- Celtics coach Brad Stevens will have a dilemma if he wants to get all of his best players on the court during crunch time, Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. The team’s top five include Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, which would leave them without a true power forward or center in those situations.
Former Celtics center Aron Baynes believes Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are poised to reach star status, ESPN’s Niall Seewang reports. Baynes, who was traded to the Suns during the offseason, is particularly enamored with Tatum’s skill set.
“He’s so talented – even from the first day I played with him when he was a rookie in his first preseason, you could see how talented he was offensively and he also wants to work on the defensive end which isn’t common in the NBA – some guys live on that offensive talent but he wants to develop his all-round game,” Baynes said. He added about the young duo, “Those guys are still in their rookie contracts and they’re looking to prove themselves over the next couple of years and they definitely have all the tools to do it.”
We have more on the Celtics:
- Tacko Fall’s agent is confident his client will get claimed off waivers if the Celtics don’t retain him, he told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. Fall was signed an Exhibit 10 contract and there’s no guarantee he’d make the 15-man roster. Both two-way slots are also currently filled. “If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” the agent, Justin Haynes, said of the 7’6” Fall. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”
- Co-owner Steve Pagliuca already sees signs that the team’s chemistry will be better this upcoming season, according to Nicole Yang of the Boston Globe. A dysfunctional locker room was one of the big reasons the team underachieved last season. “There’s just really a positive attitude from everybody this year,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of hard-working players that really want to achieve. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
- The team hasn’t had a captain since Rajon Rondo in 2014 and A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston believes that should change. Marcus Smart has the respect among his teammates and leadership skills that would make him an ideal fit for that role, as Blakely details.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been cleared to return to action with Team USA, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Post. Smart has been sidelined for more than a week with a calf injury, and getting him back will help offset the unexpected loss of De’Aaron Fox, who withdrew from the team today.
Smart expressed confidence that he was close to playing again in an interview with Jared Greenberg of NBA TV during Friday’s exhibition game with Spain (video link). “Like I said, the calf is feeling amazing,” Smart said. “And, right now, we’re just taking it slow and making sure I’m a hundred percent and (then) get back out there.”
Smart appears to be in great position to earn a roster spot after the departures of Fox and fellow point guard Kyle Lowry in the past week. Team USA has 13 players left on its training camp roster, with just one cut to make before the FIBA World Cup begins.
There’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- The Celtics should honor Smart by making him the team captain this fall, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Smart’s leadership has been evident for a long time, Blakely observes, adding that the organization has an opportunity to recognize him in an official way. Boston hasn’t had a captain since Rajon Rondo in 2014, and Blakely contends that Smart, who is the longest-tenured Celtic and still has three years left on his contract, is a natural choice.
- Derek Bodner of The Athletic examines the expected battle for backup point guard minutes between Sixers newcomers Raul Neto and Trey Burke. Both veterans signed minimum salary contracts this summer and both will try to fill the void created when T.J. McConnell left for the Pacers. Bodner notes that Burke has received more playing time than Neto over his career, but he has also been on worse teams that offered greater opportunity. He adds that Neto prefers to read the defense on any given play, while Burke tends to seek his own shots.
- Malachi Richardson, who saw infrequent playing time for the Raptors last season, has signed with Hapoel Holon in Israel, relays Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Richardson appeared in 22 games for Toronto before being traded at the deadline to the Sixers, who waived him.
- After being a full-time starter for the Celtics in 2017/18, Jaylen Brown started just 25 of his 74 contests last season and saw his playing time reduced by nearly five minutes per game. Appearing on this week’s episode of The Michael Holley Podcast, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge praised Brown for the way he responded. “He might have handled a difficult situation better than anybody on our team last year,” Ainge said (per Dave Green of NBC Sports Boston). “Very mature kid, wants to be great, knows that his time is coming.”
The chemistry problems that plagued the Celtics last season don’t appear to be a concern now that Kemba Walker has replaced Kyrie Irving in the Boston backcourt, writes Sekou Smith of NBA.com. Walker is getting to know three of his new teammates — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart — while preparing for the FIBA World Cup, and it sounds like they’re off to a great start.
“They’re just some really good young dudes and I just enjoy being around them,” Walker said. “And the age difference is really crazy to me. J.T. is like 21 and J.B. is 22 and Marcus is 25. And I’m 29 and feeling like, wow, this is cool. It sounds crazy. I remember when I was 21 in this league. I was a rookie and just trying to figure it all out. And these guys are young vets already. Like I said, it’s crazy.”
Age difference was a recurring theme in Boston last season as Irving frequently criticized his younger teammates and talked to the press about how tough it is to be a leader. Walker has raved about the work ethic that Tatum, Brown and Smart are showing and how quickly they’ve adapted to the international game.
There’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- Carmelo Anthony‘s presence in summer workouts with Nets players doesn’t mean Brooklyn plans to sign him, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “Nothing to it,” a source close to Anthony said. “There’s several guys (playing) that aren’t Nets, but friends and other NBA players.” Team officials and Anthony’s agent, Leon Rose, refused to comment.
