Hoops Rumors Originals

Five Key Offseason Questions: Brooklyn Nets

After spending several years mired in NBA obscurity as the ramifications of an ill-fated trade with Boston limited their ability to acquire impact talent, the Nets finally broke through in 2018/19, earning their first playoff berth since 2015.

Suddenly, with the weight of the Celtics trade off their shoulders (Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick was the final piece of that deal), the Nets have a bright future ahead of them. They managed to add young talent like D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen in recent years despite a dearth of lottery picks, and they’re now positioned to bring in one or two star free agents to complement their young core.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. What does the Nets’ Allen Crabbe trade signify?

It’s rare for two NBA teams to reach an agreement on a trade before the NBA Finals end, but the Nets and Hawks did just that last week, agreeing to a swap that will send Crabbe to Atlanta along with two first-round picks (this year’s No. 17 overall selection and next year’s top-14 protected pick). In return, Brooklyn will receive solid young wing Taurean Prince, Atlanta’s 2021 second-round pick, and – most importantly – additional cap flexibility.

The trade can’t officially be completed until July for cap reasons. But after removing the cap hold for the No. 17 pick ($2.96MM) and Crabbe’s expiring salary ($18.5MM) from their books and replacing it with Prince’s expiring deal ($3.48MM) and an empty roster charge ($897K), the Nets will have created about $17MM in extra cap space.

Before the deal, the Nets had no path to two maximum-salary slots and wouldn’t have had enough space for even a single max free agent if they’d retained Russell’s cap hold. Now, even if Russell sticks around, the club can comfortably afford a max-level player along with a second free agent above the mid-level. Renouncing Russell would clear a path to two max slots (with a caveat, as we’ll explain in the next section).

Teams generally don’t make this sort of move unless they know something — the Nets aren’t giving up two first-round picks to shed salary unless they’re pretty confident that the extra cap space will come in handy.

It’s probably not a coincidence that rumors linking Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn heated up right around the same time this deal was agreed upon. While things could change in the next few weeks, the possibility of Irving becoming a Net looks increasingly likely in the wake of the Crabbe trade, as a Thursday report suggested.

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Hoops Rumors Originals: 6/8/19 – 6/15/19

Every week, the Hoops Rumors writing team creates original content to complement our news feed. Here are our segments and features from the past seven days:

Five Key Offseason Questions: Utah Jazz

After a torrid second-half run to finish the 2017/18 season, the Jazz entered the 2018/19 campaign widely viewed as a probable top-four seed in the Western Conference. A brutal first-half schedule ultimately prevented Utah from reaching that goal, but the team finished strong again and reached the 50-win mark.

Unfortunately, for a second straight postseason, the Jazz found themselves matched up against their nemeses in Houston, and were unable to take more than a single game from the Rockets. The Jazz had a pretty quiet offseason a year ago, but in the wake of their early exit from the playoffs, they appear far less likely to run it back with the same roster again.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. How drastically will the Jazz change their roster?

A year ago, the Jazz bet on continuity and the continued improvement of young players like Donovan Mitchell and Dante Exum. The team figures to take a different approach this time around, as newly-promoted president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey indicated at season’s end.

“We want to move the group forward,” Lindsey told reporters after the Jazz were eliminated from the postseason. “And while we have a very good team, the results told us that we don’t have a great team.”

Lindsey’s comments suggest changes are on the way, but we know that the Jazz aren’t about to rebuild their roster from the ground up. Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are safe. Joe Ingles probably isn’t going anywhere either. However, there may not be many guarantees beyond that.

Derrick Favors has been in Utah since coming over from the Nets as the centerpiece of the Deron Williams trade in 2011, but his $17.6MM salary for next season is non-guaranteed, and he isn’t a lock to return.

Ricky Rubio has been the Jazz’s starting point guard for the last two seasons, but he told an international outlet earlier this month that he may not be in the team’s plans going forward.

The Jazz have been high on Exum since selecting him fifth overall in the 2014 draft, but after another injury-plagued season, it’s not clear how much longer the Australian point guard will be a fixture in Utah.

The Jazz’s core isn’t going anywhere, but there’s a possibility the pieces around them will look significantly different in 2019/20.

