- While Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is optimistic that his team can get off to a strong start this season, he admits in a conversation with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com that all the new pieces on the roster may need some time to jell. “It’d probably be irresponsible to think it’s all going to happen overnight, and that we’re going to start the season with great cohesiveness,” Vogel said. “There are going to be bumps in the road, there are nights where it might be ugly, and guys are getting to know each other on both ends of the floor.”
- In a pair of articles for Lakers.com, Joey Ramirez examines what free agent signees Quinn Cook and Jared Dudley will bring to the Lakers in 2019/20. Ramirez singles out Cook’s ability to shoot from the outside, as well as Dudley’s veteran leadership and high-IQ play.
Despite their disappointing showing at the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has retained the No. 1 seed in FIBA’s international rankings, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. World Cup champion Spain is at No. 2, followed by Australia, Argentina, and France.
FIBA’s rankings account for results from the last eight years, so the fact that Team USA won the 2014 World Cup and took home gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics keeps the program at the top of that list for now.
Meanwhile, FIBA also announced this week that the 24-team field is set for next summer’s Olympic qualifying tournaments. Eight of the 12 spots in the 2020 Olympics have already been claimed, but 24 countries will have a chance to compete for the final four spots. Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Serbia, and Slovenia – all of whom should have NBA players on their rosters – are among the teams competing in those qualifiers.
Interestingly though, those Olympic qualifying tournaments are scheduled to take place between June 23-28, 2020, so it’s not clear whether members of next year’s free agent class will be willing to participate — suffering a major injury in those games would impact their earning potential a week later.
Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:
- Ethan Strauss of The Athletic polled a dozen executives around the NBA about the 2019/20 outlook for the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets. The consensus? Those execs unanimously agreed that Golden State will make the playoffs, and believe that the Clippers are a better team than the Lakers. They’re also not convinced that the Rockets will be much better after swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook.
- The NBA announced this week that the annual NBA G League Winter Showcase will have a new tournament format this year. The event, which will take place in Las Vegas from December 19-22, will feature a $100K prize for the winning team. That prize will have to be split among all the team’s players, but it still represents a nice bonus, considering the NBAGL’s standard salary is $35K.
- In an interesting piece for The Athletic, Danny Leroux explains how an over-the-cap, below-the-tax team that re-signs a player using Bird rights can essentially turn that player into a “walking trade exception” by overpaying him to some extent. Leroux points to Darius Miller of the Pelicans as one example. Miller probably wasn’t getting a $7.25MM salary from any team besides New Orleans, but that contract could be a useful salary-matching piece for David Griffin during the season, whereas a minimum deal wouldn’t have been.
Veteran big man Nene officially signed his new contract with the Rockets back on September 6, but the NBA has yet to formally approve the deal, writes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link). Sources tell Marks that the league has been discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement, which create a $10MM trade chip despite the fact that Nene will likely only be paid about $2.56MM.
The NBA has the right to challenge deals that it believes violate the spirit of rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, even if those deals are technically legal based on what’s written in the CBA. While it seems unlikely that Nene’s deal would be nixed, it wouldn’t be surprising if the league looked to adjust the rules related to bonuses and incentives in the future to prevent teams from manipulating a player’s cap hit to such a significant extent.
In the meantime, Nene’s deal is hardly the only one signed this offseason heavy on bonus money. We’ve gone into detail on the incentives included in a handful of other contracts, such as the ones signed by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but Marks has even more details on bonuses available to players around the NBA this year.
We won’t pass along every single note included in Marks’ article, but here are a few of the noteworthy new bonuses worth watching in 2019/20:
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can earn three separate $350K bonuses if he averages 1.85 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season with the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope’s new deal also includes a $163K bonus for being named to either All-Defensive team and a $50K bonus if the Lakers reach the Western Finals.
- Julius Randle‘s contract with the Knicks includes three separate $900K unlikely bonuses that he could earn if he makes the All-Star team, is named to an All-Defensive team, or makes the playoffs (and appears in at least 65 games).
