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Welcome, hoop fans.
NBA Grinch here to disrupt your spectacular end-of-the-year celebrations with a reminder that not all parts of 2018 were terrific.
It isn’t the nicest task, but it’s among the most necessary. Just like the rest of us, NBA organizations are in a constant state of experimenting, analyzing and (hopefully) maturing. Missteps are an unavoidable part of the process. They’re also one of the most critical developmental tools, provided we’re able to learn from them.
So, before we shift to the refreshing feeling of starting a new calendar, we first must reflect on the biggest 2018 regret for each of the Association’s 30 squads.
From free-agency failures to draft-night debacles and everything in between, we’ll examine where it went most wrong for clubs over the last 12 months.
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Look, we get it.
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk honed his front office craft with the Golden State Warriors. Through blurred, ultra-optimistic vision, you can see some Splash Brothers resemblance in Trae Young and Kevin Huerter.
The problem is Stephen Curry is a generational talent. Klay Thompson is a generational shooter. Expecting either Young or Huerter to approach that territory—let alone both to do so simultaneously—seems preposterously far-fetched.
And to think, by dealing away Luka Doncic, the Hawks parted with a potential superstar-in-the-making to chase this vision.
If the campaign closed today, Doncic would be only the 10th rookie—and first since Grant Hill—to average at least 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Young, meanwhile, would be just the fourth freshman in the three-point era to average 14-plus shots a game with a sub-40 field-goal percentage.
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As Kawhi Leonard’s prolonged exit from the San Antonio Spurs played out, there were more reports about who was being held out of trade talks than pieces potentially in them. Third-year swingman Jaylen Brown was among those reportedly made off-limits.
It might have been a defensible stance back then. Leonard made just nine appearances in 2017-18, raising questions about the type of player he’d be in 2018-19—concerns amplified by his uncertain future beyond this year. Brown, on the other hand, had just put an exclamation point on a breakout sophomore season by averaging 18 points in the playoffs for a conference finalist.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe even raised the question, “What if Brown is on a path to becoming the next Kawhi Leonard?”
That almost sounds comical now, with Brown backtracking in a big way and Leonard reclaiming his place as a top-five talent. Complicating matters, Leonard just so happens to be starring for the Toronto Raptors, Boston’s chief rival in the East.
While the Celtics’ conservative approach to their own assets has allowed them to dream about a different elite, they might regret letting another pass right through their fingertips.
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DeMarre Carroll’s value had flatlined ahead of his July 2017 trade to the Brooklyn Nets. After a pair of injury-riddled, disappointing seasons with the Toronto Raptors, his remaining two years and $30 million were burdensome enough that the Raptors had to sacrifice a first- and second-round pick to the swap.
Fast-forward to February, and Carroll had played his way back into respectable three-and-D range. In fact, he heard from his agent, Mark Bartelstein, that “a lot of teams” were interested in acquiring him, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
This could have been the best kind of double-dipping for the Nets—adding value by bringing Carroll in, adding some more by sending him out. But Brooklyn held on to him then, and it might not be able to reverse course now if it wanted to. His shooting rates have plummeted since last season, likely dragging down his trade stock with them.
Keeping him around is tricky, too. Any floor time he receives might be better spent on developmental minutes for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Rodions Kurucs, Treveon Graham, Allen Crabbe and Dzanan Musa.
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The Charlotte Hornets didn’t have the funds to make big-ticket splurges, so we’ll instead shift the focus to a relatively minor move that actually makes sense in a vacuum.
In 2016-17, Willy Hernangomez was an All-Rookie first-teamer. In February 2018, he was acquired by the Hornets for a pair of second-rounders and no-longer-in-the-NBA Johnny O’Bryant.
The price is fine—perhaps a bit of a bargain even—but the fit has been flawed from the start. Charlotte was already overcrowded up front before Hernangomez arrived, and the congestion carried over into this campaign. With Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Bismack Biyombo in the same center rotation, the Spaniard has found either limited minutes or, on occasion, no floor time at all.
This isn’t a particularly damaging move, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher nonetheless.
