• One Big Thing: Be really good or really bad

    In most professional sports, you either want to be on the very top or the very bottom. It’s pretty cruel, but that’s just the way of the world. You’ve seen it play out amongst the league’s annual contenders and the, uh, ‘asset compiling strategy’ employed by guys like Sam Hinkie.

    This can’t possibly be the first time you’ve heard that sentiment, but I felt it was worth rehashing on Free Agency Eve. Yes, I’m writing this on Thursday night even though it won’t drop until Saturday. I’d do that for you.

    There’s going to be all kinds of money flying, but bad value will be bad value at some point. The cap won’t rise forever, and you don’t want to be stuck footing the bill to linger amongst the league’s ‘also-rans.’

    Hinkie’s process, for as much as it may concern those who crow about the integrity of the sport, was a good idea. There was no sense in working with a merely okay core that would never be good enough to win a title or appeal enough to lure a superstar free agent. Basketball is often a star’s game, and if you can’t get one you’re best served clearing the deck and trying again.

    If you’re going to be bad, be bad. Go for it. Get those high picks, build them up and then eventually you’ll have three or four or five young guys on the upswing who happen to be extremely talented. That might lure a star down the line. The road has been rocky, but the process has been right.

    It’s incredibly difficult to get to the top, as it requires some good luck and the right people at the right time. Once you get there, it’s about staying there. It’s going out and getting a guy like LaMarcus Aldridge to soften the blow of losing your longtime cornerstones. It’s about small shrewd moves that pay off in the long run that help sustain excellence.

    Where you don’t want to be is the middle. I’ve written about the jump from good to great being the hardest one to make before, and that goes double this time of year.

    When you’re stuck in the middle, you have a pretty full cap sheet full of pretty good players. And then what? You can’t easily clear space for a star free agent. You don’t have the high draft picks with the best odds at stardom and success.

    You could tear it down, but that’s not going to look great amongst fans and possibly ownership. You could keep trying, but the odds aren’t great.

    The New York Knicks can’t honestly believe that a Derrick Rose / Joakim Noah / Carmelo Anthony core can win a championship in 2016. So what are they doing? What’s the point? Getting past-prime big names doesn’t boost your reputation as a relevant basketball destination. It makes you look desperate and out of touch.

    Being mired in mediocrity, too good for the very bottom but too bad for the serious threats, is where the danger lies. When you’re good but not great, it’s hard to plug a hole in the dam without opening another.

    Take, for example, the Thunder’s rumored asking price for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka would’ve been a lovely fit on the Toronto Raptors who are in dire need of an athletic power forward who can stretch the floor. For all intents and purposes, Ibaka is a guy they should’ve gone hard after.

    I used the past tense because the Thunder asked for Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson and the 9th pick in the draft. There’s no doubt that Ibaka makes the Raptors starting unit much much better. But to get him, they would need completely tear apart their (very effective) bench. Patterson was a versatile defender who often played starters minutes, while losing Joseph would put undue stress on Kyle Lowry. It’s not like those two can be replaced cheaply this summer. That’s even before we talk about the implications of losing Norman Powell and the pick. The starting five works better, but it’s not worth it.

    This summer provides some fascinating case studies for teams who are staring down the dreaded middle of the pack. The money, either from these teams or their competitors, will surely force some hands.

    The Atlanta Hawks are really good, but that could change very fast. If Al Horford leaves, then what? It’s doubtful that they get better without Al. The remaining pieces are an aging Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroeder and Kent Bazemore. Let’s say Horford does leave and the Hawks re-sign Bazemore. Is that group good enough to get through Cleveland? Toronto? Miami? Boston?

    If Horford goes, it might behoove the Hawks to strip it down. Maybe keep Bazemore, but don’t hang up on any offers. Trade Millsap and get some picks for the future. Or keep trying as Millsap and Korver get older and try to squeeze out a final gasp or two. The Hawks’ future hinges on Horford’s decision and their own faith in Bazemore. Most options leave the Hawks firmly in the middle, and the only way out looks incredibly painful.

    What to make of Houston? Who can possibly get the Rockets back to serious contention? The Rockets generally try to bring in talented guys and figure it out later, which is honestly not the worst approach.

    But is there enough talent out there that could A) conceivably fit and B) actually want to go to Houston? They’re struggling to get meetings with top guys and the idea of sharing a Big 3 mantle with James Harden gets less appealing every day. Daryl Morey is a sharp guy, but it’s looking like this roster foundation just simply isn’t good enough.

    For a prideful guy like that, admitting defeat is tough. But barring a miracle, the Rockets are stuck; too talented to tank but too awkward a fit to hang with the league’s elite.

    How about Dallas? Is there anyone out there who thinks that this team is ready for a post-Dirk world? They surprised last season and have some interesting guys on board, but the moves they make this summer will go a very long way towards determining their fate.