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NBA Offseason Trade Restrictions

While the NBA’s offseason trade market generally doesn’t officially swing into gear until after the NBA Finals end, teams can technically begin making deals after they’re eliminated from the playoffs. That means all 28 clubs that aren’t taking part in the Finals are eligible to make trades now, if they so choose — the Hawks and Nets agreed to the first one of the summer last week.

As teams weigh potential offseason trades, they’ll have to take into account a few groups of players whose trade eligibility – or lack thereof – may impact possible deals. While most players under contract through the summer are eligible to be moved, there are some exceptions. Here are the players who can’t be dealt for part or all of the offseason due to various trade rules:

Pending free agents

Players whose contracts will expire on June 30 can’t be traded prior to that date. Beginning in July, they can be moved in sign-and-trade deals, but those are rare. Once a 2019 free agent officially signs a new contract, he is ineligible to be traded until at least December 15, and perhaps even later than that if he meets certain criteria.

Player with options

Players who have team or player options for 2019/20 can’t be traded before those option decisions are made. In other words, a club can’t acquire a player with a team option in June, then decline that option before the end of the month as a way to create cap room.

However, a player who has an option year for ’19/20 on his contract technically can be traded, either before or after the new league year begins. As part of the deal though, his option would need to be exercised. That’s what happened a couple years ago with Chris Paul, for instance, when he was sent from Los Angeles to Houston.

So if the Heat want to explore trading Goran Dragic this summer, for instance, they’d have to rely on him exercising his player option for next season. If he turns down that option, he can’t be moved prior to June 30, and could only be moved in a sign-and-trade in July, significantly reducing the odds of a deal.

Recently signed players

The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t allow a team to trade a player within three months of signing him. So a player who signed with a team on March 14 still isn’t eligible to be dealt, as of today. Here are the players who signed multiyear contracts near the end of the 2018/19 season and aren’t yet eligible to be traded, along with dates representing the end of their three-month windows:

Players who sign Designated Veteran Extensions

Rookie scale extensions and standard veteran extensions impose some trade restrictions on players, but the Designated Veteran Extension takes those restrictions to another level by preventing its recipients from being traded for one full calendar year. That means anyone who signs such a deal this summer – say, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – wouldn’t be able to be traded for 12 months.

Besides Lillard, Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Kemba Walker (Hornets) are also eligible for super-max contracts with their respective teams this offseason and would be ineligible to be traded for a full year if they sign them.

Waiver claims

Players who are claimed off waivers during the offseason can’t be traded until the 30th day of the following season. That means a team claiming a player off waivers this summer won’t be eligible to trade that player until mid-November.

Update: This restriction won’t apply Deyonta Davis, who was claimed off waivers from Atlanta by the Rockets on Wednesday. Even though Houston’s season is over, the league’s offseason doesn’t technically begin until after the NBA Finals ends, as cap expert Albert Nahmad clarifies (via Twitter). Davis will become trade-eligible on July 12, 30 days after he was claimed. A player claimed off waivers after the Finals end won’t be eligible to be moved until November.

Recently signed draftees

Recently drafted players are often dealt on draft night before they’ve officially signed their first NBA contracts, since there are no restrictions limiting a team’s ability to trade a player’s draft rights. However, once the player officially signs his rookie contract, he can’t be moved for a full month (30 days).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Five Key Offseason Questions: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers‘ refusal to slide too far down the Eastern Conference standings after Victor Oladipo‘s season-ending quad injury in 2018/19 was representative of the franchise’s history over the last three decades. Throughout multiple management regimes, Indiana has never seriously considered bottoming out and building through the lottery — the team hasn’t won fewer than 32 games in a season since 1988/89.

Even with Oladipo still recovering and six of their eight playoff rotation regulars headed for unrestricted free agency, the Pacers will carry that approach into the 2019 offseason and into the ’19/20 season. As long as Indiana doesn’t have a disastrous offseason, it’s probably safe to assume we’ll see the club back in the playoffs again in 2020.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Which of their free agents do the Pacers want to bring back?

Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Wesley Matthews, Tyreke Evans, and Kyle O’Quinn are all on track to reach the open market this summer, so it’s possible the Pacers’ roster will look very different next season. Still, I’d expect the team to try to re-sign at least a couple of its free agents.

We can rule out Evans as an option — he has been disqualified from playing in the NBA for the next two seasons for violating the league’s drug policy. I’d also be surprised if O’Quinn returns. He didn’t play a regular role for Indiana after signing for the room exception, and will likely seek a team willing to give him more consistent backup minutes.

