Photo Credit: LeBron James gambles on the Lakers: GQ
Alex is a contributor at TheFiveBy5.com
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGoldenNBA
10. Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon
I am happy to see the Magic invest in Aaron Gordon. There was speculation that Gordon could be on the move, but GM John Hammond locked up the young star to a solid contract. The 4-year/$84M deal is front loaded and makes this contract moveable if things don’t work out. Now that Orlando has a coach in place for the future, identifying Gordon’s role will be the first thing they need to do. Every article recently is declaring Gordon as a center. I don’t buy it. Gordon is a hybrid four, who can put the ball on the floor and shoot threes. He isn’t a small forward either. I know that Magic fans are aware of what Gordon is, but so many people are still puzzled by his game. I think Gordon is a guy you can build a winning culture around, but the Magic still have a few more moves to make. The lack of a point guard is going to hold this team back, but I am confident that they will resolve that situation in the next season or two. Gordon can’t be asked to do everything and keeping him as the focal point of the offense as the power forward is best for the future of the Orlando Magic.
9. Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors and Dante Exum
I am impressed by the Jazz resigning Exum and Favors. I wasn’t sure what the Jazz would do with their cap space but adding back a young talented point guard in Exum is a smart move. Exum has the talent to be a starter in this league and pairing him with Mitchell could cause problems for years to come. The Favor signing was a solid one as well. The Jazz have a big man that can play the four or the five. He isn’t locked into a long-term deal and this gives Utah flexibility next season with his contract. He loves Utah and is a perfect fit for their culture. Sometimes the best thing a team can do is not make any significant changes. Continuity is underrated by people in this league, but it is essential to success. Adding pieces to the puzzle will always be something that happens in this league, but the amount of turnover we see in today’s game is remarkable. I like Utah and their persona. They have one of the best young stars in the game, the Defensive Player of the Year and one of the feistiest groups in all the league. Utah will be a problem for years to come.
8. Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans
Indiana had a quiet off-season, but an effective one. Tyreke Evans posted 19.5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists last year with the Memphis Grizzlies. Indiana made a tough decision and let fan favorite Lance Stephenson test the market. In doing that, they also cleared up cap space to sign three players. Kyle O’Quinn, Doug McDermott and Tyreke Evans. The Pacers upgraded their bench significantly and Tyreke Evans is a much more talented player than Lance Stephenson. If Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, he is the perfect complementary piece to Victor Oladipo. While the media will mock the Eastern Conference all season long, the Pacers will take advantage of this opportunity to compete for a deep run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Evans is the leader of the Pacers 2nd unit, and if he plays like he did last season, he will be a top candidate for 6th Man of the Year.
7. Philadelphia 76ers: JJ Redick
The 76ers tried their best to acquire LeBron James in Free Agency but to no avail. While JJ Redick is nowhere close to LeBron James level, his fit last year was perfect for the 76ers. With Illyasova and Belinelli departing from Philadelphia in Free Agency, the 76ers were desperate for 3-point shooters. Redick is one of the best shooters in today’s game and will fit perfectly once again with Embiid and Simmons. Redick can’t be too upset about his pay cut this season, because after two years, he will have banked $35M. This resigning will pay dividends as the 76ers look to conquer the Eastern Conference next season.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Julius Randle
Julius Randle joining the Pelicans is one of my favorite moves of Free Agency. While the Pelicans didn’t retain Rajon Rondo or Demarcus Cousins, they acquired a forward in Randle that has a close relationship with star Anthony Davis and is coming off the best season of his career. Randle joined the Pelicans on a 2yr/$18M contract. While Randle didn’t get as big of a paycheck as he would have liked, he has another chance to prove his worth. The Pelicans will look to be competitive in the Western Conference because Anthony Davis will be a free agent in 2020. Davis recruited Randle to come join him in New Orleans so catering to the Pelicans star is a smart tactic in trying to retain Davis for the long haul. There is speculation that Mirotic will still start over Randle at the power forward spot, but Randle can easily play the stretch center, or play at the four next to Davis to provide a more defensive minded lineup. All in all, this was a good move by both sides.
5. Golden State Warriors: Demarcus Cousins
This was the shot heard round the world 24-hours after LeBron James announced his decision to join the Lakers. With Cousins going to the Warriors, we are staring at one of the most dominate teams ever assembled. The only downfall to this signing is Cousins Achilles injury will keep him out of play until January-February. Demarcus Cousins has one of the worst reputations in the league as being a locker room problem, but the Warriors have one of the strongest groups in the league. My only concern with this decision is Cousins ability to accept a diminished role. The death lineup of Curry-Thompson-Iguadola-Durant-Green has been unbelievable the last two seasons, and I have a hard-time seeing Cousins being content with finishing a majority of the Warriors games, on the bench. The saying the last few seasons is “the only team that can beat the Warriors is the Warriors”, so maybe this signing will end up hurting Golden State more than helping them, but I wouldn’t count on it.
4. Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic and Will Barton
Resigning Will Barton was a big time move by the Denver Nuggets. After the Nuggets traded Wilson Chandler to the Sixers, the signing of Barton made even more sense. The Nuggets will need a starting small forward and Barton proved last season that his 16-points per game was no fluke. In addition to Barton, the Nuggets locked up big man Nikola Jokic to a 5-year max contract. The talent that Jokic brings to the offensive end of the floor is irreplaceable. In a league where the center position is diminishing in value, the Jokic resigning shows you how valuable he is to the Nuggets success. While many have criticized his defensive abilities, you are willing to live with his deficiencies on defense for his efficiencies on offense. There isn’t a better passing, scoring or shooting big man in the league. Denver has themselves a star and they are building a team that will cause problems in the Western Conference Playoffs.
3. Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
This is a perfect move by both sides. The Rockets were the best team in the NBA last year because of the addition of Chris Paul. James Harden and Chris Paul fit together much better than anyone would have ever anticipated. While Chris Paul is still in the latter part of his prime, he still has a ton of value. The Rockets were hesitant to give CP3 a 5-year max deal, so they settled on a 4yr/$160M contract. Paul will make a plethora of money in this contract but keeping the contract to 4 years helps the flexibility of Houston’s future. If Chris Paul can stay healthy, this is a team that could make a push for the NBA Finals once again. They still need to resign Clint Capella in Restricted Free Agency, but the loss of Trevor Ariza is big. The Rockets have a few decisions to make before the season starts, but this was the most important one.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
Paul George made it clear to the Indiana Pacers that he did not want to play for them after his contract expired because he wanted to go to the Los Angeles Lakers and play for his idol Kobe Bryant’s team. Despite Paul George’s wishes to play for the Lakers, Oklahoma City’s general manager gambled that he could retain Paul George in Oklahoma after playing a season with Russell Westbrook. Give the Thunder credit for their ability to recruit Paul George for an entire season and enticing him to sign long term in Oklahoma. With the recent rumors that OKC will buyout Carmelo Anthony and with resigning Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder just became a much better team. Many people criticize Westbrook for being hard to play with, but even after his 40+ shot attempts in their Game 6 loss to Utah, Paul George still wanted to return. I think we can finally drop that narrative on Russell Westbrook and enjoy the REAL big three of OKC: Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James
The Los Angeles Lakers are back. With the NBA’s best player joining one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, the league is in a better place. While the Lakers haven’t been relevant since their last title against the Boston Celtics, the Lakers have consistently been placed on national television when they were more than undeserving of that spotlight. Now that 3-time NBA Champion LeBron James has taken his talents to the Pacific Coast, the Lakers will be must-see television. In addition to LeBron, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee join the madness to make the Lakers more entertaining than championship contenders. This season belongs to the Warriors once again, but jersey sales and entertainment value will be dominated by LeBron James after his departure from the Eastern Conference.
Follow Mike on Twitter @_Facci
The game of basketball has gone through a series of changes since its inception in 1891. Every once and a while, a player comes along that is so unique that he refuses to fit the mold of those who came before him. When I think of how the game has evolved just over the last twenty years alone, I keep coming back to one man who’s imprint on the game has forever altered it, and inspired those who came after him. That man’s name is none other than Dirk Nowitzki.
The Dallas Mavericks reported on Thursday that the veteran power forward and surefire Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki has been shut down for the season following ankle surgery. With Dirk turning 40 next month and the Mavericks once again selecting in the draft lottery, I couldn’t help but ask myself “is this the last that we have seen of Dirk Nowitzki?”
The man widely regarded as the best international player of all time has spent all twenty of his seasons in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. In an era of “best friends” and “super teams”, there is something to be said about being loyal to just one franchise for your whole career. If Dirk is to return for his 21st season in the NBA, he will tie Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett for the most seasons played in NBA history. With the Mavericks having a ton of questions to address this offseason, the only question us NBA fans can ask is “what did we do to deserve Dirk?”
Before all the accolades and his patented one-legged fadeaway jumper, Dirk was a tall and lanky 15-year old tennis player in Germany. That was until he met his future and current mentor Holger Geschwinder (did I mention loyalty). Holger was a German basketball coach who spotted Dirk’s talent immediately, and knew that he could be something special. After just one year of tutelage and a rigorous regiment that he still follows to this day, Holger said to Dirk "You must now decide whether you want to play against the best in the world or just stay a local hero in Germany. If you choose the latter, we will stop training immediately, because nobody can prevent that anymore. But if you want to play against the best, we have to train daily". Talk about some Jedi type destiny.
