Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Bledsoe’s gamble bigger than Monroe’s

bledsoe

In his first season as a full-time starter, the 24-year-old Eric Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Greg Monroe and the Detroit Pistons made it official on Monday: Monroe will play this season for $5.5 million, the amount of the one-year qualifying offer. He could have pocketed more than $12 million next season and reportedly more than $60 million over the next five seasons had he agreed to the Pistons’ offer.

Few players shun their first opportunity to ink a big-money extension. But that’s how disillusioned the 24-year-old power forward has become after four seasons of totaling 86 games under .500 in the Motor City, even as Stan Van Gundy offers stability and, potentially, a new direction as coach and team president.

The 6-foot-11 Monroe is gambling millions that he’ll remain a picture of good health (he’s played in 309 of 312 games in his career) and will keep improving (he averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds last season), allowing him to control his free agency and cash in with a team of his choosing next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Monroe was a restricted free agent this summer. The Pistons offered to make him their highest-paid player, but reportedly never put a max contract on the table. Sign-and-trade scenarios couldn’t be worked out, setting up the stalemate that lasted into September.

Former Detroit general manager Joe Dumars forced this situation by overreaching for power forward Josh Smith last summer and squeezing him in as a small forward. The Redwood-like frontline of Smith, who loves to shoot the 3, but isn’t good at it, plus Monroe and up-and-coming center Andre Drummond didn’t work. Monroe decided he wasn’t going to hitch himself to the franchise long-term without a better idea of how the team will look beyond this season.

While it certainly would appear that Monroe will be playing one last season in Detroit, Van Gundy can attempt to change that by catering to Monroe and working to somehow unload Smith’s contract which has three years and $40.5 million remaining. Still, with the large number of teams that will have cap space and shopping for a quality, young big next summer, Detroit stands to lose Monroe no matter what magic Van Gundy can pull.

“I have said from Day 1 that we have great respect for Greg as a person and like what he brings to this team as a player,” Van Gundy said in a statement. “We have had good dialogue with Greg throughout the off-season, with the understanding that there were multiple options for both parties involved, and we respect his decision. We look forward to a great year from Greg as we continue to build our team moving forward.”

To his credit, Monroe issued a statement in which he said he was looking forward to playing for Van Gundy. So at least it appears relations between the two sides haven’t grown completely sour, which can’t be said for the last remaining high-profile free agent, point guard Eric Bledsoe, and the Phoenix Suns.

Bledsoe, 24, long ago rejected the Suns’ reported four-year, $48-million offer, a deal that would have paid the restricted free agent the same as Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and put him on par with many of his peers despite having only started 78 games in his four seasons and missing half of last season with a knee injury.

He has yet to sign the qualifying offer that would pay him $3.7 million and make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

With $48 million on the table, Bledsoe is taking a significant risk, an even bigger risk than Monroe. He doesn’t have the track record of good health like Monroe, and big men always — eventually — get paid because good ones are so hard to find. Monroe is confident max money will be waiting for him.

Bledsoe can’t confidently claim the same even if he produces an All-Star-worthy season.

What Bledsoe has that Monroe doesn’t, and what should not be discounted by the young talent, is his is a team on the rise with a coach, Jeff Hornacek, who implemented an up-tempo system well-suited for Bledsoe’s game.

In his first season as a full-time starter (remember he was behind Chris Paul with the Clippers for three seasons before being traded to Phoenix), Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 32.9 minutes. He shot 47.7 percent overall and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.

When Bledsoe was healthy, he and Goran Dragic were dynamite as the Suns’ starting backcourt. If Bledsoe had not missed half the season, the 48-win Suns might not have missed the playoffs.

If sharing the stage is a problem for Bledsoe, he should be looking ahead to 2015-16 when Dragic could well be playing elsewhere. Dragic will almost certainly exercise his opt-out clause next summer (he’s scheduled to make $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons) and seek a much bigger payday. If Bledsoe is already on the books for $12 million for three more years –and with Isaiah Thomas recently added at $27 million over the next four seasons — the Suns might be reluctant to pay Dragic the kind of money other teams will offer him on the open market.

