Hoops Rumors Originals

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference Playoff Race

When we checked in on the Western Conference playoff race on Sunday, the main takeaway was how wide open the conference looks, with several teams bunched together at the top of the West and a handful of playoff-tested clubs (and stars) lurking further down the standings.

Over in the East, the picture looks a little different. Whereas several teams have a legitimate case to be considered best in the West, it’s hard to argue that any team besides Boston deserves that honor in the East.

Entering play on Tuesday, the Celtics‘ 45-12 record gives them a 7.5-game cushion on their next-closest competitor in the Eastern standings. Their home record of 26-3 record is the best in the NBA, as is their 19-9 mark on the road. The Celtics haven’t lost in nearly four weeks and will put an eight-game winning streak on the line on Tuesday vs. Philadelphia.

Boston has been led by a dominant top six of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and Al Horford. The team’s top eight most-used lineups feature some combinations of those players and/or Sam Hauser, and seven of those eight lineups have net ratings of +11.7 or higher. The Celtics’ overall net rating of +10.5 is more than five points per 100 possessions better than any other team in the East.

The question in the East then isn’t “Which team will emerge in a wide-open field?” but rather “Which team has the best chance to take down the Celtics?” Currently, betting site BetOnline.ag has Boston as the +100 favorite to come out of the East, essentially giving the C’s even odds against the field.

For now, the “field” is led by the Cavaliers (37-19), who have come on strong after a sluggish start and have won 19 of their past 23 games (despite losing two of their past five). Cleveland was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season, but has loftier aspirations this spring in Donovan Mitchell‘s second year as a Cav. They have the East’s second-best net rating at +5.4.

It has been a shaky season in Milwaukee, where the Bucks replaced their head coach midway through his first season with the team, but any club with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard on its roster – along with several more players who were part of a championship team in 2021 – has to be taken seriously. Despite their ups and downs, the Bucks hold the No. 3 seed with a strong 37-21 record and are considered by BetOnline.ag to be the second-best bet to come out of the East (+300).

The Knicks (35-23) have been hit hard lately by injuries, but they looked like one of the best teams in the conference when they were (nearly) fully healthy in January. If Julius Randle and OG Anunoby are back on the court to team up with Jalen Brunson and a solid cast of supporting players, New York has a chance to make some real noise in the postseason.

At Nos. 5 and 6 in the East, the Sixers (33-24) and Heat (32-25) are intriguing dark horses. Philadelphia needs Joel Embiid to get healthy before the playoffs begin, while Miami will need to recapture the magic that saw the team make an NBA Finals run last spring after initially needing a play-in win to claim the No. 8 seed.

It’s hard to imagine any team further down in the Eastern standings – including the Pacers (33-26), Magic (32-26), Bulls (27-30), and Hawks (25-32) – making a Heat-esque run in this year’s postseason due to their relative lack of talent and/or postseason experience compared to the top teams in the conference. But at least a couple of those teams could cause problems for first-round opponents.

We want to know what you think. Are the Celtics coming out of the East this season or is there a team you feel confident can take them down? If not Boston, which club is representing the conference in the NBA Finals in June?

Head to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts and predictions on the Eastern Conference playoff race!

Community Shootaround: Buyout Market

We are fast approaching a significant deadline for some veteran players.

A player on an NBA contract must be waived by the end of the day on Friday in order to retain his playoff eligibility.

As our 2024 Buyout Market Watch shows, there have been seven players bought out or simply waived since the trade deadline expired who have hooked on with other teams – Daniel Theis, Bismack Biyombo, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Lowry, Danilo Gallinari, Delon Wright and Thaddeus Young.

Our Buyout Market Watch also lists numerous players who were recently waived that are still looking for another opportunity. That free agent group includes Ryan Arcidiacono, Danny Green, Joe Harris, Danuel House, Cory Joseph, Kevin Knox, Furkan Korkmaz, Robin Lopez, Chimezie Metu, Frank Ntilikina, Ish Smith, Aleksej Pokusevski and Juan Toscano-Anderson. They could be joined by a few more veterans in the coming days.