- Terry Rozier, who signed with the Hornets last month, tells Lewis in a separate story that there are no hard feelings between him and Irving after their tumultuous time with the Celtics. “A lot of people don’t know how great of a person he is,” Rozier said. “A lot of people think I hate Kyrie. And a lot of people think that me and Kyrie not cool, but we text, and I text him right before free agency.”
- Knicks GM Scott Perry had been pursuing Elfrid Payton for a long time before signing him in July, relays Marc Berman of The New York Post. Perry, who acquired Payton for the Magic in a draft-night trade in 2014, attempted to bring him to New York at the 2018 trade deadline. “I’m very aware of Scott’s interest,’’ said Payton’s father, Elfrid Payton Sr. “He’s showed confidence in him and always kept track of him when he left. He’s always someone who really believed in him. Somebody invested in you like that and knows you, that’s a big thing.”
- New Celtics center Vincent Poirier was seen working out with Rudy Gobert recently, as relayed by Michael DePrisco of NBC Sports Boston. Poirier, who’s also a native of France, is a talented 25-year-old big man who signed a free-agent deal with the Celtics back in July.
“I’m the new guy; they already know each other,” Walker said. “They are just kind of reeling me in and getting me acclimated to how things go. With four of us here now, it gives us an opportunity to play with each other and learn each other’s tendencies.”
Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown are all attending the camp. Coach Brad Stevens also made an appearance. Boston had some chemistry concerns last season, but the team is excited about turning to a new chapter.
“It can only be positive for us because it’s chemistry added,” Brown said about the four players’ experience at Team USA’s camp. “I just want to hoop. I don’t want any politics. We’re artists and this season is a new canvas.”
Here’s more from Boston:
- Walker is a lock to make Team USA’s roster and Tatum has a strong chance to make the squad as well, Windhorst adds in the same piece. Smart and Brown each making the team is not as much of a sure thing. “We’re all grateful to be here,” Tatum said. “Hopefully, all four of us make it; that would be amazing. Me and [Brown] play one-on-one all the time, and we’ve always tried to push each other and it’s been that way since day one. Ultimately, we have the same goal with our teams and here.”
- Smart has missed several days of practice with a left calf injury and he’ll be re-evaluated next week, as the AP’s Tim Reynolds tweets. “Right now, for me, I’m trying to grow as a player… taking those precautions,” said Smart (via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports). “Last year, or two or three years ago, I probably would have still been out there trying to fight through it. It’s nothing serious so we just want to make sure it doesn’t turn into anything serious.”
- Stevens said the Celtics have moved past their issues from last season, as Forsberg passes along in a separate piece. “We turned that page a long time ago. That’s what you should do after a season. I think, whether you had success or it wasn’t as good as you want, you learn from it and move on,” Stevens said.
While fans may be disappointed that they won’t get a chance to see stars like Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Damian Lillard represent Team USA in the 2019 World Cup, the players at this week’s training camp don’t sound too broken up about several stars removing their names from consideration, as Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston writes.
“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us. I think a lot of us are happy those guys pulled out,” Kemba Walker said. “This is our chance, this is our chance to get on the big stage and showcase our talents. It’s a chance for us to do something new, to be a new-look team.”
Of the players on Team USA’s training camp roster, Walker is one of a handful who likely would’ve been in position to claim a 12-man roster spot even if the program had a more robust turnout. But that’s not necessarily the case for younger players like Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
According to Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link), Fox and Mitchell were among the Team USA standouts during the first couple days of this week’s training camp. Although there has been no official word yet, Marc Stein of The New York Times tweets that Fox – who was elevated from the Select Team – looks like a virtual lock to be part of Team USA’s final 12-man roster for China.
Here are a few more notes on the World Cup:
- Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca passes along some good news and some bad news for Team Canada (via Twitter). According to Grange, Kelly Olynyk‘s knee injury appears likely to sideline the Heat big man for about a week, but shouldn’t keep him out of World Cup action next month. However, it sounds more and more like Raptors forward/center Chris Boucher won’t be playing for Canada at the World Cup, Grange adds.
- After being listed on Team Senegal’s preliminary 24-man World Cup roster, Tacko Fall didn’t show up on the team’s updated 16-man roster this week (Twitter links). According to Keith Smith of RealGM (Twitter link), Fall and Team Senegal reached a mutual agreement that he wouldn’t participate in the World Cup as he focuses on trying to make the Celtics. Timberwolves power forward Gorgui Dieng has also withdrawn from Senegal’s roster.
- In a pair of separate articles for ESPN.com, Brian Windhorst tries to answer some pressing questions for Team USA and digs into why Gregg Popovich is coaching Team USA when he seemingly has nothing left to prove.
When Kemba Walker became a free agent this summer, he was eligible for a super-max offer from the Hornets that would have been worth $221.6MM over five years. While an offer in that range was always considered unlikely, a standard maximum-salary offer from Charlotte would have paid the All-NBA point guard $189.9MM over five years.
