Tag Archives: Kevin Garnett

The 2017 first-round picks owed, ranked by drama

The NBA season is almost here. Several teams made major tweaks to their rosters over the summer, which makes it feel like there are more teams with playoff hopes in 2016-17. Eventually, though, the playoff race will narrow and be joined by the tankathon and additional excitement thanks to draft picks traded years ago. Going into the 2016-17 season, there are six first-round picks that could change hands, and I ranked them in terms of drama they could generate. That seemed a little goofy, but it made sense after writing this up. The draft pick Golden State owes to Utah, for example, will be as unexciting as it gets, which kicked off the #rankings. A number of sites go into detail about draft picks up in the air because of trades, but I prefer RealGM.

6. Golden State Warriors to Utah Jazz, unprotected

This was part of the July 10, 2013 trade that sent Andre Iguodala from the Denver Nuggets to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors dumped a lot of salary (most notably Andris Biedrins’ contract and his Magic Beans) and multiple draft picks as the price to open up the necessary cap space to fit in Iguodala.

Since then, Iguodala’s been wonderful. The Warriors have been wonderful. It could’ve gone south whether from Stephen Curry‘s ankles, David Lee preferred over Draymond Green, Green not developing into a freakishy well-rounded player, a possible Kevin Love trade that goes horribly wrong, Mark Jackson, or whatever. Everything’s nice in Golden State, and it turns out that this will very likely be the 30th pick in next summer’s draft. There’s little to sweat over.

Maybe it’s a trade piece for Utah for something huge in the summer, but it’s also cheap enough to keep for what will become an expensive roster soon. Regardless, it feels like Utah’s approaching the one-player-away territory and finding that piece is never easy, but at least they have outs through the draft. Long shots, but still.

5. Los Angeles Clippers to Toronto Raptors, lottery protected

There were two poor trades that involved this pick. In the summer of 2014, Milwaukee initially received it from the Los Angeles Clippers to get Jared Dudley off Roc Divers’ books. A year later, Toronto got this draft pick from Milwaukee (and Norman Powell) in exchange for Greivis Vasquez.

The Clippers could fall off this year, making this a little dramatic by turning a late-20s pick into, well, an early-20s one. Not great, but hey, a good team like Toronto with multiple first-rounders is cool. They have opportunities for sustained success even after Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are past their peaks. Wild cards lurk on their roster in Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas, but it would obviously help if they nail next summer’s picks or use them in a nice trade, whatever that would be.

4. Memphis Grizzlies to Denver Nuggets, top-5 protected

The hidden treasure of a January 2013 trade between the Cavaliers and Grizzlies that involved four future Hall of Famers: Jon Leuer, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, and Josh Selby. The Cavaliers eventually added this pick in a trade to acquire Timofey Mozgov.

This trade probably played a part in Memphis paying huge sums of money to keep Mike Conley and acquire Chandler Parsons. It’s just really hard to tear down a roster in one season and guarantee a top-five pick. Finish the season outside of the worst four records, and it’s a coin flip at best whether top-five protection works its magic. Memphis also owes a top-8 protected 2019 pick to Boston, because of course, Boston. Because of these draft obligations, the Grizzlies didn’t have much of a choice in which direction to go this summer.

For Denver, there’s still some drama here. Memphis could very well win over 50 games and put this pick in the mid-20s, but they could just as likely be a late-lottery team. Conley, Parsons, and Marc Gasol are injury risks thanks to all those body parts in the legs that need to be banned. Even at full health, the wing depth is shaky.

Overall, though, Denver will get few to no lottery balls out of this, but every additional draft pick helps on the rebuilding path.

3. Sacramento Kings to Chicago Bulls, top-10 protected, or to Philadelphia via swap rights

This draft pick changed hands starting at the 2011 Draft, attached with Omri Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. Sacramento eventually acquired Casspi through free agency, and this pick has fallen in its protected range every single season. Over time, this draft pick changed hands again, as it was a trade piece to Chicago to acquire Luol Deng.

I flip-flopped between this pick and Memphis’ being third, but this got the nod because it could go down to the last few weeks and would be an amazing hold if it doesn’t convey next summer. Six seasons of Sacramento keeping their pick is possible, instead handing over a 2017 early second-round pick. It’s so hard to be bad for that long. Very, very Timberwolves-like to attach a first-rounder to a dumb trade and then hang onto it for a half-decade. After the Deng trade, which happened in January 2014, I wrote that it was a coin flip whether the Bulls would ever get to use this first-rounder. I mean, really, a coin flip if a top-10 protected pick would convey over the next four seasons. Any other team would be a near lock.

Chicago’s going to need that pick, though. They have nearly $70 million committed this season to players 27 or older. Sooner or later, a rebuild will probably have to happen, and using their pick with an additional one in the ~11 to 16 range would help. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls and Kings with identical records by March, but Chicago making sure they have a worse record by the end of the season. The Kings are going to finish 10th? Nah, the Bulls are getting there and putting Sacramento at 11.

Chicago and Denver could own four of the five picks between 10 and 14, by the way. Fun times.

2. Brooklyn Nets to Boston, swap rights

Brooklyn could’ve made the 2014 Finals after shipping a ton of draft picks (and dead salary, by the way) for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. Maybe they were something along the lines of a solid, deep squad like the 1999-00 Blazers, but a bit older. It flamed out almost instantly. Brooklyn eventually found success going “small” in one of the craziest differences in performance from pre-January 1st to after, but it was too late to get very far with it.