While none of the names on the list are likely to make a huge splash on a playoff team, some could provide a boost to a second unit.

House, for example, appeared in 34 games for the Sixers this season and Korkmaz saw action in 35 games for Philadelphia. Either one could fortify a contender’s wing depth. Ditto for Knox, who started 11 games for the Pistons this season.

Smith, Joseph and Ntilikina are all quite capable of stepping in and playing solid minutes at the point.

If a contender needs another power forward, Metu could fill that role. He played 37 games, including five starts, for the Suns this season. Toscano-Anderson was a rotation player two seasons ago on the championship Warriors team. Pokusevski is a young big who has made 65 starts in his career.

That brings us to our topic of the day: How many of the above-mentioned free agents are likely to be signed by a contending team? Which one do you think would make the biggest impact?

Please take to the comments section to weigh on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

While the Celtics have built an eight-game lead over the No. 2 seed in the East, no such separation exists over in the Western Conference, where the top four seeds are all within four games.

Entering play on Sunday, the Timberwolves (40-17) narrowly hold the conference’s top spot over the Thunder (39-17), with the Clippers (37-18) and Nuggets (38-19) in tight pursuit.

It’s an unlikely top two. Minnesota has made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but needed a play-in victory both times and didn’t make it out of the first round in either 2022 or 2023. After finishing with a 42-40 record last season, the Wolves are poised to blow by that win total with several weeks to go in 2023/24. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, hasn’t finished above .500 or made the playoffs since 2020, but the addition of Chet Holmgren to a rapidly improving core has helped accelerate the team’s rise up the standings.

Both the Wolves and Thunder lack postseason experience compared to the Clippers, whose three stars – James Harden, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard – have appeared in a combined 405 playoff games, and the Nuggets, who are coming off a championship run a year ago. While neither of those clubs holds a top-two seed for the time being, both Los Angeles and Denver look like legitimate contenders to come out of the West.

A few games back of the top four seeds, another quartet of Western teams is separated by a single game from Nos. 5-8. The Pelicans (34-23) currently top that group, followed by the Mavericks (33-23), Kings (32-23), and Suns (33-24).

New Orleans has no shortage of depth or star power – led by forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – but is another young team that lacks postseason experience, having made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons. Sacramento is in a similar boat — Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox, and the Kings snapped a lengthy postseason drought last season, but didn’t make it out of the first round.

The stars in Dallas and Phoenix are a little more playoff-tested. While he hasn’t won a title like teammate Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic has already appeared in 28 total postseason games and won a pair of playoff series in 2022. For the Suns, Kevin Durant is at two-time NBA Finals MVP, while Devin Booker came within two victories of a title in 2021. Even Bradley Beal compiled 45 playoff appearances during his time in D.C.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that those eight teams will be the ones that ultimately make the playoffs out West. A pair of title hopefuls are lurking further down in play-in territory, with the Lakers (31-27) and Warriors (29-26) filling out the top 10 in the West.

While both clubs won playoff series last spring – with the Lakers advancing to the Western Finals – neither has looked as dangerous so far this season. But Golden State is certainly heading in the right direction as of late, having won eight of nine games over the past three weeks as head coach Steve Kerr finally found a series of lineup combinations he liked. And Los Angeles can’t be entirely ruled out as a contender as long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy and available.

BetOnline.ag views the Western race as relatively wide open. The Nuggets and Clippers (+240 each) are considered the favorites, but the Thunder (+650), Suns (+750), and Timberwolves (+800) aren’t far back in the betting odds, with the Mavs (+1200) and Warriors (+1400) lurking as well.

We want to know what you think. Which eight teams will ultimately make the playoffs in the West? Which club will claim the top seed? How many teams have a legitimate chance to come out of the conference, and which one would you pick if you had to choose a Western winner today?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

Trade Rumors App For iOS/Android

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Rest-Of-Season NBA Dates, Deadlines To Watch

With the All-Star Game behind us, we’re preparing for the home stretch of the 2023/24 NBA season. Here are a few noteworthy dates and deadlines to keep an eye on before the playoffs begin in April.

