- The Celtics will enter the 2018/19 season as the favorites to win the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors and Sixers won’t make things easy. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston identifies five keys that could help Toronto or Philadelphia knock off the C’s next season.
For the 10th time in 12 years, John Schuhmann of NBA.com got the opportunity to ask the NBA’s incoming crop of rookies a series of questions related to their fellow draftees.
Historically, the NBA rookies haven’t been particularly clairvoyant when it comes to their predictions — they haven’t accurately identified a Rookie of the Year winner since Kevin Durant in 2007/08. Still, it’s an interesting exercise, and one that occasionally results in a dead-on prediction, like when last year’s rookie class named Donovan Mitchell the steal of the 2017 draft.
Here are a few of the most interesting responses from this year’s rookies about the 2018/19 class:
- Deandre Ayton (Suns) and Collin Sexton (Cavaliers) are viewed as the co-favorites for the Rookie of the Year award this season, with each player earning 18% of the vote. No other rookie had more than a 9% share of the vote.
- Opinions were a little more divided on which player would have the best long-term NBA career, with Wendell Carter Jr. (Bulls) narrowly earning that title by receiving 13% of the vote. Interestingly, reigning EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic (Mavericks) wasn’t picked by a single player for this question.
- No. 48 overall pick Keita Bates-Diop (Timberwolves) was named the steal of the 2018 NBA draft by his fellow rookies, edging out 14th overall pick Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets) and 18th overall pick Lonnie Walker (Spurs).
- Trae Young (Hawks) is widely considered the best shooter and play-maker in this year’s class. Jevon Carter (Grizzlies) earned the most votes for best rookie defender, while Zhaire Smith (Sixers) is viewed as the most athletic rookie.
- Be sure to check out Schuhmann’s full piece for the rest of the rookie survey results.
- Ben Simmons isn’t concerned about the Sixers missing out on LeBron James in free agency. Simmons talks about James’ decision to join the Lakers in a video tweeted by the Australian Daily Telegraph. “He did the right thing for him and his family,” Simmons said. “But it would’ve been great to learn from him, him being on the team and obviously competing for a championship. But we have pieces to get there.”
The Sixers have hired Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout for the 2018/19 season, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com reports. Harding was one of the best women’s basketball players in Duke history and was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.
“I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn’t even matter,” Harding said about landing the position. “It should be about if you can do it, if you’re good, you’re experienced, if you know what you’re doing and what you’re talking about.”
Harding spent last season in the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates Program, She interviewed with several NBA teams with an eye on a role that would allow her to get exposure to the front office.
“I would love to be in the front office and really understand how to put a team together,” she said. “I still love being on the floor and having the opportunity to coach. But I really just wanted to get my foot in the door.”
Harding is the second former WNBA player to be hired in a full-time scouting role, as Jenny Boucek, who is now a Mavericks assistant coach, performed advanced scouting work for the SuperSonics in 2006.
Joel Embiid‘s ability to work out this summer without restrictions may turn out to be the Sixers’ biggest offseason improvement, as Derek Bodner of The Athletic details. Embiid has always been in rehab mode from foot or knee injuries during his previous offseasons, Bodner notes. This summer, Embiid has been working with renown skills coach Drew Hanlen to refine his offensive game, which could vault Embiid into a greater level of dominance and consistency, Bodner continues. Hanlen has put a great emphasis on making Embiid virtually unstoppable in the low post while also creating more open looks for his teammates and committing fewer turnovers, Bodner adds.
Sixers rookie guard Shake Milton was recently cleared to resume limited basketball activities, according to an update on the team’s website. Milton was held out of summer-league action due to a stress fracture in his back. Another update on his status will be provided in approximately four weeks. The former SMU standout signed a two-way contract in late July. Another first-year guard, Landry Shamet, has resumed light basketball activities. The 26th overall pick suffered a right ankle sprain during summer league action.
Winning a division isn’t as crucial in the NBA as it is in many other major professional sports leagues in North America. In the NBA, a club is more likely to worry about its playoff seed within the conference than its spot in the divisional standings.
Still, even if winning a division doesn’t assure a team of a first-round bye or a weak opponent in the postseason, there will be at least one NBA divisional race worth keeping a close eye on in 2018/19. The Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers project to be not just the top three teams in the Atlantic but also the three best teams in the Eastern Conference, based on a handful of early win-loss projections from oddsmakers.
According to sports betting site Bodog.eu, for instance, the Celtics have an over/under of 58.5 wins for next season, followed by Toronto and Philadelphia at 54.5. No other Eastern Conference team is projected for more than 46.5 wins.
The forecast for the Atlantic makes sense. The Raptors (59-23), Celtics (55-27), and 76ers (52-30) were the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference in 2017/18, and there’s no reason to expect any of them to take a huge step back.