Following a decorated career in Germany, Dirk decided to forego his college eligibility and enter the NBA draft. With the 9th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft, Dirk was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks before being quickly traded for 6th overall pick Robert “Tractor” Traylor and 19th overall pick Pat Garrity. The trade is widely regarded as one of the worst in league history and is credited with putting the Mavericks on the map as Garrity was shipped to the Phoenix Suns that same night for a certain future 2x MVP that you may have heard of named Steve Nash.
Prior to Dirk’s arrival, the Mavericks had experienced little success and had yet to ever have their own All-Star. After a rookie season in which Dirk struggled nightly, he would later admit that he contemplated going back to Germany.
The next few seasons would see Dirk and the Mavericks drastically improve as he became their first all-star in franchise history and winning 50 games in a season became about as common as a “who’s better MJ or LeBron” argument. The NBA style of play was changing and Dirk was at the forefront of it. Dirk broke the mold of “big men” being restricted to playing inside the paint as the term “stretch four” was becoming more and more common and Dirk was the poster boy for the phrase.
Coming Up Short
From 2002-2012, Dirk would rattle off 11 straight All-Star appearances and ALL-NBA team selections. The 2005-2006 NBA season would see the Mavericks make their first ever NBA Finals appearance against the Miami Heat, led by Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Despite going up 2-0 on the Heat, Miami would take the next 4 games and win their first championship in franchise history. Questions about Dirk being fatigued late in the series and simply being outmatched started to arise as he would have to work harder than ever before if he was going to deliver the Mavericks their first title.
The following 2006-2007 NBA season was simply Dirk’s finest. He would lead the Mavericks to a franchise record 67 wins, become just the fourth player in NBA history to join the 50–40–90 club and took home MVP honors (the first ever European to do so). Unfortunately, it would not be all sunshine and rainbows as the Mavericks became the first #1 seed in NBA history to lose to a #8 seed when they were bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. Dirk would describe this moment as one of the lowest in his life.
Dirks Shining Moment
After a few years of early playoff exits, the Mavericks would once again find themselves back in the NBA Finals in 2011 against none other than the Miami Heat. This time the Heat would be led by their “Big 3” consisting of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You know, the same group that professed they were going to win how many rings Lebron? Now I might be crazy, but after a game 1 loss to the Heat, have you ever seen the nation…. Ok ill pump the brakes, the NBA community as united as they were to root against the Heat and pull for Dirk and the Mavericks to win the NBA finals?
Despite battling a 101°F fever and a torn tendon in his middle finger, Dirk would simply put on a clinic against the Heat. Not even security would be capable of halting Dirk’s brilliance as with the Mavericks trailing the Heat 2-1 in the series, Dirk would channel his inner “MJ Flu Game” and deliver his finest moment yet to tie the series up at 2 games apiece. Dirk and the Mavericks would go on to win the series 4 games to 2 as he averaged 26 points and 9.7 rebounds. While Lebron was guilty of playing hot potato with the ball in the 4th quarter, Dirk would score 62 points in 4th quarters alone, more than Lebron James and Dwyane Wade combined as the Mavericks hoisted their first NBA title in franchise history. In an era where they say you need 2-3 “stars” on a team to win a championship, in Dirk’s entire career he only had 4 teammates make an All-Star game. That would be Michael Finley (2000 and 2001), Steve Nash (2002 and 2003), Josh Howard (2007), and Jason Kidd (2010) and you never heard Dirk complain once.
Impact on the Game
That NBA championship in 2011, cemented Dirk as a global icon. From 2001 to 2011 Dirk sported averages of 24.5 points, 8.8 rebounds on 47.9% shooting, as the Mavericks won at least 50 games each of those seasons. While those numbers are nice to see, what about in crunch time? From 2000-2015 Dirk lead the NBA in clutch shooting and it wasn’t even close. I get it, legends are made in the playoffs so what about Dirk’s playoff averages? Well his scoring average of 25.26 points per game ranks as the highest career scoring average of all-time by a power forward ahead of some of the great such as Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.
While he sports the most points ever for an international player, Dirk currently sits at 6th on the all-time scoring list. Roughly 200 points separate him from passing Wilt Chamberlain and he is essentially 1,000 points away from passing the “G.O.A.T.” himself, Michael Jordan for 5th and 4th on the all-time list. He is the Mavericks all-times leader in games, points, rebounds, field goals, free throws, and three pointers made. The 39-year old is also the only player in NBA history with at least 31,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,000 steals, 1000 blocks and 1,000 2-point field goals.