That feels like forever ago. Now, the Nets are torn down and Boston’s reaping the benefits, now in the good-team-with-a-high-draft-pick scenario that’s been pretty rare until now. They have too many draft picks to know what to do, so maybe this is when they unload a few for a player who could make a defense that could be the best in the league even stingier. Or, because of Golden State, they play the long game of drafting moar prospects. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong here with Brooklyn in the early stages of rebuilding. They’re on the right track, but Boston’s still headed for a top five pick and possibly another in 2018.

1. Los Angeles Lakers to Philadelphia 76ers, top-3 protected

This obligation finished first because of the pick protection that Lakers and Sixers fans will sweat over all season. Boston’s getting Brooklyn’s pick, but we won’t know until the lottery results whether the Sixers get Los Angeles’. It’s the last piece of the trade with the Phoenix Suns that brought Steve Nash to Los Angeles, then was attached in a trade that brought, among other players, Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, and that draft pick to the Sixers.

And the pick has refused to convey. This will be the second-straight season of top-three protection (it was top-five protected in 2015). Even the worst team in the NBA has a 36 percent chance of finishing fourth in the draft lottery. The Lakers held on last year despite Philadelphia clearly being the worst team last season, giving Los Angeles a 44 percent chance of losing their pick but winding up with Brandon Ingram. The Lakers would’ve no longer been favored to keep their pick if they were third-worst, a 47/53 percent coin flip, but the lottery played out exactly where teams were slotted, so the protection would’ve held up anyway.

The Lakers should be terrible yet again, especially if Deng doesn’t play at power forward, but they will be without Kobe Bryants chucking and Byron Scott’s, well, everything. They will be less frustratingly terrible, though because of the pick protection there’s always a decent chance they hand over their draft pick to Philadelphia, giving the Sixers possibly two top-five picks in what should be a solid draft.

Another layer of drama is if the Lakers lose this year’s draft pick, they’ll have to give Orlando an unprotected 2019 first-rounder as part of the Dwight Howard trade. Both teams need that pick. Neither has been the same since that trade.

There could be a few more draft picks added to the list before the trade deadline, though Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City are unable to trade theirs because of their 2018 firsts going elsewhere.

When Did Kevin Garnett Play Center For Minnesota?

I’m going to note right away that I loved Jonathan Tjarks’ article published two days ago about Kevin Garnett. Once in a while, I tweet that Chris Webber’s best years came in the early-2000s, the most boring era possible for a player like him. It’s a shame, but Garnett is another player who would’ve been even better had his career started 10 years later. Tjarks’ article (you can follow him on Twitter here) covers Garnett and his versatile skill set, a seven-footer who could guard every position and thanks to his shooting, handles, speed, and passing, he could use up offensive possessions from any position if his team was decimated at one.

Unfortunately, the prime of Garnett’s career was often spent playing alongside disappointing centers such as Rasho Nesterovic, Michael Olowokandi, or Mark Blount. This also happened in Boston as he started with a solid, pre-injury Kendrick Perkins but also the final days of Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal. The Celtics’ core was strong enough and the NBA was slow enough with their transition to the pace-and-space era that it was fine. Damning because Garnett never played with a Lamar Odom-type player like Tjarks noted, but it was fine.

Garnett’s positional versatility after his first stint in Minnesota narrowed. It’s debatable, but by the time he came back to Minnesota he was (or still is?) playing like a full-time center. In his first 12 seasons, he played small forward through center, though the ranking in memories of each probably goes:

  1. Power Forward: Where he mostly played from 2004 to 2007 with a space-eating big.
  2. Small Forward: Paired with Tom Gugliotta and a space-eating big from 1996 to 1998, then with Joe Smith and a space-eating big from 1999 to 2003.
  3. Point Guard: Because of the 2003-04 playoffs when Minnesota held on for dear life as the backcourt dropped like flies.
  4. Center: This happened in moments spread out across all 12 seasons, but still happened nonetheless.

In this post, I listed some notable times when Garnett played at center during his youth and prime. It isn’t meant to #WellActually Tjarks. I’m all for any column that goes over how Garnett’s career, while amazing, should’ve been so much more enjoyable for so many reasons. I also appreciate any column that helps remember his peak since it’s been so long since it happened. Garnett’s been in the league since 1995. His prime happened when over 10 years ago. In one game during his rookie season, he played against Magic Johnson.

This post was just out of curiosity, a long time in the making, but Tjarks reminded me to get that done while it’s still the off-season. The moments with Garnett at center were fascinating upon discovering them because it had been so long since they happened. For other fans of Garnett’s career, maybe this will refresh their memories, too.

All lineup statistics were from Basketball-Reference.com. I love you (or them, or it) but this also went against your (or their, or its) positional estimates that don’t make a ton of sense for several players. All I’ve heard is that there’s a preference to height when determining positions. Garnett played 99 percent of his minutes at power forward last season, according to those estimates, but that doesn’t seem true when watching who he’s guarding and his overall skill set.

The 1998 Playoffs (available on YouTube

I noted earlier that at Garnett’s best, he could play any position if his team was decimated at one. This is remembered best in the 2003-04 postseason, when the Wolves’ point guards turned to dust as they were eliminated in the Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The first-round series of the 1997-98 playoffs against the Seattle SuperSonics was another example, this one being the postseason Garnett played primarily center. The Wolves were without Tom Gugliotta, Dean Garrett, Cherokee Parks, and Stanley Roberts. Tom Hammonds was the only other option left, and during that season Minnesota went as far to keep Garnett from guarding centers as to start Hammonds and Roberts alongside him. Against Seattle, Flip Saunders instead rolled a starting lineup of Garnett-Sam Mitchell-Anthony Peeler-Terry Porter-Stephon Marbury

The results were unfamiliar with even today’s Wolves. During the 1997-98 season, they took 12.8 percent of their field goal attempts from three-point range, but that jumped to 24.6 in the five games against Seattle. The 2015-16 Wolves finished the season with a three-point rate of 20.2 percent. Sam Mitchell, the coach of last season’s squad, recorded 43 three-point attempts in 81 games during the 1997-98 season. In the five playoff games, he attempted 14.