The Celtics should have Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back to lead a deep rotation that includes Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris, among others. Young Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons now have a full year under their belts, and if 2017’s first overall pick Markelle Fultz can bounce back from a lost rookie season, Philadelphia has a scary amount of high-level talent on its roster.
The Raptors underwent the most significant changes of any of the Atlantic’s top three teams this summer, with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey on the sidelines and Kawhi Leonard replacing DeMar DeRozan on the court. If Nurse struggles in his first NBA head coaching job and/or Leonard isn’t fully healthy, the Raptors figure to fall short of their projections, but their upside is as high as that of any team in the East.
We want to get your thoughts on how the Atlantic division will play out this season. Will the Celtics make good on their status as favorites and take the division? Will the Raptors defend their Atlantic title? Will the Sixers take a big step forward as their young stars continue to improve? What order do you expect those top three Atlantic teams to finish in?
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NBA teams have now completed the brunt of their offseason work, with the draft and free agency practically distant memories. Still, with training camps more than a month away, most clubs around the league have at least one or two outstanding issues they’ve yet to address.
Over the next week, we’ll be looking at all 30 NBA teams, separating them by division and checking in on the key outstanding question that each club still needs to answer before the 2018/19 regular season begins.
We’re starting today with the Atlantic division, so let’s dive right in…
Outside of continuing to work with both Hayward and Irving during their rehab processes, the Celtics don’t have a ton of agency when it comes to answering this question — they can only hope for the best for their two injured stars.
While Hayward and Irving are both expected to be ready to go for the 2018/19 season, that’s not an absolute lock, as neither player has participated in 5-on-5 action to date.
Given the constant speculation about the health of other key Eastern players returning from injuries (think Kawhi Leonard), it only seems fair to take a similar view on the Celtics — they’ll be title contenders if Hayward and Irving get healthy and stay healthy. With just over two months until opening night arrives, that’s the key issue facing a Celtics team that otherwise seems all set for the season.
Much has been made about the Nets‘ projected 2019 cap space, particularly after the team was able to ditch Timofey Mozgov‘s pricey multiyear contract earlier this summer. While we expect the Nets to pursue multiple top free agents from other clubs, it’s also worth noting that they could be faced with decisions on a couple key restricted free agents of their own.
Russell and Hollis-Jefferson are eligible for rookie scale extensions right up until October 15, but if they don’t sign new deals by that point, they’ll be on track for restricted free agency next summer. While the Nets would still have the right of first refusal on both players at that point, they’d have less control over each player’s future — if another team comes in with an aggressive offer sheet for either RFA, it could complicate Brooklyn’s own free agency plans.
Even if the Nets view Russell and Hollis-Jefferson as key parts of their core, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither player is extended this year. Letting those contracts expire will allow Brooklyn to maximize its flexibility in the free agent market in 2019.
New York Knicks
Will the Knicks sign Kristaps Porzingis to a rookie scale extension?
Like their crosstown rivals, the Knicks have a rookie scale extension of their own to worry about. Porzingis is a lock to be extended by New York at some point, likely on a maximum-salary deal. But the timing of his next contract remains up in the air.
The Knicks don’t project to have as much cap room next offseason as the Nets and other clubs, but they can still create enough space to potentially make a splash on the free agent market. That would become much more difficult with a new extension for Porzingis already on their cap.
If the Knicks sign KP to a max extension now, he’d count for approximately $27.25MM in 2019/20 when the new league year begins. If they wait until next year to give him a new deal, his cap hold would be about $17.1MM until he officially signs, creating about $10MM in extra space for the Knicks to use before going over the cap to lock up Porzingis.
Between the extra cap flexibility and Porzingis’ ongoing ACL recovery, I expect New York to pass on a rookie scale extension this year. If they take that route though, the Knicks will have to be ready to put a huge, player-friendly offer on the table next year to avoid having Porzingis accept an offer sheet from another team that would allow him to reach free agency sooner.
Who will the Sixers hire as their new head of basketball operations?
Since Bryan Colangelo‘s dismissal in early June, the Sixers have operated without a permanent general manager. Head coach Brett Brown has technically served as the interim GM over the last couple months, though several members of Philadelphia’s front office have been involved in roster decisions.
With the Sixers’ roster for 2018/19 all but set, there’s no longer a rush to get a permanent replacement for Colangelo installed right away, but it’s still an issue the organization should look to address before the regular season begins.
The 76ers reportedly made a run at Rockets GM Daryl Morey, and have been rumored to be targeting other big names too. However, outside of the Morey report, we haven’t heard a whole lot of specifics on the team’s search as of late.
