Month: April 2020

Force Majeure Provision Opens Window To New CBA

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the 2019/20 NBA season and it could have a lasting effect on the financial structure of the league.

The “force majeure” provision in the latest CBA covers a variety of catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics, and it calls for players to lose approximately one percent of their salary per canceled game. It’s automatically triggered once games are canceled, though the league has simply “suspended” the season at this point.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports that if the force majeure provision is triggered, the league has the ability to re-open and renegotiate the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through 2025. There have been no conversations yet between the NBA and the Players Association about utilizing this feature.

The league and the union are discussing withholding 25% of players’ remaining salaries in an escrow in the event that the remainder of the regular season is canceled, per Wojnarowski. If no agreement is reached on withholding players salaries beginning on April 15, players would continue to be paid in full and would be required to pay back a portion of their salaries down the road if games are canceled.

Under the current CBA, the league holds 10% of players’ salaries in escrow and returns it to them at the end of the season. However, the amount of projected revenue lost for the 2019/20 season exceeds the $380MM that the league has in escrow, so players and teams will likely attempt to work out an arrangement to mitigate those losses.

Another variable is how players get paid. Around 10% of players including LeBron James, are paid their full salary in 12 installments between November 15 and May 1. The overwhelming majority of players receive their income spread out over a full year – November 15 to November 1 – though some players receive larger installments as part of the payout structure. The NBA doesn’t want a scenario where it has to chase down players to recoup payment.

The league, as Woj adds, is hopeful that it can resume part of the regular season before entering the postseason. It has no plan to announce the cancellation of the season, preferring to continue to look for ways to salvage the campaign.

First World Problems: Knicks’ Point Guard Situation

The Knicks‘ point guard situation appears to be an evergreen problem. New team president Leon Rose inherits a stable of underwhelming options just as Steve Mills and Phil Jackson did entering their respective regimes. Like his predecessors, Rose is expected to look for upgrades at the position this offseason.

What are some potential options? Prior to the Rose hire, the team had interest in trading for Terry Rozier, as Ian Begley of SNY.tv details. According to Begley, there was some support internally to send a package of Julius Randle, Dennis Smith Jr., and a future first-rounder to the Hornets in exchange for a return that included Rozier and Malik Monk.

While Rozier isn’t the All-Star point guard that New York’s fan base hopes for, he’s an upgrade on the current options. Elfrid Payton and Smith have had up-and-down results in the Big Apple. Frank Ntilikina, who has one more year left on his rookie deal, finally showed some progress but his long-term future with the club is uncertain.

Fred VanVleet will likely be the top point guard available on the free-agent market, though it’s hard to envision Toronto not doing all it can to retain the 2019 Finals hero. Chris Paul could be an option, but his contract gave teams pause last summer and that was before factoring in any sort of coronavirus-related basketball income woes that could suppress the league’s salary cap.

The franchise selecting a point guard atop the 2020 NBA draft might the best option for a brighter future at the position. The Knicks entered the NBA’s hiatus with the sixth-worst record in the league, which would give the team a 9% chance at the No. 1 overall selection, as we detailed earlier this month.

Bulls Notes: LaVine, White, Jordan

The Bulls didn’t have the year they’d envisioned heading into the 2019/20 campaign. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic and league stoppage, Chicago was on its way to a third straight lottery appearance, and Zach LaVine is not happy with how the on-court situation was unfolding.

“To be blunt, I’m upset,” LaVine said (via Sam Smith of NBA.com). “We had high expectations coming into the season and it didn’t go our way anyway we could have thought of. We played through some adversity, but we didn’t go out there and do what we were supposed to do as a team.

“… I’ve been in the NBA six years now and it just gets frustrating. I want to be in the playoffs. We really [believed]. I haven’t played in a playoff game and it wears on you. That’s what you work so hard for and continue to play for.”