But Bledsoe hasn’t agreed to the long-term offer and it doesn’t appear he will. If he’s dead-set on shooting for the moon financially, the Suns would be wise to be content to bid him farewell next summer, pay Dragic, an All-Star candidate last season, and spend their cap money to fill a different position, like maybe power forward for somebody like, oh, Greg Monroe.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

Morning shootaround — July 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap: July 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Decision day for the Rockets | Only a two-year deal for James | Pierce keeps it moving | Deng the next domino?

No. 1: Decision day for the Rockets — The Houston Rockets have a new small forward, having agreed to a four-year deal with former Wizard Trevor Ariza. Does that mean that they’re ready to part ways with their old small forward? Not necessarily. The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks. And they may feel like Ariza and Parsons could play together, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes:

The Houston Rockets are still strongly considering the Dallas Mavericks’ offer sheet for Chandler Parsons after reaching agreement on a four-year, $32 million contract with free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ariza’s contract is on a declining scale, paying him $8.6 million, $8.2 million, $7.8 million and $7.4 million over the next four seasons, sources said.

The Rockets are expected to take until 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavericks gave Parsons, sources said. The Rockets could give Parsons some minutes at power forward, allowing them to play him and Ariza together.

***

No. 2: Only a two-year deal for JamesLeBron James could be a free agent again next season. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that James only signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it has a player option for 2015-16, allowing him to look for a new deal again next summer. But Windhorst writes that it isn’t about James not being truly committed to Cleveland. It’s about the additional money he could make with a new deal in a year or two:

Depending on how the new television contracts are put together, the salary cap is projected to leap to as high as $80 million in 2016. There is also uncertainty with the current collective bargaining agreement starting in 2017, another reason James wanted to keep his long-term options open when it comes to the structure of his contract.

James’ off-court earnings, which top $40 million per year according to some estimates, allow for him to take some short-term risk to maximize long-term earnings.

James has earned $129 million over his 11-year career but has only earned the max salary three times during that span.

***

No. 3: Pierce keeps it moving — It was weird seeing Paul Pierce in a Brooklyn Nets uniform last season. It may be even weirder seeing him in the Washington Wizards’ red, white and blue this year. In a bit of a stunner, Pierce and the Wizards agreed on a two-year deal (for the mid-level exception) on Saturday night. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has the story:

Refusing to stagger after the stunning defection of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Washington Wizards shook off the disappointment and made a shocking deal of their own by landing Paul Pierce.

Pierce, a 10-time all-star and likely Hall of Famer, agreed to sign a two-year deal for the full mid-level exception worth $10.8 million, according to a multiple people with knowledge of the situation. He has a player option for the second year.

The 36-year-old Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship in 2008, and his former teammate and current Wizards assistant Sam Cassell played a huge role in recruiting him to Washington. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points last season in Brooklyn but gives the Wizards a proven big-game performer and another veteran mentor to help expedite the progression of franchise building blocks John Wall and Bradley Beal.

***

No. 4: Deng the next domino? — Ariza, James and Paul Pierce have found new homes, while Parsons will either be a member of the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday. But where does Luol Deng land in this game of small forward musical chairs? The Miami Heat have been trying hard to make him James’ replacement and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, but other teams (Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix) are still in the mix for Deng, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reported late Saturday:

Sources say it’s possible Wade’s looming deal with the Heat might not be finalized until next week while negotiations with Deng continue. But Miami’s current aim is assembling a core that features Wade and Bosh with newcomer Josh McRoberts and Deng if they can complete a deal with the former Chicago Bulls All-Star.

Dallas and Atlanta remain interested in Deng as well, with sources saying Saturday that the Phoenix has also jumped into the mix for Deng, who was traded from Chicago to Cleveland in January after years of trade rumors.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Nets could still be a playoff team this season, but championship dreams are basically out the windowIt’s a “wait ’til next year” situation in BostonIs LeBron Melo’s Jordan?The Thunder got what they needed in Anthony Morrow … The Kings and Isaiah Thomas weren’t on the same page.

