Hoops Rumors Originals

Community Shootaround: Tampering Probe

The Lakers and team president Magic Johnson are under scrutiny as the league announced this weekend it was investigating potential tampering between the club and Paul George.

The Pacers, who dealt George to the Thunder this summer, filed the charges. The Lakers and Johnson now face a variety of potential punishments if the league finds evidence of impermissible contact and/or tampering.

George is a unique case in that he publicly stated his desire to sign with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent next summer. That prompted Indiana to shop the four-time All-Star, with the Thunder winning the sweepstakes by dealing away Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks points out, the Hawks and Kings were fined four years ago for outlining their plans to pursue free agents from other teams. But it’s been 17 years since the league cracked down hard on any team for tampering.

The Timberwolves were fined $3.5MM, lost five first-round picks (though two were later reinstated) and saw their owner and GM suspended. Those penalties were handed down when the league uncovered evidence that the club and forward Joe Smith had a side agreement for a future contract to circumvent the salary cap before Smith became a free agent. Smith wound up signing with the Pistons after Minnesota was prevented from securing his services.

A fine is the Lakers’ most likely penalty if some evidence of tampering is uncovered. However, if the league believes the Lakers and George already have a verbal agreement, they could face penalties similar to the ones doled out to the Timberwolves in 2000. It could also prevent George from joining the Lakers.

The Lakers have hired legal representation and seem confident they will be cleared of the charges.

That brings us to our question of the day: If the league’s tampering investigation involving the Lakers and Paul George uncovers evidence of a verbal agreement, should the Lakers be prohibited from signing George in free agency or acquiring him in a trade? If not, what would be an appropriate punishment?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this hot topic. We look forward to what you have to say.

Decisions On 2018/19 Rookie Scale Team Options

Under the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the deadline for teams to sign fourth-year players to rookie scale extensions has been moved up from October 31 to the last day before the regular season begins, but Halloween remains an important date on the NBA’s calendar. It’s the last day that clubs can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

All the players whose options will be exercised or declined by October 31 are already under contract for the 2017/18 season. Their teams will have to make a decision on whether they want to lock in those players’ contracts beyond the coming season, picking up or turning down team options for the 2018/19 campaign.

For players who signed their rookie scale contracts in 2015 and have been in the NBA for two years, teams must decide on fourth-year options for 2018/19. For players who just signed their rookie deals last year and only have one season of NBA experience under their belts, teams will already be faced with a decision on third-year options for ’18/19.

In many cases, these decisions aren’t hard ones. Rookie scale salaries are so affordable – particularly with the salary cap poised to surpass $100MM next summer – that it usually makes sense to exercise most of these team options, even if a player isn’t a key cog on the roster. And for those players who do have a significant role on a team’s roster, the decision is even easier — it’s not as if the Knicks would even consider declining their option on Kristaps Porzingis. In fact, they’ve already picked it up.

Still, we’ll wait for a trusted reporter, the NBA, a player (or his agent), or a team itself to confirm that an option is indeed being exercised or declined, and we’ll track that news in this space.

Listed below are all the rookie scale decisions for 2018/19 team options that clubs must make by October 31. This list will be updated throughout the rest of the offseason, as teams’ decisions are reported and announced. The salary figures listed here reflect the cap hits for each team — players’ actual salaries will be a little higher, since recent first-round picks received pay bumps as a result of the new CBA.

Here are the NBA’s rookie scale team option decisions for 2018/19 salaries:

Read more

Weekly Mailbag: 8/14/17 – 8/20/17

We have an 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 us a line at HoopsRumorsMailbag@Gmail.com.

Is it really true that LeBron James will leave the Cavaliers next season for the Lakers? — Greg Dizon

Nobody knows the answer for sure, except for maybe LeBron and a few members of his inner circle. What we do know is that these rumors started shortly after the NBA Finals, and James hasn’t made a public statement to quash them. We also know that James was a strong supporter of former GM David Griffin and was upset that he wasn’t retained. And we’ve seen reports that James was disappointed by the team’s offseason moves, which amounted to re-signing Kyle Korver and adding Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Cedi Osman. Add in any lingering bitterness toward owner Dan Gilbert from their parting in 2011 and the feeling that James accomplished his mission when he brought the 2016 championship to Cleveland, and it’s easy to see why he might be on the move again. It may depend on what the Cavs do this season, or it may be a decision that has already been made.