Here’s more from Chicago:

  • In the same piece, LaVine added that he has high hopes for rookie Coby White. The Bulls selected the point guard with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
  • Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports examines how the Bulls’ 2019 offseason signings panned out and what roles they may have with the club going forward. Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky were the highest-priced acquisitions.
  • ESPN has moved up its Michael Jordan documentary release date. “The Last Dance,” which is a 10-part series that takes an in-depth look at the Bulls’ dynasty, will debut on April 19.

John Wall Played Pick-Up With Amar’e Stoudemire, Others During NBAGL Assignment

It has been 14 months since Wizards point guard John Wall ruptured his Achilles and the point guard was progressing nicely before the NBA suspended its season. Wall had been practicing with the Capital City Go-Go – Washington’s G League team – leading up to the hiatus, Fred Katz of The Athletic passes along in detailed piece.

“It just gets harder as you go along to collect guys off the street,” GM Tommy Sheppard said. “You want a highly competitive deal, so we sort of decided with John, it was time to play with the Go-Go (and) practice. And when we can, we’d have a scrimmage for him. It’s just been wonderful. It validates our process we have in place, to be able to utilize the Go-Go for so many functions to help the Wizards. And for them, I think those kids were freakin’ thrilled to play with John.”

The Wizards have been careful with the former All-Star’s recovery. There was never an expectation that he would play this season and even if the league resumes this summer, he won’t see the court.

Wall was scrimmaging every three days or so prior to the NBA suspending its season. He started going through controlled scrimmages with the team’s player development staff, Katz writes. He also participated in casual pick-up games with some former NBA players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Michael Beasley, and Jeremy Tyler.

The G League team would hold scrimmages roughly twice a week and Wall would get in 20-to-25 minutes of action in those contests.

Wall has publicly stated that he wanted to be a player development coach or a GM after he hangs up his jersey. He’s already begun that kind of work, helping the Wizards’ young guys improve on the court.

“He’s been an extra coach for me,” teammate Admiral Schofield said. “And it’s great hearing it from John Wall, a player you’ve grown up watching and playing against. Just feedback and little things and hearing him get excited when you make shots and him being confident in you knocking down shots is great.”

Lakers Clear Two-Week Quarantine

Two weeks ago, a pair of Lakers tested positive for COVID-19 and today, the team announced that all of its players are symptom-free, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com relays.

The entire team got tested earlier this month after the Nets announced that four players had tested positive for the virus. Kevin Durant was one of the players, as he revealed via social media.

While all Lakers players were quarantined for two weeks, only 14 of the team’s 17 players (including two-way players) were tested, McMenamin hears.

“The thing I think people aren’t realizing is how serious of an ordeal this is and that it’s not to be taken lightly,” guard Alex Caruso said recently. “Everybody said the test is uncomfortable, and it pretty much was. They just stuck a Q-tip through your nose to the back of your mouth.”

Southwest Notes: Mills, Fertitta, Grizzlies

Although the Spurs were having a disappointing season before the NBA’s hiatus began, Patty Mills was enjoying one of the best years of his career, averaging a career-high 11.7 PPG. Mills, who will be entering the final season of his four-year, $50MM contract in 2020/21, has been “worth every penny” of that deal due to his play on the court and his locker-room contributions, in the view of Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News.

As McDonald writes, Mills’ future beyond next season remains unknown, but no player on the current roster embodies the “Spurs Way” like Mills, so the club will be glad to keep him around at least through the end of his deal.

  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has been “absolutely devastated” financially over the last several months, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on a Hoop Collective podcast. As Windhorst explains, Fertitta is believed to have lost “tens of millions” of dollars in Chinese sponsorships as a result of the Daryl Morey controversy in the fall, and his hotel and casino businesses have been shut down as a result of the coronavirus. Windhorst notes that it’ll be interesting to see how the Rockets handle their payroll going forward, considering they’ve already been tax-averse since Fertitta’s arrival.
  • In a Q&A with Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com, Grizzlies president Jason Wexler spoke about how his role and responsibilities have changed during the NBA’s hiatus, how the team’s employees have been impacted, and his thoughts on an impressive season from his young team.
  • Justise Winslow‘s Memphis debut and Marc Gasol‘s return to the FedExForum are two of the notable Grizzlies-related events that may no longer happen in 2019/20, with the rest of the season up in the air, writes Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Rule Changes, Coronavirus Complicate Draft Process For Early Entrants

The NCAA adjusted its rules last year to allow early entrants to hire an agent while testing the NBA draft waters, giving those players the chance to maintain their college eligibility if they eventually withdraw from the draft. However, as Jonathan Givony of ESPN explains, the restrictions attached to that rule change and the unusual nature of this year’s pre-draft process will make things more difficult for NCAA underclassmen weighing whether or not to go pro.