The Pacers figure to at least kick the tires on the rest of their free agents though, with Bogdanovic topping the list of priorities. The 30-year-old sharpshooter took on more substantial scoring and play-making responsibilities following Oladipo’s injury, and while he won’t play that same role if the Pacers’ MVP comes back healthy, Bogdanovic proved that he can be a very valuable asset. He’ll be in line for a raise on his $10.5MM salary, and Indiana is in a good position to give it to him.

The Pacers will look to bring back Bogdanovic for his offensive skill set, but for Young, it’s his defensive versatility that makes him a reliable contributor. Although he can chip in on the offense end – even a little as a passer, as his career-high 2.5 APG showed – Young’s value stems from his ability to capably guard both wings and bigs. If Indiana can bring him back at a price similar to – or below – his $13.76MM salary from last season, that’d be a solid investment.

Collison, Joseph, and Matthews are all candidates to return. However, I wouldn’t expect both point guards to re-sign in Indiana, and it’s possible the team won’t aggressively pursue either. Matthews, meanwhile, joined the Pacers on the buyout market because of the team’s promise of a significant role. With Oladipo on his way back, there’s no guarantee that Indiana would be able to offer him that sort of playing time again.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Oklahoma City Thunder

An MVP-caliber season from Paul George had the Thunder looking like one of the Warriors’ most dangerous challengers for the Western Conference crown for much of the year. However, with George battling a shoulder issue by season’s end, the team once again flamed out early in the playoffs, as Damian Lillard ended Oklahoma City’s season with a memorable dagger in Game 5 of the first round.

After paying a league-high $61MM+ luxury tax bill for a roster that produced a single postseason win, Thunder ownership will have to decide whether to double down or pull back for the 2019/20 campaign. The club’s front office will in turn have its offseason options impacted by that decision.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Will the Thunder trade any core pieces?

The Thunder’s de facto “Big Three” – George, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams – will combine to earn more than $97MM next season, and all three players have multiple guaranteed seasons left on their respective contracts. If Oklahoma City wants to cut costs going forward, moving one of those players would be a start.

It’s not just about shedding salary though. The Thunder haven’t won a playoff series since Kevin Durant‘s departure in 2016. Westbrook and Adams were cornerstones in each of those three seasons, while George has been there for the last two. As the sample size keeps increasing and the postseason losses keep piling up, it’s fair to question whether this core is capable of making a deep playoff run — especially since the exorbitant cost of the trio limits the Thunder’s ability to add reinforcements.

George, who will earn $33MM in 2019/20, certainly proved last season that he’s worth the price tag, and there’s no chance that the Thunder will look to move him one year after he committed to the organization long-term.

Westbrook, who will make $38.5MM in the second season of his five-year super-max deal, has a more unfavorable contract, but he’s not going anywhere either. As his efficiency numbers continue to slip, it’s looking increasingly likely that the last couple years of his contract ($44.2MM in 2021/22; $47MM in 2022/23) will be hard to swallow, but he’s the heart and soul of the Thunder, and the engine who drives the team. Oklahoma City wouldn’t seriously consider trading him unless he wanted out.

That leaves Adams, who looks like the only realistic trade candidate of the group. If the Thunder could take his $25.8MM cap charge and commit half that money to a stretch four and the other half a to a two-way wing, I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to do so. But the odds of finding a trade along those lines are slim. It wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma City gauges the trade market for Adams this summer, but there won’t be teams clamoring to acquire him at that price.

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Why NBA Sign-And-Trades Are Rare

With NBA free agency around the corner, speculation about teams’ targets and players’ potential destinations is running rampant, and that speculation often leads to discussion of possible sign-and-trade deals. After all, sign-and-trade arrangements seem like win-win scenarios — the player gets to go to his preferred landing spot, while his old team isn’t left without anything to show for a departing free agent.

While sign-and-trade deals may make sense in theory though, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement makes them tricky in reality, particularly for elite free agents. Since the 2015 offseason, a total of four sign-and-trade deals have been completed, an average of just one per year.

The Knicks acquired Kyle O’Quinn in a 2015 sign-and-trade, while the Grizzlies and Bucks signed-and-traded for Troy Daniels and Matthew Dellavedova, respectively, in 2016. In 2017, the Clippers acquired Danilo Gallinari via sign-and-trade. No sign-and-trade deals were completed in 2018.