    They apparently love Hassan Whiteside, but who goes around him? What if Whiteside never develops into a good team defender or chooses another location? Chandler Parsons did the team a favor by taking himself off the books, but Dallas could really go either way. They’re one foot in and one foot out. In to do right by Dirk and take one last crack at winning, out to build the next foundation of Mavericks basketball.

    Watching teams have their hands forced is one of the best underlying stories of every free agency days. Who panics and spends money to run in place? Who sucks it up and braces for the rebuild? And who connects for a home run?

    There’s lots of rhetorical questions here and there’s even more that have no right answer. While we won’t truly know what teams had successful summers until the games get played, we might have some pretty good ideas by Monday morning.

Fantasy News

  • Kawhi Leonard
    Team, Los Angeles Clippers

    Sopan Deb of The New York Times is reporting the NBA has begun an investigation centered around whether "improper inducements" were offered to players in order to circumvent the salary cap.

    This follows Stephen A. Smith's reporting on Kawhi Leonard's team demands for his uncle, as well as other rumors suggesting the courtship of free agency went out of bounds in the summer of 2019. It will be interesting to see how deep this matter goes and what sort of penalties will be handed out, if any at all.

    Source: Sopan Deb on Twitter

  • Boban Marjanovic
    C, Dallas Mavericks

    The Mavs have officially announced the signing of Boban Marjanović to a two-year, $7 million deal.

    The Mavs will have two 7'3" bigs on their team as Kristaps Porzingis will be playing his first games in a Mavs uniform this season. Boban has been a reliable big off the bench for all four franchises that he has played for. However, he has never eclipsed the 14.0 mpg mark and therefore, will not sustain fantasy value. He is someone to look at in DFS matchups depending on matchups and injuries.

    Source: Callie Caplan on Twitter

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    There is video that came out showing Giannis Antetokounmpo taking jump shots alongside new teammate Kyle Korver.

    If Giannis is able to improve upon his efficiency when taking shots from outside, he will take the word unstoppable to another level. In his career, he is a 27.7% three-point shooter. Korver, a career 42.9% three-point shooter, will look to help the reigning MVP improve upon the one weakness in his game.

    Source: Bleacher Report on Twitter

  • Brandon Goodwin
    PG, Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks have signed Brandon Goodwin to a 2-way contract.

    Goodwin played in 16 games in his first season with the Nuggets and had a very impressive Summer League showing in July. He will be joining a very youthful roster in Atlanta. Goodwin is off the radar from a fantasy perspective.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Cheick Diallo
    PF, Phoenix Suns

    Cheick Diallo has officially signed a two-year contract with the Suns.

    Diallo has always been intriguing but he has never seen enough minutes to provide consistent value. He is off the radar heading into the season, but could be a cheap option in DFS depending on the matchup.

    Source: Gina Mizell on Twitter

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard has withdrawn from Team USA training camp and will not play in this summer's World Cup.

    Lillard is the latest star to sit this one out, and we can't imagine that USA Basketball will hold it against him when it comes time to pick the Olympic roster. Dame's locked in as a first-round fantasy talent as usual, and the extra time off should ensure that he's fully fresh to kick off the season.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    Bradley Beal will not participate in Team USA training camp or play in the World Cup as he's expecting the birth of his child in late August or early September.

    Amidst a wave of players withdrawing to focus on the upcoming season, Beal brings a far more legitimate reason to the table. It's widely expected that the Wizards will offer up a three-year, $111 million extension the second they can, though whether Beal wants to sign up for a long-ish term future in Washington remains to be seen. With John Wall out of the picture for next season, Beal is looking at another monstrous fantasy season and will be a surefire early-round pick.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Julius Randle
    PF, New York Knicks

    Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown have been added to the Team USA training camp roster.

    The superstars on the original invite list are dropping out rapidly these days, so Team USA is replacing them with younger players who might not have otherwise had a shot at representing their nation on the largest stage. Both Randle and Brown figure to take on larger roles for their teams this season, and hopefully this selection will be a good first step to what is hopefully a big season.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Ben McLemore
    SG, Houston Rockets

    Free agent Ben McLemore has agreed to a partially guaranteed two-year deal with the Rockets.

    McLemore was selected by the Kings with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft and he has also spent time with the Grizzlies. The Rockets have limited financial options and they are taking a flier with McLemore who is still just 26 years old. It’s not a lock that he makes the final roster though.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • John Wall
    PG, Washington Wizards

    Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said that John Wall “probably won’t play at all” next year as he is recovering from a torn Achilles.

    Nothing new here, Wall ruptured his left Achilles in a slip-and-fall incident at home and he is not expected to resume any basketball activity until at least February of 2020. The Wizards are not expected to be very competitive this year and it makes sense to take it slow with Wall’s rehab. Owners should only stash him in dynasty leagues.

    Source: Chase Hughes on Twitter