February 29

A team with cap room can renegotiate a player’s current-year salary to give him a raise as part of a contract extension. There are no legitimate candidates for a renegotiation at this point in the season though, since there are only one or two teams that could realistically open up cap room, and they likely aren’t looking to extend anyone.

March 1

  • Last day a player can be waived by one team and remain eligible to appear in the postseason for another team.

As we outline in our glossary entry on buyouts, a player doesn’t need to be signed by March 1 in order to retain his playoff-eligible — he simply can’t be waived after that date. A player who is waived on March 1 and signs with another team on April 8 would be playoff-eligible for his new team, but a player who is waived on March 2 and signs on March 5 wouldn’t be.

March 4

Under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the deadline to sign a player to a two-way contract was January 15, but it has been pushed back in the current CBA and teams are taking full advantage.

In the 15 days since the trade deadline, 11 players have signed new two-way contracts. That number figures to grow ahead of March 4. While there are only two open two-way slots around the NBA right now – with a third about to open up in Chicago – it seems as if at least one or two new openings are being created every day lately as two-way players receive promotions to teams’ standard rosters.

March 11

The Bulls ($10.2MM) and Trail Blazers ($5.8MM) are among the teams that still have available disabled player exceptions, which could be used to sign a player to a rest-of-season contract or to claim a player with an expiring contract off waivers.

However, disabled player exceptions are used more frequently at the trade deadline than after it, and neither Chicago nor Portland has much breathing room below the luxury tax line. The likeliest scenario is that these DPEs will expire without being used.

April 14

  • Last day of the NBA regular season.
  • Last day players can sign contracts for 2023/24.
  • Last day two-way contracts can be converted to standard NBA contracts.
  • Luxury tax penalties calculated based on payroll as of this day.

Several teams around the NBA have at least one open spot on their 15-man rosters. We can probably assume that most – if not all – of those clubs will fill their openings by April 14.

Playoff teams will want to make sure they have as much veteran depth as possible, just to be safe, while lottery teams will look at signing younger players to multiyear deals that include little to no guaranteed money beyond this season in order to get a longer look at them in the summer.

April 15

  • Playoff rosters set (2:00pm CT).

April 16-19

  • NBA play-in tournament.

April 20

  • NBA playoffs begin.

While they wait for the play-in tournament to conclude, the top six teams in each conference will get a few days off between the regular season and the postseason, giving them some time to recharge before the playoffs begin.

Hoops Rumors’ 2024 NBA 10-Day Contract Tracker

Since January 5, when NBA teams became eligible to sign players to standard 10-day deals, 21 of the contracts signed have been of the 10-day variety, and that number will only grow as the season nears an end. Hoops Rumors has created a database that allows you to keep on top of those deals, tracking every 10-day signing all season long.

Besides featuring all of this year’s 10-day contracts, our 10-Day Contract Tracker includes information on all 10-day contracts signed since the 2006/07 season. The search filters in the database make it easy to sort by team, player, and/or year. For instance, if you want to see all the 10-day contracts that the Kings have signed in the last 15-plus years, you can do so here. If you want to view Shaquille Harrison’s history of 10-day deals, that list is here.

You can also see whether a player and team signed a second 10-day contract, or if those short-term deals led to an agreement that covered the rest of the season. Additionally, our tracker notes which 10-day deals remain active, saving you from having to figure out whether a particular contract ends on Wednesday or Thursday.

A link to our 10-Day Contract Tracker can be found at any time in the right sidebar under “Hoops Rumors Features” on our desktop site. On our mobile site, you can find it on our “Features” page. We’ll be keeping it up to date for the rest of the season, so be sure to check back to keep tabs on the latest signings as they become official.

As our tracker shows, these are the 10-day deals currently active around the NBA:

Note: Reported 10-day deals for Justin Champagnie (Wizards) and D.J. Carton (Raptors) aren’t yet official, but will be added to our tracker once they are.

