luc Mbah a Moute, who will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, would like to remain in Philadelphia and he believes the team wants him back as well, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.

“Ever since I came here, I didn’t get the sense that it was a one-year kind of deal,” said Mbah a Moute. “We will see what happens this summer, but pretty much what’s been kind of [established] is that I’m part of what they are trying to grow here. I’m part of the culture. When you been through a season like this, when you see ups and downs, you see glimpses of what could be you want to be a part of it. You want to be there when things turn around and we finally get hopefully that right team and become a good team. So yeah, [re-signing is] what I’m thinking now.”

The UCLA product enjoyed his best offensive season in the NBA last year and has worked to improve his shooting. He made 62 three-pointers after only making 24 total during his first six years in the league.

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ish Smith, who has played for eight teams during his five year career, also would like to play for the Sixers again next season, Andy Jasner of NBA.com writes. “I hope so,” Smith said when asked if he’ll be back in Philadelphia. “I really like it here. I knew I had to play and work hard and not worry about all the other things. I figure that will all take care of itself. It was important to me to come in and do my work and take in everything the coaching staff was teaching me. I still have so much to learn.” The speedy point guard averaged 12.0 points and 6.1 assists per contest during his 25 games as a Sixer.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun can’t envision Lou Williams, who earlier today was announced the winner of this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, playing for Toronto next season due to the sizable contract he might earn in free agency (Twitter link). The Raptors already have slightly more than $49MM on the books for the 2015/16 season, as our Salary Commitment page shows.
  • James Johnson, who didn’t play in Saturday’s game against the Wizards, understands his role and why the Raptors signed him, Eric Koreen of the National Post, writes. “Matchups. I’m here for matchup problems,” Johnson said. “I’m here for the long season, when Kyle [Lowry] got hurt or DeMar [DeRozan] got hurt. Those were when I had opportunities to play a lot. I’m the fill-in. And I’m OK with that.” The forward signed a two-year, $5MM deal with Toronto last offseason.

The Declining Relative Value Of The Mid-Level

April 20 at 5:57pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The mid-level exception was originally intended to be just that — a middle ground between minimum and maximum salary contracts. Once the cap shoots up next year, the pendulum of the mid-level’s value will have swung decidedly toward the low end. While the cap may go up or down depending on the league’s basketball-related income, the latest collective bargaining agreement locked in set mid-level amounts. The non-taxpayer’s mid-level, sometimes referred to as the “full” mid-level, began at $5MM in the 2011/12 season and isn’t scheduled to eclipse $6MM until 2019/20. The taxpayer mid-level and room mid-level exceptions exhibit similarly measured growth, but the salary cap is projected to rise dramatically.

The league sent out preliminary projections that show the cap ballooning from $67.1MM to $108MM in a two-year period. Of course, the larger figure assumes there isn’t a work stoppage after the 2016/17 season, when the cap is projected to hit $89MM. If there are indeed labor negotiations in 2017, when both sides can opt out of the collective bargaining agreement, it would set up an intriguing dynamic within the union, headed these days by president Chris Paul and vice president LeBron James, both maximum-salary players. Rank-and-file players might like to see the mid-level exceptions — and the minimum-salary exception, which is also a set figure year-to-year — tied to rising revenues as well. It would offset what otherwise is set up to be a growing gap between the most highly paid players and everyone else.

This table shows the league’s projections for the salary cap and the luxury tax thresholds for each of the seasons remaining under the current collective bargaining agreement. It also includes a rough estimate of each maximum salary for those seasons (the NBA uses a different cap calculation for maximum salaries than the cap itself, so that’s why the percentages don’t align precisely). In the rightmost column is the non-taxpayer’s mid-level amount for each season.

capmidlevel

A conceivable positive consequence for mid-level players as max salaries surge is that teams would be set up with greater wiggle room between the cap and the tax threshold, so it would be easier for them to spend the full mid-level amount. Fewer teams would cross the tax apron, a mark $4MM above the tax threshold, and thus fewer teams would be limited to only the taxpayer’s mid-level. Still, by that same logic, more teams would be liable to spend less than the cap, meaning they’d have only the room exception, the least lucrative of the three versions of the mid-level.

Front offices may be more hesitant to spend up to the max for as many players as they do now, so perhaps the NBA’s middle class will endure as teams split their resources. Still, a valuable systemic tool to provide for the skilled but less-than-elite stands to have much less effect.

Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Freeland, Wolves

April 20 at 4:45pm CDT By Chuck Myron

There’s only one Northwest Division team in the playoffs, but it’s been a newsy day around the division, with the Thunder’s apparent interest in UConn coach Kevin Ollie as a possible replacement for Scott Brooks perhaps the most significant story. Concerns in the Blazers locker room about whether LaMarcus Aldridge will re-sign loom over Portland, while another team already has a coaching vacancy, and we’ll pass along the latest from Denver and other Northwest locales here:

  • The Nuggets would prefer a coaching veteran to fill their vacancy, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes within a larger look at the offseason ahead in Denver. Ty Lawson is probably staying put, Deveney adds, and the same can be said for Jusuf Nurkic, whom the Nuggets regard as a steal a season after he was the 16th overall pick.
  • British-born Joel Freeland hasn’t played a large role for the Blazers in the three years since he came over from playing in Spain, but as his contract nears an end, he would prefer to remain in the NBA and with the Blazers, as he told Chema de Lucas of Gigantes Del Basket (translation via Mark Woods of MVP247.com). Portland can match offers for Freeland in free agency this summer, but that only applies to offers from other NBA teams, not overseas clubs, and the Blazers would first have to tender a qualifying offer of nearly $3.767MM.
  • Flip Saunders said today that the Wolves will have a strong prospect regardless of whom they draft with their first-round pick, which could fall between No. 1 and No. 4, but Michael Rand of the Star Tribune figures the coach/exec must hope he can land a big man. Rand argues that’s because of the injury history of Nikola Pekovic, who’s under contract through 2017/18. Top two prospects Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are big men and the players widely projected to go next are guards Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell. Saunders said he’ll draft the best available talent rather than for position.

Flip Saunders On Coaching, Rebuilding, Draft

April 20 at 3:36pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Flip Saunders gave no indication that he’s planning on stepping away from his Timberwolves coaching duties, as Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press notes from Saunders’ comments today at his end-of-season press conference (Twitter link). The agreement that Saunders, who also serves as president of basketball operations, made to coach the team is open-ended in terms of length, but Saunders said today that he’ll continue to coach as long as it furthers player development and his vision for where the team will be two years from now, tweets Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. We’ll round up more of the best of Saunders’ remarks here:

  • Saunders entered the season with designs on a team that would compete for a postseason berth this year, but he made it clear today that sort of roster is not his ultimate goal, as Krawczynski relays (Twitter link). “I don’t want to get to the playoffs,” Saunders said. “I want to build a team that can win in the playoffs.”
  • The team will go with the best player available rather than positional need with its first-round pick, Zgoda notes (on Twitter). Minnesota’s pick will fall within the top four, as the lottery odds show.
  • It’s unlikely the team keeps both its second-round picks, at Nos. 31 and 36, Saunders said, according to John Meyer of Canis Hoopus (Twitter link). Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities suggested earlier that there was a strong chance the team would either trade one of the picks or use one of them on a draft-and-stash prospect (Twitter link).
  • The Wolves will prioritize adding strength, better defense and three-point shooting over the offseason, Saunders said, as Krawczynski tweets.

Thunder Seriously Considering Kevin Ollie

April 20 at 2:27pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The Thunder are seriously considering University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie as a successor for Scott Brooks, a source tells Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv. Ollie, who’s close to Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti and also has strong ties to former teammate Kevin Durant, recommitted to the Huskies with a new deal last year that would require him to pay the school $4MM if he were to leave for the NBA.

People close to Brooks have their doubts about his job security, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported last week. The Thunder are expected to “spend time evaluating the partnership” between Brooks and the franchise before deciding whether to bring him back next season, though he’s under contract for 2015/16 with a team option for 2016/17, Wojnarowski wrote.

Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have nonetheless all expressed support for Brooks in recent days, though the three were teammates of Ollie, who spent his final season playing in the NBA with the Thunder in 2009/10. Ollie guided Connecticut to the national championship in 2014 and was a hot commodity shortly thereafter. The Cavs were reportedly the most aggressive NBA team in pursuit, while some thought that a team might hire Ollie to try to lure Durant, who’s set for free agency in 2016. Ollie was reportedly seeking a contract worth more than $25MM over five years to make the jump to the NBA. His deal with Connecticut is a five-year, $15MM pact.

Free Agent Stock Watch Series

April 20 at 1:53pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The playoffs have begun, and within two weeks, all but eight of the 30 NBA teams will be finished for 2014/15. That means players on expiring contracts are making their final statements before they hit free agency, if their teams haven’t already been eliminated. So, it’s time to start looking at soon-to-be free agents across the league and gauge their value.

Hoops Rumors will examine several players who are a part of the 2015 free agent class. Our Free Agent Stock Watch pieces will explore what a player brings to a club, what sort of earnings he can expect on his next contract, teams that could be in the market for the player, and where the player might want to end up, along with any other relevant factors.

We’ll be profiling many of the players set for free agency in the next couple of months, and we’ve already begun. We’ll be maintaining the list below as we continue this series, and you can find them in alphabetical order by last name. Potential restricted free agents will have an (R) by their names. A link to this list will stationed on the right sidebar under “Hoops Rumors Features.” You can also find these pieces under our Free Agent Stock Watch tag, and you can set up an RSS feed if you enter this URL into the reader of your choice: hoopsrumors.com/free-agent-stock-watch/feed