In addition to our weekly chat, which Chuck Myron facilitates every Wednesday, we have a second opportunity for you to hit us up with your questions in this, our weekly mailbag feature. Have a question regarding player movement, the salary cap, or the NBA draft? Drop me a line at [email protected] or @EddieScarito on Twitter. Now for this week’s inquiries:
“Where do you see Markieff Morris ending up?” — Stu
This is an extremely difficult situation that the Suns have been placed in, and there is no easy answer to this quandary. If Morris had demanded to be dealt immediately after his twin brother was traded, then Phoenix would have had a much better chance of flipping Markieff for ample value, as teams were still in the midst of filling out their rosters, and more franchises would have had available cap space to play with. As it stands now, other teams around the league are well aware of that the Suns need to move the forward, and that limits Ryan McDonough‘s bargaining power significantly.
At this point I don’t think Morris is on the Suns’ opening night roster, unless some serious fence-mending is done by both parties. Thankfully for Phoenix, Mirza Teletovic is on hand to step into the rotation in Morris’ place, which is a nice insurance policy in case the team is unable to deal or placate the young forward. As for potential landing spots, the most likely candidates include the Celtics, Raptors, and possibly the Lakers. Speculation indicated that the Suns had expressed interest in the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson, but it’s not known if New Orleans would be amenable to a swap, especially given Morris’ reputation as a locker room disruption and his legal issues. I do expect Morris to eventually be dealt, but it will likely be for below market value. Even so, it could become a case of addition by subtraction for the Suns.
Actually, I do think Russell will turn into something special in the league, though I don’t necessarily see him becoming a superstar playmaker like Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul. Having said that, I think if Los Angeles regrets passing on anyone it would be Okafor, since there are far more elite guards entering the NBA than there are big men with star potential. Okafor’s game isn’t without holes, and he and Julius Randle on the same court defensively would have been ugly for the team, but he certainly has the talent to become a franchise centerpiece. I’m also a fan of Mudiay, but he’s a wildcard thanks to his limited track record and decision to play in China last season. I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on him at No. 2 if I were making decisions for the Lakers, especially with Russell and Okafor available at that slot.
With the NBA becoming more and more reliant on guard play, selecting a talented playmaker like Russell was a wise move. Plus, with the propensity for big men to get injured nowadays, going with a backcourt player is also a safer route. While I do expect Russell to have a challenging rookie season, he was a solid pick by the team, and the Lakers’ fanbase should come to love him in no time at all.
“What happens with the Cavs and Tristan Thompson? If he re-signs for a max salary deal, is he worth that amount?” — Keith
I do believe the two sides will reach an agreement on a deal prior to training camp beginning. The team wants him back, and perhaps more importantly, so does LeBron James. The complication involved is the luxury tax hit that will be attached to Thompson’s deal, a penalty that could end up being in the $35MM range. Spending approximately $50MM for a backup forward, even one as effective as Thompson, is probably a tough pill for owner Dan Gilbert to swallow. But with the Cavs looking to hang a championship banner, Gilbert almost has no other choice but to pony up. The only real alternative here is for Thompson to sign his qualifying offer, worth nearly $6.778MM, and then hit the market next offseason as an unrestricted free agent. For many players, the opportunity to play for a contender and then enter free agency just as the salary cap is primed to explode would be a dream come true. But Thompson reportedly wants the security of a long-term pact prior to the season tipping off, and has indicated he won’t re-sign with the Cavs if he is forced to go the qualifying offer route.
As for Thompson’s worth, he is indeed a valuable part of Cleveland’s rotation, as well as a solid insurance policy in the event Kevin Love is injured. But is he worth a starting salary of $16,407,500, which is the maximum amount for a player of his experience? I’m sure his agent, Rich Paul, would argue that Thompson is. Me, I’d have to say no. Thompson is a big part of the team, but that is also a huge chunk of cap space to dedicate to a player who averaged 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game. Even with the expected jump in player salaries beginning next season thanks to the bulging cap, the economics of a max salary deal for Thompson are a bit hard to fathom. I think the Cavs will argue that point to Paul and Thompson, and in the end they will likely compromise somewhere in the $12MM-$14MM range annually.
“With the new NBA schedule reducing the number of back to back games, does this set up the Spurs to be the favorites to win the NBA title this season?” — Jeffrey
It certainly won’t hurt their chances, but it should also help a number of contending teams just as much, if not more. San Antonio rests its players regularly anyway, much to the chagrin of the league and its broadcast partners, so it’s not as big a game-changer for Popovich’s crew as one might think. The reduction in back to backs should actually help teams like the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Heat more than the Spurs. Those squads all rely quite heavily on their star players, and aren’t necessarily very deep teams rotation-wise, though Miami has made strides in that area this offseason. Giving players like LeBron or Dwyane Wade more recovery time between contests will not only keep them fresher for the playoffs, it should help improve their overall effectiveness on a night to night basis. I still think the better answer for the league would be to reduce the overall amount of regular season games. Eighty-two is far too many, and I think the NBA’s product suffers as a result. But with all that new TV money set to roll in, I doubt that change will occur.
That’s all the space that I have for this week’s edition. Once again, thanks to all those who submitted their questions, and please keep them coming. I’ll be back next Saturday with more responses.