Tag Archives: Dirk Nowitzki

What now? DraftNasty looks at the NBA free agency landscape after the draft

With the NBA Draft in the rear view mirror and the free agency period set to start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson breaks down some of the compelling storylines and offers his best fits for the scenarios.

Where do the star players of the NBA Finals go next?

Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all free agents. Durant was the marquee name of the free agency period before he tore his achilles in the NBA Finals. However, the two-time Finals MVP is still a highly sought-after name and will receive a max contract from whoever signs him.  Kawhi Leonard was able to shift the balance of power away from the Western Conference  to the East when he joined the Raptors and won a championship this past season.  Klay Thompson is a five-time NBA All-Star and just barely missed out on the NBA supermax deal because he was not named to an All-NBA Roster.  To make matters worse, he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals and it remains to be seen how much time he will miss next season.  Each of these players are probably future Hall of Famers and will make whoever they sign with considerably better. Leonard and Thompson are both LA natives but I expect Thompson to stay in northern California.  Thompson plays his best when running off screens and setting picks for backcourt mate, Steph Curry, and their synergy is hard to replicate. Thompson was drafted by the Warriors and his skill-set is perfect for the Warriors free- flowing offensive attack.  Leonard could either return to the Raptors, which would put Toronto back in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference, or he could return home to play in Los Angeles.  Both the Lakers and Clippers could offer him a max deal, so it will come down to a matter of preference for Leonard.  Doc Rivers has shown before that he can maximize star talent and the Raptors proved they could put a team together around Leonard.  I think the Raptors or the Clippers are the likely landing spots for Leonard. Durant could miss all of next year but he, too, has plenty of suitors. He could return to the Warriors or leave the Western Conference like Leonard did last year and join a weaker Eastern Conference. The Knicks and Nets have been linked to Durant. The Knicks would probably be a playoff team with a fully healthy Durant but does a guy who spent the last three seasons competing in the NBA Finals want to play the waiting game with a young core?  The Nets made drastic strides last season as a playoff team, but they still need a star. If they are able to sign Kyrie Irving and pair him with Durant, this would probably make them the team to beat in the East. 

Troy’s predictions

Kawhi Leonard- L.A. Clippers

Kevin Durant- Brooklyn Nets

Klay Thompson- Golden State Warriors 

Does Brooklyn re-sign Russell or sign Kyrie?

As mentioned above, Kyrie Irving -a New Jersey native- has been linked to the Brooklyn Nets.  The Celtics enjoyed some success with Irving but could not make it to the NBA Finals and it seems their time together is over.  Brooklyn has the cap space for two max deals and have a need at point guard. They have a point guard in D’Angelo Russell, who made the All Star team this past season and could re-sign him.  Irving has had the better career to date though. I think Brooklyn would be better served signing Irving and trying to use that second max slot to sign another star player like Durant. However, Brooklyn could be in the same position as the Celtics if they strike out and can only bring in Irving, who would be the lead star.  In his past stints, Irving’s teams have not flourished when he played the role as the “lead dog”, see his early career in Cleveland and the last two years in Boston.

Troy’s predictions

Kyrie Irving- Brooklyn Nets 

How do the Lakers fill out their roster?

The Lakers traded away three players including last year’s first round draft pick, Mo Wagner, to the Wizards in order to free up enough space to sign another player to a max deal.  Right now, the Lakers are comprised of LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis as well as a few unproven youngsters.  General manager Rob Pelinka and the Los Angles Lakers could sign a player like Kawhi Leonard to a max contract and then fill out the roster with players on the veteran minimum or sign a  second tier star like Tobias Harris and then spread out the money to others that would make more than the veterans minimum. I actually think the best case scenario is for the Lakers to look to their past, they have a need at point guard and could bring back Russell. Russell saw his game rise to the next level last season and showed his ability to break down defenses and get to the rim. Signing Russell would allow James to play less at point guard and give the Lakers someone who could push the pace in transition. The Lakers ranked fourth in transition points per game last season and with what figures to be a roster of newcomers in 2019, Los Angeles needs as many easy buckets as they can muster. With the money they save by not using their max contract slot, the Lakers could also target free agents like J.J. Redick or Trevor Ariza, both sharpshooters and the type of players that have enjoyed success with James in the past. 

Troy’s predictions

D’Angelo Russell as well as a few second tier free agents- Los Angeles Lakers

What does Dallas do with their cap space?