- Tyus Jones‘ $9.258MM cap hit with the Grizzlies in 2019/20 includes an $858K bonus that has been deemed likely. Jones will earn the bonus if Memphis wins 33 games. If the rebuilding Grizzlies fall short of that mark, Jones’ cap hit for the season will dip to $8.4MM.
- Maxi Kleber‘s new contract with the Mavericks features a set of four unlikely bonuses that could be worth up to $475K in total. To earn them all, Kleber must make an All-Defensive team ($150K), make at least 80% of his free throws ($75K), make at least 40% of his three-pointers ($150K), and average more than nine rebounds per 36 minutes ($100K).
- Again, if you’re an ESPN Insider, be sure to check out Marks’ full story for more details on some of the more unusual incentives around the league.
The Lakers have been granted a disabled player exception by the NBA for the 2019/20 season as a result of the injury suffered by DeMarcus Cousins, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. L.A. will have until March 10 to use the exception.
As we’ve noted previously, if a player is seriously injured, his team can request a disabled player exception to replace him. In order for the exception to be granted, an NBA-designated physician must determine that the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be sidelined through at least June 15.
[RELATED: DeMarcus Cousins suffers torn left ACL]
When it was reported that the Lakers were applying for the DPE, it was still unclear how long the big man would be out as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in August. Based on the latest news from Charania, it seems more than likely that Cousins will indeed miss the entire 2019/20 season, though regardless of the DPE approval he’d still be allowed to return if he can.
A disabled player exception allows a team to add a replacement player for 50% of the injured player’s salary, or for the amount of the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, whichever is lesser.
Cousins’ $3.5MM salary creates a DPE worth $1.75MM, which could be beneficial to the Lakers later in the season, should they find themselves competing to sign a player with a team who can only offer a minimum-salary deal.
- Mike Trudell of Lakers.com discusses several Lakers-related items in his mailbag, including the possibility of Alex Caruso starting at point guard this season. Caruso was better than Rajon Rondo while playing alongside LeBron James last season, though head coach Frank Vogel also has the option of testing Quinn Cook at starting point guard in training camp.
- Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com examines whether former All-Star Dwight Howard could help solve the Lakers‘ depth issues at the center position. Howard is expected to fill in the role that injured center DeMarcus Cousins was supposed to fill before tearing his ACL, likely playing back-up center behind JaVale McGee to start the season and controlling the team’s interior presence on defense.
Kevin Durant left the Warriors because he wasn’t able to find the family atmosphere he wanted, writes Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. Durant got the championships and individual awards he was seeking when he signed with Golden State three years ago, but as he indicated in a Wall Street Journal interview this week, he couldn’t be part of the organization in the same way that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were.
Poole notes that Durant was impressed by the closeness those four players displayed when they came to the Hamptons to recruit him in 2016. That influenced his decision, but he still felt like an outsider. He wasn’t drafted to the organization like Curry, Thompson and Green, and he wasn’t instrumental in the Warriors’ first title in 40 years the way that Iguodala was.
Poole adds that the family dynamic faded over Durant’s three years with Golden State as players spent more time with their actual families. The Currys had two more children, Iguodala got married and Green became more devoted to fatherhood. Green was a close friend for Durant in his first season with the team, but he hung out with DeMarcus Cousins more often last year.
There’s more from the Pacific Division:
- Steve Kerr tells Joe Vardon of The Athletic that it’s going to be like “Year 1” as he guides a much different Warriors roster. While many key pieces are gone from the championship years, Kerr said surviving while Thompson heals from a torn ACL will be the biggest challenge. “Losing Kevin, Andre, Shaun (Livingston) obviously, those are huge losses,” he said. “Losing Klay on top of all that really changes the way we’re going to have to play at both ends. Klay was always an integral part of everything. Movement on offense, but also the guarding of the ballhandler on defense, switching onto bigs. So until he gets back, we’ve got to re-imagine everything and adapt accordingly.”