That said, history will likely view the Hornets holding much greater regrets from this time. Not moving Kemba Walker to kick-start an overdue rebuild seems like a wasted opportunity, even while recognizing his importance to the franchise.
In a similar vein, the draft-night swap of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Miles Bridges may not age well, though the former’s value would’ve been capped without a Walker trade.
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Jabari Parker’s journey to the Chicago Bulls morphed from fun homecoming tale to disastrous $40 million mistake in near-record time.
He was signed in July, debuted in October and lost his rotation spot in December.
Granted, free-agency dealings are never guaranteed to succeed, but Parker’s case is unique. It’s as if Chicago knew this was a dicey investment, ponied up the $40 million anyway (the second year is a team option, at least) and second-guessed itself almost immediately.
The Bulls’ version of Parker has essentially been the NBA’s version of Parker. He struggled as a shooter a bit more than usual, but he was basically a volume scorer who doesn’t defend (just like he said he wouldn’t), rebounds fine and doesn’t bring much else to the table. Are we sure the Bulls read his scouting report before making the offer, or did they just digest some of his old Simeon highlights?
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How, Sway?! How is this possible?
The Association’s best player of his generation—and, in the eyes of many, the best to ever do it—is an Ohio native. He has twice served lengthy tenures with the Cleveland Cavaliers, each stint unlocking a new level of success for the franchise.
And still, the Cavs have given LeBron James reasons to find the nearest exit. Twice.
He had a championship-level sidekick in Kyrie Irving, who reportedly requested a trade after hearing of a discussion among Cleveland’s front office about his possible trade value, sources told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. They then botched Irving’s exit, settling on a package featuring Isaiah Thomas, who arrived with a hip injury and eventually went under the knife—after the Cavs had moved him for a minimal return.
So, while James’ exit was ultimately his decision, the Cavs will regret not doing everything in their power to appease the best player they ever had.
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In July 2015, DeAndre Jordan ditched the Dallas Mavericks at the altar, backing out of an agreement to join the club during free agency’s moratorium period. Considering the spotty play they’d received from the center position since then, you can understand why they were willing to let bygones be bygones when the big man returned to the market this summer.
But shouldn’t a $22.9 million investment return more value than this?
The counting categories say Jordan is having his typical season, averaging a double-double and threatening to push for the third rebounding title of his career. His on-court impact, though, is not what it seems. The Mavs have fared better on both ends of the floor without him, resulting in a plus-5.6 swing in net efficiency when he’s spectating from the sidelines.
He also hasn’t exactly endeared himself to his new teammates.
“He has been a major disappointment for the Mavs,” ESPN’s Tim MacMahon wrote in November. “He has rubbed teammates the wrong way with what they perceive as selfish play … Jordan’s disinterest in playing help defense has been a big problem as Mavs opponents light up the scoreboard.”
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Emmanuel Mudiay spent the bulk of his Denver Nuggets tenure on the trade block. The seventh pick in the 2015 draft transformed from a potential foundational piece into a trade chip as soon as the Nuggets doubled down at the position with Jamal Murray, also the No. 7 pick, in 2016.
The Nuggets were “quietly” shopping Mudiay as far back as the 2017 trade deadline, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe, but they either didn’t like the incoming offers or deemed it better to wait on the point guard’s potential. But Mudiay seemingly plateaued early, eventually costing him both his rotation spot and any trade value he may have offered.
By the time Denver finally pulled the trigger on a Mudiay deal, he’d become a part-time player with a potentially crushing shooting problem. The February 2018 three-team exchange yielded Denver only Devin Harris and swapped second-rounders.
“It looks [like] the Nuggets waited too long to strike,” ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote at the time, while giving the Nuggets a B-minus for their return. “Mudiay’s value proved close to negligible, as Denver got only a veteran rental and the chance to move up a couple spots in the second round.”
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The motivations behind this move are fine, or at least seemed to be at the time.