Stats are one thing, but those whom he has inspired is his real impact on the game. Not only is Dirk the first ever European to start in the All-Star game, but Kevin Durant and Chris Bosh have gone on record saying it was Dirk that inspired them to shoot and not have their game limited due to their height. Michael Jordan, known to be one of the rarest complements of them all said, the only four players that he believes could have played in his era would have been LeBron, Kobe, Duncan and Dirk himself.
How many players in the end are fortunate enough to have a signature shot associated with their game such as Kareem’s skyhook or Hakeem’s dream shake? Dirk’s signature fadeaway is in that group.
If This Really is the End, What Do We Do Now?
Dirk has gone on record to say, “I’m not the guy who will say, ‘This is my last year'. When I’m gone, I’m gone”. While that does not provide us much clarity on retirement, it sure sounds like their will be no Kobe Bryant like send off for Dirk. If he does choose to come back for his 21st season lets savor those moments as there will never be another quite like him. Us NBA fans can and will argue just about everything basketball related, but what can’t be disputed is the impact that Dirk Nowitzki has forever left on the game of basketball.
Dirk Nowitzki Yell: chron.com
Dirk Nowitzki Draft: SI.com
Dirk Nowitzki All-Star: zimbio.com
Dirk Nowitzki Finals Jumper: SBNation.com
Dirk Nowitzki Jumper: Getty Images
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Photo Credit: Getty Images
Written By: Michael Facci (Follow Mike on Twitter @_Facci)
Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity states “what goes up, must come down”, but Newton never stated just how long it may take for that object to come back down. Derrick Rose’s rise to stardom is no secret, but just how long did it last before it all came crashing down?
With the March 1st, playoff eligibility waiver deadline having just passed, the question asked far too many times will be asked again once more. This time with a far more solemn feel to it, at just the age of 29 years old, is this the last that we’ve seen of Derrick Rose?
In order to fully understand how we got to this point, let’s start from the very beginning. Once upon a time, a star was born in Southside, Chicago, whom in 2009 would be voted by ESPN Rise the magazine as the third greatest high school point guard in the past decade, trailing only Chris Paul and T.J. Ford. Rose would win back to back high school state championships, before guiding the University of Memphis to an NCAA record 38 wins and a runner-up finish in the National Championship as a freshman.
Controversy would ensue as an investigation revealed that Derrick Rose was in violation of having another person take his SAT exam (Derrick Rose Busted). The investigation led to the University of Memphis being stripped of their record 38 wins and NCAA Championship appearance, as Coach John Calipari skipped town to the University of Kentucky and Derrick Rose declared for the 2008 NBA draft.
Little to no surprise, with the first overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, Rose was selected by his hometown Chicago Bulls. A match made in heaven as Chicago’s son returned home to bring back what they have craved ever since the legend himself Michael Jordan left town, an NBA championship.
Rose Finds Success Early In His Career
Chicago’s son would close out his rookie season with Rookie of the Year honors and get the Bulls back into the playoffs as a 7th seed to take on the defending champion Boston Celtics, led by their Hall of Fame Big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Rose turned in a historic playoff debut as he tied the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points ever in a playoff debut, scoring 36 points and dishing out 10 assists in a stunning overtime, game 1 win at Boston. The Bulls would fall to the Celtics in seven games, but not before the league took notice of Rose.
Rose’s encore in the 2009-2010 NBA season would earn him his first All-Star birth, but the Bulls would once again be bounced in the first round of the playoffs, this time to the Lebron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. If Rose was going to make it out of the first round he would need to take his training to the next level.
Rose responded that off-season by winning a gold medal with Team USA in the FIBA Olympics, leading the Bulls to 2010-2011 NBA best 62-20 record, an Eastern Conference finals appearance, and becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history at just 22 years and 6 months old.
Contract Extension and Endorsements
During the 2011-2012 NBA season, Rose and the Bulls would agree upon a 5-year extension worth $94.8M. This contract included what is now known as the Derrick Rose Rule, which allowed for a player to be paid up to 30% of the salary cap per year if the player has won either an MVP award, was twice voted an All-Star starter, or was twice named to an All-NBA team his first four years in the league. That season Rose would be elected to his third straight All-Star game, finishing as the second leading vote-getter behind only Dwight Howard (man, how things have changed). During the All-Star break, Adidas worked aggressively and succeeded in resigning Rose to one of the most lucrative endorsement deals in sports history, a $185M deal over the course of the next 14 years. Having only missed 13 games in his NBA career thus far, Adidas felt confident in Rose being the face of the brand for years to come. The details of this deal to this day are a bit of a head-scratcher, but you have to applaud Rose’s group for the way they cashed in (You Get Paid, I Get Paid, Everybody Gets Paid).