ICYMI of The Night: After his Summer League debut, Jazz rookie Dante Exum sat down the The Starters:


VIDEO: Starters: Dante Exum

With no LeBron, what’s next for Miami?

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — With just one tweet, the Miami Heat went from being next season’s Eastern Conference favorites to most likely being out of the race to win their own division.

Today’s announcement that LeBron James is taking his talents home to Northeast Ohio effectively ends what has been a feverish run by the Miami Heat: four seasons, four NBA Finals appearances, two NBA titles. But LeBron’s exodus not only breaks up the Big Three. It throws the franchise into flux.

With LeBron gone, the next domino that seems to be teetering is Chris Bosh, who is reportedly in talks to join the Houston Rockets. With James and Bosh gone, the cupboard in South Beach will be left mostly bare.

What happens to Dwyane Wade? As part of his season-ending news conference, Heat president Pat Riley made clear that Wade, who has played his entire career in Miami, was something of a made man. Just two weeks ago, when Wade opted out of his contract, presumably as part of an effort to create financial room to help keep the Heat competitive, Riley said, “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life.”

It’s a nice idea, but at this point in his career, Wade isn’t the type of player a franchise builds around. After missing 28 regular-season games last season to rest his ailing knees, Wade seemed to wear down in the postseason, to the point where he didn’t have much let in the tank during the NBA Finals.

Yet Wade could still serve as the franchise face while the Heat reload. They’ve already reportedly agreed to deals with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, two players who should (or at least could) be solid contributors. They will join incumbents like longtime Heat big man Udonis Haslem, who will likely re-up, and guard Norris Cole. Rookie guard Shabazz Napier will give them some youth in the backcourt.

While James and Bosh may be gone, the allure of South Beach and the Heat’s organizational championship pedigree still could serve as a siren’s song for available free agents. And with Bosh and James off the books, even if the Heat sign Wade to a modest long-term extension, the Heat will have plenty of cap space to throw at other free agents. Would a core of Wade and a couple of free agents like Luol Deng and Pau Gasol be enough to contend in the East? What about Wade with Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson?

Or, do the Heat step back, not immediately use their cap space, and try to reload down the road? The Heat’s first round pick next summer belongs, ironically, to Cleveland, though it’s top-10 protected. After that, the Heat own all their own first round selections going forward. And if the Heat can hang on to their cap space for one more year, the 2015 free agency class could include names like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge (who has expressed his hope of staying in Portland).

No matter which way they go, what the Heat already have in place is a strong organizational structure. Riley may have swung and missed on keeping the Big Three together, but he did put them together to begin with and has the bona fides to build another championship organization. Coach Erik Spoelstra has spent just six years on the Heat sideline but has won two titles and never missed the playoffs, even when the Heat were setting up to go after the Big Three.

The Heat may be waning in Miami, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching how they operate, things likely won’t be cool for too long.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

Blogtable: Wrangling over an RFA

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: LeBron, staying or bolting? | Banking on the Draft | Wrangling over an RFA


> Name me a free agent – let’s make it a Restricted Free Agent – who is liable to sign a big-money offer sheet from another team that his current team will hate to have to match.