Although the top candidates for the job and the timeline for a hire remain uncertain, it’s important that the Sixers get this right — next summer will be the last time that the club projects to have significant cap room before extensions for Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are due, so it’ll be a big year for Philadelphia’s front office.
Will the Raptors look to shed salary before the season begins?
The Raptors‘ offseason player movement has been fairly clear-cut — Kawhi Leonard replaces DeMar DeRozan as the team’s on-court leader, and Greg Monroe and Danny Green figure to step in for Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira in the rotation. However, those roster moves didn’t cut costs at all for a Raptors squad whose team salary is now well beyond the tax line.
With approximately $140MM in guaranteed money on Toronto’s books after the signing of Monroe, it will be interesting to see whether the club still hopes to shed salary in a salary-dump deal, or if team ownership is prepared to pay a sizable tax bill for a roster with the potential to contend for a title.
While Green or C.J. Miles would probably be easier to trade, the Raptors may prefer to move someone like Norman Powell, assuming they’re still looking to make a deal. Powell no longer has a clear role in a crowded wing rotation and his four-year, $42MM extension represents one of the only commitments on Toronto’s books beyond 2019/20.
I’d be surprised if the Raptors haven’t talked to the Kings, who could use some help at small forward and still have the cap room necessary to take on Powell. But there’s not necessarily a huge rush for the Raps to move a contract or two immediately — they could always wait until the trade deadline to try again to trim salary.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Free agent signees, trade acquisitions, and 2018 draftees are the most common additions to NBA rosters this summer. However, a small number of players will come via the draft-and-stash route, as teams bring aboard players drafted in previous years.
While players who were previously selected in the second round of a draft are free to sign any type of contract via cap room or exceptions, first-round draftees are limited to the 2018 rookie scale, unless it has been more than three years since they were selected. It doesn’t seem that will apply to any draft-and-stash signings in 2018, as former first-rounders like Anzejs Pasecniks (Sixers, 2017) aren’t coming stateside.
Listed below are the draft-and-stash prospects who have signed so far this offseason, with contract details noted. If and when more teams add draft-and-stash players, we’ll update this list, which can be found at anytime on the right-hand sidebar of our desktop site under “Hoops Rumors Features,” or in the “Features” page in our mobile menu.
- Isaiah Hartenstein, PF (2017 draft; No. 43): A second-round pick last summer, Hartenstein signed a G League contract after being drafted, allowing the Rockets to retain his NBA rights while they got a closer look at him with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The big man didn’t put up huge numbers in the G League (9.5 PPG and 6.6 RPG in 38 games), but the Rockets will move him to the NBA roster as they continue to work on his development.
- Contract: Three years, minimum salary ($3,919,177). Fully guaranteed in year one. Last two years non-guaranteed. Signed using portion of taxpayer mid-level exception.
- Jonah Bolden, PF (2017 draft; No. 36): The Sixers‘ roster was overloaded with young players in 2017/18, so it made sense for Bolden – who already had international experience – to remain overseas, seeing minutes for Maccabi Tel Aviv, a high-caliber EuroLeague squad. The plan for Bolden was always to join the 76ers after a year, and that didn’t change when the team’s front office underwent an unexpected overhaul this offseason — Bolden officially signed on July 25.
- Contract: Four years, $7,000,000. Fully guaranteed in years one and two. Last two years non-guaranteed. Signed using cap room.
AUGUST 10: Smith underwent surgery on Thursday evening to repair the Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, the Sixers announced in a press release. The club intends to update Smith’s recovery timetable at a later date.
AUGUST 7: An MRI on the injured left foot of Sixers rookie Zhaire Smith has revealed a Jones fracture, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. According to Charania, Smith – who hurt his foot on Monday during a developmental camp in Las Vegas – will see another specialist in Philadelphia, but is expected to undergo surgery later this week.
It’s a tough blow for a 76ers team that has had bad luck with injuries to top draft picks in recent years. Former third overall pick Joel Embiid didn’t appear in a regular season game until his third year in the NBA, 2016’s No. 1 selection Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season, and 2017’s top pick Markelle Fultz played just 14 games last year.
While Smith won’t enter the NBA faced with the same expectations that Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz had, he was Philadelphia’s top selection in the 2018 draft. The former Texas Tech forward, the No. 16 pick, was acquired by the Sixers on draft night along with a future first-rounder in a trade that sent 10th overall pick Mikal Bridges to Phoenix.
The Sixers likely won’t announce a timeline for Smith’s recovery until after he undergoes surgery, but the team has been very cautious with injuries to key young players. While that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t see Smith at all during his rookie year, a similar injury sidelined Simmons for a full season in 2016/17, as Derek Bodner of The Athletic notes (via Twitter).