Hoops Rumors Glossary: Bi-Annual Exception

The mid-level exception is the most common tool used by over-the-cap teams to sign free agents from other teams to contracts worth more than the veteran’s minimum. But that’s not the only exception those clubs have to squeeze an extra player onto the payroll. The bi-annual exception is a way for a team to sign a player who may command more than the minimum salary, but less than the mid-level.

As its name suggests, the bi-annual exception can only be used every other season. Even if a team uses only a portion of the exception, it’s off-limits during the following league year.

During the 2023/24 league year, two teams – the Heat and Sixers – were ineligible to use the bi-annual exception at all, since they used it in 2022/23.

Three teams have used the BAE in ’23/24, with the Lakers signing Taurean Prince, the Cavaliers signing Ty Jerome, and the Raptors signing Jalen McDaniels. Those three clubs won’t have the exception at their disposal during the 2024/25 league year.

The bi-annual exception is available only to a limited number of clubs, even among those that didn’t use the exception during the previous season. Teams that create and use cap space forfeit their bi-annual exception. Additionally, teams lose access to the bi-annual exception when they operate over the first “tax apron,” a figure approximately $7MM above the tax line this season. So, only teams over the cap and under the first apron can use the BAE.

If a team uses all or part of the bi-annual exception, the first tax apron becomes the club’s hard cap for that season. Teams that sign a player using the BAE can later go under the cap, but can’t go over the first apron at any time during the season once the contract is signed.

[RELATED: NBA Teams With Hard Caps In 2023/24]

Although a team with a salary exceeding the first tax apron isn’t permitted to use the bi-annual exception, that team could gain access to the BAE by shedding salary. As long as the team’s salary would be below the first tax apron after completing the bi-annual signing – and remains below that threshold for the rest of the season – that club is permitted to use the BAE, no matter how high its salary might have been earlier in the league year.

Under the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the value of the bi-annual exception in future league years is tied to the value of the salary cap. The BAE comes in at 3.32% of that season’s cap and is rounded to the nearest thousand.

For instance, this season’s cap is $136,021,000; 3.32% of that amount is $4,515,897.20. Rounding to the nearest thousand gets us to $4,516,000, which is the maximum starting salary for a bi-annual signing in 2023/24. The starting salary for the BAE in 2024/25 currently projects to be worth $4,681,000, based on a $141MM cap projection.

A player who signs a contract using the bi-annual exception is eligible for a one- or two-year deal, with a 5% raise for the second season. For a player signed using the BAE in 2023/24, the maximum value of a two-year contract is $9,257,800.

Teams also have the option of splitting the bi-annual exception among multiple players, though that happens much less frequently than it does with the mid-level exception, since a split bi-annual deal may not even be worth more than a veteran’s minimum salary.

The bi-annual exception begins to prorate downward on January 10 each year, decreasing in value by 1/174th each day until the end of the regular season. However, a team that uses its BAE between Jan. 10 and the trade deadline wouldn’t be subject to that proration and could use the full amount it has left on the exception.

Note: This is a Hoops Rumors Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to trades, free agency, or other aspects of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.

Earlier versions of this post were published in previous years by Luke Adams and Chuck Myron.

Several Two-Way Players Nearing Active Game Limit

A player who signs a two-way contract with an NBA team is permitted to be active for up to 50 regular season games. That limit is prorated if the player signed his two-way deal after the regular season got underway — for instance, a player who finalized a two-way contract halfway through the season would be permitted to be active for up to 25 contests at the NBA level.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Two-Way Contract]

Several two-way players have been promoted to standard contracts recently, eliminating those games-played limits. GG Jackson (Grizzlies), Keon Ellis (Kings), Lindy Waters III (Thunder), Craig Porter Jr. (Cavaliers), Duop Reath (Trail Blazers), and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Pelicans) have all signed new deals since the trade deadline.

