My dream team within the salary cap (all-star weekend edition)

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Dream big, but dream within the imaginative salary cap and bargain agreement.

Before the season started, I made my dream team within the salary cap, set at $58,679,000. The only other rule was to not use rookie contracts since allowing them would turn it into an 12-man under-25 roster. It’s just too easy to make a loaded team when choosing from at least (rough guess) 25 more players outplaying their contracts.

After those rules, though, it was a free for all. Looking back on the players I chose in October, I would’ve hit some huge snags along the way, ones I could’ve gotten away with if this team were in the Eastern Conference, but still.

Here was my roster going into the season:

Starters

Bench

  • SG: Ray Allen ($3,229,050)
  • PF: Al Harrington ($1,399,507)
  • PF: Dante Cunningham ($2,000,000)
  • PG: Devin Harris ($1,272,279)
  • PG: Beno Udrih ($1,272,279)
  • SF: Ronnie Brewer ($1,186,459)
  • PF/C: Andray Blatche ($1,375,604)

Lineup: $46,262,108

Bench: $11,637,078

Total salary: $57,899,186

Amount under the cap: $779,814

Killing time on a Friday night constructing a fake NBA team: Priceless (and possibly hopeless).

Green and Kirilenko each had injury woes, which were huge losses to this team. Not having Harrington also meant the loss of the stretch four. Meanwhile, Brewer’s logging what looks like mostly garbage time with the Houston Rockets.

Basically, the defense of this team took a huge hit along with some shooting. There’s still hope, obviously, with the Curry-James-Duncan trio going strong, but the pieces around them don’t quite fit anymore. (Also, a couple salaries were off by like $100,000 since I was looking at how much they made versus how big their cap hit is. Only the latter impacts the salary cap, which makes Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin‘s situations so unique.)

Four months later, only Curry and James remain from the first edition. 10 new players will hopefully make the dream team a contender to go undefeated from now until the end of time. Below are the starters before going into depth about the reserves:

Starters

  • PG: Stephen Curry ($9,887,642)
  • SG: P.J. Tucker ($884.293)
  • SF/PF: Kevin Durant ($17,832,627)
  • Utility: LeBron James ($19,067,500)
  • C: Robin Lopez ($5,904,261)

Curry at point guard was actually a tough choice. His salary is super-friendly, but so is Goran Dragic’s ($7.5 million) and Kyle Lowry’s ($6.2 million). Going super cheap with someone like Patty Mills was also an idea running through my head.

I couldn’t pass up taking the greatest shooter alive, though, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say he is. Curry’s able to provide the best possible spacing off the ball, allowing the rest of the team to basically play 4-on-4. That’s just not fair when James has the ball in his hands with Durant also providing maximum spacing. All three can carry mediocre second units, which is nice so one could be subbed out earlier than normal to play with the reserves.

Also, if Curry slips on defense I put together some players that allow him to hide, though there have been a few writers who’ve brought up that he might be less effective defending off the ball. Whatever the case, P.J. Tucker’s one of those defenders, an incredibly cheap 3-and-D guy to start at shooting guard and beating out the one I chose before the season in Danny Green. He also excels at shooting from the left corner, the preferable one since LeBron shoots well from just about anywhere on that side of the court.

The trio of Curry, Durant, and James took up 80 percent of available cap space which, at first, made quality rim protection an issue. Durant wasn’t on the first team mostly because of the $17+ million he’s owed, but he’s been way too good to leave off twice in a row. With that in mind, I could’ve danced around rim protection by constructing a strong second unit with cheap, productive players like Andrei Kirilenko, Patty Mills, and Andray Blatche while hoping a hyper-aggressive defense by the starters make up for not having someone to deter shots at the rim without fouling.

Robin Lopez’ cap hit this year was just low enough, though, to where a coherent second unit could be built with one of Curry, Durant, or LeBron leading them. Chris Andersen was a cheaper option as a starting center, but one that would be too taxing to play more than 25 minutes a night. Somewhere between him and Joakim Noah is RoLo’s salary, and he’s easily outplayed it this season.