The trade market was the Detroit Pistons’ only path to a player of Blake Griffin‘s stature, and this meant they wouldn’t have to figure out the right rate on Tobias Harris’ next deal. The Avery Bradley rental wasn’t having the desired effect on the win column. And if this swap sparked a late-season run, the outgoing first-rounder wouldn’t have been the toughest pill to swallow.
They weren’t going to join the contending ranks, but maybe that was fine.
“Maybe super-mediocrity, with multiple playoff appearances in the middle of the Eastern Conference, is OK for the Pistons,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote. “… They are struggling to fill a new arena, at risk of missing the playoffs for a second straight season. Being the Joe Johnson-era Hawks might be a great outcome for them.”
But a couple miscalculations could prove wildly costly.
The gap between Griffin and Harris has grown uncomfortably slim. Harris is three years younger, significantly cheaper, less of an injury risk and, as of now, a 21-plus-point scorer and near-50/40/90 shooter. Oh, and since last season’s playoff push fell short for the Pistons, they actually sacrificed the lottery pick used to acquire Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a 20-year-old averaging 14.1 points and 3.8 assists per 36 minutes.
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Before DeMarcus Cousins fell into the Golden State Warriors’ lap, general manager Bob Myers possessed the mid-level exception and was “mostly … thinking wings,” per Greg Papa and Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game. Boogie’s budget rate necessitated pivoting off the initial plan, but the Dubs never strengthened what they saw as a potentially problematic area. In fact, they’re even more shallow than they feared with Patrick McCaw holding out.
Golden State’s collection of perimeter reserves features either young, unproven players or 30-somethings with shaky injury histories. That probably explains why Kevin Durant is averaging his most minutes as a Warrior and Klay Thompson is getting the most floor time he’s received during Steve Kerr’s tenure.
Granted, this isn’t the worst regret to have. We’re talking about insurance policies behind in-prime All-Stars. And maybe a cheap fix will eventually emerge on the buyout market; the franchise has left one roster spot open.
But a serious injury to one of the stars—or even a key reserve like Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston—could bring this issue to the forefront. The Warriors will need all the bodies they can get for maximum postseason protection, and only they know if they’d be comfortable giving Alfonzo McKinnie, Damion Lee or Jacob Evans any playoff minutes.
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We’ll let Mike D’Antoni speak to the state of the Houston Rockets’ depth.
“Obviously, it’s a problem,” the skipper told reporters in November. “It’s something that I know that the front office tried to address. They’re going to do the best they can. No blame going around; it’s just the way it is.”
It turns out that filling the void left by two-way stalwarts Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with Carmelo Anthony wasn’t the best idea. And shockingly, Michael Carter-Williams and his career 25.4 three-point percentage have proved an awkward fit for a group that embraces the long ball like no team ever has.
To be clear, Houston was never going to find much in free agency after spending big on both Chris Paul and Clint Capela. But for a squad entertaining realistic championship hopes, the lack of reliable reserves might be a fatal flaw.
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That this would stand as the Indiana Pacers’ biggest regret shows the franchise had a pretty productive 2018. Extending Myles Turner was a wise gamble with a ton of upside. It was also smart to keep Tyreke Evans’ feet to the fire with a one-year agreement, and Kyle O’Quinn was fine for the price.
But going three years and $22 million for shooting specialist Doug McDermott seems a tad excessive.
While they need his outside touch, they also can’t give him a ton of floor time because he’s too much of a defensive liability. There’s a reason he’s played for five different teams through five seasons. He’ll always have a home due to his perimeter proficiency, but when his defensive box plus/minus is consistently in the red, it’s not always worth the effort to get him involved.
There were a decent number of snipers available this summer, and few matched McDermott’s deal in length and salary. In the newer, (relatively) tighter NBA economy, he’s just not a $7 million-plus player.
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Jerome Robinson might have lottery talent. He might even be the 13th-best player in the 2018 draft class.
But it will be a long while before we have any type of read on him, because the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t need him to begin with.
Their backcourt looks like L.A. at rush hour. The starting guard spots belong to Gilgeous-Alexander and Avery Bradley. The reserve minutes are distributed among—clears throat—Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell.