Injuries Begin To Pile On
Various injuries limited Rose to just 39 games that season, however the Bulls would once again finish as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, setting up a first-round matchup against the 8th seed Philadelphia 76ers.
With just 1:20 left in the 4th quarter and the Bulls up 12 points on the 76ers, Rose drove the lane and immediately grabbed his knee. Bulls fans gasped in disbelief as Rose crawled to the sideline and a once promising career began to unravel (The Start of the End). Just 64 days after signing his mega-deal with Adidas, Rose was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee as the 76ers became just the 5th team in NBA history to eliminate a 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs as an 8th seed.
Rehab proved to be a trying one as even when Rose was cleared to return to NBA action the Bulls elected to shut him down for the full 2012-2013 season. Coming off a strong preseason and looking healthy for the first time since April of 2011, Rose said "I think I'm way more explosive now. Like getting to the rim. I think I can take contact a little bit better. And as far as jumping-wise, I think I can jump even higher. They tested my vertical -- I increased it by 5 inches". Just 10 games into the 2013-2014 NBA season, Rose tore the meniscus in his right knee and following successful surgery, he was shut down for the rest of the season.
Having played just 49 games over the previous three seasons after signing a large extension with the Bulls, questions about Derrick Rose’s knees were about as common as Liam Neeson starring in a movie seeking revenge on someone. Rose would once again return healthy for the start of the 2014-2015 season before another meniscus tear in his right knee required surgery. However, this time Rose would return that season and play in his first NBA playoff game in three years. With the Eastern Conference Semifinals even at 1 game apiece and the score tied at 96-96, Rose would remind us of his once brilliance. With three seconds left, Rose caught the inbounds pass, took two dribbles and banked in a three-pointer for the win, sending the United Center and Chicago Bulls fans into a frenzy (“BANGGGGG”).
A serious rape allegation against Rose would come about in the summer of 2015. Following an underwhelming 2015-2016 season in which the Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, Rose would be dealt to the New York Knicks in a deal that was viewed as the start of Chicago’s rebuild.
The 2016-2017 season would prove to be Rose’s finest season since his MVP year, but following a mysterious absence in which Rose no-showed the Knicks game against the New Orleans Pelicans, a bridge began to be burned. An MRI revealing a meniscus tear in Rose’s left knee, his 4th knee surgery in just 9 seasons marked the end of Rose’s tenure in New York.
Reality Sinks In For Rose
Entering free agency for the first time in his career, Rose made it known that he not only viewed himself as a max player, but he also wanted to be paid like one. After very few serious offers came in, Rose elected to sign a 1-year veteran minimum $2.1M deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers stating “I get a chance to reintroduce myself back to the league. I bet on myself. Next time you’ve got to pay me, you’ve got to pay me double, so its fine with me”. While paying Rose “double” only equates to $4.2M, it is a far cry from the $21M he was making just one year prior with the Knicks.
Just over a month into his stint with the Cavaliers, injuries and frustration set in, leading Rose to ask for “a leave of absence” so he could evaluate his NBA future. Unfortunately, Rose’s stint as a Cavalier will likely best be remembered for the fact that he secretly got married during his leave of absence and despite returning to the court for the Cavaliers, Rose was dealt to the Utah Jazz at the trade deadline (Rose to Utah?). Before Rose could essentially even look up the weather in Salt Lake City, the Jazz elected to waive him.
Photo Credit: NBA.com
With Rose now unlikely to play again this season, it has become more apparent now than ever before that everything can change in the blink of an eye. Rose would never make another All-Star game after that fateful night of April 28th, 2012 against the 76ers. He would never bring Chicago back to the glory days of Michael Jordan that everyone assumed was just “a matter of time”. Heck, go on ESPN.com and on the right-hand search tab type in “Derrick Rose”, his name doesn’t even filter. Type in just the letter “E” and an undrafted E.J. Singler from 2013 draft will show up immediately, random yes, I know.
If Kristaps Porzingis is widely regarded as the “Unicorn” of the NBA today, then Derrick Rose might as well have been known as the “Gazelle” for the way he was able to gallop through the lane to score at ease. To put a perspective on Rose’s fall from stardom, since 1956 every former NBA MVP winner who has been eligible for the Hall of Fame IS in the Hall of Fame (Lone Man Out?). The list of MVPs’ who have not been eligible for the Hall of Fame yet includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, all of which are either shoe-ins or it is just a matter of time.
While the best of Derrick Rose is definitely behind him, the last question may be “is there anything left?”.