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me a quarter and I’ll flip it – heads Greg Monroe, tails Gordon Hayward. Detroit can’t afford to let Monroe go anywhere, but the pressure will be on Stan Van Gundy to figure out ways for Monroe and Andre Drummond to thrive in tandem. Hasn’t happened yet and heftier price tags (Monroe now, Drummond next) will only add urgency. Hayward’s shooting dropped off significantly last season but the Jazz will be paying for the surprising rookie he was – that’s what the competition will bid up – and a slightly overrated piece.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somebody might take a big money flyer on Chandler Parsons that could make the Rockets swallow hard, especially if they haven’t already landed LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe sticks out as the obvious choice, although I’m not sure you could say Phoenix will “hate” to match it. All signs out of the desert suggest they’re prepared to do just that. Keep a close eye on Pistons big man Greg Monroe. A sign-and-trade is a real possibility here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Isaiah Thomas. I’ll wait to see what happens in the Draft to set that in stone, whether the Kings get a point guard or not, but it’s going to get interesting if a rival tries to turn their small-market salary structure into a piñata with an offer sheet with $8 million in a season or even $9 million. Everyone knows Sacramento will match if the deal is close to the mid-level, so teams know, as is usually the case with a restricted free agent, that it will take a number that will make the other front office wince. Sacramento wants to keep Thomas, and it can’t afford to lose him for nothing. But it also may decide it can’t afford to keep him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGreg Monroe. He’s a good player with strong numbers, but he’s not a very good defender and the Pistons’ frontline of Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond was a disaster (especially defensively) last year. Stan Van Gundy is a great coach and should get the trio working a little better together, but he should also prefer to play someone other than Smith at small forward. If he can trade Smith (and the $40.5 million left on his contract) for some perimeter shooting, great. If he can’t, does he match a big offer for Monroe and hope that he can make a trade down the line? That combination of size and talent would be hard to let walk

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGordon Hayward is a player that the Jazz seemed to love and loathe at times throughout the Ty Corbin era. I’m not sure it makes any sense for them to try and hold on to him in free agency with a new coach (Quin Snyder) and an expected new system that Hayward might not be a great fit in, at least in theory. But with quite a bit of uncertainty lingering over the franchise, I could see the Jazz agonizing over what to do when someone puts big money on the table for Hayward that no one saw coming. The Jazz had a chance to set the price before the 2013-14 season started and didn’t. Now they could wind up paying more than they wanted to if Hayward has a team out there that covets his services.

5 restricted free agents worth chasing

Smaller guards Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe could get some looks this summer. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Despite their stature, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe are big-time guards. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The unrestricted free agents are the ones that draw the most attention every summer, and for good reason. You pick your team and you go there. It’s all clean and simple.

It’s those restricted free agents that muddy the waters. The would-be new team has to overpay to get their attention and then the current team is put on the spot to match. Think the Pacers wouldn’t like to re-think that $58 million commitment they made to Roy Hibbert two summers ago when the Trail Blazers put them on the spot with an offer to their big man?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five restricted free agents who’ll be available on July 1:

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix Suns — After the Big Three of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, the 24-year-old shooting guard is the top player available in free agency, though he will come at a cost. He missed 39 games with injury, but averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the half season played and makes a great slashing backcourt combination with Goran Dragic. The Suns were 28-15 with him in the lineup and GM Ryan McDonough says the team will match any offer out there to keep him. Since Phoenix has plenty of salary cap space, he’ll be able to do it, even if McDonough has to grit his teeth.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons – He might as well have spent the past four seasons pedaling on a stationary bicycle, getting nowhere fast with the Pistons. He’s a solid big man who gives you the feeling he might turn into an All-Star level performer with the right coaching on the right team. Since he arrived in Detroit, the Pistons added Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on their front line and there simply wasn’t room for all three in the rotation. With Joe Dumars — the GM who drafted him — gone, Drummond a foundation player and Smith perhaps untradeable (or is he?), it would seem the Pistons won’t want to lay out big money to keep him. If the Rockets strike out shooting for the big names, he’d be a good consolation prize. The New Orleans native might also fit nicely with the Pelicans, if they could find the salary space.

Chandler Parsons, Forward, Houston Rockets — Houston rolled the dice on the Parsons, choosing not to pick up his option in an attempt to clear the most salary cap space to pursue James, Anthony or Bosh. The 6-foot-9 leaper and shooter has been a high-energy gem since the Rockets plucked him in the second round in 2011. He can get to the basket, fill it up from behind the 3-point line and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in on defense. He won’t lead a team, but is a solid third option, exactly the role he’s been playing in Houston. If the Rockets get a name-brand star, he’d go to fourth option and that could make a pricey offer from another team too rich to match. There are a lot of teams where he could slide right into the lineup and really blossom.