In order to maintain his college eligibility, an early entrant testing the waters can’t be represented by an agent who isn’t NCAA-certified. However, as Givony writes, most established NBA agents have opposed the NCAA’s certification process, pointing to its “overly burdensome procedures and oversight.” Only 23 agents are currently NCAA-certified and many of those agents don’t currently represent an NBA player, according to Givony.

NBA agents outside of that group of 23 NCAA-approved reps can still advise early entrants, but they’re prohibited from marketing athletes to professional teams or from providing benefits of any kind, per Givony.

[RELATED: 2020 NBA Draft Early Entrants List]

In other words, dozens of early entrants will have to decide whether to navigate the pre-draft process with a potentially inexperienced agent from the small NCAA-certified group or with a more experienced advisor who can offer limited help due to a lack of NCAA certification. Additionally, given the coronavirus-related uncertainty surrounding the draft, many agents who have NBA clients aren’t actively looking to rep early entrants this spring, Givony notes.

“This is not a time to be adding players to your client list; it’s a time to consolidate,” one agent told ESPN. “I’ll take a no-brainer first-round pick if he falls into my lap, but anything beyond that I’d have to think long and hard about this year. Normally I’d be interested in taking a flier on a kid testing the waters in hopes of developing a relationship for next year, but there’s very little that I can actually do to help someone right now with the amount of uncertainty surrounding the professional basketball world.”

NCAA restrictions related to representation and benefits, combined with an NBA draft calendar that may not include usual events like the combine, will make this year’s pre-draft process more complicated than ever. According to Givony, a number of sources he spoke to were skeptical that players, agents, college coaches, teams, and the NCAA will all be able to comfortably navigate that process. That could result in eligibility issues for college players who test the waters and then want to return to school.

“Are they (the NCAA) really going to forfeit the remaining college eligibility of 90% of the players that come back, including some of the best players in the country?” one college coach asked, per Givony. “This is going to be a total mess that we’ll have to clean up this fall. My guess is some players weren’t aware of the rules, and will end up getting scared they can’t go back, forcing them to leave school and then go undrafted because of this.”

Community Shootaround: Coach Of The Year

After discussing our hypothetical ballots for the NBA’s 2019/20 MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and Sixth Man of the Year awards, we’re shifting our focus today to the Coach of the Year.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has emerged as a likely favorite for this award after losing NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and starting shooting guard Danny Green in the offseason. Without a superstar, Toronto was expected to come back down to earth following its surprise championship run in 2019. Instead, the Raptors put up a 46-18 record prior to the NBA’s hiatus, good for second in the East and third in the league.

Dan Devine of The Ringer, Zach Harper of The Athletic, and Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald all placed Nurse atop their hypothetical Coach of the Year ballots, pointing out that the Raptors’ head coach didn’t just overcome the loss of Leonard — he also had to deal with an injury-plagued roster all season long. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell each missed double-digit games in 2019/20, and Nurse just kept finding ways to plug the holes in the lineup and continue winning.

Of course, he didn’t win as much as Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, the NBA’s reigning Coach of the Year, who made a strong case for the award again this season. No team had a better record than Milwaukee’s 53-12 mark, and while the Bucks almost certainly weren’t going to win 70 games, they likely would’ve gotten pretty close.

The Bucks’ average margin of victory in 2019/20 was one of the best in NBA history, and it’s not as if their roster is jam-packed with stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the MVP frontrunner and Khris Middleton is an All-Star, but most of the rest of the club’s contributors are role players. Budenholzer, – who was the runner-up behind Nurse for Devine, Harper, and Murphy – had the group looking like a juggernaut.