Mike Facci (Follow @_facci on Twitter)
Mike Facci is a contributor to The Five By 5.
Let’s set the stage. The year is 2010. Tik-Tok by Kesha is the top performing song of the year, Blockbuster has yet to file for bankruptcy and Kobe Bryant has just won his last NBA title after topping the Celtics in seven games.
What does this have to do with the Memphis Grizzlies? It happens to be the last time that the Memphis Grizzlies have missed the NBA playoffs (3rd longest active streak in NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks).
For a team that adopted the motto “Grit and Grind” back in 2011 to symbolize their tough and relentless style of play, they have fallen on tough times this season and risk going into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak. Sitting at a current record of 18-37 and averaging just 98.9 points per game, the Grizzlies rank second to last in the league in scoring and wins this season. Those numbers trail only arguably the most dysfunctional run franchise in all of sports (not named the Cleveland Browns), the Sacramento Kings.
Just like someone staring down at the 2016 presidential ballot, you might ask yourself “how the hell did we get to this point?” Some could say it started when the Grizzlies let fan favorites Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph and defensive stalwart Tony Allen walk during last years free agency. Others could point to massive swing and misses by general manager Chris Wallace in handing out hefty contracts to the likes of Mike Conley Jr. and injury plagued small forward, Chandler Parsons (both players have struggled to stay on the court but continue to soak up most of Memphis’ cap room for the next 2-3 seasons).
The summer of 2016 NBA Free Agency proved to be arguably the wildest in recent memory. There were ludicrous contracts being handed out left and right as the NBA’s salary cap ballooned from roughly $70 million to just over $94 million due to the NBA’s new $24+ billion television deal.
Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace signed guard Mike Conley Jr. to a 5-year $153 deal, making Conley the highest paid player at the time. Conley and Wallace have a close relationship because Conley was Chris Wallace’s first draft pick back in 2007. Although Conley Jr. has been an underappreciated player, he has never been named an All-Star. This was a huge amount of money to invest in someone, but with the market being the way that it was, Memphis felt they had to overpay Conley to keep him. It’s still a bit of a headscratcher, but you can see why Memphis made this move.
Exactly seven days prior to the Conley contract extension, the Grizzlies landed their prize free agent acquisition in 6’10 scoring wing, Chandler Parsons. After relatively successful stints in Houston and Dallas, Parsons inked a 4-year $94M deal. Memphis felt like they had hit a homerun by signing their first premier small forward since trading Rudy Gay to Toronto in a three-team deal involving Detroit back in 2013(Rudy to Raptors). After just 34 games in Memphis last year and career lows across the board, Parsons was shut down for the season in hopes of coming back at 100% for the 2017-2018 NBA season. With current averages of 8.8 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game, noticeable boos can be heard by the home crowd at times when he touches the ball. The return on these contracts has been far from justified as both Conley and Parsons are due just under $147M combined over the next 2-3 seasons, widely regarded as the worst two contracts in the league and something you would only wish upon your enemies.
Memphis, whom is labeled as a “small market team”, is roughly $19M over this seasons salary cap of $99M and does not have much to show for it. In the era of looking to form a “Big 3” to compete with the likes of the Warriors or Cavaliers, general manager Chris Wallace did everything in his power to field a winning franchise, but maybe not all the blame should fall on the players.
In the franchise’s 23-year existence, they have yet to capture a division title and have only drafted one All-Star, Kevin Love. However, Love was dealt to the Timberwolves on draft night in an eight-player deal centered around O.J. Mayo, (Pau Gasol made the all-star game with Memphis in 2006 but was traded to Memphis on draft night in 2001 via the Atlanta Hawks).
To take it one step further, the Grizzlies only have one player in the Hall of Fame to have ever even suited up for them. Hall of Fame point guard Allen Iverson was a part of the Grizzlies for a forgettable three-games. Iverson refused to come off the bench and elected to retire instead of taking on a lesser role at this point in his career.
Let’s not forget the 1997 trade that landed Otis Thorpe (so close yet so far) in Memphis (for just 47-games). In this trade the Grizzlies were forced to trade their 2003 first-round pick to the Detroit Pistons. If you recall, the 2003 NBA Draft was full of stars such as: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. So, the Grizzlies could have had the chance to draft Wade, Anthony or Bosh to a long term deal, but elected to trade for Thorpe for a lousy 47-games.
With that being said, the past is the past. Let’s turn our attention to the present day, Memphis Grizzlies. After 19 games into the season, with a 7-12 record, head coach David Fizdale was fired after just a little over one season with the team. With veteran leadership from the past now gone, the Memphis Grizzlies sport an average age of just 24.9 years old (7th youngest in the NBA).