- The Lakers are seeking a disabled player exception after Cousins’ injury, but it’s likely just a tool that may be used later in the season, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. There are few options who could make a difference at a $1.75MM salary, which is half of what Cousins is owed. However, minimum contracts decrease through the year, and the DPE will be more valuable once buyout season arrives.
- Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic will be competing not just for minutes in the Kings‘ backcourt, but for contract extensions as well, notes James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.
Frank Vogel talks about the excitement of coaching LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the opportunity that Dwight Howard has to revive his career and the wide open Western Conference playoff race in a lengthy interview with Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.
Few coaches going into a new situation have ever faced as much pressure to win right away as Vogel will. The trade that brought Davis from New Orleans has pushed the Lakers into a favorite’s role, and the sense of urgency for James has grown after missing the playoffs last year.
Vogel is also entering a situation where he clearly wasn’t the first choice for the job. He was only hired after negotiations with Tyronn Lue collapsed, and he was asked to bring along former NBA coaches Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins as assistants. Still, he’s eager for the chance to mentor what could be a historically great duo in James and Davis.
“Talent-wise, they’re the two best players I’ll ever have had the opportunity to coach,” Vogel said. “That brings a lot of fun, a lot of excitement to what we’re able to do on the court. It brings a lot of challenges too. You have to make sure you’re managing them the right way and putting them in the right positions to feel good about their roles and what’s happening around them. There are challenges involved with that. So I’m looking forward to how that all is going to play out.”
Vogel touches on several other subjects, including:
Howard’s return to L.A.:
“I think he’s excited about this opportunity with the Lakers. It’s very different from the first time he came through. Then, he was a mega-star coming in with two other mega-stars [Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash]. This time around, he’s had a few teams where they haven’t had great success. And he’s at a different point, age-wise, in his career. So he’s excited just to be part of something, in any way he can help. He knows it’s going to be more of a role player type of role.”
Whether Davis will see more time at power forward or center:
“To me, he’s effective in both positions. But I don’t think it’s wise when your mindset is to be at your best going into the playoffs, to have him banging with centers for 82 games full-time. Does that mean he’s never going to do it in the regular season? No, of course he’s going to play some center in the regular season. But we want to make sure we keep the end goal in sight and getting him to April, for that playoff run, the right way.”
The rivalry with the Clippers:
“They have a terrific team and a terrific coach, and their front office is doing really well. But we can’t focus on their location. We still have to focus on ourselves and the task at hand. Not just worry about what’s happening crosstown. There are a lot of teams capable of winning the West, so we’ll be focused on our process.”
News that the Grizzlies are currently uninterested in negotiating a buyout with Andre Iguodala is unlikely to push the veteran’s potential trade suitors into action, according to Sean Deveney of Heavy.com, who hears from league sources that those teams are more likely to “wait out” the Grizzlies.
As Deveney notes – and as has been previously reported – Memphis would like to get a first-round pick in exchange for Iguodala, but teams with interest in the former Warrior don’t believe it will ultimately take more than a second-rounder. Even that price may be too high for some interested teams, who are hoping Iguodala will eventually become available via buyout.
One league executive who spoke to Deveney suggested that an impasse at this point shouldn’t be a surprise.
“What the Grizzlies are doing, it is to be expected,” the exec said. “They’re looking at him as an asset and they want to get something in return for him. He’s under contract, so they hold all the cards. The worst he can do is not show up and it is not like Memphis is going to be playing for a playoff spot. Him not showing up wouldn’t help anything. But if you’re on the outside, those teams, they’re just waiting it out.”
The Clippers are viewed around the NBA as the most likely landing spot for Iguodala, per Deveney, but they don’t necessarily have a simple path to a trade, given all the draft picks they’ve traded away and their proximity to the tax line. The Rockets, Lakers, Nuggets, and Mavericks have been linked to Iguodala, but all face potential roadblocks on the trade market too.
According to Deveney, the Grizzlies’ ideal scenario would be to have Iguodala start the season on the roster to mentor the team’s young players, then trade him at some point before the deadline in exchange for a first-round pick — or at least a second-rounder or two. But it’s unclear how enthusiastic the 35-year-old would be about spending much of the 2019/20 season on a non-contending team.