Also, the bench doesn’t need to be incredible when Durant, James, or Curry could lead it. It still took a while to form, though, since I had to find seven players combining for nearly the mid-level exception, or $4 million less than Kendrick Perkins’ salary. Here they are:

Patrick Beverley ($788,872)

An irritating point guard with an outside shooting touch, Beverley could be a fun compliment to Curry or lineups that want to be as chaotic on defense as possible.

Like most Rockets, his mid-range game looks non-existent as he’s shooting just 9-for-29 from that area. Take that however you’d like. He also rarely turns the ball over, one of the lowest turnover percentages among all guards, minimum 1,000 minutes. It’s a nice improvement from last year, turning the ball over nearly seven percent less this time around. (There are also some surprises on that list I linked to such as Nick Young, Avery Bradley, and Kevin Martin.)

Jon Leuer ($900,000)

Part of the All High-PER-Off-The-Bench Team with one that’s 18.1, Leuer’s another nice complimentary piece while on a great contract. He rebounds well in limited time, grabbing nine per-36 minutes and is one of the better defensive rebounders, ranking in the top-50 among forwards who’ve logged over 500 minutes.

What could make him most fun to play alongside Durant or James, though is his three-point shooting. He’s not a sniper from the corners as he’s only taken three attempts from there so far, but he’s a combined 17-for-26 from the middle and left sections above the break. Leuer’s also a good finisher in both the paint and restricted area whether it’s in the post or off the dribble with a floater. His defense is worrisome, allowing 1.18 points per possession in post-ups, according to Synergy, but his shooting should be a decent tradeoff.

Alexis Ajinca ($635,880)

I’m not sure if it’s cheating to grab a player who signed a minimum contract during the season, so I only grabbed one in Alexis Ajinca. Before grabbing Lopez, he was also an option for starting center, though his foul rate of 6.8 per-36-minutes made him an underdog to stay on the court for a good chunk of time. He also turns the ball over a ton, 28.6 times per 100 plays, according to Basketball-Reference. He’s a solid rebounder and a big body, though, which for this current team is fine as a backup.

Ajinca also has a mid-range game that looks both good and bad, 15-for-31 from that area and for better or for worse is not afraid of taking contested ones. Maybe this is something he builds on in the future? Either way, I like him paired with Anthony Davis in real life and on my team as a backup big.

Wesley Johnson ($884,293)

Johnson was taken purely for the financial reasons. It says a lot about him that he’s currently recording his highest PER ever of 11.1, but to look on the bright side he could be a fun to play alongside James and Durant thanks to his freak athleticism.

Johnson’s offense is worrisome, though. He could be entertaining as a guy cutting to the rim, capitalizing off attention drawn from others, but everything else seems questionable. He’s an average shooter from the corners and his current hot spot from three, the right side of the break, was a weak spot coming into the season (45-for-150 from 2011 to 2013).

Still, it’s not like he’d log a ton of playing time with Curry, Durant, and James already logging nearly 40 minutes each and Tucker and Beverley taking up another good chunk of playing time.

That’s my nine-player rotation, though Johnson’s minutes would be squeezed. Here are the rest who will ride the pine, though be capable safety nets if it came down to them having to play.

Kenyon Martin ($884,293)

If only Shawn Marion were affordable. Both he and Martin need to be on the same team and beat opponents with their flick-like jump shots.

Gal Mekel ($490,180)

Nick Calathes (490,180)

If not for these tiny cap hits, Jon Leuer’s off this squad in exchange for a player roughly $100,000 cheaper.

In particular, Calathes hasn’t been half-bad since Mike Conley sprained his right ankle against Minnesota, averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 2.6 steals in his last seven games. He still doesn’t get to the line but the uptick in true shooting (.452 to .582), effective field goal shooting (.434 to .571), and turnovers (eight less per 100 plays) are all easy on the eyes for Grizzlies fans. Hopefully. All of those stats are according to Basketball-Reference.

But there you have it. As for the head coach I’m taking Gregg Popovich. Assistants are so hard to choose, but I like some combo of Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau, Brad Stevens, Mike D’Antoni, and Jeff Hornacek. I also prefer Hubie Brown and Marv Albert holding down the local broadcasting booth with the possibility of Grant Hill chiming in too. My sideline reporter is Craig Sager.