However, there are still a number of players on two-way contracts around the league who are at or near their active-game limit for the season. Keith Smith of Spotrac (Twitter link) identifies Celtics big man Neemias Queta, Mavericks guard Brandon Williams, Grizzlies guard Jacob Gilyard, and Hornets teammates Leaky Black and Nathan Mensah as two-way players who have 10 or fewer active games left, while Hawks guard Trent Forrest has already reached his 50-game limit.

In some cases, promotions to the standard roster may be forthcoming. Queta, for instance, has been a semi-regular contributor off the bench for the Celtics, who have an open spot on their 15-man roster, so if Boston wants to make him playoff-eligible and ensure he’s able to be active for the rest of the regular season, a contract conversion would be pretty straightforward.

Other cases could be trickier. While the Hawks would presumably like to have Forrest available for the rest of the season, they have a full 15-man roster, so they’d have to waive someone to make room to promote him.

Atlanta at least has some viable release candidates on its roster — for instance, veterans Patty Mills and Wesley Matthews haven’t played much and aren’t owed guaranteed money beyond this season. But that’s not the case in Memphis, where Gilyard has made a strong case for a promotion from his two-way deal by averaging 4.7 points and 3.5 assists in 37 games (17.7 MPG), with a .425 3PT%.

The Grizzlies have already promoted Jackson and Vince Williams from two-way contracts and may not have any expendable players left on their 15-man roster who could be cut to make room for Gilyard. Luke Kennard ($14.8MM team option for 2024/25) and Lamar Stevens (unrestricted free agent this summer) are the only Grizzlies not owed any guaranteed money after this season, and both are playing rotation roles for the banged-up club.

“We’ll see what happens when the time comes,” Gilyard said of his uncertain situation, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “As a basketball player, it’s definitely on your mind. I try not to let it affect me. I think that’s probably the worst part about being a point guard is you start to understand things and start to grasp things like that.”

“It’s kind of a juggling act,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said of working within those active-game limits for his two-way players, including Gilyard and Scotty Pippen Jr. “It’s hard to make those decisions, trying to preserve those dates. (Pippen’s) understood it. I was very upfront with him when he came in, (general manager) Zach (Kleiman) and myself. I think when he came in, we were maybe on the 40-game mark, but he didn’t have 40 games available, so it’s very unfortunate.

“Maybe it’s something that we look into as a league because I think he’s earned the opportunity to play every single night. We just have to balance the games he actually has available to him.”

Besides those players who are approaching their games-played limits, there are a few others on two-way contracts around the league who look like candidates to be promoted to standard rosters before the end of the regular season. Nets forward Jalen Wilson and Warriors guard Lester Quinones are among those who were playing regularly for their respective clubs leading up to the All-Star break.

Promoting a player to a standard contract would open up a two-way slot for his team, allowing that club to reset its active-game counter for that slot — at least to some extent. Due to the prorated nature of those game limits, a player who signs a two-way contract today could only be active for up to 16 games the rest of the way, but that’s 16 more games than, say, Forrest is eligible to play for the Hawks as long as he remains on his current two-way deal.

Teams have until March 4 to sign players to two-way contracts, so I expect to see a good deal of roster activity related to two-way slots within the next couple weeks.

Community Shootaround: Fixing The All-Star Game

The NBA continues to tinker with ideas to produce a more competitive All-Star Game, but nothing seems to be working. Scoring records fell Sunday night as the East defeated the West, 211-186, in Indianapolis, but there was little celebration afterward from players, fans or media members following another year of minimal effort and virtually no defense.

As commissioner Adam Silver said dryly at the MVP presentation (video link), “And to the Eastern Conference All-Stars, you scored the most points. Well … congratulations.”

Silver, who had predicted a more watchable contest during his annual All-Star Game press conference, was clearly annoyed by what took place, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Bontemps notes that Silver and NBA executive vice president Joe Dumars have been stressing the need for effort in one of the league’s signature events. Instead, the players produced a lackluster series of dunks and long three-pointers that again raises questions about the future of the game.

LeBron James, an All-Star for the 20th time, summarized the problem of trying to make players care about the outcome when there are no real stakes involved.

