Two NBA veterans have been among the most impressive G League standouts early in the season, writes Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Emeka Okafor, 35, has spent the past four years recovering from surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. He joined the Sixers for training camp and opted to stay with the organization’s affiliate in Delaware. He is averaging 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and is shooting better than 60% from the field.
Kendrick Perkins was the Cavaliers’ final roster cut and went to Cleveland’s affiliate in Canton. He is averaging 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds through three games. He has dropped weight and may still be able to help an NBA team at age 33.
There’s more news from the NBA and the G League:
- Today is an important day for four players who were claimed off waivers during the offseason, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. The Bulls‘ David Nwaba and Kay Felder, the Hawks‘ Nicolas Brussino and the Bucks‘ DeAndre Liggins are all now eligible to be traded.
- The Sixers used the remainder of this year’s cap space for the renegotiation/extension with Robert Covington, leaving just eight teams with cap room, according to Marks (Twitter link). They are the Bulls [$15.1MM], Mavericks [$12.5MM], Suns [$8.9MM], Pacers [$6.1MM], Kings [$4.3MM], Nets [$3.4MM], Hawks [$589K] and Magic [$549K].
- Veteran guard Shannon Brown has been claimed from the G League player pool by the Wisconsin Herd, tweets Chris Reichert of 2 Ways and 10 Days. The 31-year-old last played in the NBA in 2014, when he appeared in five games with the Heat.
- Christian Wood has joined the Delaware 87ers as a returning player, according to Reichert (Twitter link). He played 13 games for the Hornets last year and ended the season in the G League.
- International stars are having a greater impact on the NBA than ever before, writes Tom Ziller of SB Nation. Many of the league’s best young players hail from overseas, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis, both considered early-season MVP candidates, along with Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. Ziller credits former commissioner David Stern for his focus on expanding the league to overseas markets. That strategy not only created more revenue, it exposed the NBA to an international audience and created a new reservoir of players.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen will keep his starting job when Nikola Mirotic is cleared to return, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed that decision before tonight’s game. The seventh overall pick in this year’s draft is off to an impressive start, averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds through his first 11 games.
Markkanen got a chance to start after Mirotic suffered two broken facial bones in a scrimmage altercation with Bobby Portis. With Miotic injured and Portis suspended, an opportunity opened up for Markkanen. “[The situation] gave me a bigger chance right away,” Markkanen said. “But I’m glad to have Bobby back and hopefully Niko back. I have to do my work on the court and prove that I can be a starter.”
- While the Bulls‘ power forward situation has drawn most of the headlines as of late, the club’s point guard situation is also worth watching, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times, who says that head coach Fred Hoiberg is still looking for “his” point guard. Jerian Grant and Kris Dunn are among the point guards vying for the lead role, and both players are expected to be in the starting lineup on Wednesday, per K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.
NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most and least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.
We’re taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division this week. Today, we’re tackling the Central division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Central teams:
The Bucks’ recent acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, which added another $15MM to the team’s books for next season, all but guarantees that Milwaukee won’t have any cap space available in 2018. Moving another contract or two could change that, but if the Bucks intend to re-sign Jabari Parker to a long-term deal, they’ll likely end up much closer to the luxury tax line than to the salary cap threshold.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $101,685,313
Projection: Over the cap
The NBA’s most recent salary cap projection estimated a $101MM cap for 2018/19, which would put the Pistons right around the threshold. Don’t expect Detroit to try to sneak below that line and create space though — if they intend to re-sign Avery Bradley, the Pistons figure to remain well over the cap next summer.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $75,902,175
Projection: Up to approximately $21MM in cap room
Since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers have spent more money than any other NBA team on player salaries and tax payments, so it’s somewhat surprising to see the club with only $76MM in guaranteed commitments for 2018/19.
Of course, the only reason the Cavs’ projected team salary is so modest is because James and his $35MM+ player option aren’t included. Neither is Isaiah Thomas, another free-agent-to-be. And neither is Iman Shumpert, who seems like a good bet to exercise his $11MM player option. If any of those players return to the Cavs, the team’s cap space will disappear quickly. If Cleveland actually ends up with $21MM in available cap room, the squad will look a whole lot different next season.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $46,648,020
Projection: Up to approximately $43MM in cap room
The Bulls, who don’t have many pricey long-term commitments on their books, could actually create up to about $52MM in cap room, but we’re adding Zach LaVine‘s cap hold to their team salary, since the club has been adamant about re-signing LaVine, one of the key pieces of this year’s Jimmy Butler trade.
Still, that leaves the Bulls with a ton of flexibility, as Nikola Mirotic‘s $12.5MM team option is the only other salary that could cut into the team’s cap room significantly. Based on recent events in Chicago, it’d very surprising if that Mirotic is still a Bull at that price – or at all – a year from now.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $39,913,044
Projection: Up to approximately $54MM in cap room
In order to get up to $54MM in cap room, the Pacers would have to move on from several key players from this year’s squad. Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Al Jefferson all have partially guaranteed salaries. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph have player options. Lance Stephenson and Joe Young have team options. The odds that none of those players will be back are incredibly slim.