Most shooters for Minnesota saw increases in their shots from beyond the arc.

gaph

Possibly because of injuries, possibly because the SuperSonics were one of the stretchiest teams in the regular season with shooting bigs like Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins, the Wolves rolled with only a seven-player rotation. They also routinely doubled off the strong side shooter and gave up open threes, though that may have been because of the illegal defense rules. Double-teaming was pretty straight-forward. Going to double-team, then stopping halfway to run back to a defender might result in an illegal defense technical. Simply put, defenses these days are far more advanced. Also, Stephon Marbury looked out of control 99 percent of the time. It was maddening to watch him.

Minnesota held a 2-1 lead over Seattle at one point, but lost narrowly in Game 4 at home and lost by 13 at Seattle. 1997 probably would’ve been a similar result with small ball lineups , but it would’ve at least been interesting to watch them against Houston a year earlier, a roster of players in their mid-30s.

Unfortunately, lineups that small rarely appeared again.

1999 and 2000: The occasional frontline with just Kevin Garnett and Joe Smith

With the acquisition of Joe Smith, Minnesota routinely started both he and Garnett, but also Garrett or Rasho Nesterovic.

Doing some quick math of available minutes at the center position in each season, most of 1999’s went to Garrett, Tom Hammonds, Bill Curley, and a few bigs with tiny minute totals, leaving little room for Garnett to be placed there unless the Wolves somehow rolled with a Garrett/Hammonds combo or whatever.

2000 was a little different. With 3,936 available minutes at center over 82 games, Rasho Nesterovic, Dean Garrett, and Tom Hammonds took up only 2,699, leaving plenty of room for Garnett and Smith, the latter who came off the bench, to take up minutes there.

Basically, this comes down to when it’s just Smith and Garnett on the floor as the bigs, who would you peg as the center? Garnett has the height, but also the versatility.

2001 (0/45/55 SF/PF/C position percentages, via Basketball-Reference’s estimates) 

Not a fun year for Minnesota for multiple reasons, but in this post we’ll note that they lost Joe Smith and three first-round picks thanks to the procedure of his free agent deal. At this point, Nesterovic, Garrett, and Reggie Slater were the Wolves’ centers alongside Garnett with Wally Szczerbiak playing small forward.

Depending on where you position LaPhonso Ellis, the second-most common lineup from the Wolves in 2001 featured Ellis and Garnett together and the fourth-most common lineup had them with both Chauncey Billups and Terrell Brandonand Szczerbiak. Unfortunately, that lineup had a net rating of -11.8 points per 100 possessions, but the Garnett-Ellis combo played 1284 minutes with a net rating of +2.6.

Looking back, a Brandon/Billups/Szczerbiak/Garnett combo could’ve done some damage, but Brandon’s injuries ended his career during the 2001-02 season.

Definitely not 2002 to 2004 (2/84/14, 6/81/13, 0/95/5)

With Joe Smith back, the 2002 Wolves played the three-man combo of Garnett/Smith/Nesterovic a little over 1,000 minutes, but with great success at +12.6 points per 100 possessions. A lineup with Billups and Szczerbiak at the backcourt gave them good size at each position, and Minnesota placed second in defensive rebounding percentage and sixth in offensive rebounding percentage. Gary Trent also played a few minutes alongside Smith and Garnett, but with break-even success.

In 2003, the Garnett/Smith/Nesterovic trio logged only 446 minutes, but Smith had missed a lot of action this season. A lineup replacing Smith with Trent logged 480 minutes. Both were small net positives. There were actually 11 games where Garnett started with Nesterovic and Loren Woods.

Despite those awkward lineups and a horrific three-point rate, Minnesota was in the top five in offensive efficiency both seasons. They even had the Lakers on the ropes in 2003, but ultimately fell in the first round in both playoff appearances.

2004 was Minnesota’s breakout season, and they had plenty of bigs in case they went up against Shaquille O’Neal again. Mark Madsen, Gary Trent, Ervin Johnson, Michael Olowokandi, and Oliver Miller combined for over 4,600 minutes. It is almost sad that the Wolves didn’t find a single big who traded considerable beef for floor spacing. A team like the Dallas Mavericks, who were terrible defensively but gave Dirk Nowitzki minutes at center, would’ve been a fascinating matchup for Minnesota, or even the Los Angeles Lakers with their shooting. The Mavericks torched the Timberwolves with it a couple seasons earlier.

The 2004 Wolves crushed a lot of teams despite frontcourt combos like Madsen/Trent, which was -10 points per 100 possessions over 218 minutes. Five of their seven most frequent lineups, all with a stiff at center to go with Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell, had a net rating of +10 to +20 points per 100 possessions.

The small ball lineups from the 1998 playoffs could’ve came back, though. A healthy 2004 Wolves squad had enough depth to deploy a Garnett/Szczerbiak/Sprewell/Cassell combo with a choice of Trenton Hassell for defense or Fred Hoiberg for shooting.

2005? (0/54/46)

The main thing to note from 2005 was Garnett with Eddie Griffin. Only 22 when he arrived in Minnesota, a healthy Griffin could’ve been a great long-term fit with Garnett. Griffin shot the three with break-even success, 4.9 attempts per 36 minutes on 33 percent, and averaged 2.8 blocks and just 1.3 turnovers per 36. The duo was +8.8 points per 100 possessions while the best lineups over 50 minutes featured them and at least one of Sprewell/Szczerbiak. The Garnett-Griffin-Spree-Wally-Cassell lineup was +27 points per 100 possessions, but only over 123 minutes.