Oh, yeah, and Robinson. Sorry, he’s easy to overlook when he’s barely broken a sweat this season.
How the Clippers left that draft without their center of the future (what up, Robert Williams?) or wing depth behind the oft-injured Danilo Gallinari is beyond comprehension.
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As soon as LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers, their need for shooting ballooned. Ideally, they’d find a floor-spacer for all five positions, as the King had previously enjoyed his most team success alongside stretch bigs like Chris Bosh and Kevin Love.
Brook Lopez should have been an obvious choice. The North Hollywood native had just splashed the fourth-most triples among 7-footers over the previous two seasons, the second of which was spent with the Purple and Gold.
But the Lakers passed on re-signing Lopez, who took a one-year, $3.4 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately helped them vault atop the offensive efficiency rankings. L.A. instead gave JaVale McGee a minimum deal, then added Michael Beasley on a one-year, $3.5 million pact.
The Lakers have been struggling for proper spacing ever since, posting mediocre marks in three-point makes and attempts. Unless rookie Moritz Wagner launches up the rotation, this club will either have to live with some interior congestion or sacrifice size to clear it up.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Leading up to the 2018 trade deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies had the hottest chip on the market in Tyreke Evans, whose return to Bluff City had sparked an improbably productive turnaround.
Everyone wanted Evans. The former Rookie of the Year was suddenly an across-the-board contributor again and a quantity-plus-quality outside shooter to boot. The Grizzlies shut down the swingman in anticipation of a deal, hoping for a first-round pick but, if that wasn’t possible, expected to eventually take the best offer available, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Mannix.
Then, the deadline came and went with Evans going nowhere. Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal opined the Grizzlies “seem to be betting that keeping Evans now significantly increases his odds of returning next season.”
Narrator: Evans did not return.
Memphis played out its 22-win season, then watched Evans leave for nothing. The Grizzlies could have collected an asset from someone who cost them just a one-year, $3.3 million contract the prior summer. Instead, they’re left with only a highlight reel from a season the franchise hopes to forget.
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The Miami Heat have been whale hunting ever since the Big Three disbanded. But a batch of bloated contracts and some loose handling of draft picks effectively prevented them from even joining a star pursuit.
That all changed in September, when a disgruntled Jimmy Butler made them his preferred trade destination. The Heat were even close to reeling him in before trade talks crumbled at the last minute. They pulled Josh Richardson off the table shortly thereafter, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and later watched Butler land with the Philadelphia 76ers.
This all seemed somewhat defensible when Richardson came roaring out of the gate and hinting toward a tremendous leap. Already an impact defender, the 25-year-old was averaging 21.4 points on 43.9/41.2/90.6 shooting through the first nine games.
But he turned back into a pumpkin in December; this month he’s averaged just 14.1 points on 35.0 percent shooting. The lack of consistency makes one wonder if he’ll ever make an All-Star leap like Butler once did or merely top out as a three-and-D complementary piece. There’s value in high-level three-and-D play but not enough to block the arrival of a four-time All-Star.
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Zero regrets for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018.
The hiring of Mike Budenholzer was a home run, and they enhanced its value by giving him free-agent snipers like Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton. Donte DiVincenzo was a good enough value as the 17th pick. The three-team trade that brought back George Hill helped both the present on-court product and the future cap situation. Resisting temptation with Jabari Parker looks smarter by the day.
The Bucks are doing everything right, which is critical when employing an all-galaxy talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the Greek Freak has given no indication he’ll want out of Wisconsin when he hits the open market in 2021, plenty of superstars have outgrown smaller markets. Other teams are hoping he’ll eventually feel a similar itch.
“Rival executives, particularly those in major markets, are already plotting to chase … Antetokounmpo, whether in free agency or via trade,” Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote. “They’re gathering tradeable assets and freeing future salary-cap room.”
Maybe Milwaukee doesn’t need an Antetokounmpo statue just yet, but life in today’s NBA demands that clubs do as much in-house recruiting of their own stars as possible.
