Brooklyn: The East’s No. 2 Team?

July 13, 2013

Who needs long-term flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets are all in for 2013-14, with a collection of future Hall of Famers and a projected starting lineup that boasts a combined 35 All Star appearances. All 5 of those guys are poised to earn more than $11.5 million next season, and Brooklyn’s payroll will exceed $100 million, almost double the cap.

Look at this roster.

This summer, Brooklyn’s traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, all NBA champions; re-signed Andray Blatche, who rocked a 21.98 PER last season, for close to minimum dollars; signed 6-foot-7 backup point guard and former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston for about the same; wooed Andrei Kirilenko, who declined a $10-million player option in Minnesota, for $3.1 million a year; and dumped one of the league’s worst contracts, one that pays Gerald Wallace $30.3 million over the next 3 years, on Boston.

That’s a haul.

Here’s your rotation, assuming full health.

  • PG: Deron Williams | Shaun Livingston
  • SG: Joe Johnson | Jason Terry
  • SF: Paul Pierce | Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF: Kevin Garnett | Reggie Evans
  • C: Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche

Now, add Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.

Some fortunate circumstances.

The Nets got lucky 4 times this offseason.

* The Celtics were anxious to rebuild and eager to dump Pierce’s $15.33 million this year and Garnett’s $23.5 the next 2 years. Danny Ainge had just traded his $7-million-per-year coach to Los Angeles for a first-round draft pick. For a few extra picks, take 2 of the league’s top 30 players.

* The Wizards infamously amnestied Andray Blatche not too long after signing him to a 3-year extension. So Blatche is collecting $7.8 million this season and $8.5 next, even if only $1.4 million of that’s coming from Brooklyn. Blatche has previously made clear his desire to not let Washington off cheap — the more he signed for with Brooklyn, the less of that $7.8 million the Wizards would have to pay.

Blatche is, from a straight numbers angle, at least a $5-million-a-year guy. Per 36 minutes last season, Blatche averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on a team where he was, on a lucky night, the 4th option. His PER ranked No. 14 in the NBA and 2nd on his team behind Brook Lopez.

* Brooklyn also gets great value in Shaun Livingston, who will replace C.J. Watson as the team’s backup PG. Signed on Christmas Day by the Cavs, Livingston tallied 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes over 49 appearances. Not helped by Jarrett Jack’s deal with Cleveland, the market collapsed on Livingston, who’s stayed healthy and productive whenever he’s received an opportunity since 2008-09.

That horrific knee injury is well behind him, and Shaun’s still only 27. He’s not an elite defender, but he has enough length to disrupt passing lanes. On the other end, he’s a solid facilitator and very underrated back-to-the-basket scorer, particularly against smaller guards.

* And, the most mysterious of all, Andrei Kirilenko, who’s making $6.9 million less (plus cost-of-living increases in New York!) than had he accepted his player option in Minnesota. Perhaps the incentive was his relationship with Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, as owner of CSKA Moscow, employed AK-47 from 1998-01.

This deal seems so fishy, Yahoo! Sports ace Adrian Wojnarowski even reported some team executives are asking the NBA to investigate, wary of potential side deals between the two Russians. Unless something materializes, Brooklyn scored big-time, grabbing a former teammate of Deron’s in Utah and one of the league’s best perimeter defenders to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Prokhorov may have said it best in a statement after the Pierce-KG trade became official. “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”

How do they stack up?

There’s 5 frontrunners in the Eastern Conference: Miami, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn. Miami, 2-time defending champs, return the same team and are atop the throne. But, then, all hell breaks loose.

Chicago adds Mike Dunleavy and returns a healthy Derrick Rose, but drops Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and, most likely, Nate Robinson. Indiana returns David West and a healthy Danny Granger, adds C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and drops Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. New York adds Andrea Bargnani and returns J.R. Smith and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, but loses Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd … to Brooklyn!

Those are not bad offseason, by any measure, but not on par with Brooklyn’s. With the Ak-47 move, the Nets boast the deepest bench in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the NBA. Of course 2 big questions remain: How will Kidd fare as a rookie head coach, and how will these guys mesh?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Related: Semi-delayed thoughts on the KG, Pierce deal


3 free agents I’d love to see in Wine & Gold

June 30, 2013

Cleveland Cavaliers GM Chris Grant has quite the rainy day fund to play with, or not play with, this summer. Within the past 2 days, Marreese Speights has declined a $4.5-million player option, and Grant decided not to extend $3-million qualifying offers to Omri Casspi and Wayne Ellington, effectively making all 3 unrestricted free agents. Cleveland owns a $2.25-million team option on C.J. Miles, who was reportedly on the block on draft night.

So, if the Cavs pick up Miles’ option, Grant will have about $30.25 million tied up in 7 players; if not, about $28 million tied up in 6. That does not include any of the team’s 3 draft selections — Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev or Carrick Felix — all of whom I’d expect in a Cleveland uniform on opening night.

The salary cap for the 2013-14 NBA season is set for around $58.5 million, and the floor, or minimum teams must spend on players, about $52.65 million, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.