There were also a few lineups with Garnett as the lone big and either Hassell or Szczerbiak playing as the power forward that yielded success over small samples. The small ball lineups finally came back.

2006 and 2007, if only (0/83/17, 0/71/29)

The dark ages, but the best lineups of 2006 featured Garnett as the center and Hassell or Justin Reed at power forward. However, the minute totals for each are between 30 and 60. In 2007, Garnett played most, if not all of his minutes with Mark Blount, Craig Smith, or Madsen. Sigh.

Though entering the slight downtick of his career at this point, Garnett at center during 2006 and 2007 could’ve been the best choice of attack. The Wolves were never going to be completely terrible with Garnett on the floor, but there was finally risk to pair him with a flawed center. The draft picks lost from the Joe Smith deal and the blown draft picks they kept caught up to them. They also lost the offense they typically got at point guard. There was no more Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups, or Sam Cassell. There was only Marko Jaric, Marcus Banks, and Mike James.

Minnesota struggled on the boards despite their size. Going smaller may have forced a few more turnovers and led to jacking a couple more threes on offense. Still, Garnett carried these teams to near-.500 records going into February of each season. Eventually, they would fade, and sometimes they obviously tanked. With Garnett at center, maybe it would’ve only worsened their lottery odds, but it would’ve been more enjoyable to watch.

In Garnett’s second time around with Minnesota, he’s debatably played center with the starting lineup and would likely to do the same if he came back for the 2016-17 season. Garnett playing with Tyus Jones would be mindblowing, though.

Other Wolvesy notes from Garnett’s peak

  • The Gary Payton for Terrell Brandon, Wally Szczerbiak, and Rasho Nesterovic trade rumor in 2001. Minnesota’s depth, factoring in the effects of the Joe Smith deal, would’ve been cooked with that trade, but the defensive potential of Garnett and Payton before the latter aged would’ve been something. Especially if Garnett played center.
  • Speaking of defensive potential, switch Garnett and Tim Duncan with their teams and you get Garnett with an aging David Robinson, but the All-Defensive seasons from Bruce Bowen.

Other PFs playing SF or C during Garnett’s peak

  • It wasn’t just Garnett who started his career at small forward. During his rookie season, Duncan routinely started alongside both David Robinson and Will Perdue. Meanwhile with the Washington Bullets, one of Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and, in 1996, Rasheed Wallace started at small forward alongside bigs like Gheorge Muresan, Terry Davis, and a young Ben Wallace.
  • Webber did not like playing center at Golden State, which might’ve been a lesson for teams with other franchise-changing bigs. It’s also worth noting that while Webber had some amazing years in Sacramento, he couldn’t stay healthy. Rick Adelman routinely played a young, frosted-tips Hedo Turkoglu in his place.
  • One example of power forwards playing one position up was in 1998 when Antonio McDyess played center for his one season in Phoenix. The Suns won 56 games that season but the statistics do not exactly match what you’d expect with McDyess at center with Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Rex Chapman, and a stretchy power forward in Clifford Robinson. They were 10th in pace, 12th in offensive efficiency, and sixth in defensive efficiency.
  • As for McDyess, he averaged 6.7 attempts around the rim per 36 minutes, the highest of his career according to available data going back to 1998 on NBA.com. He made 69% of his attempts, one of his highest, nicest marks.
  • In 2004, Dirk Nowitzki logged time at center for the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas ended up having the most efficient offense ever, relative to league averages, but their defense fell off a cliff, from ninth in 2003 to 26th. It wasn’t just Nowitzki’s fault. Most of the roster was heavy on scoring and light on perimeter defense or rim protection. The following off-season was an overhaul, most notably losing Steve Nash, but the Mavericks bounced back to ninth in defensive efficiency and went from 52 wins to 58.
  • There are plenty of more examples scattered across the last 20 seasons, but the amount of space-eating centers who made a great deal of money to guard players like Shaquille O’Neal was too much to ignore. It wasn’t just Garnett who was held back by bad centers. Because of O’Neal, Greg Ostertag and Jim McIlvaine will live forever. So, too, will draft prospects compared to O’Neal like DeSagana Diop and Eddy Curry.

Looking at the Timberwolves During the Free agent Frenzy

As we near 48 hours of staring at Twitter for the latest updates in free agency, the Timberwolves are one of the few teams yet to steal the spotlight. Sure, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones will eventually sign their rookie-scaled contracts and Nemanja Bjelica may agree to a multi-year contract. Those would generate some fireworks, but Minnesota already held the rights to those players, and they already have 10 guaranteed contracts. Kevin Garnett will also resign re-sign, and Robbie Hummel looks to be coming back as well. There are still minor splashes that can be made, but the Timberwolves already have their core in place.

That doesn’t mean we can’t take a thing or two away from what’s already happened across the league and apply it to the Timberwolves, though. Some of it may be repetitive as we’ve learned just how much money is being thrown around because of the rising cap after the 2015-16 season. Those two changes to the NBA landscape were mentioned often in what I wrote below, but let’s take a look at how they affect the Timberwolves anyway:

The Long-Term Contracts

Minnesota’s two largest annual salaries currently take up over a third of the salary cap, but by 2018 that would be down to nearly 20 percent. Ricky Rubio holds the Timberwolves’ largest contract guarantee, and his four-year, $55 million contract starts now. As with most major contracts, the reaction to his on Twitter was polarizing, but it looks better after last night regardless. At this point, the biggest worry is Rubio’s health, but that’s more because of the length of his contract than his injury history so long as Flip doesn’t run him into the ground. I’m weirdly not too worried about that.

