The NBA Off-Season Fraternity Battle

ESPN’s corporate stronghold on the sports reporting business is growing stronger and stronger by the second, even with massive budget cuts, overall revenues taking a dive recently and lay-offs of SEVERAL high ranking “analysits”.  ESPN as a brand is still going strong, replacing the popular and (occassionally overly) well-paid talking heads with younger unknown talking hairdos almost regularly.

One of the NBA mainstayers is Tom Haberstroh, an extremely knowledgable NBA beat-writer who I would guess has a lot of phone numbers in his cell’s contact list.  He’s probably so cool.

But even the greats can falter at times, like Tyson against Buster Douglas or Lebron James against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan again, Tony Parker again, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry again, Klay Thompson again, Kevin Durant and of course Javale McGee.

The NBA preseason jibberish writing is of the fullest abundance currently, Mr. Haberstroh has briefly lost his way in an article posing the question of “Who’s the next Super Team?”.  After discussing the obvious (although not-probable) possibilitites: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers (big “IF” on this one) and San Antonio Spurs, the list became hilarious, ficticious and even more fleeting than Anthony Scaramucci.

Haberstroh writes:

Darkhorse: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have essentially cleared the decks for the future. By trading Jimmy Butler and officially hitting the reset button on the Tom Thibodeau era, Chicago has only about $23 million in guaranteed contracts in 2018 and another $16.4 million in non-guaranteed money. Zach LaVine has a free agent cap hold at nearly $10 million, but the expectation here is they’ll wait on extension talks until they see his recovery from a torn ACL. That would be the smart move.

The Bulls should have $52 million in cap space next summer and a big-time market to lure free agents, but unlike L.A. and San Antonio, Chicago lacks a magnetic star like Kawhi or Lonzo. Maybe Kris DunnLauri Markkanen or LaVine can prove us wrong, but we’re not betting on a star rising in Chicago anytime soon.

Runner-up: Phoenix Suns

Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough knows what it takes to get this done. The 36-year-old was an assistant GM under Danny Ainge when they brought in Garnett and Allen in 2007. The chest is full of assets in Phoenix. The Suns have four top-10 picks on the roster who aren’t even of drinking age yet: Devin Booker (20 years old), Josh Jackson (20), Dragan Bender (19) and Marquese Chriss (20).

Not only that, the Suns have the Heat’s 2018 first-rounder (protected Nos. 1-7) and their unprotected 2021 first-rounder to toss in a deal, in addition to their own first-round picks going forward. Assuming the Suns don’t attach any of those long-term prizes in a deal for Kyrie Irving, the Suns are set to be prime candidates for a superteam via trade.

There’s no doubt that the Suns will be lurking in case a disgruntled star makes noise next season. Like Boston, the Suns figure to keep a close eye on New Orleans, but Kristaps PorzingisBlake Griffin and Klay Thompson are all names to watch down the line.

Dark horse: Philadelphia 76ers

The process is starting to turn into results. By signing JJ Redick and Amir Johnson to big one-year deals, Bryan Colangelo sent a clear message: overspend now but retain flexibility later. Philadelphia is set up for the future with $48 million in cap space to spend in 2018 while retaining a core of Markelle FultzBen SimmonsDario SaricJoel Embiid and Robert Covington (the latter two’s free-agent cap holds are factored in here).

Even with a max contract for Embiid, the 76ers would have $50 million in cap space for 2019 to go after Klay Thompson or Kevin Love. Of course, with all the young talent, they could flip their bundle of assets for ready-made stars, a la the 2008 Celtics. Colangelo isn’t shy about fast-tracking a contender. Remember, in Phoenix, Colangelo in 2004 signed a 30-year-old Steve Nash to pair with a 21-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire and a 23-year-old Joe Johnson. And the rest is history.

The next ’14 Warriors: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have quietly built an offensive machine in Denver. Fact: After Nikola Jokic joined the starting lineup in Dec. 15, the Nuggets — not the KD edition of the Warriors, nor the LeBron-led Cavs — owned the NBA’s best offensive rating for the rest of the season (113.3 points pre 100 possessions). Yeah, that caught the rest of the NBA by surprise too.

And just like the Warriors, the Nuggets built an offensive juggernaut largely through the draft without needing a top-five pick. Like Draymond Green, Jokic was a gem found in the second round back in 2014. Talented guard Jamal Murray was the No. 7 selection in 2016, and Gary Harris was a sweet-shooting steal at No. 19 in 2014. Kenneth Faried was the No. 22 pick in 2011 during the Masai Ujiri regime.

Under the leadership of president Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas, the Nuggets have nailed their draft picks lately. And like Golden State a few years ago, they’ve begun adding from the outside. This summer, the Nuggets acquired their version of Andre Iguodala in Paul Millsap, a star team-first veteran who can anchor both sides of the floor.

And they may not be done. With some cap creativity, the Nuggets could have up to $45 million in cap space (good enough for a max player) to add to an already strong core of Millsap, Jokic, Murray and Harris. If Denver declines Jokic’s team option, he would join Harris in next summer’s restricted free-agent class, giving Denver more flexibility next summer.

So who would be the Nuggets’ KD? Don’t overlook Chris Paul as a target. Denver’s head honcho, Connelly, was the assistant GM in New Orleans in 2010 while Paul was there. And the Los Angeles Times reported that Denver was on Paul’s short list of planned free agency meetings this summer before Houston pried him away. No team may ever replicate the Warriors’ success through the draft, but Denver could have the best shot of anyone.