Aside from the Lakers, where else could you potentially see LeBron in 2018-2019 if he leaves the Cavs? — Vijay Cruz

It’s hard to find another scenario that seems plausible, unless LeBron and his banana boat friends are all plotting to end up in the same place. Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade will both be free agents next summer (and maybe earlier for Wade if a rumored buyout happens in Chicago), while Carmelo Anthony has an early termination option. If Anthony winds up in Houston with Paul, the Rockets could emerge as a possible contender. An online betting site has already posted odds about LeBron’s next decision, listing the Cavs as favorites to keep him, followed closely by the Lakers. The Rockets and Spurs are tied at fourth, with the Celtics a surprising choice at third.

What’s happening with Giannis Antetokounmpo and EuroBasket? Why do NBA teams let their players risk injury in these international tournaments? — Ellis K., via Twitter

Antetokounmpo announced Saturday on social media that a knee injury will keep him out of this year’s competition and cited a failed physical administered by team doctors from Milwaukee. The Greek basketball federation is disputing the results of the physical and accusing the Bucks of using deception to prevent Antetokounmpo from playing. Greece’s fortunes rely on Antetokounmpo, who would probably be the best player in the tournament, but because he’s under contract to the Bucks, there’s little the national team can do. As to why teams let players participate, there’s a lot of nationalistic pride at stake in these competitions, so it would create rifts with international players to try to block them. Plus, players tend to play all summer anyway, so it’s safer to have them do it in an organized format with trainers and team doctors than on pick-up courts.

Community Shootaround: Joakim Noah

There’s an argument to be made about Phil Jackson’s worst move as president of the Knicks, but any list would have to include the signing of Joakim Noah last summer for $72MM over four years.

Even Noah feels bad about it, blaming himself for Jackson’s firing. He virtually apologized in comments reported today by Marc Berman of The New York Post.

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson.’’

Noah’s first season in New York was a disappointment, but it was hardly a surprise. He was plagued by injuries and declining production during his final two years in Chicago, so no one could be shocked that in his first year with the Knicks he got hurt and his numbers went down.

Physical problems limited him to just 46 games last year and he was almost shut down for the year after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February. He only returned late in the season to trim eight games off a 20-game suspension imposed for using a substance banned by the NBA.

Noah’s performance on the court was just as frustrating as the things that kept him off of it. His scoring average dipped to 5.0 points per game, the worst of his career except for a 29-game season in 2015/16, and he took a career-low 4.4 shots per game.

Noah still has three seasons and $55MM left on his contract, so the Knicks are going to be stuck with him as an anchor on their cap unless they can find a way to include him in a trade. It’s a move that’s going to haunt the franchise for a long time, and there weren’t any obvious suitors that Jackson was bidding against to force such a generous offer.

But is signing Noah the main reason Jackson got fired? Or was it his long public feud with Carmelo Anthony, his attempt to trade Kristaps Porzingis after he skipped an exit meeting, his unbridled love affair with the triangle offense or the Knicks’ lousy play in general? In short, does Noah owe Jackson an apology or would the Zen Master have gotten dismissed regardless?

Please leave your comments below. We look forward to what you have to say.

Hoops Rumors Originals: 8/12/17 – 8/19/17

Every week, the Hoops Rumors writing team compiles original content to complement our news feed. This week, we were particularly productive with our original content. Enjoy our favorite segments and features from the past seven days:

NBA Teams That Still Have 2017/18 Cap Room

During the 2016 NBA offseason, when the salary camp jumped from $70MM to $94MM, 27 teams had cap room available, with only three clubs operating over the cap all year. A more modest cap increase this year to $99MM meant that fewer teams had cap space to use. So far, 14 teams – less than half the league – have used cap room to sign players.