“I think it’s something we need to figure out,” said James, who was dealing with a sore left ankle and didn’t play in the second half. “Obviously from a player’s perspective, it’s fun to get up and down. But at the end of the day, our competitive nature don’t like to have free-flowing scoring like that. But I think the good thing that came out of tonight was none of the players were injured, and everybody came out unscathed or how they were before the game started. So it’s a deeper conversation.”

After years of experimenting with having captains choose teams, the NBA went back to its traditional East vs. West format this year. The “Elam Ending” which brought novelty to the game when it was first introduced by setting a target score for teams to reach, has also been dropped.

Several scoring records were set Sunday night, although none of them were all that thrilling to witness, notes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The teams combined for 397 points in the game and 193 in the first half. They also made a record 67 three-pointers on a record 167 attempts. The East made 42 three-pointers and scored 104 points in the first half.

None of it seemed to captivate the crowd or even the players, as Anthony Davis told reporters that he felt the highlight of the night was a dunking exhibition involving hype teams from the Pacers and Bulls before the start of the fourth quarter.

“For me, it’s an All-Star Game, so I will never look at it as being super competitive,” Anthony Edwards said. “It’s always fun. I don’t know what they can do to make it more competitive. I don’t know. I think everyone looks at it … it’s a break, so I don’t think everyone wants to come here and compete.”

It’s not a problem that’s exclusive to the NBA, as other sports have made changes to their All-Star contests over the past decade in an effort to make them more watchable. Some have suggested adopting a U.S. vs. international players format. Some believe the game should be scrapped entirely.

We want to know what you think. Are there changes the NBA can make to improve its All-Game or is the league stuck with an noncompetitive exhibition every year? Please leave your comments in the space below.

2024 NBA Buyout Market Watch

The 2024 NBA trade deadline is behind us, but that doesn’t mean teams are finished making roster moves. With eight weeks left in the 2023/24 regular season, there are still many roster spots to be filled around the league, as well as veterans who might not finish the year with their current teams.

The NBA’s buyout market has been active since the trade deadline and could feature several more moves in the next couple weeks.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Buyouts]

A veteran in an undesirable situation due to his playing time or his team’s place in the standings (or both) could ask to be released and may even be willing to give back a little money to accommodate the move. Some teams might make that decision unilaterally, opting to release a veteran to open up a roster spot for a younger player.

Over the rest of the month, we’ll use the space below to monitor the buyout market, keeping tabs on which veteran players have been bought out or released, and which have found new teams. We’ll also keep an eye on players who are potential buyout candidates. The list will be updated daily.

A player on an NBA contract must be waived by the end of the day on March 1 in order to retain his playoff eligibility, so that will be a key date to watch.

Here’s our breakdown of the 2024 NBA buyout market:

Last updated 2-29-23 (8:06pm CT)

Veterans who have been recently bought out or released this season and are free agents:

Not every player who has been waived this season will be mentioned here. This list is essentially just made up of players with at least a few years of NBA experience who could be of immediate interest to teams in the playoff mix.

For instance, James Bouknight was among the players cut by the Hornets at the trade deadline, but he’s a 23-year-old who has never been a reliable rotation player. He doesn’t fit the profile of a traditional buyout market pickup for a contending team. Players like Bouknight – especially those who were still on rookie contracts – won’t be listed here for that reason.

Veterans who have been bought out or released and joined new teams:

Again, we’re focusing here on players who fit the traditional buyout market profile.

The Hornets signed forward Aleksej Pokusevski after he was waived by the Thunder, but Charlotte is a lottery-bound team bringing in a player who might have some untapped upside, not a playoff contender looking for win-now help. That’s why Pokusevski and similar players aren’t listed here.

Other veterans who are candidates to be bought out or released:

Not all of these players will be bought out or waived. In fact, most of them likely won’t be going anywhere. There have been reports specifically suggesting that some of them are expected to stay where they are for the rest of the season.

Still, until March 1 comes and goes, we’re considering them players worth monitoring.