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At what point did the Minnesota Timberwolves realize that having a future with Jimmy Butler was no longer possible? His mid-September trade request seems like the obvious answer. Or if not that, then perhaps his wild return to practice in early October.
But the message was reportedly communicated much earlier than that. Butler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols he informed the Timberwolves of his unhappiness just four days after their playoff run ended.
So how, then, was Butler still on the roster in September—let alone through training camp and nearly the first month of the regular season? Why was he given “precautionary rest” some nights and trotted out for 40-plus minutes on others? Why was there no sense of urgency on Minnesota’s end, not to placate Butler but to maximize his trade value and minimize the potential damage of keeping a disgruntled veteran around?
“Trading a star rental … isn’t easy, but the lack of urgency from [Tom] Thibodeau and the Wolves was shocking,” Tom Ziller wrote for SB Nation. “They made the playoffs by one game last season. They were two wins from the No. 3 seed. Every game matters, and the Wolves were out here spitting away games on Butler’s whims.”
Minnesota’s reluctance to move cost it an offer of Josh Richardson and a first-round pick from the Miami Heat, and who knows what else was on the table. Once the Wolves finally relented, they only collected Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-rounder. Covington and Saric are solid, but they’re hardly what you’d consider acceptable centerpieces of a return package for a 20-point scorer and all-league stopper.
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How long has the small forward position been the weak spot of the New Orleans Pelicans? You have to dip back into the memory banks to even find a serviceable option there. Tyreke Evans maybe? A half-season of Quincy Pondexter?
Point being, this is hardly a new problem. But are they any closer to finding a solution?
The Pelicans reportedly have a “plan,” which might prove nothing more than wishful thinking. Multiple league sources told Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate that general manager Dell Demps is “waiting for a midseason trade to strike.”
Great. So, the answer is waiting for an unidentified trade target to emerge—in a market that looks like it will be short on sellers—and then ponying up something better than all the other wing-needy teams can offer? Does this mean yet another first-round pick will be headed out of the Big Easy?
And what exactly happens in the meantime? Just sit back and hope that E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Wesley Johnson and Solomon Hill can cobble together a workable rotation? In possibly the most important season in franchise history that could determine how Anthony Davis reacts to the supermax offer headed his way over the summer?
If this convinces the Brow to bounce, it’ll be an all-time regret.
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The New York Knicks’ plan for their point guard position seemingly entailed throwing a handful of youngish floor generals at the wall and seeing which one sticks.
In a vacuum, that’s not the worst strategy you’ll ever hear. Rebuilding clubs must be open to help wherever they can find it, and this allows the ‘Bockers to hedge their bets that the lead guard of the future exists somewhere on their roster.
The issue is these point guard prospects are not created equally—not by upside or the organization’s level of investment. Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay both arrived as castoffs from other clubs, players who had squandered previous opportunities to produce. Frank Ntilikina, on the other hand, landed in the Empire State as New York’s second-highest drafted player of the 2010s.
Ntilikina is clearly rough around the edges, particularly at the offensive end. But he’s also a 20-year-old on a team that knew it would spend this season outside of the playoff picture. He needs all the maturation minutes he can get, either to prove his worth in the Knicks’ future plans or inflate his value to ensure they get something in return for 2017’s No. 8 pick.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
There’s plenty to like about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s formula for success. They have the requisite multi-star collection with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, a 7-foot bulldozer in Steven Adams and a host of rangy, energetic athletes around them.
Defend better than anyone else, and you’re bound to give yourselves a shot every night, right?
Let’s just say that’s to be determined. For everything the Thunder have, their nearly team-wide shooting shortage might be the worst weakness to have in today’s game. Their 32.6 three-point conversion rate is the Association’s worst. Their 70.5 free-throw percentage is only three spots from the cellar.
What’s most regretful about this is Oklahoma City had to see it coming. Of the nine players to log at least 400 minutes this season, only three have a career three-pointer rate above 33 percent. (League-average, mind you, is 35.2). Oh, and that trio includes part-time players Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines. Unless this can be fixed via trade, a wave of regret might rush over the Sooner State amid a brick-filled playoff failure.