Franchise cornerstone, Marc Gasol has seen his shooting percentage dip in each of the last four seasons, currently sitting at a career low 41% shooting this season. The two bright spots on the roster this season for Memphis have been: 2017 second round draft pick, Dillon Brooks (who has started 47 games for them), and the low-risk, one year $3.29M dollar deal that Tyreke Evans received as he aimed to revive his career after up and down stints in Sacramento and New Orleans. Evans is having arguably his best season to date, but with Evans set for unrestricted free agency this offseason, the Grizzlies are already over next years expected salary cap and a long-term deal for Evans to remain in Memphis is unlikely.
The fact that Memphis was unable to yield a trade return for Evans after they sat him out for a full week prior to the deadline to preserve his value, is a head scratcher for a team that has not shown too much life this season. As is traditionally common in the NBA, Conley, Parsons, and Gasol are set to see their salaries rise each of the next 2-3 seasons further questioning the direction of this franchise.
So, what is the outlook of this team moving forward? Can they get back on track and be a mainstay in the playoffs again? Well it doesn’t take a genius to know that it won’t be this season. Trading Evans would have helped their chances at securing the #1 overall pick as the #2 overall pick has not been too kind to them in the past having selected Stormile Swift, Mike Bibby (best years were in Sacramento), and Hasheem Thabeet (drafted one pick ahead of James Harden, I am so sorry Grizzlies fans) second overall in the past. The fact of the matter is that Memphis has struggled to attract free agents in the past and will need to nail this draft pick similar to when general manager Chris Wallace drafted Paul Pierce 10th overall during his stint with Boston back in 1998. However, that was 20 years ago, and this is a “what have you done for me lately” era that we live in now.
With money being tight and the need to develop younger talent moving forward, the Grizzlies elected to buy out veteran power forward Brendan Wright and trade 6’7 small forward James Ennis III for seldom used second year pro Brice Johnson, in hopes of opening up additional minutes for Dillon Brooks as Ennis is set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer.
The sad conclusion of where Memphis stands moving forward is that the overspending of the summer of 2016 is starting to unravel at the seams and the man who may pay the ultimate price is the face of the franchise and arguably your best player ever, Marc Gasol. At age 33 with a professional playing career that stems back to 2003 when he was an 18-year-old playing for FC Barcelona of the EuroLeague, it is safe to say that after 3 all-star births and a defensive player of the year award, his best years may be behind him. With Memphis’ attendance ranking 27th in the league (its lowest since the 2012-2013 season), serious cap concerns moving forward, and the belief that Chandler Parsons may never return to his 2013-2014 season form, Gasol may serve as Memphis’ best chance at shedding salary and bringing in younger talent through a trade. Memphis fans have already seen one Gasol brother leave town (Gasol for Gasol) and while they have been reluctant to entertain Marc’s name in any trade talks this season, general manager Chris Wallace sure has his work cut out for him moving forward.
Photo Credit: BleacherReporter.net
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Rob is an NBA capologist, CBA savant and contributor to The Five By 5.
The Big Move:
The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the headlines on trade deadline day by trading 40% of their roster, many of which were key players in their rotations. At around noon eastern time, they began with a fury of moves and by 3 pm’s deadline, their roster had 4 new players coming in and 6 rotational players going out, including their own lightly protected 2018 first round pick. This was a total roster shake up. The 6 players the Cavs sent out have a combined 56 NBA seasons of experience and an average age of 30.6 years old. What did the Cavs get in return? 4 guys with 21 combined seasons of experience (George Hill has 10 of those years) with an average age of 26.7 years old amongst the group. In layman’s terms, the Cavs went to the fountain of youth to try to re-establish their chemistry and re-prove their dominance in the eastern conference. But with only 29 games left on the schedule, building chemistry and understanding of how each new player fits in will be tough.
New Name Tags:
With the additions of Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, the Cavs got 3 fairly versatile players that can all play the wing positions. Each have legit NBA wing size: Clarkson 6’5’’, Hood 6’8’’ and Nance Jr 6’9’’ per basketballreference.com. Their size and length was something the Cavs sorely needed. With Cleveland's former roster construction, they just didn't have the wing depth, length or versatility to hold a candle to the Warriors, this will really help. George Hill, the veteran of the group, is a 6’3’’ guard who is also very versatile as he can play on or off the ball, and when healthy, he’s a big plus on the defensive end. And although he’s just an average athlete, he makes up for it with basketball IQ and by having a ridiculous 6’9’’ wingspan (per draftexpress.com). The combination of size, smarts, and the ability to shoot the 3 ball at the best clip in the league (46% from the corner and above the break 3 pointers cleaningtheglass.com) will be a lethal threat when LeBron penetrates and looks for open shooters.