Of those 14 teams, several have since used up all their cap room, including the Celtics, Knicks, Jazz, Lakers, and Timberwolves. However, there are still several teams around the NBA that have room available, or could create it without waiving and stretching any players on guaranteed salaries.

With the help of data from HeatHoops and Basketball Insiders, here’s a quick breakdown of teams that still have cap room available, along with their estimated space:

  • Atlanta Hawks: $4.6MM. The Hawks could gain slightly more space by waiving Luke Babbitt, whose salary is only partially guaranteed, but Atlanta just signed Babbitt, so that’s not a likely move.
  • Brooklyn Nets: $6.6MM. The Nets could gain slightly more space by waiving Spencer Dinwiddie, whose minimum salary contract is mostly non-guaranteed. However, I expect Brooklyn to keep Dinwiddie on its roster.
  • Denver Nuggets: $2.8MM. With Mason Plumlee‘s cap hold still on their books, the Nuggets’ cap room is fairly negligible. Denver could get up to about $8.6MM by renouncing Plumlee, but there’s no indication that’s in the plans.
  • Indiana Pacers: $7.6MM.
  • Philadelphia 76ers: $15.1MM. The Sixers could create even more space by waiving a player on a non-guaranteed contract, but the team isn’t about to part with Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, or T.J. McConnell.
  • Phoenix Suns: $6.3MM. Alex Len‘s cap hold is taking up $12MM right now, and Phoenix is carrying a pair of non-guaranteed contracts (Elijah Millsap and Derrick Jones), so in theory the Suns could get all the way up to $21.2MM in space by renouncing Len and cutting those non-guaranteed players.
  • Sacramento Kings: $4.3MM.

The following two teams are essentially capped-out, but could create a very small amount of room if necessary:

  • Miami Heat: The Heat could create close to $1MM in space by waiving Rodney McGruder and Okaro White, whose salaries aren’t fully guaranteed. That almost certainly won’t happen.
  • Orlando Magic: The Magic are currently under the cap by about $550K, and could create up to about $1.34MM in space by waiving Khem Birch, whose salary is mostly non-guaranteed. Again, that’s not likely.

The following two teams are technically operating over the cap at the moment, with various trade and mid-level exceptions pushing them over the threshold, but they could create room if they choose to go under the cap:

  • Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could immediately create about $13.5MM in room by renouncing the rest of their MLE and the $15MM trade exception generated in the Jimmy Butler deal. If the team chose to waive David Nwaba, who is on a non-guaranteed deal, and renounced its free agent cap holds, including Nikola Mirotic‘s, that figure would increase to about $25.8MM.
  • Dallas Mavericks: Even without renouncing Nerlens Noel‘s cap hold, the Mavericks could get to $11.6MM in cap room by waiving their non-guaranteed players and dipping below the cap. Removing Noel’s cap hold on top of that could get the Mavs up over $22MM in room, but there’s been no indication that Dallas plans to go that route.

Hoops Rumors’ 2017 NBA Free Agent Tracker

With the majority of 2017’s top free agents off the board, and news of contract agreements still trickling in, Hoops Rumors is here to help you keep track of which players are heading to which teams this offseason. To that end, we present our Free Agent Tracker, a feature we’ve had each year since our inception in 2012. Using our tracker, you can quickly look up deals, sorting by team, years, salary, and a handful of other variables.

A few notes on the tracker:

  • Some of the information you’ll find in the tracker will reflect reported agreements, rather than finalized deals. As signings become official, we’ll continue to update and modify the data.
  • Similarly, contract years and dollars will be based on what’s been reported to date, so in many cases those amounts will be approximations rather than official figures. Listed salaries aren’t necessarily fully guaranteed either.
  • A restricted free agent who agrees to or signs an offer sheet will be included in the tracker, but the team won’t be specified until his original club matches or passes on the offer sheet, in order to avoid confusion.
  • Two-way contracts and draft pick signings aren’t included in the tracker.
  • Click on a player’s name for our full report on his deal.
  • If you’re viewing the tracker on mobile, be sure to turn your phone sideways to see more details.