Grant has money to burn. But he also has to be smart — next summer’s free agent class, and of course the possibility of LeBron returning, is much better, plus Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will be due considerable extensions about 16 months from now. So Grant either has to a) front-load any hefty deals, or b) sign veteran guys to 1-year deals.

That said, here’s 3 lower-tier free agents Grant could have at a bargain.

No. 1: Greg Oden, 25, C, free agent

To me, this is a no-brainer low-risk, high-reward type of move. Oden, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 Draft, played a year at Ohio State. Alongside Miami, who’s restricted in the amount of money they can offer the 7-footer, Cleveland’s the team most commonly mentioned in the Oden sweepstakes.

Cleveland passed on Nerlens Noel and Alex Len in Thursday’s draft, and thus need a center. The Cavs are not players in the Dwight Howard chase, and, despite a HoopsWorld report to the contrary, I refuse to believe Grant’s serious about signing the sideshow that is Andrew Bynum, who played the same amount of games as Oden last year.

Yes, Oden has not played since the 2009-10 season, and has only played 82 games in his entire career. But consider these stats from his 21 games in ’09-10: 11.1 points on 60% from the field and 77% from the foul line, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in 23.9 minutes. Per 36 minutes, that’s 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks; in 35.8 minutes per last year, Dwight Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

It would be unwise to expect these numbers from Oden right away, or even at all, but even glimpses over 15 quality minutes a night is worth a few million. A rim-protector and quality finisher in close, Oden would also give the Cavs the 3rd No. 1 overall selection on their roster. If he can be had for $8-10 million over 2 years, with a team option for the second, I’m all for it.

No. 2: Corey Brewer, 27, SF, Denver Nuggets

I’ve loved Brewer’s game for as long as I can remember. Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball in 2004, a 2-time national champion at Florida in 2006 and 2007, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in ’07, and an NBA champion in 2011 — though he only appeared in a combined 19 games, regular season and playoffs, for the latter.

Energy, defense, intangibles, more energy. Perhaps George Karl’s up-tempo style was the perfect fit for Brewer; he averaged 12.1 points in 24.4 minutes last year. But he’s also shown he can score in a slower style — he started all 82 games for Minnesota in 2009-10 and netted 13 points per 30.3 minutes.

Mike Brown would love Brewer’s length — he’s 6’9″ — on the perimeter, but how he’d fare defensively in the post, at only 188 pounds, against guys like LeBron James, 250; Carmelo Anthony, 230; and Paul Pierce, 235, is another story. Either way, if the market for small forwards collapsed and Grant threw $3-4.5 million annually at this guy — Brewer made $3.25 this year — I’d be thrilled.

No. 3: Shaun Livingston, 27, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Grant doesn’t have to look outside his own locker room for candidate No. 3. A Christmas Day signing in 2012, Livingston contributed, probably too much, to the Cavs this year — he averaged 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and shot 51% from the field in 23.2 minutes. The former No. 4 overall pick even started 12 games as Kyrie Irving missed time late in the year.

The fact that Livingston was able to return from this and, 6 years later, is still a solid role player in this league tells me everything I need to know about the guy. I love his 6’7″-frame on the perimeter, his ability to back down smaller point guards and score over the top, and his effectiveness in delivering the ball to his bigs. By all indications, he’s a quality teammate and an even better backup point for Kyrie, a spot the Cavs had struggled to fill prior to his arrival.

Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico reported June 1 the Cavs like Livingston, but his camp was likely to seek a deal larger than they’d be willing to pay. I’m not saying throw $4-5 million annually at Livingston, but if he finds the market a bit cooler than he expected, I’d be more than happy with a 2-3 year deal worth $2-3 million per. Health is no longer much of a concern; Livingston appeared in 66 games for 2 teams last year, 58 in the lockout-shortened campaign the year prior, and 73 in 2010-11.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: WASHINGTON WIZARDS

March 4, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the last of Armchair 3’s 30 in 30 series, where we’ve run you up to date on all 30 NBA teams over the course of the last 30 days. You can find links to each individual team’s analysis piece here. Now that this series has concluded, we’ll provide more day-to-day analysis of NBA news, rumors and playoff jockeying.

Washington doubled down on the present, not the future, this summer, with the veteran acquisitions of Trevor Ariza and former No. 2 overall pick Emeka Okafor. The price for these 2 was Rashard Lewis’s $13.7 million — itself still the largest deal on New Orleans’ cap, even though Lewis, since released, is playing spot minutes in Miami. Before the end of the 2012 season, Washington had already traded for Nene’s 5-year, $67 million deal.

Then, a few months later, Washington selected Bradley Beal with their No. 3 overall selection. Beal, 19, is Washington’s leading scorer, at 14.2 points per game, and arguably the league’s 2nd most impressive rookie after Blazers’ 1-guard Damian Lillard. Beal’s only 6’3″, but has unique ability as an outside scorer who can also create his own shot and score in isolation sets. Beal’s a 41% shooter, but is coming on strong late, averaging 18.8 points on 48% shooting in his last 10 games, as the Wizards have surged since Wall’s return from injury.