“It is going to be a matter of whether the Grizzlies blink on this one or not,” the league executive told Deveney. “You have a guy who does not want to be there but has some value. He does not have a ton of value, though. He’s 35, 36 years old. So what do you do, hold him hostage? If you want him to be a guy to help your young players but he does not want to do that, does that really help your young players? Most teams figure they can wait (the Grizzlies) out on this.”
Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian took a Grizzlies-centric look at the Iguodala situation on Monday, writing that “one way or another” the former Finals MVP figures to be on a new team after the February trade deadline.
Shortly after the Lakers agreed in June to acquire Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade with the Pelicans, LeBron James spoke to “higher-ups” within the organization and suggested that the big man should become the focal point of the club’s offensive identity, league sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
While Davis is looking forward to carrying a big share of the offensive load, he’s also thinking about the impact that he can make on the other end of the court, telling Haynes that he has individual and team goals in mind for the Lakers’ defense.
“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis said. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively. In doing so, we’ll have a good chance of winning every night.
“I want to make sure me and LeBron are on the All-Defensive Team. And for me personally, I just want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. If we’re able to hold teams under 100 [points], which is probably unrealistic but it should be our goal, I think we’ll have a shot at winning the title.”
Davis is fully capable of being a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Los Angeles this season, but it may be more challenging to get LeBron the seventh All-Defensive nod of his career. Although James can still play elite defense on a given possession, he has been less inclined in recent years to consistently exert that kind of defensive intensity over the course of an 82-game season, preferring to preserve his energy – and health – for the playoffs.
For his part, Davis is also considering ways to stay healthy and effective over a full season, acknowledging to Haynes that he’s reluctant to play center on a full-time basis for that very reason.
“Battling [centers] can wear on your body,” Davis said. “So I think having JaVale [McGee] and having DeMarcus [Cousins] before he got hurt and now having Dwight [Howard] takes pressure off of me and allows me to play and withstand an 82-game season and going into the playoffs. But obviously, if we have to and we’re playing a big lineup where I’m at the five, then I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
If Davis were to win Defensive Player of the Year, it wouldn’t have a financial impact on his free agency next summer — he can no longer qualify for a Designated Veteran Contract after being traded from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
The Lakers have applied for a disabled player exception to replace DeMarcus Cousins, league sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). If it’s approved by the NBA, the exception would be worth $1.75MM.
As we outline in our glossary entry on the disabled player exception, a team can apply for a DPE to replace a seriously injured player. In order for the exception to be granted, an NBA-designated physician must determine that the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be sidelined through at least June 15 of that league year.
If granted, the disabled player exception allows a club to sign a replacement player for 50% of the injured player’s salary, or for the amount of the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, whichever is lesser. In the case of Cousins, the exception would be worth half of his $3.5MM salary for 2019/20.
The DPE, which doesn’t give a team an extra roster spot, can also be used to acquire a player on an expiring contract via trade or waivers if his salary fits into the exception.
The Lakers haven’t offered a concrete timeline on Cousins’ recovery since he tore his ACL in August. Applying for a DPE suggests the team expects him to miss the entire season, but even if the request is approved, the veteran center wouldn’t be forced to sit out all of 2019/20 — he could still “beat the odds” and return before the end of the season.
Still, given his recent history of major leg injuries, Cousins figures to play it safe with his ACL rehab, so I’d be surprised if we see him on the court again before opening night in 2020. Plus, if the Lakers believe he’ll miss the entire season, they could waive him to free up a roster spot for another player. Cousins would still receive his full $3.5MM salary in that scenario.
A $1.75MM exception won’t be very valuable for the Lakers at this point, but it could come in handy later in the league year, especially since they’re capped out and have already used their full room exception.
Teams have until March 10 to use a disabled player exception, and the DPE would gain value as the season progresses and the value of a prorated minimum-salary contract declines. Being able to offer a $1.75MM salary on the buyout market in February could give L.A. an advantage over teams that can only offer the minimum.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.