Gordon Hayward, Forward, Utah Jazz – After four seasons, it’s pretty clear the Jazz aren’t completely convinced, as evidenced by not agreeing on a contract extension prior to last season. It seems Hayward thinks he should be paid as part of a 1-2 punch, but the truth is he’s probably more of a No. 3 type, just like Parsons. When he was put into the primary scorer role last season, his shooting numbers went down. He needs to land in a spot where he can play off his teammates, especially passers, and get back to being a very solid complementary part. Chances are, he wants to be paid a good bit more than the Jazz think he’s worth and therefore could be “gettable.” The trick will be not to overpay him by too much.

Isaiah Thomas, Guard, Sacramento Kings -- The 5-foot-9 dynamo put up 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season. He’s a hard worker, but definitely a score-first point guard at a position that requires spreading the ball around. His biggest deficiency is on defense, where his lack of size makes him too easy for opponents to pick and exploit. The Kings go through point guards faster than pairs of basketball shoes and now they seem to be leaning heavily toward the new flavor of the month in Ray McCallum. His lack of stature will limit the size of the stack of big bills placed in front of him in an offer, but still could be enough to land him in a new home.

Morning Shootaround — June 24


VIDEO: The DraftHQ crew discuss Joel Embiid’s pro prospects

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Plenty of suitors for Anthony | Report: Scott favorite to land Lakers’ gig | Thomas opens up about free agency | Parker’s dad denies talk of Jabari tanking workouts

No. 1: Report: Field of Anthony suitors gets deep — New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony officially opted out of his contract yesterday, making him the No. 1 unrestricted free-agent target this summer. As such, he’ll get plenty of calls from the teams many expect to pursue him … and a lot more that might surprise you to be among the fray, too. According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, no less than seven teams are expected to chase Anthony, although who will talk to him first and when remains unknown:

Carmelo Anthony has yet to publicly reveal the process by which he plans to entertain other teams in free agency now that he has opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks, but the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams that expect to have the opportunity to make their pitch to him starting July 1, according to sources close to the situation.

Teams can’t formally contact free agents until 12:01 a.m. ET July 1, but sources told ESPN.com that the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat are two more teams that could join the race for Anthony, depending on how things play out before, during and after Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Bulls are widely regarded as the early favorite to steal Anthony from the Knicks, with sources saying Monday that Chicago has been quietly planning for this free-agent pursuit for months, going back to the January trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland. Sources say every move Chicago made during the season’s second half — including the seemingly minor signings of veterans Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson and Mike James to very tradeable contracts — was made with the hope they might be helpful in a potential sign-and-trade with the Knicks for Anthony.

Sources say the Rockets, meanwhile, have begun working on trade exits for center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin to clear enough space under the salary cap to make a representative offer to Anthony.

The Lakers are in the advantageous position of having enough room under the salary cap to make a maximum offer to Anthony without having to clear any salary, but it is believed Anthony would want them to strengthen their roster before he would seriously consider a move to L.A. Sources say the Lakers, to that end, have been exploring their options with the No. 7 pick in Thursday’s draft and have told teams they are prepared to package the pick with the expiring contract of Steve Nash (owed $9.7 million next season) for the right offer.

ESPNDallas.com reported Sunday that the Mavericks, armed with plenty of cap space themselves, likewise expect to be granted a face-to-face sit-down with Anthony.

Earlier this month, ESPN.com reported the Heat had begun internal discussions about pursuing the former scoring champion to try to grow their Big Three into a Big Four, but the Heat could pursue Anthony only if LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade opt out of their current deals later this week and are willing to take less money to re-sign and play alongside Anthony.

The Hawks would have to clear approximately $10 million to $12 million in salary-cap space to pursue Anthony, but sources indicate that is one of the many options Atlanta is considering, making it a sleeper team to watch.

(more…)

Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee — two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.