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Diagnosed with that stress injury in his left kneecap, Wall did not make his season debut until Jan. 12. Without Wall, Washington started the year 0-12 and was 5-28 until his return; since, Washington’s improved to 19-39, winning 14 of 25 with the star point guard in the lineup headed into Sunday. The Wizards are 9-5 against likely playoff teams since Wall’s return, as well, and even won in Denver, who are tied atop the NBA with only 3 home losses.

With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Okafor, Washington’s operating at a +60 points differential in 104 minutes together. Those 5 are, headed into Sunday, scoring 1.15 points per possession, while allowing opponents 0.86 points; those are the best outputs, on both ends, from any Wizards lineup to play at least 30 minutes together this season.

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Through any other statistical prism, Washington stinks — they’re 30th in scoring offense, at 92 points per game; 29th in field goal percentage, at 43%; 24th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.41; and tied for 19th in rebound differential, -1.4. Defensively, though, Washington’s made strides, allowing a 6th-best 95.5 points per game, better than Boston, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City. They’re 4th-best in opponent’s FG percentage, 43.7, and tied for 6th-best in opponent’s 3-point percentage, 34.3. (And, somehow, their opponents shoot a 3rd-worst 72.8% from the foul line.)

But then, of course, there’s Washington’s personnel issues. Head coach Randy Wittman assumed the responsibility after the team fired Flip Saunders mid-season in 2012 and is on through at least this year, but who knows after that. Wittman, though in stalwartly standing behind his franchise guy Wall, blasted the supposed stubbornness of his young players publicly in February. Injuries and consistency are also an issue; 16 different guys have started games for Washington this year, easily the most in the NBA. (And only 1 guy, Okafor, has appeared in all 57 games.)

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Wall is one of the league’s top PGs in his 3rd year — he’s playing less than 30 minutes, but still posting 7.3 assists per on the NBA’s worst scoring offense. The game still needs to slow down for the super quick Wall, who’s also tallying 3.7 turnovers. And his 3-point game has never developed, dropping from 30% his rookie year to 7% this season.

Behind Wall and Beal, Washington’s best backcourt scorer, Jordan Crawford at 13.2 points per, has since been dealt to Boston for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa’s expiring deal (and torn ACL). Crawford was shooting a mediocre 41.5% from the field and 34.5% from 3, though good enough to be career-highs, and his shot selection reportedly did not endear him to the Wizards’ coaching staff.

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At the 3, Washington’s had a revolving door of Ariza, Webster and Jan Vesely. Webster, a lottery pick out of high school in 2005 and August signing, has been the most consistent, appearing in 56 games (42 starts) and averaging 10.7 points per game. Webster is also Washington’s primary deep threat, at 45% from 3. Ariza’s missed 17 games with a calf issue and is only shooting 41%. Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, has struggled finding time in Wittman’s rotation, logging only 2.6 points per in 34 games. Even Chris Singleton, also a first-round selection in 2011, and his well-below-average 8.8 player-efficiency rating has played in 42 games.

In the frontcourt, Nene is one of the league’s most skilled players around the basket on both ends, when healthy. In 42 games this year, he’s tallying 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Okafor’s adding 9.5 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. The departure of Lewis was supposed to free up time for Kevin Seraphin, a 1st-round selection in 2010 Washington’s particularly high on. And Seraphin, the 6’9″ stretch forward, is averaging career-highs in points, 9.5, and minutes, 22.7, but shooting a career-low 44.5% from the field.

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Washington’s long-term future is, even with some of those higher-profile acquisitions, predicated on its upcoming draft picks. The draft, obviously with Kwame Brown the staple in 2001, has not been kind to Washington, aside from Wall and Beal, as none of Washington’s 1st-round picks prior to 2010 are still with the team. And Washington’s limited in free agency, with $14.5 million owed to Okafor in 2013-14, $13 million to Nene and another $7.7 million to Ariza, who’s likely to pick up his player option.

I understand $13 million is a little high for Nene, but his leadership and offensive polish is crucial to this team’s continued development. And let’s remember this is a team still trying to overcome the immature label, particularly because of the gun incident involving the since-departed Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in 2009. Washington also amnestied the controversial Andray Blatche, now in Brooklyn — but not before the Wizards gave him an extension in 2010 that pays, on average, $8 million per through 2015.

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Hypothetically speaking, say Ariza picks up his option for 2013-14, and so Washington would have about $56-57 million committed to 9 players, not counting the $7.8 million they’re paying Blatche off the cap. Webster’s the only guy coming off the books this summer Washington may want to extend; Okafor and Ariza’s deals expire next summer, meaning enough cap flexibility to ink up Wall long-term, who would be a restricted free agent.

As for next year, my bets are on Washington, if healthy, making a push for a lower-end playoff spot, as Milwaukee, Boston and Atlanta likely retool this offseason.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL SERIES: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30


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