Runner-up: Milwaukee Bucks

This is another stud core built through the draft. Giannis AntetokounmpoJabari ParkerMalcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker were all Bucks’ selections, and only one (Parker) was a top-nine pick. (Milwaukee also traded for Khris Middleton after his rookie season in Detroit.) The Bucks have indeed hit the jackpot in the draft, but the Bucks’ “own the future” slogan could be soon running on fumes.

Look at the cap sheet and you’ll see that the Bucks in 2018 have $100 million in salary, just $2 million below the cap, thanks to some questionable long-term free agent signings in Mirza TeletovicMatthew Dellavedova and John Henson(an extension, technically). A tough question for the retooled front office will be whether to pay up for Parker after two ACL tears when he becomes a restricted free agent.

As of now, it seems as if the only way to build a superteam is from within. The Bucks could be a tax team next summer if Parker’s new contract commands a salary north of $20 million, limiting their options in free agency.

Still, if the core continues to develop like its has, the Bucks will be in prime position to take over the Eastern Conference when (if?) LeBron James heads West or begins to decline.

Dark horse: Sacramento Kings

Look, we can’t believe we’re mentioning Sacramento and Golden State in the same breath either. But the young core in Sacramento is tantalizing. Youngsters De’Aaron FoxBuddy HieldWillie Cauley-SteinSkal LabissiereJustin Jackson and Harry Giles represent a sky-high ceiling in Sacramento. With George HillZach Randolph and Vince Carter presenting some much-needed veteran infrastructure, the kids could bring trouble to the rest of the NBA in a few years.

We’re a long ways away from seeing if the Kings have something that resembles a playoff team, but the seeds have been planted. Look for the Kings to pounce in 2019 free agency with as much as $55 million in cap space with nine players under contract (all first- or second-round picks).

If they hit a couple home runs in the draft and manage the cap shrewdly, could they steal Klay Thompson in 2019? We like what’s brewing up the coast in Sacramento.

Even in Trump’s America, where an appointed communications director doesn’t last 10 days, I STILL never thought I’d see the words “Super Team” combined with Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and the real kicker: the Sacramento DAMNIT, NO Kings!

First to address the obvious:  No star worth his weight in gummy bears is purposefully going to Sacramento.  Sorry, it’s not happening.  In a league that’s built around multi-top tier players in order to compete, there’s just no shot at Sacramento luring a Golden God.  They’d have to build from within by drafting young talent, which I’ll admit openly: they’ve ve done well so far, on paper.  BUT in order to dethrone the Warriors, Spurs or future Lebron-Lakers 100% of the players drafted would have to come to fruition and contribute almost immediately.

Next up:  Ok, Chicago and Philly make a little more sense in a perfect, utopian basketball world where everything goes according to plan.  Chicago has a destination-pull for young talent as a city in general and now that they’ve parted ways with Jimmy Butler there is an opening for the alpha-dog position.  It makes sense that through a trade or free agency they could make a move in the next 2 years.  The same can be said for Philly, in addition to the amount of “potential” talent they already possess, not to mention the amount of cap space available.  Although, does anyone else get a Greg Oden-vibe about Joel Embiid?  Just sayin…

 

And lastly:  The Nuggets and Suns are both respectable mid-level franchises with pros and cons to playing in both locations.  Denver offers a great city life and a strong fanbase, as does Phoenix.  Both franchises have had mid-level success over the last 10 years, playoff appearances, some young talent, good moves and BAD moves by the front offices respecitvely.

From an objective viewpoint, all of these mentioned franchises (except Chicago and Philly) have relatively the same issues:  mid-level market, mid-level franchise with very little lure for big names and very little room for a strong playoff run due to road-blocks; The Spurs, The Warriors, The eventual Lebron to the Western Conference scenario, and not to mention The OKC Thunder.  Franchises like Denver, Phoenix and Sacramento are AT BEST a 5-seed in the West and more than likely eliminated in the first round.  Today’s NBA is the most robust version of AAU basketball we’ve ever seen, the top 10 players in the league have 99% of the pull when it comes to player movement and franchise-changing transactions.  This generation of superstar wants to be on the court with their high-level talented friends, and it takes 3 stars on a roster to even compete for the top spot in either conference.

Sidenote:  The Kyrie Irving situation in Cleveland.  I understand Kyrie’s desire to be “The Man”, but where and how is there any scenario that will be better than what he already has?  ANY team he goes to will have a lesser chance of making the NBA Finals!  Go ask Russell Westbrook how many “The Man” moments will make up for consistent first or second round exits in the playoffs for the next 5 years?  Winning is what matters, winning solves all problems.  And the major problem is that the NBA may as well be fraternity row right now, the biggest, richest house on campus (Golden State) has all the best parties, the most recognition and the most pledges knocking down the door to join.  Until Delta Delta Delta can figure out how to beat Alpha Beta at their own game, no one else stands a chance.

Annonymous NBA Front Office Executive:

When lovable nerds (name retracted) and (name retracted) embark on their freshman year at Adams College, little do they realize the dangers that await them. They are beset by taunting from the jocks of Alpha Beta fraternity, which only worsens when the jocks accidentally burn down their house and toss the freshmen out of the freshmen dorm. To make matters more problematic, (name retracted) develops a crush on pretty Betty Childs, popular sorority sister and quarterback’s girlfriend. Joined by the aptly named Booger and the violin-playing Poindexter, the nerds soon realize they must form their own fraternity in self-defense. Soon the tables are turned as the nerds employ high-tech warfare against the jocks…. but can they really succeed and make a difference?

 

 

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