• 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

  • Damion Lee
    SG, Golden State Warriors

    Damion Lee went 4-for-12 from the field and 4-for-4 at the line to finish Thursday's game with 13 points, one 3-pointer, four rebounds, three assists and one steal.

    Lee has been one of the hotter pickups since D'Angelo Russell was sent to the Wolves. However, some buyer's remorse might be setting in as Lee's .413 shooting from the field can dip thanks to the variance that comes along with him being a streaky shooter, making more suiting for FG-punting builds.

  • Juan Toscano-Anderson
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Juan Toscano-Anderson was a beneficiary of lengthy garbage time in Thursday's loss to the Rockets, recording a career-high 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block.

    JTA played well, but as mentioned this game was long over even before the fans could form their conga line leading out of the arena. He's worth a watch list spot if you're playing in an 18-teamer or deeper, but expect him to fall off when Stephen Curry eventually returns.

  • Andrew Wiggins
    SF, Golden State Warriors

    Andrew Wiggins recorded a team-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting with three rebounds, two 3s, one steal and two blocks in a loss to the Rockets on Thursday.

    There's not much more to add regarding Wiggins and the Warriors' sad state. On a positive note, Wiggins has managed to keep the peripherals going since joining the Dubs, something he should be able to sustain ROS.

  • DeMarre Carroll
    SF, Houston Rockets

    DeMarre Carroll debuted for the Rockets on Thursday vs. the Warriors but was quiet in his 13 minutes off the bench with just two points (2-of-2 FTs), three rebounds and four assists.

    Carroll was added more for playoff depth as a veteran shooter. He's not going to make noise in fantasy, so leave him on the wire.

  • Jeff Green
    SF, Houston Rockets

    Jeff Green made his debut for the Rockets on Thursday and looked surprisingly spry given that he's 33 years young, chiming in with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four 3s, four rebounds and one steal in 24 minutes.

    Before you go rushing off to grab Green, note that there was so much garbage time in this one, you could have built a landfill. He was likely seeing extra run to get acclimated with his new team and system. Leave him on the wire for now. Green's extra time on the floor came at the expense of Danuel House, who played just 19 minutes and was able to tally 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting (three 3s) with three rebounds and one assist. House remains a standard-league hold at this time.

  • James Harden
    PG, Houston Rockets

    Coming out of the All-Star break, a refreshed and rested James Harden was back in tip-top form, leading the Rockets to a 135-105 stomping of the Warriors with 29 points (6-of-16 FGs, 14-of-15 FTs), 10 dimes and a fat stat line.

    Harden was in full beast mode (beard mode?) in this one, handily dispatching with the Dubs with three rebounds, three treys, three steals and two blocks, while committing just one turnover. 2019-20 has been rockier than usual for Harden as he saw some unfamiliar territory with ups and downs. He's back and killing it, so clearly the ASB-rest may have been exactly what the doctor ordered.

  • Kent Bazemore
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Kent Bazemore saw some quality run in Thursday's win over the Grizzlies, logging 23 minutes off the bench and dropping 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three rebounds, two 3s and one steal.

    Bazemore is not an efficient scorer, so his .600 clip from the field tonight should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. He's been widely inconsistent for most of the season but is worth keeping an eye on in case he makes it a habit of playing well.

  • Jabari Parker
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    Jabari Parker (right shoulder impingement) debuted for the Kings on Thursday but was unremarkable in his 15 minutes off the bench, tallying just four points, four rebounds and two assists.

    While Parker is not a high-impact player in fantasy, we should expect to see those minutes rise as he gets his legs back. And given that Marvin Bagley III's timetable is in weeks, Parker may be worth a streamer once he's closer to 100 percent.

  • Harrison Barnes
    SF, Sacramento Kings

    Harrison Barnes was unconscious as he went 7-for-11 from deep en route to his game-high 32 points in Thursday's 129-125 win over the Grizzlies.

    Barnes was hot as hell, making 11-of-17 shots from the field, but chipped with just a sprinkling of peripherals outside of the 3-pointers, adding one rebound, one assist and one steal to the box. Even when he's on a tear, Barnes still is just a score-first (only) guy, who doesn't really diversify into the other categories. Still, it was a good night overall. Just don't expect him to be THIS good every night moving forward.

  • Tyus Jones
    PG, Memphis Grizzlies

    Tyus Jones made his 18 minutes on the floor count on Thursday, chipping in 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, two 3s and six assists.

    Jones is flying under the radar lately and should be on the radars of managers looking for a quality guard to stream. While he's not averaging 20 minutes per game, his per-36 minute numbers of 13.2 points, 8.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game on .468 shooting from the field should be enough to convince you that he's worth the grab.