The much larger worry comes from Nikola Pekovic. $35.8 million for three years is a lot to absorb from a player who may never crack 1,000 minutes in any of those seasons due to chronic ankle issues and an Achilles debridement, but Pekovic’s contract looks a bit better now that the quality in players above or around eight figures got a little worse after last night. The year total on Pekovic’s contract remains bad, though, and an asset would still have to be attached or a smaller, troubling contract would have to be taken back in a trade.

Rebuilding without sacrificing some of the future is important. We’ll see if Minnesota can do that while handling Pekovic’s contract. At this point, a reasonably healthy, effective 2015-16 campaign would take some of the load off the frontline while making him more tradeable. $23.7 million for two years looks better than $35.8 million for three. With room to maneuver going forward and how far Minnesota is from the playoffs, I’m not sure moving Pekovic is necessary anyway. Just eat the contract if nothing on the trade market is attractive.

The Rookie Contracts

If no rookie contracts are traded, the Timberwolves will be paying less than $30 million to Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng, as well as the choice to keep them all for the 2016-17 season for a slightly higher price. That was already important before free agency, but it’s even more crucial now that we’re past July 1, though they have a lot of players to develop.

Minnesota will have to eventually address the second contracts of the youthful bunch, but a good chunk of money will be off the books by then. Looking ahead to the summer of 2016 isn’t that helpful given what could happen by then, but Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger will either hit free agency or have been traded, and among team options Bennett’s $7.3 million for 2016-17 is still up in the air. That’s about $20 million possibly off the books going into 2016-17 when Muhammad, Dieng, and Bennett will be the first rookies to come off their first contract.

Who knows how much of that money is really going to be thrown at Muhammad and Dieng if they’re still around. (I’m assuming Bennett’s gone.) Muhammad’s such a fascinating player as a possible small ball power forward, but he’s yet to play a full season. Dieng’s played a more meaningful role up to this point, but will be 28 years old in 2017-18, the first season of his second contract (same for Payne when that time arrives).

That’s down the road, though. Right now, Minnesota is down two protected first-round picks to dangle, but they get to enjoy having most of their core on the cheap with team options. Not bad for a rebuilding team.

The In-Between Contracts

How about the roller coaster that is Kevin Martin’s contract? In the summer of 2013, Martin was 30 years old with injury history, and his value on the court was noticeably impacted by the change in the rip-through move, but four years and $28 million was still perfectly understandable. The Timberwolves had to build a playoff contender around Kevin Love and, with Martin, looked to be one of the most efficient offenses.

Well, the gamble didn’t pay off. The Wolves missed out on the postseason and Love was traded. Another rebuild was on the horizon, though not quite at the level of just 16 wins, and Martin was due $7 million per year up to 2017. So. Much. WELP. Fortunately, Martin’s contract looks a lot better now. Even if he’s not able to be traded or if Flip Saunders just doesn’t want to make a move, the $7 million player option for 2016-17 shouldn’t be exercised with how much players are making on the open market.

Normally I’d prefer aging players to play for playoff contenders, but Minnesota could use a guy who can soak up scoring possessions. That’s a brutal process to watch when it comes to Martin, but Wiggins could learn a thing or two from his foul-drawing, among other scoring-and-definitely-not-defensive things.

The idea of Chase Budinger is better than actual Chase Budinger. How much would he have made if his first four years were from 2013 to 2016 rather than 2010 to 2013? Budinger’s a free agent after this season’s $5 million owed, but this team is weirdly deep and I’m not sure how many minutes are there for him.

There’s also Garnett and whatever he resigns re-signs for. By the way, Anthony Davis’ five-year, $145 million contract has nothing on what KG signed for during the 1997-98 season:

One day the Timberwolves may find themselves in a similar position with Wiggins, Towns, and/or maybe they’ll spread money around multiple players on the market. Cap space allows for a ton of possibilities as we’ve seen over the last 48 hours, though sometimes that does not end well. The draft and free agency each carry risk, and right now Minnesota has done well in the former. They’re currently on the sidelines when it comes to the latter, but with how decent their contracts look outside of Pekovic they’ll eventually have the chance to make some major moves of their own.

East vs. West Weeks 12 & 13: Atlanta and the East hold their own

After a two-week hiatus, Chicken Noodle Hoop is back with an East vs. West roundup. Since Week 11, 42 non-conference games went down and the East held their own by going 20-22, including 67-78 over the last six weeks. Not great, obviously, but not bad really, though the West ran 8.4 wins below their Pythagorean record.

Below are the updated standings through Sunday. After that I’ll do a quick summary of each conference over the last couple of weeks.

The West

  • The top nine teams (New Orleans replaced with Oklahoma City, since Anthony Davis missed some games) went 17-8 with a +5.28 point differential. They also had 12 road games, so the home-road games were split. The same teams against the top five East squads went 4-5 with a -4.22 point differential. San Antonio and Oklahoma City got the worst of it.
  • So that means the worst of the West was, well, bad. 5-12. This was the weirdest stretch of the season from New Orleans, losing to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. There’s no way that doesn’t haunt them when looking back on how they didn’t make the playoffs this season.