Beyond Nurse and Budenholzer, there’s no shortage of impressive Coach of the Year candidates. Devine’s third-place pick was Taylor Jenkins, a first-year head coach who took a Grizzlies team viewed as one of the league’s bottom-feeders and steered it to a playoff spot in the West.

Harper, meanwhile, gave his No. 3 spot to Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, who was considered L.A.’s Plan C when he was hired last spring. Vogel’s team had a 49-14 record when the NBA suspended play, holding a commanding 5.5-game lead for the top seed in the Western Conference. Even the most enthusiastic Lakers supporters would have had a hard time envisioning a better-case scenario last fall.

Murphy’s runners-up were Billy Donovan (Thunder) and Erik Spoelstra (Heat). Expectations for both teams – particularly Oklahoma City – were modest entering the season, but they’ve exceeded them, comfortably claiming postseason spots in their respective conferences.

While the coaches mentioned above are probably the strongest candidates for award-season recognition in 2020, you could make a case for several others, including Brad Stevens (Celtics), Michael Malone (Nuggets), Rick Carlisle (Mavericks), Nate McMillan (Pacers), Scott Brooks (Wizards), and James Borrego (Hornets).

We want to know what you think. Who is the 2019/20 NBA Coach of the Year? And who would you put on your three-man ballot?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your picks!o

Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji Declares For 2020 Draft

MARCH 31: Nnaji has confirmed to Jonathan Givony of ESPN that he’s entering the 2020 draft pool. Accoridng to Evan Daniels of 247Sports (Twitter link), the freshman is signing with agent Adam Pensack and intends to forgo his remaining college eligibility.

MARCH 28: Freshman Arizona power forward Zeke Nnaji will declare for the 2020 NBA draft, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Nicola Lupo of Sportando notes that Nnaji is currently slotted as the No. 34 prospect in ESPN’s top-100 list of available college basketball players.

The 6’11”, 240-pound Nnaji was named to the 2019/20 All-Pac-12 Team, as well as the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. The 19-year-old was also honored as the 2019/20 Pac-12 Rooke Of The Year.

Nnaji has averaged 16.1 PPG and 8.6 RPG across 32 games in his lone season for the Wildcats, while shooting 76% from the free throw line and 57% from the field.

And-Ones: BIG3, Pierce, Free Agency, VanVleet

With the BIG3 planning to hold a quarantined basketball tournament that will double as a ‘Big Brother’-style reality show, Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight spoke to UCLA infectious disease epidemiologist Anne Rimoin to get a sense of whether the league’s plans are realistic. Dr. Rimoin is unconvinced that the BIG3’s testing process will be thorough enough and skeptical that the format of the event would be viable.

“Even if you test them (for COVID-19), they could be incubating for up to 14 days,” she said. “They would need to be in complete isolation, put in an isolation chamber — meaning no contact with anybody — for 14 days prior. They wouldn’t be allowed to have contact with anybody during that period, or while they’re playing. That’s the science of it. But I don’t see that happening. These people have families, friends. They might need to get groceries.”

Dr. Arthur Reingold told Herring that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health may also need to give the green light to the BIG3’s plan, so there will be hurdles for the league to overcome if it wants to hold its quarantined tournament.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Appearing on ESPN’s The Jump (video link), Paul Pierce claimed he was intrigued by the idea of playing in the BIG3’s tournament, given the rumored seven-figure prize and the fact that it may take place in Los Angeles. His former Celtics teammate and fellow ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, meanwhile, argued that the tournament shouldn’t even take place.
  • In an in-depth Insider piece for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks previews the offseason questions facing all 30 NBA teams, breaking down each club’s needs, draft assets, cap situation, and free-agents-to-be.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic takes an early look at the free agent market for point guards this offseason. With no max-caliber players expected to be available, Leroux identifies Fred VanVleet and Mike Conley as the players most likely to do better than the mid-level. Of course, Conley has a $34.5MM early termination option for 2020/21, so he seems like a good bet to put off free agency for another year.