Even if the Pacers’ available cap room is ultimately much more modest than the maximum figure suggests, the team is in a pretty good spot. The Thaddeus Young and Joseph contracts aren’t toxic, and Indiana is in full control of all the other players with options or without full guarantees. That will give the Pacers the opportunity to retain the deals that are solid values and dump the rest.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic was back at practice today and has interacted with several of his teammates. However, he still hasn’t spoken to Bobby Portis, Nick Friedell of ESPN relays. According to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link), Bulls executive VP John Paxson and head coach Fred Hoiberg have both made it clear that they’re trying to get Mirotic to talk to Portis, the teammate who punched him during a practice last month.
Injured forward Nikola Mirotic returned to the Bulls’ facility and made an appearance at the team’s morning practice on Monday, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). It’s the first time Mirotic has attended a practice since he was hospitalized by a Bobby Portis punch last month.
Although Mirotic is back in the building, it doesn’t sound like all is well quite yet for the Bulls. According to executive VP John Paxson, Mirotic still hasn’t had any contact with Portis since last month’s altercation (Twitter link via Johnson).
Portis, who described himself today as a “high-character, low-maintenance guy,” says he’s ready to welcome Mirotic back with open arms, per Johnson (Twitter link). However, it’s not hard to see why Mirotic – who suffered a concussion and facial fractures as a result of Portis’ punch – wouldn’t be ready to bury the hatchet.
For their part, the Bulls don’t sound like they’re willing to make a choice between Portis and Mirotic, despite the ultimatum reportedly issued by Mirotic’s camp. Paxson said today that the team can’t make a trade just to make a trade, adding that it’s important for Mirotic to be around more and to be a part of the team (Twitter links via Johnson).
“Both Niko and Bobby are on our roster right now,” Paxson said (Twitter link). “And Niko’s getting cleared to do more and more. This obviously is coming to a position where it’s going to have to be resolved between the two.”
The Bulls are somewhat hamstrung by Mirotic’s trade restrictions, which prevent him from being dealt until January 15, so they’re in a tough spot. Still, pushing Mirotic to make amends with the teammate responsible for his multiple facial fractures isn’t necessarily the best look for the club.
The Lakers, Bulls, and Hawks are among the teams expected to have interest in Mindaugas Kuzminskas if the former Knick clears waivers, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link). Kuzminskas, waived today by New York, will become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday if no team claims him.
When Kuzminskas first signed with the Knicks in the summer of 2016, Berman reported (via Twitter) that the Lakers and Hawks nearly beat out New York to sign the Lithuanian forward, so it’s not a surprise that they’d be willing to kick the tires again. The Bulls also make sense as a potential suitor, since they aren’t overly concerned with short-term success and can afford to roll the dice on a project.
Before Kuzminskas is free to sign with any team though, he’ll have to clear waivers. Waiver claims in the NBA are pretty rare, particularly for players earning more than the minimum. Still, it’s worth noting that half the league’s teams have the ability to claim Kuzminskas and his $3MM salary off waivers, if they so choose.
Waiver order is currently determined by last year’s record, with the worst teams getting first priority. Here are the clubs eligible to claim Kuzminskas:
- With cap room: Kings, Nets, Pacers, Sixers, Suns
- With cap room if various exceptions are renounced: Mavericks
- With a trade exception: Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, Trail Blazers
- With a disabled player exception: Celtics
An announcement is expected to come on Friday saying that the city of Chicago will host the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. The occasion will mark the first time since 1988 that mid-season festivities were held in the Windy City. That year, of course, it was Michael Jordan who was named MVP of the contest (and dunk champion, for that matter).
The Bulls are in a considerably different position today than they were at the onset of Jordan’s heyday. So Tim Goldrick of NBC Sports Chicago asks if any of the Bulls’ current roster could conceivably be named All-Stars when the game unfolds in Illinois. While Goldrick goes through much of the roster on a case-by-case basis, there really are only a few individuals worth serious consideration given the track records.
The safest bets to be named to the squad, per Goldrick, are rookie Lauri Markkanen and guard Zach LaVine. The former has impressed over the course of his first month in the NBA averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 boards per contest.
By the time February 2020 roles along, Markkanen would be 22 years old and presumably an even larger part of the team’s offense so it’s not unreasonable to imagine him earning a genuine spot on the roster.
LaVine is a unique case given his popularity as a dunk contest legend. In February 2020, LaVine will be just 25 years old, a staggering realization considering that it feels as though he’s already been in the NBA forever (really it’s just been three seasons).
Will LaVine get enough of an opportunity to showcase himself as more than just a dunker in Chicago? The high flyer has yet to officially suit up in Bulls gear after coming over from the Timberwolves, so nobody can really say for sure what he’s capable of as an offensive focal point.
Beyond LaVine and Markkanen, there are a few dark horse candidates that could see their impacts rise significantly in the next two to three seasons, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic chief among them.
Do you agree with this assessment of the young assets on the Bulls roster? If you had to rank the top five Bulls players most likely to earn a spot in the game in 2020, how would you order them? Weigh in below.