The East

  • Atlanta is obviously hot, SO HOT RIGHT NOW, but Cleveland looks much better than what we’ve previously seen from them. LeBron James looks like his old self. So, too, does J.R. Smith. This piece about his threes was nice. The top five East teams went 10-5 against the West, and as mentioned above performed well against the best of the West.
  • Boston survived a road trip out West, which was surprising to see from the post-2013 Celtics. The post-Rajon Rondo squad right now is, um, interesting? Two crazy wins against Denver and Portland, plus a chance to upset the Clips. They even rate well in my Watchability Rankings, though they’re declining in that metric.
  • Kevin Garnett stuck on the declining Nets bums me out every day, though this writeup about his career was fantastic. The Nets got washed against the West, outscored by 106 points and finishing 1-4. Atlanta can take Brooklyn’s first round pick if they choose, so this could be a monstrous year for the Hawks in more ways than one.
  • In the rest of the mediocre East, Miami went 2-2 (HASSANITY) while Milwaukee, Indiana, Orlando, and Charlotte went a combined 1-6. Ew. Luckily New York and Philadelphia picked on an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans squad that still should’ve been fine against the most heavily-armed tanks in the league.

Overall, the record-setting point differential has disappeared and the worst-half of the West still has plenty of non-conference games remaining. Below is a look at what games are left to play with top eight seeds shaded:

gams

Atlanta, the team that saved the East from disaster?

The West teams still have an uneven distribution of East games remaining, though maybe this is typical because of geography. Teams furthest out West are are among the ones with most and least non-conference games, which obviously includes Golden State, undefeated against the East with a mammoth game against Atlanta on February 6. WEEEEEEEEEEEE!

57 non-conference games will be played out from, well, yesterday to the all-star break with the West 2-1 so far. I probably won’t update this until that mid-season break since there are a bunch of other posts I’m trying to write up.

Previewing the 2014-15 season with Adam Mares

My worst Kirby photoshop yet.

My worst Kirby photoshop yet.

With real basketball and cool things like televised games on the horizon, I exchanged a few e-mails with Adam Mares on what we’re most looking forward to this upcoming year. Adam is the creator of the NBA PhD program on Reddit, writes for Analytics Game, and in my opinion is underfollowed on Twitter. You can reach him there at @Adam_Mares.

Below is what he and I had to say about this upcoming season over the span of a few days:

Adam Mares (October 14, 2:17 PM):

Hey Matt! The NBA season is almost here! That means we don’t have to replace Kirby’s head with Carlos Boozer or Ty Lawson’s head with Peyton Manning. I mean, we still will, of course, we just won’t have to. We can start to watch and talk about actual basketball. And there is so much to look forward to this season. Like, hundreds of thousands of things that I am excited about.

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way first. Lebron is back in Cleveland! And he brought some friends with him too. It’s almost impossible for this Cavs team to disappoint, at least when it comes to entertainment. They’ve got the best basketball player on the planet, the most unique power forward in the game, a point guard with a ridiculous handle and the potential to be one of the game’s best, and enough outside shooting to fill a 3-point contest for all-star weekend. And yet I’m most excited about David Blatt. I’ve allowed myself to become convinced that he is a basketball messiah, sent to Cleveland to create the world’s greatest offense. And I say that having only seen a few press conferences, a couple of clips of his former teams in Europe, and some nice reviews from former players.

Blatt is like the hot foreign exchange student that shows up one day in your class. The one who has that thick accent and weird clothes, and yet somehow after seeing her you are convinced that you’ll never fall for an American girl again. They all pale in comparison to her and her glowing blonde hair and the way she says “mercy” after she sneezes. That’s David Blatt! He might just be another guy, but I’m convinced he’s the one!

Matt Femrite (October 14, 3:25 PM):

First off, I might’ve attended the wrong high school and college because there was no female Blatt that I know of. Then again, I may or may not have napped my way through those years. Cavs fans would’ve been wise to do the same the last four seasons, and Blatt (along with, you know, LeBron and everyone else acquired this off-season) is like that fresh cup of coffee or three to get back up and going again.

IT’S ONLY PRE-SEASON, BUT Cleveland’s offense looks like it will end up as the most efficient in the league, and it’s been super fun to watch so far with Blatt deserving a lot of credit. The weave in particular and the off-ball movement produces spacing that’s just unfair. Kevin Love‘s going to have more than a few nights like against the Heat where he quietly scores 25, and we’ll have the 12th straight year wondering if LeBron will flirt with a triple double because of all the open looks this offense will create. There’s a lot of lineups that produce a ton of spacing, and sometimes defense just doesn’t matter when Cleveland could snap a 10-2 run in a minute.

Back to Blatt, though. Seems fair to put him near the top of the Coach of the Year candidates. That award has some, well, interesting names receiving it over the last 15 or so years. Quite a few have been awarded after a surge in wins which Blatt is going to qualify for, but Stan Van Gundy (Detroit), Monty Williams (New Orleans), and Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta) are a few who could be in the running as well. Is Blatt your pre-season pick?

And I’ll lob (or outlet pass?! Or both, like a full-court alley-oop?!?!?!) another question to you: With Kevin Durant about to miss a good chunk of time, is LeBron the #1 and #2 MVP candidate or do you see anybody taking the #2 slot up to the New Year?

Adam (October 14, 4:31 PM):

Lebron has been my #1 MVP pick every year since about 2008 and I think the odds are strongly in his favor for this season, but I actually think his usage will go down this year even if his impact is as big as ever. He’ll also get some competition from Blake Griffin, the three-point specialist. I think people, myself included, tend to think of Blake as a finished product when really he’s 25! This will likely be the first year of his prime. It’s entirely possible that Blake makes a leap this year not just as a shooter, but as an all-around player. Durant could also be in the mix, especially if the Thunder struggle without him and his return helps bring them back to the top of the Western Conference. People’s memories are short and if he returns on Christmas most people won’t even remember that he missed games by the time votes are due in April.