Dallas acquired former New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis in the middle of this past season and saw Luka Doncic take home the rookie of the year award. The duo will serve as the centerpieces for the Mavericks going forward in the post Dirk Nowitzki era and they have enough money to bring in a max player this offseason. The Mavericks have a clear need at point guard and I look for them to try luring a guy like Kemba Walker. First order of business will be resigning Porzingis, who is a restricted free agent. I don’t see Porzingis leaving the Mavericks at all. However, I don’t see Walker signing with Dallas because it isn’t a great fit to have Doncic/Walker and Porzingis all on the floor together, there would be a natural overlap in the need for each player to have the ball. I do expect however for Dallas to target a true center because we’ve heard at times that Porzingis doesn’t like playing the 5. Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic is the name I expect to see sign with the Mavericks. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks target a defensive minded point guard like Patrick Beverly as well. 

Troy’s predictions 

Nikola Vucevic and a starting point guard – Dallas Mavericks 

Who will play alongside of Harden in Houston in 2019-2020?

The Rockets have been on the door step of the NBA Finals the past few seasons but this is a crucial offseason for them. Houston could stick with their same roster from last season and try and take advantage of the Western Conference, which is in flux. The Lakers have star power but will need time to gel and the Warriors have stars but Durant is a free agent and so is Thompson and even if they keep both, they won’t be ready by the start of next year. There are benefits in opting for continuity if you’re the Rockets. However, the opposite argument could be made, Houston couldn’t beat the banged up Warriors this season so why would anything change next season? If the Rockets want to bring in another max contract player like Jimmy Butler, they would probably have to trade center Clint Capela and Eric Gordon, to make the financials work. Butler would bring toughness and a defensive presence to the Rockets however I can’t see him coexisting with Harden and Chris Paul, all three need the ball in their hands to be successful. Paul and Harden already have times where they look like they’re taking plays off when the other is dribbling, Butler would only complicate matters. The best case scenario for brining in Butler would be getting rid of Paul and acquiring a spot up shooting point guard in the mold of former Heat point guard, Mario Chalmers. 

Troy’s prediction

The Houston Rockets should keep the team as presently constructed

Where will Kemba end up?

If Durant, Thompson and Leonard are in the “first tier” of free agents, Walker is not far behind. The former UCONN point guard is a one man offensive weapon that has only missed six games over the past four seasons. Whoever signs Walker is getting someone that can score (averaged 25.6 points per game last season), lead and possesses rare durability. I think the Celtics, who will probably lose Irving to free agency are the team to watch. Unlike the Mavericks. Walker fits in a lot better from a scheme standpoint with the Celtics, who possess a plethora of wings like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Romeo Langford, who can not only mask his defensive decencies but don’t need to handle the ball every possession. 

Troy’s predictions

Kemba Walker- Boston Celtics 

Hayward steps out of the dark and into the shadows

In probably the most global professional sport of them all, racial profiling still exists, and the most recent victim is Butler product Gordon Hayward.

Not to confuse the point – the Indiana native has not had his civil rights violated or been antagonized by the legal system, but without a doubt, the talented small forward will be served an injustice by supporters of a league that has players representing more than 28 countries and territories.

In a sport that’s range is so expanse, the perspectives about its players pale.

Hayward, a 6-foot-9, 211-pound small forward, is probably not pounding the floor on this matter. After all, a little more than five months ago, he was trotting along in obscurity as a very good basketball player on a formidable mid-major team. Then March Madness began, and by the time the circus was over, Hayward and his Bulldogs were center stage under the big tent.

Butler may have fallen to Duke in the national title game, but the Bulldogs won in every other imaginable way. Hayward, especially. Though his half court heave to win the game barely missed the mark as the final buzzer blew, the sophomore’s NCAA tournament appearance was all net. Not only had the Indiana native become a national figure in basketball, he had created enough of a buzz that he decided to enter the Draft.

As to be expected with such a surprise player that had the nerve to be so captivating without being preordained by basketball experts, the reaction was uneven. Some onlookers begged for Hayward to withdraw his name from the Draft and avoid the biggest mistake of his career. He would go undrafted and miss the chance to take Butler back to the Final Four. Others were more optimistic, immediately crowning him a top-5 lottery pick.

Both extremists will be wrong and Hayward’s truth will land somewhere in the middle, most likely mid-to-late first round, though it wouldn’t be unrealistic to believe that he could make a run similar to the NCAA’s and improve his stock.