Not only have sign-and-trades become rare, but the compensation for the player’s old team has been next to non-existent. The most valuable assets received in any of those four aforementioned sign-and-trade deals since 2015 have been distant second-round draft picks or cash.

Why exactly are sign-and-trades becoming so rare for NBA teams and players? Here are a few reasons:

1. Players can only get full maximum salary contracts (five years, 8% annual raises) if they remain with their previous team.

Under old versions of the NBA’s CBA, a sign-and-trade deal allowed a player to sign for the true max – in terms of total years and annual raises – even though he wasn’t remaining with his previous team. That’s no longer the case.

If, for instance, the Celtics were to sign-and-trade Kyrie Irving to another club this summer, he wouldn’t be able to receive the five years or 8% annual raises that he would if he re-signed with Boston — he’d still be eligible for the same starting salary, but would be limited to four years and 5% raises, reducing the overall value of his max contract by nearly $50MM, based on current cap projections.

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Five Key Offseason Questions: Detroit Pistons

Thanks to an All-Star season from Blake Griffin, the Pistons reached the playoffs for just the second time since the 2008/09 season. Their postseason stay didn’t last long, as they were swept in the opening round by the top-seeded Bucks.

Making improvements to the team this offseason will be challenging for the front office. They are saddled with some bad contracts that will prevent them for pursuing top-level free agents. Talent is thin beyond the frontcourt duo of Griffin and Andre Drummond and they need to find some shooters. The team ranked only above the woeful Knicks in field-goal shooting percentage this season.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Will they keep the Blake Griffin/Andre Drummond/Reggie Jackson core intact?

It’s unlikely the Pistons will go into full tank mode after making the playoffs for the second time in a decade. Once the gold standard among Eastern Conference franchises by reaching the conference finals from 2003-08, the Pistons have been irrelevant for too long to start all over again.

Griffin has given the franchise the star power it has sorely lacked for many years. He has reshaped his game over the years, turning himself into a stretch four, ballhandler and playmaker. Moreover, concerns over how Griffin would handle the switch from Los Angeles to snowy Detroit have evaporated. He’s become the clear team leader and spokesman while endearing himself to teammates, coaches and staff members with his work ethic and professionalism.

Drummond is a tricky case. He’s the league’s premier rebounder and one of its most mobile big men. His offensive game has shown improvement, particularly at the free throw line where he’s gone from historically awful to somewhat respectable. He’s also shown some improvement defensively, leading the team in blocks and steals, though his presence doesn’t discourage opponents from attacking the paint.

The bigger question mark is Drummond’s future plans. He holds a player option on his contract after next season at $28.75MM. If he intends to opt out, the Pistons could explore trades to pile up assets rather than risk losing him for nothing more than salary-cap space next summer.

Jackson ranked 32nd among point guards on ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating scale. Injuries have set his career back, though his play perked up after the All-Star break. There’s little doubt the Pistons would jump at the chance to upgrade at the point, since coach Dwane Casey‘s scheme isn’t reliant on pick-and-rolls and Jackson is more comfortable running those sets.

Jackson becomes a free agent next summer, so the cap-strapped Pistons may simply roll with him next season and then replace him.

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James Ennis On Potential Return To Sixers: “I Would Love To Come Back”

Swingman James Ennis hopes to re-sign with the Sixers on a new, long-term deal in free agency, one that could give him some newfound stability in what’s been a roller coaster career to date, the 28-year-old told Hoops Rumors.

Ennis, who was a key cog off the 76ers’ bench during the playoffs, got traded to Philadelphia halfway through the season after starting the campaign in Houston. He worked his way up the ladder and gained more playing time, quickly earning the trust of head coach Brett Brown.

Ennis — along with agent Scott Nichols of Rize Management — informed the Sixers of his decision to decline a $1.85MM player option for the 2019/20 season last month. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent once free agency opens on June 30 at 6:00pm eastern time.

“I love the [Sixers] fans,” Ennis told Hoops Rumors. “I love how they support the team. I like Philly a lot and I would love to come back.”

Ennis, who held per-game averages of 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 21.1 minutes in the playoffs, is expected to seek a more lucrative multiyear deal and will receive interest from multiple teams.