Our 2017 Free Agent Tracker can be found anytime on the right sidebar under “Hoops Rumors Features,” and it’s also under the “Tools” menu atop the site. It will be updated throughout the offseason, so be sure to check back for the latest info. If you have any corrections, please let us know right here.

Our lists of free agents by position/type and by team break down the players who have yet to reach contract agreements.

10 Available UFAs Who Played Major Minutes In 2016/17

The majority of the players still available on the unrestricted free agent market are unsigned for a reason. Many of those free agents are coming off down years or didn’t play all that much during the 2016/17 season — they had a negligible or negative impact on their respective teams last year, and aren’t expected to be major difference-makers next year either.

Still, several players still on the market were regular rotation players for their teams last season, and many provided steady and reliable production during those regular minutes. Some of those free agents are coming off lucrative contracts and may have entered July with aspirations of landing a mid-level type deal. At this point in the NBA offseason calendar though, most are unlikely to secure more than minimum salary contracts, which could make them intriguing bargains for teams still looking to fortify their rosters.

Here are the 10 remaining unrestricted free agents who saw the most action during the 2016/17 season, along with their total minutes played and minutes per game:

  1. Monta Ellis, Pacers: 1,998 (27.0)
  2. Tony Allen, Grizzlies: 1,914 (27.0)
  3. Matt Barnes, Kings/Warriors: 1,777 (24.0)
  4. Deron Williams, Mavericks/Cavaliers: 1,657 (25.9)
  5. Dante Cunningham, Pelicans: 1,649 (25.0)
  6. Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves: 1,516 (19.4)
  7. David Lee, Spurs: 1,477 (18.7)
  8. Jason Terry, Bucks: 1,365 (18.4)
  9. Randy Foye, Nets: 1,284 (18.6)
  10. Boris Diaw, Jazz: 1,283 (17.6)

Several players on that list are on the decline — Williams was a weak link in the Cavs’ rotation in the postseason, and guys like Barnes, Lee, Terry, and Diaw probably don’t have much left in the tank. Still, they all have NBA Finals experience, and could still be useful bench pieces for teams that aren’t expecting them to play 25 or 30 minutes per night.

Ellis and Muhammad, meanwhile, have holes in their games that will make teams hesitant to invest too heavily in them, but their scoring ability certainly makes them worth a roll of the dice on a minimum deal. The same can probably be said of Foye, who has struggled with his outside shot in the last couple seasons, but is still a 36.6% career three-point shooter.

Allen and Cunningham are perhaps the most intriguing names here. Allen earned a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team last season and is still viewed around the league as one of the game’s most tenacious perimeter defenders. That’s a valuable skill set for a contender. As for Cunningham, the 30-year-old has been a steady frontcourt piece for the Pelicans and Timberwolves over the last several seasons, and added a new wrinkle to his game in 2016/17, averaging 1.1 3PG with a .392 3PT%. If he continues to show that ability to stretch the floor, he’d be a fit for most clubs.

In addition to the players noted above, Gerald Henderson (23.2 MPG), Brandon Rush (21.9), and Andrew Bogut (21.6) are among the current unrestricted free agents who earned consistent minutes last season, but missed chunks of the year due to injury. Henderson remains injured and may miss the entire 2017/18 campaign, but Rush and Bogut should be players of interest for clubs still scouring the market.

Extension Candidate: Joel Embiid

News: The 2017 ESPYSDuring the weeks leading up to TNT awards show in late June, one of the biggest mysteries was whether Sixers big man Joel Embiid would be named Rookie of the Year despite playing in just 31 games. Embiid clearly posted the biggest numbers and displayed more talent than any other first-year player in his limited body of work.

Ultimately, voters decided Embiid didn’t play in enough games and handed the prize to Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon.

The Sixers have an even bigger decision to make — does 31 games in three seasons equate to a max contract extension or something close to it?

That’s the biggest dilemma currently hovering over the team’s management, as it must determine what approach to take with the oft-injured Embiid. Virtually from the instant he finally took the court, Embiid essentially removed all debate over which of the three power forward/centers the Sixers invested high draft picks on in recent seasons — Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor — was the best of the trio.