Of the group of players that the Cavs shipped out (Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Jae Crowder) only Jae Crowder was part of the Cavs most used and successful lineup (Calderon, Crowder, James, Love, J. Smith). That lineup played 253 more minutes together than any other Cavs lineup, and sported a +8.1 net rating. Shumpert, Rose and Frye were essentially out of the Cavs rotations, so the Cavs really didn't lose that much as far as what has made them successful. What about Isaiah Thomas? Well, he just wasn't fitting in. His individual numbers have plummeted this season, and out of the two lineups that the Cavs used him in the most, both of them averaged a net rating of net -22.3. No words are needed to state just how bad that is. Additionally, the chemistry amongst the Cavs was visibly broken. Even from the outside looking in this was apparent, and IT wasn’t helping resolve those issues. If anything, he was causing many of them by constantly calling out his teammates and the coaching staff behind closed doors and in the media. But what about the great Dwayne Wade? How will his loss effect the Cavs? Well, even though Dwayne Wade was a positive spark for the Cavs off the bench, let’s be honest: come mid June, with where Wade is at in his career, he’s not going to be the reason you win or lose the finals. And with the Cavs ultimate goal to be competing for a championships, moving on from D-Wade and sending him back home to Miami was fine.
Once The Dust Settles:
The NBA is ruthless and gives no breaks to anyone. But the Cavs need to find a way to put things back together again quickly. Obviously, it will take more than one game to figure everything out, but with the Cavs next 3 games being: @ Boston, @ OKC and then at home vs the Wizards, the schedule doesn't give the Cavs much time to readjust. They best make the most of their few remaining games before the all-star break, and then milk the all-star break for all it’s worth. They won’t have the time to try and figure things out once the last leg of the season begins post all-star break. The Cavs are already in danger of losing a top 4 seed, and they still have a long playoff push ahead of them.
The "X" Factor:
There is this dude from Akron, who’s kind of a once in a life time talent named LeBron James. You might have heard of him before as he’s one of the leagues most talented players ever. But for this challenge, it's not going to be about the King’s talents; it’s going to be about his leadership. In the past, LeBron has typically been best when he’s surrounded himself with savvy vets who could take on the leadership roles, which allowed him to power the team with his overwhelming talents. For example, in Miami he had Dwayne Wade, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. In Cleveland, at least up until recently, he had James Jones, Dwayne Wade and Channing Frye. All of these guys are vets that know their limitations and abilities, and despite not having the bounce of their youth, they were able to provide consistent leadership both on and off the court when LeBron couldn’t, wouldn’t or wasn’t able to. Hood, Clarkson, and Nance Jr. all have the young talent and bounce, but they also lack the savvy and experience of a typical LeBron cast. This is a whole different challenge that we haven't seen LeBron accomplish yet in his career. These guys are nothing like the 2 prime hall of fame versions of Wade and Bosh who LeBron joined in Miami all those years ago. These are 3 solid to good rotational players who LeBron will have to elevate to something more if he intends on competing for another ring come June. If they are to be successful, it will be because LeBron will get these younger guys to lock in on defense and relentlessly chase the Warriors smooth flowing offense. I don't worry about Hill fitting in, as he’s the constant pros’ pro and should blend in with LeBron seamlessly, but everyone else? We’ll see.
This was a great trade deadline for the Cavs, even if I think some of the deals were a little off. They got better, younger, quicker and hopefully they got a better locker room. My vote for optimism is because of one factor: These 3 dudes (Hood, Clarkson and Larry Nance) grew up watching (and to a certain extent) idolizing LeBron. With that mind set, hopefully it will allow LeBron to better lead them, and get them to the spots where he needs them on BOTH ends of the floor. LeBron is the smartest player that I’ve ever seen.
You also can’t discredit the “playoff LeBron mode” factor. Laugh at his D this year if you want, that’s probably fair and acceptable (to an extent). But go back to LeBron’s Miami years and the first two finals vs the Warriors and you’ll see a man playing possessed. When the calendar turns over to spring, I’m willing to bet he’ll have the ability to elevate his game (even on defense).
In the end, we’re talking about a LeBron James led team. The results won’t be known until playoff time. And while the new Cavs new front office didn't completely knock it out of the park at the deadline, they did a pretty good job given the circumstances. A good enough job to give LeBron a better shot of making it out of the East then they had the day before the deadline. Now it’s on LeBron. And if there’s one thing that I know, it’s that myself and the rest of the league will tune in closely to see how this chapter of LeBron’s career ends.
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