The Sixers’ ability to retain Ennis could hinge in part on what Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick choose to do in free agency. Philadelphia will only hold Ennis’ Non-Bird rights, limiting the club’s ability to offer much of a raise, so cap room or another exception will likely be required to bring him back. Another franchise in need of a serviceable bench option could steal him away if the right contract is offered.

“It’s good to have leverage,” Ennis said of declining his player option. “When you have stability, you’re more comfortable. You know when you’re going to play, how much you’re going to play, it makes it easier. It was more consistent [playing time] towards the end of the season going into the playoffs. I was comfortable.”

Ennis has made stops with a handful of teams in his five-season NBA career, spending time with Miami, Memphis (twice), New Orleans, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia. During that time, he has worked hard to establish himself as a two-way player, which is a major reason why he’s expected to seek a multiyear deal on the open market.

“I know my worth,” Ennis said. “I’ve put in a lot of work, and I know I’m better than a lot of the players who get $40MM [multiyear deals]. I know I’m better than a lot of players and I showed it in the playoffs — if you call my number I’ll be ready and I can produce.”

For Ennis, a journeyman now set to bet on himself in unrestricted free agency, declining his player option didn’t signify a desire to leave the 76ers. He has already held discussions with Brown about how he can improve his game entering next season, labeling defense and three-point shooting as two major areas to work on this offseason.

“I’m always gonna try to get better defensively, lateral movements and stuff like that,” Ennis said. “But just being a consistent knock-down three-point shooter [is the goal]. I think I shoot the ball okay, but I’ll be an elite shooter next year. Definitely.”

Sixers general manager Elton Brand will certainly have his hands full in free agency with the decisions of Butler, Harris, Redick and others this summer. But Ennis’ situation shouldn’t be ignored, especially given the club’s depth issues down the stretch.

Brand and his contingent have less than three weeks to develop a game plan for how they can re-sign their free agents, many of whom helped the team go down to the wire in a Game 7 against Toronto in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Bringing back those free agents was the Sixers’ goal when Ennis, Butler and Harris were acquired in separate trades during the season, and it’s still publicly and privately their primary goal today.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Five Key Offseason Questions: San Antonio Spurs

The typically drama-free Spurs underwent some turmoil during the 2018 offseason. Having lost faith in the team after the way his quad injury was handled, Kawhi Leonard – the superstar who was supposed to lead the organization into the post-Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker era – asked for a trade.

The Spurs, who don’t often make blockbuster deals, granted his request, sending the star forward to Toronto in a four-player trade that saw another All-Star (DeMar DeRozan) land in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich‘s squad didn’t miss a beat, winning 48 games and extending its NBA-best playoff streak to 22 consecutive seasons. But with Leonard no longer around, the Spurs’ path back to championship contention looks murkier.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Are the Spurs content to move forward with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way?

As noted above, the Spurs generally don’t head into offseasons – or trade deadlines – looking to shake up their roster with deals involving core players. Assuming they continue to operate that way, we can probably count on seeing a 2019/20 team that looks pretty similar to the 2018/19 squad, with San Antonio aiming to take a step forward by betting on Dejounte Murray‘s return and improvements from young players like Derrick White and Lonnie Walker.

Still, while the Spurs looked great at times last season, it’s fair to question the upside of a roster led by DeRozan and Aldridge. They’ve each made multiple All-NBA teams and – even as they enter their age-30 and age-34 seasons, respectively – should continue to produce going forward. But their heavy reliance on mid-range shots is unusual by modern NBA standards, and creates an increased degree of difficulty in a league where the most efficient and successful clubs are leaning heavily on three-pointers, shots at the rim, and free throws.

DeRozan and Aldridge each have just one guaranteed year left on their contracts — DeRozan has a 2020/21 player option, while Aldridge has a partial guarantee for that season. In other words, there could be some uncertainty about their status beyond the ’19/20 campaign.

If the Spurs want to get out ahead of that uncertainty, they could consider the possibility of moving one of their stars. Popovich has never shown much interest in dealing with the Lakers, but I can’t help but think that they’d be a good trade partner for the Spurs if they miss out on other top targets. The Lakers made a run at Aldridge in 2015 and DeRozan is a Los Angeles native, while some of their young players could really blossom under Popovich.

Again, given what we know about the Spurs, the idea that they’d make a blockbuster deal for a second straight summer is unlikely, but it’s still a concept worth considering.

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