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The Orlando Magic had their reasons for moving on from Elfrid Payton.
He was inherited from the previous front office regime and clearly didn’t have many fans in the new one. His outside shooting woes were especially problematic with Orlando’s roster construction, and the glowing pre-draft scouting reports on his defense have mostly failed to materialize at the NBA level.
But at the time of his trade to the Phoenix Suns, he was a 23-year-old former top-10 pick averaging career highs in points, field-goal percentage, three-point accuracy and player efficiency rating. Was it really worth moving him for a mid-second-round pick?
It’d be one thing if Payton was blocking an up-and-comer behind him, but he was the only point guard prospect Orlando had. It’d also be forgivable if the Magic had clearly superior options. They have 31-year-old journeyman D.J. Augustin, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Briscoe.
Obviously, Orlando had no intention of re-signing Payton, so maybe a bit of credit is due for returning something. But with Justin Jackson in the G League and a 2019 second-rounder still looming, it might be a while before we know what value, if any, the Magic actually received in this swap.
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With budding stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons finally healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers burst onto the contending scene last season with 52 wins and a trip to the conference semis. Head coach Brett Brown, then also acting as interim general manager, highlighted the club’s win-now mentality while expressing its intentions to spend the summer in pursuit of a third star.
So why, then, did their biggest draft-night deal have such a future focus? To be clear, the swap had value. Zhaire Smith might have a better pro career than Mikal Bridges, and the incoming 2021 unprotected first-rounder from the Miami Heat could be the biggest prize of all.
But that draft pick does nothing for Philly’s current championship pursuit. And Smith may not either, with a fractured foot and subsequent surgery, plus a procedure necessitated by an allergic reaction, sidelining him indefinitely. Bridges, on the other hand, offered plug-and-play potential as a three-and-D role player, the same skill set Philly is now hoping to find on the trade market.
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As far back as January, the Phoenix Suns made clear they were going for it this summer. Then in April, perhaps as a way of holding the front office to its word, Devin Booker capped a 61-loss season by saying, “I’m done with not making the playoffs.”
The Suns sort of followed through with that plan. They spent the first pick on Deandre Ayton, a readymade big man with 20-10 potential. They sacrificed a current and future first to climb up for Mikal Bridges, a polished prospect. They lavished Trevor Ariza with a $15 million salary as soon as the market opened.
But their efforts to address a glaring point guard problem fell flat, resulting in one of the worst position groups in recent memory. The opening night rotation at the 1 featured Isaiah Canaan, Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton. Canaan was gone before December, and Jawun Evans arrived on a two-way deal shortly thereafter.
Remember, the Suns had multiple first-rounders, financial flexibility and, once they realized Ariza wasn’t what they needed, one of the most coveted trade chips on the market. None of those avenues brought back a point guard. That’s wild.
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Raise your hand if you ever watched the Portland Trail Blazers in recent years and thought the weak spot of this roster rested in the backcourt. And we don’t mean in the “Can Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum successfully coexist?” sense, but simply which positions were least talented.
Zero hands raised, right? So, see if you can make sense of this approach.
They drafted one rookie (Anfernee Simons) and traded for another (Gary Trent Jr.), both of whom are guards. They added two external free agents (Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas), both of whom are guards.
Stauskas and Curry are unsurprisingly failing to move the needle. Trent and Simons can’t even find the floor because of the overcrowding. Meanwhile, the forward group continues to underwhelm; letting Ed Davis walk still looks like an unnecessary chemistry risk; and $48 million feels steep for Jusuf Nurkic, the kind of throwback big man the market mostly turned frigid on over the summer.
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The Sacramento Kings held the No. 2 overall pick this summer. Luka Doncic was selected at the No. 3 spot.
Hey, Dave Joerger, the floor is yours.
“Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on [Doncic],” the Kings skipper said recently. “I don’t see it, unfortunately for us.”
While Joerger clarified this wasn’t meant as a shot at Sacramento’s front office or a dig at Marvin Bagley III, the underlying sentiment stands. Doncic has superstar potential, and the Kings let him pass by.