A look at the roster again before some added thoughts on lineups and minute allocation:

Starters

  • PG: Stephen Curry ($9,887,642)
  • SG: P.J. Tucker ($884.293)
  • SF/PF: Kevin Durant ($17,832,627)
  • Utility: LeBron James ($19,067,500)
  • C: Robin Lopez ($5,904,261)

Bench

  • PG: Patrick Beverley ($788,872)
  • PF: Jon Leuer ($900,000)
  • C: Alexis Ajinca ($635,880)
  • SF/SG: Wesley Johnson ($884,293)
  • C: Kenyon Martin ($884,293)
  • PG: Gal Mekel ($490,180
  • PG: Nick Calathes ($490,180)

Starting lineup salary: $53,576,323

Bench salary: $5,073,698

Total salary: $58,650,021

Amount under the cap: $28,979

Time spent doing this while jamming out to the music performers at the All-Star Game: Priceless (and the performances were amazing).

Crunch time lineup: James-Curry-Tucker-Durant-Lopez

My crunch time lineup is the same as the starters, though LeBron plays point guard and everyone else but Lopez moves up one position. Lots of shooting with potential for freaky defense.

Bench lineup: Beverley-Johnson-Durant-Leuer-Ajinca

The second unit was tough to form, simply because playing Johnson isn’t desirable. At the same time, he’s the only one off the bench who can play shooting guard and small forward. Sure, I could play both Durant and James 44 minutes in a Game 7 and squeeze Johnson’s minutes, but if he can make a corner three then everything’s fine.

Any one of Curry, James, and Durant could lead the bench lineup but I went with Durant. James and Leuer would be a fun pairing, but I wouldn’t want to tax LeBron since he plays point guard and power forward in other situations. Meanwhile, Curry playing point guard would put Beverley and him in awkward spots on defense.

Overall, not much of that lineup matters in a Game 7. Johnson becomes irrelevant and possibly Ajinca too.

Smallball lineup: Beverley-Tucker-Johnson-Durant-James

Chaos on defense while also having five guys who can make a three, though Tucker would have to sit in the left corner even if Durant could conceivably shoot 90 percent from there.

Curry and Johnson are interchangeable in this lineup.

Bigball lineup: James-Durant-Leuer-Ajinca-Lopez

I’m putting faith in Ajinca’s mid-range jumper here, otherwise the spacing gets thrown off. Leuer would also have to be a solid shooter from the corners, something I believe he has the potential to do but hasn’t shown it this season.

Threeball lineup: Curry-Tucker-Durant-Leuer-James

Every smallball-ish lineup featuring James and Durant just doesn’t feel like “small” because of the former being built like a train and Durant being closer to 7’0 than 6’9. With that said, this might be both a smallball and crunch time lineup along with a three-point heavy one.

Free throw lineup: Beverley-Curry-Durant-Leuer-Lopez

Curry and Durant are the main guys to have at the line. Leuer’s shooting nearly 85 percent this season, though his numbers in other years are sketchy. Meanwhile, Lopez and Beverley are 80 percent for the season. This team isn’t blowing a lead with 30 seconds left, hopefully.

I also dove into how I would allocate minutes: 38 for the trio, 30 each for Tucker and Lopez, and between 14-20 for each of the four cogs off the bench.

Hopefully this team is a little more difficult to exploit than the first. James and Durant rarely being in foul trouble makes it less risky to have only one wing off the bench, the trio should work fine off one another especially if James is driving and kicking, and Lopez-Ajinca-Martin should be enough for consistently decent rim protection.

But could this team beat one composed of aliens within the confines of another galaxy’s salary cap? That’s the real question.

Overall this was good, degenerate, maybe even idiotic fun during all-star festivities. I’d like to hope I’m not the only one who would kill a few hours by putting a salary-adjusted team together, but oh well.

Any thoughts on my roster (or even yours!) are welcome.

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One thought on “My dream team within the salary cap (all-star weekend edition)

  1. […] We’ll see if this roster changes by All-Star Weekend. […]

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