However, in late June, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported that the Hornets’ offer to Walker was “somewhere in the ballpark of $160MM-plus” (link via NBC Sports). And according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the team’s best offer wasn’t even quite that strong. League sources tell Charania that Charlotte’s best five-year offer to Walker came in just under $160MM, which frustrated the 29-year-old.
“Tough days, f—ing tough days, I can’t even lie,” Walker told Charania, referring to his free agency. “Excuse my language. It was difficult. I couldn’t see myself just being on another team. It was just hard. That’s all I’ve known was Charlotte. Definitely some tough times. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get the offer that I wanted, and maybe not close to it, because of cap space. I had to get my head wrapped around the feeling and picking another team.”
The Celtics didn’t initially project to have the cap room necessary to sign a player like Walker, but with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, and others on the way out, the team gained increased flexibility. Kemba, meanwhile, became increasingly bullish on the idea of joining the C’s, with their proximity to his alma mater of UConn among the many factors that appealed to him, per Charania.
Walker ultimately landed in Boston on a four-year, $140.8MM contract, which didn’t match the overall value of Charlotte’s offer, but was a stronger deal on a per-year basis. Although it was bittersweet to leave the Hornets, the three-time All-Star said he understands “the business side of things” and isn’t upset about the way his old team handled things.
“I’m not mad at M.J. (Hornets owner Michael Jordan) or the organization for anything,” Walker told Charania. “I understand it. You have to look at both sides at the end of the day. Could M.J. have went over the luxury tax? Yeah, he could have. But why?
“At the end of the day, you have to see both sides of it. That’s what helped me wrap my head around not being around Charlotte anymore. I loved Charlotte. I had to shift my mindset more as free agency got close. I had some priorities and places I wanted to go and didn’t want to go if I didn’t stay in Charlotte, and that’s when Boston even came on the scene.”
The NBA salary cap is somewhat malleable, with various exceptions allowing every team to surpass the $109,140,000 threshold once their room is used up. In some cases, teams blow past not only the cap limit, but the luxury-tax limit of $132,627,000 as well — the Trail Blazers have this season’s highest payroll at the moment, more than $11MM above the tax line.
The NBA doesn’t have a “hard cap” by default, which allows a club like Portland to build a significant payroll without violating CBA rules. However, there are certain scenarios in which teams can be hard-capped.
When a club uses the bi-annual exception, acquires a player via sign-and-trade, or uses more than the taxpayer portion ($5,718,000) of the mid-level exception, that club will face a hard cap for the remainder of the league year.
When a team becomes hard-capped, it cannot exceed the “tax apron” at any point during the rest of the league year. The tax apron was set $6MM above the luxury tax line in 2017/18 (the first year of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement) and creeps up a little higher each season. For the 2019/20 league year, the tax apron – and hard cap for certain clubs – is set at $138,928,000.
More teams than ever this offseason have been willing to hard-cap themselves, and in at least a couple cases, it will significantly impact a team’s ability to add further reinforcements later in the league year. The Warriors and Heat are nearly right up against the hard cap, and won’t be players in free agency during the season unless they can shed salary.
So far this year, half the teams in the NBA have imposed a hard cap on themselves by using the bi-annual exception, using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, or acquiring a player via sign-and-trade. Listed below are those 15 teams, along with how they created a hard cap.
- Acquired Kemba Walker from the Hornets via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Kevin Durant from the Warriors via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Terry Rozier from the Celtics via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Tomas Satoransky from the Wizards via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Delon Wright from the Grizzlies via sign-and-trade.
- Used approximately $7.46MM of their mid-level exception to sign Seth Curry.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Boban Marjanovic.
- Used approximately $7.32MM of their mid-level exception to sign Derrick Rose.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Markieff Morris.
Golden State Warriors
- Acquired D’Angelo Russell from the Nets via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks via sign-and-trade.
- Used their full mid-level exception ($9,258,000) to sign Tyus Jones.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Marko Guduric.
- Acquired Jimmy Butler from the Sixers via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Jake Layman from the Trail Blazers via sign-and-trade.
- Used their full mid-level exception ($9,258,000) to sign Al-Farouq Aminu.
San Antonio Spurs
- Acquired DeMarre Carroll from the Nets via sign-and-trade.
- Used approximately $8.3MM of their mid-level exception to sign Patrick McCaw, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, and Dewan Hernandez.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Stanley Johnson.
- Used approximately $7.9MM of their mid-level exception to sign Ish Smith, Admiral Schofield, and Justin Robinson.
Outside of the Warriors and Heat, no clubs on the list above are really being restricted by the hard cap at this time. A few teams – such as the Pistons and Magic – are near the luxury tax threshold, but that still gives them several million dollars in breathing room below the hard cap.
While it’s possible that trades could push some teams closer to the apron, Golden State and Miami appear to be the only clubs that will be noticeably affected by the hard cap in 2019/20.