To their credit, they’ve been both exciting and better than expected without him. But he could’ve nudged the ceiling even higher, wreaking transition havoc with De’Aaron Fox, feeding lob passes to Willie Cauley-Stein or making defenses pay for giving Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica too much space. This isn’t an anti-Bagley regret, but Doncic had the edge in both talent and team fit.
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Second-guessing Gregg Popovich is never easy and rarely wise. Not to mention, if he wasn’t interested in spending the twilight of his career navigating a full-scale rebuild, he’s earned the right to remain competitive.
But losing a player like Kawhi Leonard will almost assuredly lead clubs to an eventual, inevitable reclamation project. The Spurs could have at least received a solid head-start on that effort by accepting the best offer of prospects and/or picks on the table.
They went with DeMar DeRozan instead, a 29-year-old—two years older than Leonard—owed $27.7 million both this season and next (and 2020-21 if he picks up his player option). Oh, they also landed a top-20 protected 2019 first-rounder and Jakob Poeltl, a 23-year-old who’s been a career reserve so far.
There’s some talent in San Antonio, but it’s aging, expensive and light on both three-point volume and perimeter defense. Sooner than later, the Spurs will regret taking such a narrow view with the Leonard trade instead of putting some potential building blocks around Dejounte Murray.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
While we can’t confirm this, we’re guessing that’s the exact expression Kyle Lowry had upon receiving the 2:30 a.m. call from best friend and longtime running mate DeMar DeRozan that he’d been traded away from the Toronto Raptors.
The Leonard-DeRozan swap was a brilliant move for the Raptors. Leonard is a 27-year-old MVP candidate. It’s next to impossible to snag a player of that stature in a trade. And while there’s risk he might bolt next summer in free agency, that would send Toronto down a rebuilding path with far fewer obstacles now that the organization is out from underneath DeRozan’s deal.
But didn’t the execution of all this seem a bit sloppy?
DeRozan was given the impression he wouldn’t be moved, which Raptors president Masai Ujiri would call a “miscommunication.” DeRozan told Haynes he felt he wasn’t given “the respect that I thought I deserved.” Lowry, who didn’t publicly address the deal for months, would later tell ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “I felt betrayed because [DeRozan] felt betrayed, because that is my guy.”
Again, right business decision for Toronto, but not the cleanest transaction you’ll ever see.
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Questioning a three-year, $33 million commitment to Dante Exum would’ve been a scalding-hot take in 2014. Back then, the No. 5 pick was being billed as a possible Penny Hardaway 2.0.
Exum’s potential now is…who knows? Not “New Penny” probably, but Exum’s range of potential career outcomes is nearly impossible to predict given how little he’s played to date.
He appeared in 80 games over the previous three seasons combined, and his career high in minutes is still the 22.2 he logged as a freshman. His lanky 6’6″ frame has proved disruptive on defense, but his scoring is erratic, and his outside shooting is several notches beneath average.
It’s hard to see how this all adds up to a player worth an eight-figure salary, even while acknowledging teams routinely chase potential in this league. With the 2018 free-agency market largely reserved, this feels less like the Utah Jazz won a bidding war and more like they went beyond what was needed to eliminate the risk of their former high draft pick blossoming elsewhere.
30 of 30
Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Troy Brown Jr. is 19 years old and two months into his NBA career. There’s no telling what type of pro he’ll eventually be or how history will remember his selection at the No. 15 spot.
But all those unknowns are the issue for the Washington Wizards, who want to win now but have been perpetually searching for a suitable second team.
Brown was unlikely to be an early contributor regardless of where he landed. He averaged 11.3 points and 3.2 assists during his lone season in college, where he also struggled to right a wonky three-point shot (29.1 percent). He’s a project, albeit a moderately interesting one thanks to his size-handles-playmaking ability.
The Wizards needed more immediate help, particularly from someone on a rookie-scale contract to balance the budget with major money already on the books. Brown isn’t ready, which does nothing to help Washington’s race against time to salvage whatever window 28-year-old John Wall and 25-year-old Bradley Beal have left.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.