And what about the Unibrow? This promises to be a big season for him since his learning curve has been ridiculously steep. The Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs in the loaded West, but how are teams going to score against Davis and Omer Asik? Anthony Davis reminds me of sci-fi movies when a robot slowly gains consciousness to the point where they can no longer be controlled. Or that movie Lawnmower Man! Anthony Davis is basically a basketball lawnmower man. Every game he is better than the last. Davis started last season as the 33rd ranked player on ESPN’s player rank. He finished last season as the fifth or sixth best player in the league. Where will he rank by the end of this season?

Matt (October 14, 6:09 PM):

Fair point on Durant. Game totals will impact voting for awards and All-NBA teams, but memories are indeed short and if anybody was going to win MVP on less than 70 games for the first time since Bill Walton in 1978, it would be Durant. It’s a steep hill to climb, having to surpass a few big names, two you mentioned in the Brow and Griffin, but also possibly splitting votes with Russell Westbrook. Voting history over the last 20 seasons, via Basketball-Reference, suggests Durant could place in the top 3 if he ends up playing around 60 games.

For the Brow and his age, history suggests a tough obstacle to climb into the top 5. 2006 LeBron, 1994 Shaquille O’Neal, 2010 Durant, and 1998 Tim Duncan are the only players to place in the top 5 voting and be 21 years or younger, which is where Davis is currently at. He’s just as freaky as each of those players, but making the playoffs like the rest of those guys would help a ton.

Regardless, it feels like this is the year Davis starts to terrify people for betting against him and the Pelicans. Like, Zach Lowe just took Serge Ibaka over him for Defensive Player of the Year? What does Pierre think of this? I also give it two months before Davis’ basketball-reference page looks like this:

borw

Adam (October 15, 12:09 PM):

Ha! I love it, although I doubt Lawnmower Man catches on. The brow is just too solid of nickname to be replaced. I think Ibaka as DPOY is as good a bet as any although there are plenty of challengers. Davis is certainly a contender for the award along with… Dwight Howard. The Rockets have become a punchline for the league, especially James Harden and his matador defense. They’re going to need 2009 Dwight back if they plan on being in the conversation this season and that means dominant on both sides, especially defensively.

Speaking of defense, how about the new look Charlotte Hornets? I am fully aboard the Steve Clifford bandwagon, I’m running for president of the Steve Clifford fan club, I’ve even ordered my Steve Clifford tiger beat pinups. Okay, maybe not that far but I am a believer. Have you seen the way his players talk bout him? And on top of that, in one year he turned Charlotte from the worst defensive-rated team in the league to the fifth best. Look at guys who had career years for them last year. Al Jefferson, Josh McRoberts, even Kemba Walker improved greatly as the season went on, averaging 5.4 assists in December, 6.3 in January, 7.3 in February, 7.5 in March and 8.5 in April. And now you add Lance to the mix? A guy that grew up competing against Kemba in NYC? I’ve got a feeling I’ll be watching a LOT of Hornets games this year on league pass. I know there are sexier picks out there, but I’m going with the Hornets as my pick for league pass team of the year!

Matt (October 15, 3:54 PM):

Charlotte’s new court gives them a few extra wins, no? I’m just glad the Bobcats are gone. It was mostly a forgettable 10 years and last season looked like it was going to fit in with the first nine, but yeah, it’s remarkable what Clifford has done with that defense.

We could see some really ugly scoring out East. The Bobcats, Magic, Pacers, 76ers, Celtics, and Bucks… I mean, 7 of the 9 worst offenses last season came out East. I’d like to see how they play against a team like Cleveland, just from how well Charlotte would defend the Cavs’ fast break and such. Are there any matchups you’d really want to see, no matter how weird? Let’s stick to regular season games for now since everyone’s going to play everyone at some point or another.

Adam (October 15, 5:49 PM):

There are soooooo many match ups I want to see! Cavs vs Bulls will be the ultimate Offense vs. Defense matchup. Cavs vs. Wizards has rivalries at every position — Kyrie/Wall, Dion/Beal, Lebron/Pierce, Varajao/Nene. Any matchup between ATL, CHA, TOR, BKN, and WAS will be fun since I think they will all be neck and neck in the standings. How about GSW vs NYK? Will the garden give Steve Kerr an earful for leaving Phil at the alter? In Texas, I love that Cuban and Morey are beefing. I fully support a front office beef. I wish there were more. I want a Steve Ballmer/Paul Allen feud.

how

vs. Utah

Then there’s the Lakers and their rivalry with logic and progress. Seriously, I am pretty neutral when it comes to all things Lakers but I have to admit that I am kind of looking forward to seeing just how bad this team will be. It’s not just the age or lack of talent on D, it’s what they seem to want to represent: A return to some idealized version of old school basketball. I hope we see more nights where the Lakers stick to their guns and shoot 70 mid range jumpers and go 0-3 from behind the arc. Nothing will demonstrate more perfectly just how much the game has changed.

Then there are the rookie matchups. We’re gonna get Wiggins vs. Parker, Smart vs. Exum, Randle vs. Noel. Nurkic in Denver is looking like a rebounding machine. This rookie class is going to be a story in and of itself. Which of the rooks are you most excited to see and who do you think finishes with the ROY?

Matt (October 15, 7:15 PM):

Totally agree with why the Lakers should continue what they’re doing. They’re going to be something of a time machine, possibly surpassing the KG-led Wolves as the least “Moreyball” squad since shots have been tracked on NBA.com. FUN TIMES.

Jabari Parker should be the favorite for Rookie of the Year, and looking at Bovada’s Sportsbook he’s the clear leader with Andrew Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, and Doug McDermott (!!!) rounding out the top 5. I’m most looking forward to Wiggins, though, partly because he’s on the local Timberwolves but with Zach Lavine and Ricky Rubio he should also ease the rebuilding process. Orlando’s rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton have a lot of intrigue, too.