What’s intriguing about Hayward’s rise is that he was relatively the same player in the NCAA’s that he was all season. During the year, he averaged 15.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds. His six games during March Madness mirrored this effort, as he notched 15.8 points and 7 rebounds a contest en route to earning the West Region Most Outstanding Player.

The story surrounding Hayward up to this point is satisfying.  It will remain satisfying as long as we view him as a basketball player. But that, unfortunately, won’t be the case. Yes, Hayward is white.

And because of this, he must shoulder the absurd expectations, for one, that he will be the next Larry Bird. It’s not unthinkable that the 20-year-old swingman will have a respectable NBA career but to measure him against Bird right now goes without reason. The same was done with Adam Morrison in 2004 after he dominated college basketball at Gonzaga. Morrison not only did not live up to the expectations, he has faintly held on to his playing career in the NBA, currently sitting on the LA Lakers bench in street clothes.

It’s not unnatural for fans to want to see players from a shared background attain great success, particularly in sports where that group is the minority. For example, Venus and Serena Williams and Tiger Woods inspired an entire generation of blacks to fall in love with tennis and golf.  Yao Ming, as well, can be credited with the wave of NBA support found in his native China. This trait transcends all sports, races, ethnicities, and nationalities. For further illustration, Alberto Salazar was revered by throngs of Cubans as he dominated marathons and long distance track and field in the 1980s, a rarity for Hispanic runners.

Essentially, wanting to identify with a celebrity is part of the lure. So it’s understandable for individuals to be in search of the next Larry Bird. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash have been dominant in the league but have not filled this longing. Yes, the two NBA stars are white but because they hail from Germany and Canada respectively, they haven’t been as celebrated as someone from American soil.

And so, Hayward assumes this pressure, be it willfully or not. Like Bird, he was born and raised in Indiana. Like Bird, he stayed home to play college basketball. And like Bird, Hayward took a small program to the national championship game. These parallels are undeniable. But for right now, these are where the similarities end. Hayward likely wouldn’t shy away from wanting a career like Bird, not because he’s white, but because he was a great player.

It’s silly though to think that it’s fair to compare Hayward only to other white players. In reality, his game is closer to Josh Childress than to Mike Dunleavy, to Jeff Green than to Luke Jackson, and to Luol Deng than to Matt Harpring. Yet most references will have the Butler standout associated with players that share his racial roots. Disregard the notion that he doesn’t have the pure jump shot of Dunleavy, possesses greater handle than Jackson, and does not embody the strength of Harpring.

Hayward’s strengths, however, make him an interesting prospect. He is deceptively quick, sees the passing lanes well even when dribbling in traffic, finishes at the rim well after contact, shoots a potent mid range jumper, and rebounds aggressively.

These attributes fit well with teams picking at 17, 18, and 19. Since Hayward has a similar makeup as Deng, Chicago could build its second unit around the Butler star or play the rookie with the starting lineup in certain situations. Also, Miami should probably look hard at the small forward if he is still available at 18; the Heat are weak at that position and Hayward could realistically find himself in the starting lineup as the season progresses.

And either tragically or epically, Hayward could be there for the Boston Celtics at pick 19. The Celtics don’t have a true backup for Paul Pierce and with the 2008 Finals MVP now on the back end of his career, Boston brass would do well to have someone who could play well enough to shed some of Pierce’s minutes without sacrificing too much.

Hayward’s weaknesses are also apparent and the severity on how they are judged might be the only thing that has him waiting any longer than the aforementioned selections. He sometimes gets lost in a game, drifting rather than dominating, a point that has been raised often in the fact that he didn’t altogether shred the competition in the Horizon League. And while Hayward has demonstrated toughness when going to the hole, a question mark is still swirling regarding his ability to consistently finish at the rim amongst the league’s swarm of shot blockers.

Above it all, Hayward is an NBA player in waiting. And with that comes comparisons of all kinds. Kobe Bryant is compared to Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal to Wilt Chamberlin. Instead of folding under the constant scrutiny of being measured against their predecessors, these players were fueled by it, excelled and thus created their own legacies. Hayward might want to take a page from this script. He can’t control the barrage of comparisons, but he can control what he does with them.

 

–          Patrick Green, DraftNasty.com staff writer, has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is the author of two novels, Josie’s Missing Syllabus and Son Down; and while both works deal with topics beyond the athletic landscape, each exposes a social scope involving sports as an underlying theme. Green has covered high school, college, amateur, and professional football during his career, having written for newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, South Carolina. To learn more about Patrick Green, visit www.greeninkpub.com.