Embiid averaged 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG in those outings, even though the Sixers were being cautious about his minutes. In ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, Embiid finished fifth among all centers. Embiid, whose career was stalled two full seasons by right foot ailments, still suffered another significant injury.

He was shut down at the beginning of March with torn meniscus and a bone bruise in his left knee. He underwent arthroscopic surgery later that month and has reached the point in his recovery where he’s doing non-contract drills. He’s expected to be ready for training camp and GM Bryan Colangelo has said that he anticipates Embiid will be able to play back-to-backs this season.

With all the time Embiid has spent in the trainer’s room, it would be reasonable to assume that Sixers management would be reluctant to make a long-term commitment to him. Think again. Josh Harris, the team’s managing owner, told reporters in late June he’s focused on locking up Embiid before the October 31 extension deadline.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said at the time. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

How much would Harris and the rest of the ownership group have to fork over to max out Embiid? The current projection for a five-year max would be $147.9MM, while a four-year commitment would entail $114.24MM in resources.

If the Sixers could have any reasonable expectation that Embiid will stay in one piece for a majority of the next five or six seasons, the investment would pay off handsomely. With a core trio of point guard and top overall pick Markelle Fultz, point forward and 2016 top pick Ben Simmons and Embiid, Philadelphia projects to be one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams during that stretch.

It’s hard to think that way with the injury issues that Embiid has endured since the tail end of his brief collegiate career at Kansas. Embiid missed the NCAA Tournament as a freshman with a back injury, then underwent his first foot surgery a week before Philadelphia selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014.

It’s been a long and ongoing process to get Embiid, who will make $6.1MM in the upcoming season, on the court since that point. If the Sixers decide to play it a little more cautiously, they could forego an extension to see how his health holds up and then extend a qualifying offer of $8MM next summer to make him a restricted free agent. Taking that approach would also allow the Sixers to see how Embiid’s talents blend with Fultz and Simmons.

The Sixers would then have the option of matching any offer sheet but would also risk the possibility of Embiid gambling on his future and signing the qualifying offer. That would allow him to be unrestricted the following summer.

A more likely scenario is that the Sixers offer Embiid a max extension, or something very close to it, but insist on contractual protections in case his major injury problems persist. The easiest way to do that would be to purchase disability insurance on Embiid but as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out this spring, the Sixers probably won’t have that option due to his injury history.

Instead, as Marks suggested, Philadelphia could follow the approach the Nets took when they re-signed another injury-riddled center, Brook Lopez. Under the multi-year terms of that deal, Brooklyn’s contractual obligations would have been cut in half during the second year and down to 25% in the third year if Lopez had re-injured his right foot and wound up playing fewer than 60 games and averaging less than 15 minutes. The Sixers and Embiid’s representatives could hash out similar minimums in terms of games and minutes played.

If the Sixers take that route, negotiations on an extension could get very sticky and go down to the wire. Should Embiid agree to such a deal, he’d once again be gambling on his health while allowing the club to hedge its bets. Philadelphia also has to be careful not to risk alienating a player who could be a perennial All-Star for years to come.

That’s what makes Embiid’s potential contract extension one of the league’s most intriguing storylines right through training camp. He is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward Extension Candidate.

Community Shootaround: MVP Favorite

Russell Westbrook is the favorite to repeat as MVP, according to odds released by Bovada, an online gambling site.

Westbrook is listed as +350, which means a bettor who wagers $100 would get back $350 if Westbrook wins the award. Kevin Durant is close behind at +450, followed by Kawhi Leonard at +650. LeBron James at +750 and James Harden at +800 round out the top five.

Westbrook cruised to the trophy last season with a record-setting 42 triple-doubles. His production may fall this year with the addition of Paul George in Oklahoma City, but he could help his case if the Thunder improve on their 47-35 record.

Bovada lays odds on 39 candidates, ranging down to Dirk Nowitzki, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside and Jeff Teague, who are all listed at +25,000. Among players who changed teams over the offseason, George and new Rockets point guard Chris Paul are tied for the best odds at +2,500.

Given the changes that have taken place across the league, who is you favorite to take home MVP honors for 2017/18? Please leave your comments below.

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