Like you said, there are quite a few fun rookie matchups, and it’s going to be a fun storyline both early on and hopefully during the last 20 games or so when the season can get stale.

Just for the heck of it since awards keep popping up, who do you have for each?

Adam (October 16, 2:33 PM):

I’ll stick with Lebron at MVP; it’s the only real choice. I’m really tempted to go with Wiggins for ROY. A LOT of people I really respect are down on Wiggins but I love his game and think he’ll have a more immediate impact than most. Clifford at COY for all of the reasons I already mentioned. I’ll go with Taj Gibson as 6th man of the year. This award typically goes to high volume scorers like Crawford but I think Taj is in a great spot now with Pau taking over the starting 4 duties. I think he’ll be more useful and more efficient behind Pau and will even get to play the 4 alongside Pau in some lineups. Also, the Bulls will be good and they need an award to show for it.

I think Steven Adams wins most improved. This might finally be the year Brooks realizes that the Thunder are better without Perkins on the court and I love what I’ve seen out of Adams. He fits that roster perfectly. Defensive player of the year award will be a tricky one. I could see Dwight stealing this one if Houston can become a better defensive team, which I suspect they will replacing Parsons with Ariza. I could be waaaaaay off on this one but I think Dwight has one of his best seasons ever this year and that starts with his defensive impact. Executive of the year will go to Lebron James. How can it not? He created a super team in a city that used to be free agency poison. The league will hand it over to David Griffin but we know who really deserves it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?  And lastly, who do you see bringing home the title?

Matt (October 16 4:25 PM):

MVP: LeBron James, but I can see Jon Leuer giving him a run.

ROY: Jabari Parker. I just see him as getting the most bulk stats and he has nobody to split votes with unlike, say, the Orlando Magic with Payton and Gordon.

Most Improved: Anthony Bennett should be the favorite for this, but it’s such a weird award. Like, Kobe could be in the running. Adams is a fun pick, maybe Reggie Jackson too. Is it bad if I don’t know?

[Throws dart at board.]

Cole Aldrich?

COY: Clifford’s a fun pick, but he may have missed his chance as this award is usually given to teams with big improvements in regular season win total. I’ll lean on Blatt.

6th man: Taj Gibson is a nice pick. Probably should’ve won it last year. I’ve wanted to modify who qualifies for this award, but that’s a post for another time.

DPOY: I’ll go with the Brow because I don’t want to upset Pierre.

GM: Heh, LeBron is a solid choice. This award will go to somebody in Cleveland.

As for which team survives the gauntlet that is the playoffs, I like the Spurs to repeat. It’s so close, but I like whoever gets that 1-seed out West. It’s a disaster to fall to #3 which OKC, another decent choice to title, might be placed.

It’s just so hard for a new trio to win it all, and while I always thought the ’08 Celtics were going to win a championship, them winning it all looks more impressive each day. The ’11 Heat ran over teams on the way to their first Finals appearance, but even they fell short in the end. For Cleveland this year, sure, the players will probably be disappointed if they don’t title, but to me that’s more than okay. If we learned anything from the SSOS Suns or the early-2000s Kings it’s that teams with great, super-fun offenses have lasting power.

What about you?!

Adam (October 16, 10:43 PM):

I have absolutely no reason to pick against the Spurs. They perfected basketball last year. Their finals performance was a work of art. They made a team that featured one of the best 10 players of all time look like a J.V. And yet, my gut tells me it won’t be them this year. My gut is telling me that Lebron and the Heat made it to the finals in Year One with Carlos Arroyo running point! Lebron learned the hardest lesson of his life that season, and I think he’ll take those lessons with him into this season. There are so many questions surrounding that team, but I take Lebron at his word this time around, that he’s ready to accept the challenge.

My head tells me there are a half dozen teams that could give the Cavs trouble. Chicago, San Antonio, OKC, the Clippers. But my gut tells me this will be Lebron’s season. My gut and my head are usually in sync but on this one I have to pick a side. I think we get a pantheon year out of Lebron.

It’s something of a transition period in the league. It’ll be a fast, short one. The Heatles era is over. The Pacers era might be over, at least the one we’ve come to know over the last few years. The David Stern era is over. As is the Donald Sterling era. The Spurs era might never truly be over, but it’s entirely possible that the dynasty is coming to a close. Kobe’s era is also a flicker. KG and Paul Pierce are on their last legs. Steve Nash, Vince Carter, and perhaps even Dirk Nowitzki are all writing their final chapter. But new, bright and exciting chapters are being written. One in Cleveland. Another in New Orleans. Another, in a sense, in Clipperland. And in Minnesota, Boston, Milwaukee, and so many other cities the new book is being written. This will indeed be a season of new beginnings.

Matt (October 17, 2:18 AM):

Could a contender please sacrifice 10 projected wins and trade for Kevin Garnett already? Is there a bizarro trade Cleveland can pull off to get him there? Regardless of what happens, I’m going to soak in the final days of his career and potentially the last from so many other stars of the late-90s, early-2000s. They’re my childhood and last major rooting interests around the league. That’s not to say the players of this era are dull or anything. They’re absolutely not and this is a golden age for basketball, but my fandom with most players, much like my rooting interest in the Timberwolves, comes and goes.

I very much agree that this season brings new beginnings and the excitement it could provide down the road will make for some great discussions, but right now the careers winding down mean a little more to me. The league is going to continue to soar when they’re gone, but like those before them we shouldn’t forget who helped pave the way. The nostalgic side of me sees this season as one of endings.

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